In Mississippi

I rented a standard-sized SUV on Sunday. Into it went the work of a lifetime. The first thing I ever wrote, and the last thing I finished writing. The correspondence between me and editors, teachers, librarians, students, publishers and readers. Drafts and more drafts. Certificates and awards and programs and essays and partial stories and teaching materials, too.

We stuffed the car with boxes, bags, bins, and one laundry basket (thanks, Hannah, you can have it back now) full of papers. Then Hannah and I drove from Atlanta to Hattiesburg, to the University of Southern Mississippi, to bring all these papers, in all these boxes, where they will now be catalogued and archived at the Lena Y. de Grummond Children's Literature Collection.

I am so humbled to be in such good company. Yesterday we toured the stacks and visited with Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Tana Hoban, Kathi Appelt, Kimberly Willis Holt (your work is on current display, Kathi and Kimberley, and it looks fabulous), Bruce Coville, H.A. Rey (how many times I read CURIOUS GEORGE to my children), and of course, my dear friend Coleen Salley. There are so many treasures in this fabulous collection, and I am grateful to Ellen Ruffin at de Grummond for inviting me to be part of this august group.

After delivering our boxes yesterday , Hannah and I spent the day researching at the McCain Library, which is in the same building as the de Grummond Collection. The last time I was here, curator Diane Ross brought me stories about young people who were part of the Mississippi Summer Project in 1964. One of those stories has stayed with me for almost two years, so I was back at McCain yesterday to learn more.

Diane had a cart ready for me, and I spent several happy hours yesterday with primary sources, reading letters, a diary, and pouring through one young girl's experience in Mississippi in 1964. One day I would love to tell her story.

It interests me to think that one day my letters and manuscripts and more will be archived like this, and boxed, like this, and ready for a researcher who comes along one day, wanting to know the rest of the story. I've already told Ellen to expect me as soon as all those papers are ready for viewing. I want to come visit my stuff. ha!

We're off this morning to visit a man about a banjo, in that little Mississippi town where I grew up summers. Then it's on to kinfolks, and dinner with folks at Lemuria tonight, in Jackson, Mississippi.

Thanks, Ellen, Katie, and Danielle at de Grummond, and Diane and Cindy at McCain, and everyone at USM's Special Collections. It's always a treat to see you again. I love our continuing collaboration.

Local Atlanta Booksellers and Me

Here are Jackie, Karen, and Ellen (with young fox Olivia), three women who had taken writing classes together for years, and who decided two years ago to open a bookstore in Woodstock, Georgia, about 45 minutes north of Atlanta. FoxTale Bookshoppe.

They are still learning their way (aren't we all?), and they are doing lots right. For my signing on Friday, we put out heads together, and FoxTale offered a writing workshop for kids who signed up and purchased all three Aurora County novels in paperback. This ensured a capacity crowd for the workshop, and decent sales for FoxTale.

Of course, as often happens with children's book writers, there is The Comparison to the crowd generated by those who write for adults. For me, the comparison is almost always with a southern writer.

Ellen told me, "We had Rick Bragg in here last year, and we had set up speakers outside so all could hear him -- and Rick wouldn't hear of that -- 'bring 'em all in here!' he said -- we must have broken all kinds of fire codes that day."

This is similar to the story Andy and Carrie Graves told me when I visited Happy Bookseller (RIP, I miss you) in Columbia, SC with LITTLE BIRD in 2005: "Oh! You should have been here yesterday when Paula Dean was signing! We had 400 in a ticketed line around the block!"

What did I say to that? "Well... I don't think you'll have 400 here today." And we laughed. We always laugh.

Okay. I may never be an author for whom booksellers need to offer tickets and signing lines, but I'm steady. I'm dependable. My fan mail is lovely. My books are on dozens (literally) of state award lists of best books for children, been multi-awarded, and well-reviewed. I work hard to support them, and to do the best job I can to offer a solid, heartfelt story for young readers. I put one foot in front of the other and see what happens next. I love what I do and know I'm lucky to be able to do it.

