I’m ba-a-a-ck!

I’m back from Muscoda (which I learned is actually pronounced “Musk-uh-day,” (emphasis on “day”) rather than “Mus-coda,” which is how I’d been pronouncing it). What a neat little town! It’s right on the Wisconsin River, surrounded by trees…VERY small…It’s exactly the kind of town I imagine the characters from my YA novel living in. The school (K-8 in one building, grades 9-12 in the building next door) draws kids from five different communities. There’s no stoplight, no mall, no movie theater, no coffee shop, no fast food, no chain stores of any kind (which was really refreshing!), no motel…I was given a choice between staying in a lovely Victorian bed-and-breakfast or staying in a motel 15 miles away. I’d never stayed in a bed and breakfast before, so I chose the bed and breakfast. BTW, if you ever find yourself looking for lodging in or near Muscoda, WI, I would strongly recommend the Victorian Rose…the bed I slept in there was actually more comfortable than my own (and my bed is VERY comfortable!). Apparently, the secret is premium Land’s End pillows and a 2-inch Land’s End something-wool mattress pad…

There is a library (located in the same building as the police station), but it wasn’t open on Thursday. And there is a cheese factory…a WONDERFUL cheese factory. I know because there was marble jack cheese fresh from the cheese factory at the spaghetti supper I attended Thursday night. (I was a little surprised to see slices of marble jack cheese being served with spaghetti…but then I tried it! And I tell you, if there was cheese like that in my town, I’d serve/eat it with EVERY meal!!!)

Note to self: start bringing that digital camera with me when I do author visits! I actually considered bringing it, but then at the last minute I decided I didn’t really need it. The teachers usually take pictures, and they’re usually generous about sending them to me. But there were a number of times I found myself wishing I had my own camera. While I was driving over there, for one thing. I’m pretty familiar with northern Wisconsin…I used to go there to visit my grandparents every summer. So I know it’s pretty up there. But I had no idea southwestern Wisconsin is equally beautiful! (Then again, if I’d actually had the camera, I might not have ever gotten to Muscoda…I might still be standing at the side of the road, snapping pictures of the trees and the river and the bluffs.

I also would have taken a picture of the ceiling in the lunch room at that school if I’d had my camera. They had all these large sea creatures that the kids had made hanging from the ceiling. It looked really cool!

All the kids (K-8th grade) had written and illustrated their own ABC books…and then the school had sent them away to be published. My visit coincided with the school’s “Author Night.” I did three presentations during the day (K-2, 3-5 and 6-8), and then at night there was the spaghetti supper, and I spoke with kids/parents/community members who showed up to hear me in the library, and then all the kids had their ABC books on display in the gym. I really wish I had had more time to see their books.

I had met this little boy (Alex, I think his name was) during the afternoon…he was a first grader and his teacher made a point of bringing him up to say hello to me after my presentation because he wants to be a writer when he grows up. He’s already written 60 books! He’s got bunk beds in his room and he sleeps on the top bunk. The bottom bunk is his “office,” which is where he writes his books. His teacher told me he hadn’t slept the night before because he was so excited about meeting me. Then he told me the reason he was so excited was because he had had a dream. So I asked him what happened in the dream…he said, “I dreamed I was in the gym with all the books…and the author came in…and she read MY book and she told me she liked it.” I SO wanted to find Alex’s book that night (and make his dream come true)! But I only had ten minutes in there before I was due in the library…and unfortunately, I couldn’t find it.

The one ABC book that DID make an impression on me, though, belonged to a third grader named Montana. The cover drew me in right away. It said something like “The Montana (NOT the state!) book.” And it was all about him! It was really well done. I learned way more about Montana than he chose to reveal in the entries he wrote…I learned that he’s a really thoughtful, perceptive, funny, bright guy. A reporter from the local newspaper came by and took a picture of Montana and me (I really hope I can get a copy of the article/photo!).

The only negative about the experience was the school library didn’t have my books. They MAY have had W is for Wisconsin and ABCs of Wisconsin (I didn’t quite understand whether the librarian meant they didn’t have ANY of my books, or that they just didn’t have any of them other than the ABC books). So the kids knew I’d written the ABC books (that’s why I’d been invited in the first place), but they weren’t familiar with any of my other books. But…at least they know about my other books now! And apparently there were quite a few kids who went into the school library looking for my books after they heard me speak. So the librarian apologized to me for not having them and promised to get them as soon as he could. Considering the kids didn’t really know my books, they sure were an attentive audience!

My next author visit is to Columbia, MO next month. I’ve really enjoyed doing author visits in Missouri this last year because Sliding Into Home is on the Mark Twain award list (it’s also on lists in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Nebraska and Tennessee, but I haven’t done any author visits in those states), so the kids are familiar with it. When I get to that book in my presentation, everyone seems to sit up a little straighter and they all smile and nod…I LOVE being a children’s book author!!!

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