Two days ago I went to hear Libba Bray speak at the Iowa City Public Library. I almost didn’t go because the event was supposed to be for teens, and when I asked the librarian whether she was going to let me come, she said, “well, gee, Dori, we’re expecting a pretty big crowd.” (At 4:00 on a Wednesday??? I know of quite a few teens who would not be able to get to the Iowa City Public Library by 4:00. But then again, this is Libba Bray we’re talking about…it’s amazing what one CAN do if one really wants to!) In the end the librarian informed me that there would be an “overflow room,” where they would have the TV set up and MAYBE I could watch the presentation in there. If that wasn’t full, too. I decided watching her on TV was better than not watching her at all, so I went. And as it turned out, I got to sit in the main room rather than the overflow room. (If they had held this event at 7:00 p.m. rather than 4:00 p.m., I bet it would’ve been a different story.) Anyway…she was fabulous…she had great rapport with the teens.

I didn’t have a chance to introduce myself afterwards…I wanted to give the teens a chance to talk to her first, and I needed to get back across town. But you’ll never guess who I shared a table with at the Iowa Librarian Association conference last night. Yup….Libba Bray! Which was both exciting and terrifying because who’s going to come talk to me when they can talk to her??? (BTW, in addition to being a wonderful writer, she’s also a very nice person!)

But believe it or not, some librarians did actually come and see me! (And these weren’t just my friends from the Coralville library, either…regular librarians came to see me, too. They had actual books they wanted signed, even though Libba Bray was right beside me…and 25 of them even took my brochure.)

I got to meet the lady at the Iowa City library that I went back and forth with a year ago on the chess pieces (the Iowa City library has these over-sized chess pieces that you can check out and use on the huge board outside the library…one day last fall, I took my son in there to check them out. And even though the pieces were not being used, we were refused access to them…because we live in Coralville. After much back and forth, and several carefully crafted e-mails, I managed to talk them into changing that policy). Anyway…it was really nice to meet this lady face to face so she could see I really am a nice person (just a little…passionate sometimes!) and I could see that she really is a nice person, too. (And I could’ve kept my mouth shut because she actually came to get a book signed and had not made the connection between Dori-the-author and Dori-the-woman-who-won’t-go-away-until-we-give-in-and-let-her-borrow-the-d%@!-chess-pieces!)

I also learned that even though Trading Places with Tank Talbott is on the Iowa Children’s Choice Award list…and even though Tank Talbott’s Guide to Girls has been out more than A YEAR, a lot of librarians don’t know about it! How could they not know? But two librarians not only knew about it…they also wanted to know if there was going to be a THIRD Tank book. I told them maybe…I’d LIKE to write a third…it’ll probably depend on how #2 does.

And speaking of the Tank books, I had two school librarians standing in front of my table for a while. Both said their kids really liked the books, but the one said their kids HATED the cover. This surprised me…I, personally, LOVE the cover. (And so did the kids at the other librarian’s school.) I was curious what the kids at the other school didn’t like. She said they didn’t like the cartoony look to it. They said, “what’s wrong with those boys? Are they robots?” I guess that shows covers are a matter of personal taste. I LIKE the cartoony style. So the fact that there’s a whole school of kids south of Iowa City who hate it didn’t bother me. Much.

I learned something interesting about how librarians make decisions about whether or not to file a book in JF or YA. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but I asked this one very nice librarian where she shelved Do You Know the Monkey Man. She said she filed it in JF. (I have to admit I was a little disappointed…I keep wanting to write YA, but every time I try, it seems to come out MG. And the books I have that I think straddle the line between the two are often being shelved in JF rather than YA.) So I politely asked WHY she shelved it in the JF section. She said it’s because it’s a “clean” book. There’s nothing in there that would prevent her from giving it to a third or fourth grader. And it’s not a difficult or challenging book to read. (Which is intentional…I try to write books that will appeal to reluctant readers…there’s nothing that makes me happier than to get a letter or an e-mail from a kid (or even the kid’s parent) saying, “I don’t normally like to read, but I liked THIS book.”) So…I’m feeling better about my books being shelved in the JF section now.

Another librarian actually thanked me for writing My Grandpa had a Stroke, which really meant a lot to me because I wrote that book for my kids…because I couldn’t find the book I needed to explain to them what had happened to my dad when he had a stroke, so I wrote it. I wrote it for purely selfish reasons. So it’s really nice to hear somebody else appreciates it, too. Apparently, the first graders at this school do a nursing home visit, so they’re using my book to prepare the kids for the visit. I really like that! (And had never thought of marketing it that way…)

And speaking of nursing homes…I also met the mother of an aid who worked at my dad’s nursing home last summer. My dad is very proud…he tells EVERYONE that I’m an author…and this particular aid was especially interested because his mom is a children’s librarian. So she and I talked about the possibility of me coming to do some workshops for her.

There were a lot of people who asked me how much I charge for author visits. I really, really HATE when they ask me directly. That’s why I post it on my website…so it’s just out there and then they don’t have to ask. (One of the founders of the Professional Toastmasters group I go to now and then (for toastmasters who are, or who want to, earn money by speaking) has a fit that I post that! She says you should never post your rates…but I don’t like having to say it out loud, so that’s why I post it.) But I fielded the question much better than I used to (before I put it on my website). And I talked about ways they could fund my visit.

I think the real highlight of the evening was going out to dinner with the other children’s authors afterwards! If Libba Bray hadn’t been here to accept the Iowa High School award, I would’ve been bold and invited her to join us. Somehow I have a feeling the other authors wouldn’t have minded…

The last couple of days

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