The day after my FoxTale signing, I had a signing at my local indie, Little Shop of Stories, in Decatur, GA. I never gather a big crowd here. I maintain that you have to DO something to draw a crowd -- bring in 4th graders, take me to fourth graders, have a teacher event or ... something, in order to sell books. I had mostly wanted to visit, to lure owner Diane away from her desk for a cup of coffee and conversation.. just a connection of some sort. We've known each other since the shop opened and have said let's get together more times than I can count, but it's been hard for both of us to carve out a time.

I arrived at Little Shop to find dozens of new author Terra McVoy's first book in the window (more on this in a moment), and a beautiful sandwich board outside announcing Rick Riordan's visit next month (a ticketed event for sure... in fact, the store won't hold all of Rick's fans, so the event takes place at the nearby community center).

No sandwich board announcing Deborah Wiles coming to Little Shop. No sign in the window announcing that I would be there that day. And no Diane -- but I knew that would be the case before I got there, as we had talked the day before. Best laid plans...

So who was waiting for me?

One sweet little family. Mom, Dad, two kids and a friend, all of whom are staunch Little Shop supporters. They came out to meet a new-to-them writer.

The good news is that I left Little Shop feeling better than I had when I walked in. Terra Elan McVoy (who manages the store) is bubbling with that new-author buzz that I love to see, and I bought her new book, Pure, remembered that it's not all about me, and took tons of photos (I have misplaced the SD card, but will find it and post photos of Terra and her new book when I do).

I got to spend more time than I ever have before with Dave, co-owner of Little Shop, and I discovered how much I like him. Dave treated my mini-event with great respect. He introduced me to my gaggle of five people, he sat with us while I talked about the little town I grew up in summers in Mississippi, and he opened a bit of stock for me to sign afterward. Every one of those books will be hand sold for summer reading over the next few weeks.

We sold four books to the little family, and writer friend Deb Miller had a book waiting for me to sign (thanks, Deb). I hung out a bit and just chatted -- and Terra said, "Thank you so much for doing this for us." Well... thank you, Terra. And thank you, little family, for coming out.

What I hear from every bookseller so far is that times are indeed tough, belts are tightened, and weathering this year is crucial. I hear that the big, ticketed, events are pulling booksellers through. They don't really need me, do they? Or do we need one another more than ever?

I'm going to be asking these questions as I wend my way through Mississippi -- which is where I am right now. I'll start a new post to let you know how the Shoestring fits in Mississippi, and why, originally, I planned this trip (and then folded the Shoestring signings into it, with HMH's help).

Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C.

What happens when you mix one new husband and one new camera with eager booksellers and their author friend, along with a brand-new author, teachers, a children's book club and one great independent bookstore?

You've got a stop on the Aurora County Shoestring Tour.

Here are Quail Ridge children's booksellers extraordinaire Linda, Trish, and Carol (with me stuck in there because I'm their groupie). Missing is Rosemary (who took care of the department while the rest of us went to dinner) and Julie, whom I met the next morning. Carol, Rosemary and Trish are old friends -- I've visited Quail Ridge five times now, and every time I come, I am bowled over by what care they put into their author events.

Carol likes to schedule me on Tuesdays when QR does "The View From Tuesday," an event that is always well-attended by teachers and students, parents and children. I love the intimate atmosphere and the great conversations that take place, and I love meeting new -- and old -- friends. Love the fourth-grade bookclubs, clutching their new and well-worn copies of my books. Thanks, y'all, for coming out.

You'll see Marla Turlington in this audience, with her kids. We've corresponded but never met until Tues. night. Thanks for the delicious road treats, Marla -- we gobbled them up the next day on our way to Asheville.

When I first started out in children's publishing, I was often paired at events with a more seasoned author, and I was grateful for the exposure and opportunity. So it gave me such delight to be paired this time around with first-time author, Ursula Vernon, who has written NURK: The Strange Surprising Adventures of a (Somewhat) Brave Shrew. Here you can see her in all her fuzzy glory, thanks to Jim and the new camera and no flash -- we're learning how to use this thing.

Ursula did a very nice job, and showed us, too, her newest book that will be available this fall, Dragonbreath, which is a graphic novel. Ursula also draws and writes the Webcomic Digger. Later, as we chatted, Ursula and I discovered that we had shared an editor -- my beloved Liz Van Doren at Harcourt -- and we have both worked with Kate Harrison, now at Penguin. The new Dragonbreath is a Penguin book.

