Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Geezing through Southern California

Here is my Geezer -- I mean, escort -- for the Southern California leg of this tour: Allyn Johnston, Editor and Chief of Harcourt Children's Books. Before Tuesday is out, I'll only be able to see out of one eye and Allyn and I will both be Geezers, punchy and laughing at everything that's not funny.

The subtitle for this entry could be "Allyn and Deborah's Excellent Adventure." I wish I could tell you everything, but if I told you, I'd have to kill you. (My, we ARE getting to the end of the book tour, aren't we??)

I arrived at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana on Monday evening and Allyn met me for dinner -- Marla Frazee stopped by, and that was such a treat I forgot to take photographs. Marla is the artist who made the Aurora County novels come alive with her beautiful cover art. I am forever indebted to her for those transcendent covers.

Allyn and I spent all day together yesterday and we are still speaking. Being a media escort is hard work. Riding with a competent media escort is heaven. I've been lucky this entire trip, but this ride was a real treat.

Whale of a Tale in Irvine is our first stop, where I sign stock and get to know owner Alex Uhl, whom I first met at BEA when LITTLE BIRD won the E.B. White Read Aloud Award for older readers. Whale of a Tale is 20-years-old. It's tucked into a charming courtyard in a shopping center across from UC Irvine.

Alex whips me through the stock, and we take ourselves to Bonita Canyon Elementary School where Alex has set up a school visit with 4th, 5th and 6th graders.

Whoa! 300 kids! I've got my PowerPoint ready, and my singing voice tuned up, and off we go. What good energy was flowing around this room... and you know, I didn't read one word of ALL-STARS. I read from RUBY and LITTLE BIRD, but saw I was running out of time. Somehow, in schools, it's not about the newest book for me, it's about a body of work and personal stories -- kids' stories as much as mine. I figure they'll find the books -- they'll find lots of books.

Here's the fabulous Alex with Ms.N (4th grade teacher), Allyn, and Clyde, who handles the technology (among other things) at Bonita Canyon. Thanks, all, for setting up a terrific school visit.

As we get on our way, Alex gifts me with... a writer's notebook. "To replace the one you left behind," she says. Thank you, Alex. It's beautiful.
At The First Page in Costa Mesa, I'm scheduled for a stock signing only, but I find fans! A scattering of die hard Deborah Wiles readers gladdens my heart. I know I look ragged around the edges (perhaps even "cadaver-like" as he-who-shall-remain-nameless and who is tall called me in San Francisco), but I really am glad to be here. I've just been on the road for a really long time.

Soon I must get busy with stock -- LOTS of stock. "All of these?" I ask manager Kim Newett. "All the hardcovers," she says. "We'll sell them." Wow. It's Kim's wedding anniversary. Flowers arrive. So does her 8-year-old daughter Amelia.

"What a good book for a 7-year-old?" I ask her. She brings me JUDY MOODY GETS FAMOUS by Megan McDonald. Sold. Kim hand sells me THE LOOKING GLASS WARS by Frank Beddor for my 12-year-old Logan.

[Note: As I reread this entry (and most of the time I don't get a chance to reread -- I'm dashing out the door), I was going to edit the sentence below, and decided to leave it in as an example of writing-by-the-seat-of-the-pants weariness -- Kim is not four years old, The First Page is four years old. Sheesh... I'm sure I've got more of this stuff sprinkled through this tour journal -- I don't want to look.]

Only four-years-old, Kim says The First Page is dedicated to giving back. "We give 5 percent of each sale to the school of the customer's choice."

My choice right now is supper. Allyn and I drive north to Santa Fe Springs. Joyce Ryan, who coordinates events for the Santa Fe Springs Library, recommends Geezers for an early supper before our 7pm library event. By now we are hot, wrinkled, hungry, and tired, and glad for a break in the day. We sit by ourselves outside in the shade, away from the televisions and near the fountain, where we get silly. We check email, we call families, we call the office, we call all over the place while picking at the fried zucchini and Caesar salad. Everything is funny in that shimmery, exhausting way that everything gets to be funny. "Welcome to the book tour!" I tell Allyn.

But we pull it together for the library event, which is.... quiet. "We've never done this on a Tuesday night before," says Joyce, as we arrive. And indeed, there are many white chairs set up and maybe 25 people in attendance. I forego slides; we've got an intimate group here, and half of them are children of varying ages. Sweet, sweet children, too.

So I punt. I sing. I read. I talk about stories. I ask questions. Kids answer me. Angels fans boo me when I talk about my beloved Dodgers. It's all affectionate.

As we take our leave, I want to put on my glasses. I sit in Allyn's car and take out my contacts in the sifty dark -- there's an almost full moon in the sky. We have a long drive to San Diego yet ahead of us. I lose my left contact somewhere in the bowels of Allyn's Honda. I knew better -- I knew better! But I am tired, and we are not going to look in the dark for something we can't see, so we begin our trip to San Diego with Allyn yawning and talking and me patting on myself in unmentionable places to see if I can locate that contact as we hurtle down the freeway. We are still laughing. Life is good. Thank you, thank you, Allyn, for taking good care of me on the road yesterday.

And today -- I am home! Home to San Diego, Harcourt's west-coast offices. I'm about to be on local television -- see how calm I am? I sit here with my hair still wet and my clothes still packed, cadaver-like but calm. Can I get away with wearing one contact? Probably not. I'd squint like Long-John Silver. I feel like Long John Silver. TREASURE ISLAND is one of the books House reads to Norwood Boyd in ALL-STARS. It was one of my favorites growing up.

Today: TEEVEE! Then Yellow Book Road in La Mesa, CA at 10am and stock signing at Warwick's in La Jolla at 3pm. School groups at Yellow Book Road, my last school group of the tour.

And a couple of big fat presents: lunch with the marketing folks at Harcourt who put together this fantastic tour, and dinner with my agent. Then home again home again to Atlanta on Thursday, where I'll attend SIBA over the weekend. Let's hang in together a few more days -- I'll try not to lose anything else.