I was planning on driving partway home tonight…in fact, I even considered driving all the way home. I knew I had a few books left to sign after all my presentations (I hadn’t quite gotten through the entire stack during my 2 1/4 hour lunch break), so I went back to sign what was left at the end of the day. But my stack had grown substantially in the time I’d been gone. Granted, I AM slow at signing books…but it took me almost two more hours to sign what was left. And there really aren’t a lot of places to stay between here and home…so I just decided to stay here again. I was certainly paid enough in “expense money” to afford another night.

I moved to a different hotel, though. Not that there was anything wrong with the hotel I was at yesteday…it was just CHEAP. The cheapest place I could find that offered free high speed Internet and breakfast. If a school/conference sets me up at a nice hotel and takes me out for a nice dinner, I enjoy it and I feel grateful. If they tell me to make my own arrangements and give them receipts, I don’t pick the most expensive hotel/restaurant, but I don’t pick the cheapest, either. I pick something mid-range…a Comfort Inn and a Chinese restaurant, for example. But if I’m just given money (a fair amount of money!) and told to make my own arrangements and they don’t need the receipts, I tend to be pretty cheap.

Well, I got to thinking…not only did I not enjoy my dinner very much last night, these conference organizers gave me this money FOR EXPENSES. So I should go ahead and use the money, rather than pocket the extra. That’s what the expense money is for. So I moved to the Drury Inn, which looks quite a bit nicer (I even got a card for 3 free drinks!). And I went out to the Macaroni Grill for dinner, which was WAY better that last night’s dinner.

I had a really nice day! The kids were well-prepared, enthusiastic, and they asked great questions! And most of them had read at least one of my books! It’s a pleasure to speak to groups like these. Also, I got to meet Will Hobbs! He’s the other author who was here (and I thought *I* had a lot of books to sign! Holy cow!). There were also two storytellers. I would’ve loved to have heard all three of their presentations.

The event was really well organized. There were around 1200 fifth and sixth graders. It turned out they came just from Columbia…there are 19 elementary schools here (some came from middle schools, too). The specific requirements were different at each school…but basically every kid here had to read a certain number of books and do a project. (And at least at the elementary schools, MOST kids in each class got to come.) One of the kids showed me a project she’d done on my Sliding Into Home (she wanted me to autograph it for her). Basically, she’d made a book about my book. I really wanted to take the time to sit down and read every word…but I needed to get ready for my next session. Fortunately, the teacher was kind enough to offer to send me a copy of it.

One kid asked me to sign his forehead! I told him I don’t sign body parts…but it occurred to me after he left what a trusting kid he was! I mean, if I WAS the kind of author who signed body parts, I could’ve written ANYTHING across his forehead. He’d have never known! So after I refused to sign his forehead, he asked me to sign his coat. I told him I couldn’t do that, either. He wanted to know why not. I told him I didn’t want his mom to get mad at me. He tried to tell me his mom wouldn’t get mad…and I don’t know his mom, but I think I probably did the right thing.

So, tomorrow I drive home. Then I get back to work on the Albert Whitman book…and get ready for Preteen’s birthday this weekend.

Still in Columbia…

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