Publishing is such a small world. Witness the next morning in Raleigh when Jim and I stopped by Quail Ridge to say goodbye. Carol introduced us to Doni Kay, Penguin's southern sales rep. It was fun to talk shop about the books we love and to hear Doni talk about the new Penguin releases she's championing -- some by good friends.

I asked her about Nancy Werlin's IMPOSSIBLE, a book I personally watched being born in hardcover, and Doni reached into her burgeoning bag and pulled out the new paperback edition and said, "Got it right here!" It's beautiful, Nancy.

If you followed me on the ALL-STARS hardcover tour, you'll remember that I asked in every bookstore to be hand sold books for my grandkids. This trip, I'm asking to be hand sold a sleeper, a beauty, or a first-time author. I came away from Quail Ridge with Cynthia Rylant's ALL IN A DAY (I am in love with this beauty, with its just-right words in the just-right places, and the fabulous paper cuts by Nikki McClure), and a first book by author Carrie Ryan -- THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH. Carol says she can't put it down.

I also had to have a little something, signed by the author, for grandson Logan, a little something unauthorized and autobiographical... a little something Carol set aside for me when Daniel Handler visited Quail Ridge. This is just one way Quail Ridge takes care of its customers. Visit their website to find out more about what a friendly, warm, inviting, alive place it is. I wish it didn't take me seven hours to drive to Raleigh, but the trip is worth it in all ways.

I know that in the cold, cruel reality of retail, sales are the bottom line. Those sales can be immediate, and/or they can be cumulative -- an author event can build and have long fingers, a very long reach. Getting together in times like these, when the economy is tough but a book is still a bargain, is a testament to our faith in story, in audience, in readers, publishers, booksellers, authors -- all of us -- to stick it out and transcend this time.

These visiting days are actually golden. The memories they create are precious. And, they give us the opportunity to swap war stories and suggest tactics, and just listen to one another figure it all out.

Shoestringing it, as I'm doing this month, gives me time to visit friends and family, too, and not scoot right to the next event. Jim and I stayed with bookseller friends on Tuesday night, and I had breakfast with Maura Stokes on Wednesday morning before Jim and I motored to Asheville. Maura and I went to school together at Vermont College. Watch for her books; it's only a matter of time.

We took our time getting to Asheville, and were about as pooped as this Eudora Welty look-alike when we got there (that's Eudora Welty, the dog, from THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS). We waved at the folks at Malaprops when we walked by their open door. Just inside the door, they were busy -- another author, another event, at another store. It made me feel connected in that larger way we are all part of one another's stories.

We came home to booming rain on Thursday night -- we need it so, here in Atlanta -- and I sank gratefully into my own bed, even after discovering that I left my pillows in Asheville. See? I'm still doing it -- leaving things in my wake. Sigh.

I'm on the way to FoxTale Bookshoppe in an hour, in Woodstock, Georgia, where I've got a signing and a writing workshop to do with kids who have signed up for this event. I've spent the morning paying bills, running errands, and making a myriad of phone calls to settle details of the Mississippi portion of the Shoestring Tour, which begins Sunday. It's a totally glam life, heh heh.

You can follow along with the schedule on the blog's website, and you can follow details on twitter. However you follow, I hope you'll come keep me company.

Thanks, Carol and everyone at Quail Ridge, who work so hard to bring books and readers together. Thanks to SIBA for picking up the Shoestring and running with it, and thanks to everyone at Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt for such great all-around support. It's good to hear from you on the road, too! Another connection.

Come See Me!

I'm heading for North Carolina this morning, avec Jim, driver and companion extraordinaire. It's leg two of the Aurora County Shoestring Tour, a two-day trip into North Carolina, followed by two days of signings right here in the Atlanta area. I'll be signing all three Aurora County novels: LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER, EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS, and THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS, all of which are now in paperback.

The Pilgrimage portion of the tour begins on Sunday, as daughter Hannah and I wend our way through Mississippi in a week's time, visiting kin, signing books in five different locations, and chronicling the Shoestring aspect of it all.

