Sunday, October 19, 2008

Duck, duck, duck, duck…gray duck!

I’m just guessing, but I’ll bet they don’t play that game in school anymore. Too competitive. Too many hurt feelings. Too unfair to slower, smaller, less aggressive children. Too bad. It was fun. But today’s post is not about childhood games. It’s about DUCK STAMPS. Every year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service holds a competition for the new Federal Duck Stamp design. Hundreds of wildlife artists enter this competition, and the winning design is featured on the next year’s duck stamp. The first place winner then sells limited edition prints of his or her design, selling thousands of prints, and thereby profiting from their victory. Second place gets a set of steak knives.* The contest attracts the best of the best in wildlife art. This year, the judging took place in Minnesota. Mary and I attended the event, along with dozens of friends and relatives. Why? Because my brothers Bob and Jim were finalists. (My other wildlife artist brother, Joe, was not eligible, because he won the contest last year.) The results were not all we hoped for. Bob’s entry made it into the top ten. Jim won the set of steak knives.*Josh Spies was the winner. Congratulations, Josh! *If you don't get the steak knife reference, go rent the movie "Glengarry Glenross" and see Alec Baldwin in one of his most memorable roles.  Jack Lemmon, too! You can view all the entries here. For more information about the Duck Stamp, go here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Magnificent Midland

I don't know if it's always beautiful, but in mid-October with the leaves are at their spectacular best, Midland, Michigan is a treat for the eyes. The people are nice, too. I just spent two days there, visiting six schools to talk about--ta-da!--myself. My books, actually. And I learned all over again that schools and teachers and students are the same everywhere, while, at the same time, they are completely different. I don't know why that continues to surprise me, but it does. One thing that never changes is the ten-forty-forty-ten rule. Ten percent of the students think I am great and no matter what I say or do, I'm da bomb. Forty percent think I'm probably-sorta-kinda okay, and they are willing to cut me a break since got them out of algebra class. Another forty percent think they are living in the Matrix and since nothing they see or hear is real, it doesn't matter. And the last ten percent...well, I got no freaking idea. These are what I consider "good numbers." The things that make every school visit unique are the individuals. Like the eighth grader who gave me a biology lesson on mosquito nutrition at (I think) Bullock Creek Middle School. I was playing fast and loose with entomological facts to make a point, and I got nailed for saying that "mosquitoes live on blood." They don't. But the females need blood to reproduce. Okay then. I'll watch my mouth in the future. I'm also impressed, again and again, by the librarians and teachers I meet. For example, the lovely and talented Stephanie Williams (right),who left engineering to become a librarian. Now THAT is an unusual career path. I had planned to take lots of great pictures in Midland, but of course I kept forgetting that I had my camera with me. But here's one of the book club at Windover Alternative High School. You see that kid way off to the left, like he doesn't want to be in the picture? Ask him about hemochromatosis. I dare you. I left Midland tired but psyched to get back to writing, and I came up with a new idea on the flight home, which I scrawled on the inside of the dust cover of John Green's new novel, Paper Towns, and wrote the first ten pages when I got home that night. It never stops.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Downtown Portland, Oregon... not a good place to hunt mushrooms, but is an excellent place to find school librarians. I was there last week for the OASL/WMLA conference, and I found hundreds of them, of every species, from the tattooed hipster variety to the gray-hair-in-a-bun type to the exceedingly rare and elusive male librarian. But they all had some things in common, most notably a love of books, and dedication to their craft. The main speaker at the conference was Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes. He was amazing! If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, DO NOT pass it up. I say this as one who has slunk out of nearly every "keynote address" I have ever had the misfortune to be roped into. But Frank was astonishing, truly. I also got to hang out with (more name dropping ahead) John Green, author of Looking for Alaska (which is not about Sarah Palin), the incredibly prolific Todd Strasser (the only author I know who has written more books than I have), adult/YA mystery writer April Henry, Patrick Jones (who stole the idea for my next novel before I’d even thought of it), historical novelist Christine Fletcher, and a bunch of other semi-famous authors whose names elude me at the moment. And, for the first time, ate at a “Red Robin” restaurant. It wasn’t too bad for a burger joint, but if you go, bring your sunglasses. “Garish” does not even begin to describe the ambiance. So, today, to help myself recover from the high-contrast flashing commercial redness of Red Robin, I bought an original oil by Dodie Logue:

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

My Recent Visit to Orlando, Florida...

...was spent entirely within the walls of the mega resort hotel known as the Gaylord Palms, where the staff has been bred by crossing a phalanx of Stepford Wives with a particularly vigorous Mitt Romney clone. Chewing gum is forbidden within the confines of the resort. I am not kidding. The round-faced young man who delivered my breakfast one morning looked very much like a smiley face come to life. I wanted to take a photo of him, but he SCARED me.   It was eerie, I tell you. Nevertheless, it was a very pleasant two days with the FAMEous Florida librarians (FAME = Florida Association for Media in Education), a group of super-dedicated school librarians who were all working Really Hard to make the most of their annual conference while I frittered away most of my time hanging out with (name dropping, I know, I'm pathetic) David Lubar and Marc Aronson and Rick Riordan and Alane Ferguson and Chris Crutcher and Priscilla Cummings and several other YA fabulists. It was a good time. Here's the view from my balcony, showing a small part of the ginormegaplexicon: Next week I'm off to the OASL/WMLA conference in Portland, Oregon. I'm hoping to score some mushrooms while I'm there! Oh, as far as writing goes, I'm working hard on the biggest and most challenging project I have ever undertaken. More later.