Here is complete tour information for the rest of the tour. It will remain posted in the right-hand column as well. The D.C. portion is done -- you can read about it here.

You'll see, in true Shoestring fashion, I've layered in things that are not book events. This is the nature of this tour -- in this crazy economy, we are trying something new and having fun: we are folding in bookstores to travel already planned, and I am working in concert with booksellers and Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt to support my books while traveling, and chronicling the trip.

Please contact bookstores for specific information. I will update in the right-hand column as I have more on tba times.

Tuesday, April 21, 7:30pm. -- Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, N.C.

Wednesday, April 22 -- Asheville, N.C.

Thursday, April 23 -- North Georgia Mountains

Friday, April 24, 4pm. -- FoxTale Book Shoppe, Woodstock, GA

Saturday, April 25, 4pm. -- Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, GA

The Pilgrimage:

Sunday, April 26 -- Birmingham, AL

Monday, April 27 -- University of Southern Mississippi at the de Grummond Collection and McCain Library and Main Street Books, Hattiesburg, MS (time tba)

Tuesday, April 28 -- Louin, Mississippi (this is the real Halleluia, MS)
and Lemuria stock signing, Jackson, MS

Wednesday, April 29 -- Pine Lake Christian Academy, Brandon, MS, and
The Eudora Welty House and Gardens, and Brandon Library, then Kinfolks Gathering

Thursday, April 30, 11:30am -- Lorelei Books, Vicksburg, MS and
Turn Row Books, Greenwood, MS (time tba)

Friday, May 1 -- More Turn Row, and barbecue with Hernando, MS librarians

Saturday, May 2 -- Memphis, Tennesee - Blues Festival and Graceland

Saturday, May 2 -- Square Books Jr., Oxford, MS (time tba)

Sunday, May 3 -- Tupelo, MS (Elvis's birthplace) and home.

I'm learning to use my new Nikon D40 (still waiting to afford the 55-200mm lens, but this is a good start), and I promise pictures and stories galore along the way.

Here we go. See you tonight at Quail Ridge.

A Well-Rounded Weekend

Last night, daughter Hannah and I went to Friday Jazz at the High Museum here in Atlanta, and took in the exhibit we've been waiting to see: The First Emperor of China's Terracotta Army. Oh my. I woke up this morning still amazed.

Today, husband Jim and I travel to the gold-rush town of Dahlonega, in the foothills of Georgia (one of our favorite day-trips), to the Bear on the Square Mountain Festival. Lots of fiddles, lots of live music and dancing and singing and... just my kind of place and my kind of entertainment.

Then, tomorrow is the piece de resistance. Hannah and I have been waiting for this day ever since we snagged tickets when they first went on sale. Tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of the premier of GONE WITH THE WIND. It premiered here in Atlanta, at the (now restored) Fox Theater in Midtown, and the movie will be shown in its entirety -- prologue and intermission to boot -- at noon on Sunday. It will be introduced by Robert Osborne of American Movie Classics.

Before the movie, Hannah and I are attending, upstairs at the Fox in the Egyptian Ballroom, with good friends from out of town, the Rhett and Scarlett Brunch. I kid you not.

We must dress for this occasion, we have decided. I have just the outfit. It won't approximate the one Scarlett wore to the barbecue at Twelve Oaks (which is the one Hannah has dibs on), but it will come close. Can't wait for this reunion with out of town friends who also love this ridiculous, amazing, controversial, fascinating old movie. It's an Uncle Edisto kind of movie -- "Open your arms to life! Let it strut into your heart in all its messy glory!"

As Scarlett would answer, "Fiddle-dee-dee!"

I may have to wear gloves. Yes, white gloves... I think that will be perfect.

See you Monday, when the second leg of the Shoestring Tour gets underway! Have a great weekend, everybody. May it include some family, some friends, some culture, some guilty pleasure, and some great music.

Sometimes a Shining Moment...

Who knew there was this little pocket of heaven in Elkhorn, Nebraska, where librarians, teachers, principals, and staff collaborate to make learning -- for everyone -- their number one priority? Who knew that so much laughing could go on while all this collaborating was happening? All this ease? All this comfort within the context of hard work?

I've brought you some photos from my time in Elkhorn schools -- what an experience, y'all. What a wonderful couple of packed days.

I thought I might not make it on Monday afternoon, as storms rolled through Atlanta, and my flight to Chicago was delayed several times. My connecting flight was also delayed, however, so I flew to O'Hare five hours late, at 9pm, only to miss my connection, and spend the night in Chicago.

At midnight in the craziness of O'Hare, I managed to get booked on the first flight to Omaha the next morning, so got three hours sleep near the airport, grabbed the 6am to Omaha, and landed at 7:30, just in time to jump into librarian Melissa Lightle's car and be whisked to Fire Ridge Elementary School, where I began my day at 8:30 with Kindergarteners. Whoa!

The day was fabulous -- three sessions at Fire Ridge, lunch there, then a whisk to Westridge, where I did one session. The next day was a repeat, with three sessions at Spring Ridge, and back to smaller Westridge for a last session.

Students were so well prepared for me! They knew my books, so when I talked about characters and where they came from, about the storyline and how it came to be, and related this to their lives, they could make ready connections, and were scribbling away. Whether they were finger writing with me, as younger students do in assembly, or writing in their notebooks as the fourth and fifth graders did, I put them to work, and they were fully engaged. Teachers modeled for their students --they even danced to One Wide Sky.

Dinner on Tuesday night included -- principals. Sometimes in schools, I never meet the principal or assistant principal, and an author visit is viewed much like the cultural arts programs I used to attend with my own children when they were in school -- wonderful singers and dancers and animal handlers and more, who were often tied into the curriculum and were so much fun for the students, but not viewed as an integral part of the day. These folks would whisk in for two sessions with the entire school, and whisk out, but often they weren't seen as partners in education in the way that an author program is by many schools today.

It's part entertainment, yes, it's part educational, yes, but mostly, authors come into schools as teaching partners, as literacy advocates, as writing coaches for teachers as well as students, and -- truth to tell -- as inspiration. You can do it. You can write well, you can teach writing well, you can learn this difficult thing and even rejoice in its power to move, to instruct, to heal, to give shape to your life, to help you understand yourself and others, to empower the world... this thing we call Story does all these things. How amazing is our personal narrative.

I ask students to tell me about their lives, to write them, draw them, sing them, dance them, tell them... and they do. It's always thrilling to see Story begin to take shape, isn't it? Teachers tell me they are inspired to write now, too -- yes! Do it! Tell your story! Show it to your students, share your work in progress, your challenges, your victories, and encourage your students to do the same. It's more of an organic process than it is a rule-bound one -- it is, I promise. The rules are important to learn, yes they are, but the process is intrinsic to who we are. We MUST tell our stories: we are human. It's what we do. It is our task, our life's work. So -- how best to tell them? What are my tools? Who can help me?

I still ask these questions myself. I am still learning, even as I teach. I am always learning, and so are you.

It's thrilling to do good work in schools, it really is. It's thrilling, too, to finish up that good work and return home. Home to the little house in the little woods, with its little garden and spring colors, its waiting little family, and lovely homecooked meals. Thank you, Jim. It's good to be home.

And thanks so much, everyone at Fire Ridge, particularly librarian Melissa Lightle and principal Ann Doerr, everyone at Spring Ridge, including librarian Marsha Flanders and principal Don Pechous, and everyone at Westridge Elementary School, especially principal Troy Sidders, and librarian Stephany Albritton -- and all media assistants as well -- you are all so special, so awesome, and did a mountain of work to prepare your schools and to bring an author and a meaningful literacy program to your students and teachers. Your students are lucky to have you. And I know you feel you are lucky to have them, and one another.

Thank you so much for making me feel so welcome, and such an integral part of your big-hearted community. I am honored. It was my pleasure to work with you.

Back To The Days Of Christopher Robin And Pooh

Well, not exactly. But home again, where things are familiar and known and loved. Not that they weren't, in D.C., but Atlanta has become home over the past 4-1/2 years, and that's a good thing, since I live here with my new husband, Jim, and three of my children live nearby, as well as an assortment of very fine friends.

Home again to familiar food, routines, and fires. It's cold in Hotlanta! We've got a mid-April fire going this morning, and I'm sticking close to it. I hope the local strawberries haven't frozen: I'm counting on 20 pounds of them to make jam with!

You can find my interview with Michele Norris on All Things Considered archived at NPR here. I'm home now until this coming Monday, when I fly to Nebraska to work in three schools -- I'm excited about this, as I've never been to Nebraska, and both LITTLE BIRD and ALL-STARS are Golden Sower nominees. State lists have been so good to my books.

Thank you again, Gussie Lewis at Politics & Prose, Lisa Triggs at the Maret School, Michele Norris at NPR, Michelle Atherholt and Ann Duncan at Spring Ridge Elementary School in Frederick, Maryland, Marlene and Tom England of Dancing Bear Toys in Frederick, Cindy Powell of Needles & Pins in Frederick, and the Frederick City Police Activity League (PAL), and Janice Smith at Horizon Elementary School in Sterling, Virginia. Thank you for your dedication to bringing books and young readers together, and highlighting the fact that we all have stories to share, even the youngest of us.

I'll post the entire Shoestring Tour schedule here on the blog, and at my website, later today. I had a long, hot bath in the new, deep tub last night (bliss) and this morning my hair is making a statement -- I look like a Conehead. Oh, the joys of being home. I'm making my way to my desk, where taxes and paperwork await. Soon, I'll be digging into the writing again -- but today is for catch-up.

Maybe I'll read some Winnie the Pooh, too. I've returned home to my own Hundred Acre Wood, and it's very fine to be here.

All Things Considered Tonight!

Hey, y'all. Just finished talking with Michele Norris of All Things Considered at the NPR studios in D.C.

The interview is scheduled to air tonight during ATC -- hope you can tune in. We talked about ALL-STARS and LITTLE BIRD and writing for and with children and the importance of stories.

It was fun! And I'm running now to the airport -- after a quick stop in Camp Springs, Maryland, where I grew up in the Sixties. Camp Springs is the setting for the new novel, and I want to take some pictures -- again.

More from home --

The D.C. Portion of the Shoestring Tour

TO: Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt
FR: Deborah Wiles

Dear Karen, et al,

I've been largely computer-less since arriving on Wednesday. I'm staying (in true Shoestring fashion) with good friends Sue and Larry, in my old stomping grounds of Frederick, MD, and they have no wireless, although they do have a computer, which I've used to check email. So. No blog post until today, when I've got a few hours of down time and have used it to drive into Frederick with my computer, to a lovely coffee shop and wireless access.

My camera is broken and the new one hasn't arrived yet, so I took photos with my daughter's camera, but most of them are too dark. I'll remedy this for the Pilgrimage portion of the tour.

So I have few photos to share, but lots of stories, lots of tidbits. I'll make this quick, however, on a Sunday afternoon, as I've got a speaking engagement in a few hours, in Washington, D.C., at the Maret School. It's a community event that brings families together from Maret, Sidwell Friends, and John Eaton School, to hear an author speak about telling our stories. The Maret students have read ALL-STARS, and Politics & Prose will be there to offer books to all who want them.

The event at P&P on Thursday was fabulous. Students from Sheridan School and Murch Elementary -- all fourth graders -- were fabulous. Gussie, Dara, and Jewell are fabulous. EVERYONE at Politics & Prose is fabulous -- it's a sun-filled place for books that's hopping with a vibrant community, and I am lucky to be part of it. Thank you for setting this up, and please send my thanks (again!) to Politics & Prose.

I will see Gussie tonight at Maret. Tomorrow, as you know, I'm stopping by National Public Radio to do an interview with Michele Norris for All Things Considered before I fly home to Atlanta. I'm very excited about this! I worked in radio for years before I began writing, and I love the oral tradition of telling stories. And I love All Things Considered. I don't know when this interview will air, but I will let you know.

I've managed to keep my voice. I survived the first couple of days on Throat Coat tea, Jolly Ranchers (cherry), and water water water. At one school we had a muddy microphone with a (short) tethered cord that wouldn't allow me close enough to all those kindergarteners, but we punted and did fine.

In the after-school PAL program, I got my picture taken with Frederick's Chief of Police (ha!) and got to spend a gratifying hour with the kids who are reading ALL-STARS -- this was precious.

The Dancing Bear signing was Old Home Week, as it always is, and I got to catch up with friends. I've spent time catching up with family (that's some of them, in the photo above), too -- went to my niece and nephews' school in Baltimore and was surrounded by kids who had read LITTLE BIRD, and had questions. But the best part was Anna and Leo saying "Aunt Debbie! Aunt Debbie! Look at this!" and "My Aunt Debbie wrote that book!" and being a part of a large, loving family. I am still a newlywed, and still getting used to this generous and unconditional family love. I love it.

I also got to work registration at yesterday's Children's Book Guild of D.C. annual celebration and non-fiction award ceremony at the National Geographic Museum on 17th Street. My friend Sue Bartoletti was the award winner this year, and it was great to reconnect with her -- her 2010 book on the KKK is going to knock your socks off.

After hugging all my book-writing and illustrating friends, I went to tea at the Mayflower Hotel with friends and then scooted home for dinner in downtown Frederick with Sue and Larry, and then did a walk-around of my former home town. It was nostalgic, but you know... I am digging roots deeper into the Atlanta soil, and nowadays I miss my husband, my kids, and my friends in Atlanta, when I come here.

It has been a great week, I have done good work, and I am ready to go home.

Thank you for all you've done to make this portion of the Shoestring Tour possible. I appreciate all you do.



What Is A Shoestring Tour?

My Aunt Beth told stories of growing up during the Depression in a little southern Mississippi town. My favorite started like this: "I never wore them during the week, but on Saturdays I put on my socks and shoes. We went to town on Saturdays, and I got a nickel to spend however I wanted. I tucked it into my sock; I did not want to lose it."

I was fascinated by these stories, which Aunt Beth taped for all of us, and which was the beginning of my interest in oral history. But that's another story. The story today is that we are turning back to these simpler days (even with all the technology we embrace) and are looking for meaningful ways to spend our dollars and our time, as we wade through this recession time.

So I had an idea. I write about a small Mississippi town -- the one my Aunt Beth grew up in, and that I grew up in through my childhood summers. My newest book, The Aurora County All-Stars, is just published in paperback, which means the entire Aurora County trilogy: Love, Ruby Lavender, Each Little Bird That Sings, and All-Stars is in paperback. Time to celebrate! But how?

I contacted Harcourt, now Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt, with an idea. "Times are tough," I said, "but a book is still a bargain. I have travel scheduled this spring, and would like to fold into that already-scheduled travel a paperback book tour for All-Stars and the Aurora County trilogy. I know everyone is stretched thin in this economy -- what would you think about working together to bring publishers, authors, booksellers, and readers together in a unique way?"

Well bless their hearts, as Aunt Tot would say. We rolled up our sleeves and began a collaboration of resources, time, expertise, and effort, to put together a tour that encompasses those old values of use it up, use it over, make do, make it stretch, and make it meaningful.

Thus was born the idea of the Shoestring Tour. I contacted Wanda Jewell at SIBA, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, and SIBA embraced the idea so wholeheartedly, they now have a link on their website devoted to Shoestring Tours on their STARS site -- Authors Around the South-- they've adopted the name and the concept, and I'm delighted.

Here's how it works: You fold in bookstores to travel you've already got scheduled. You save your publisher money, you save yourself a separate trip, you meet readers, and you get to hang with your good friends in bookselling at your favorite indie bookstores. You take your camera, you fold in lots of local color, lots of great stories, and you highlight what innovative bookstores are doing to bring books and readers together -- and you eat great food, hug family and friends, fall into bed exhausted every night and grateful for the opportunity.

I'm boarding! Next up, I'll give you the complete tour information. I'm flying to D.C. now, renting a car, and driving to Spring Ridge Elementary School in Frederick, Maryland -- my old stomping grounds. Two sessions with students at Spring Ridge, and then a late afternoon with an after-school program, then dinner with friends.

More on the flip flop. Get your shoestrings ready -- we're going to tie one on.