One revelation as a kids' author has been discovering the infastructure for selling children's books. Who knew (me not having kids) about the big business of bookstores arranging author appearances at schools?
So Anderson's, a fine independent bookstore in Naperville right by Chicago ? Powell's, of course, is an indie in a national class by itself; but indies should be supported everywhere ? has set up two school visits for me. In the morning, I have 250 6th graders in a school cafeteria in Plainfield; after lunch, another 75 seated on school carpeting in Aurora. I love these visits, daunting as the idea first was. They're pure, old-fashioned barnstorming; and the Q&As are ever wonderful. Dealing with kids, on the page or in person, seems to require clarity on an adult's part. It's great dramatic exercise.
It's also a delightful challenge, figuring on the spot which of my provocative stuff is going to go over. (I'm here to provoke, see.) At the morning school I read from Another NASTYbook, which is a send-up of quest novels, essentially a book where everyone is plumb crazy for candy bars. A world a-Cursed by sweets. ("Who here likes candy bars?" I begin, cheaply.) For my afternoon sessions, I decide to go with the anti-fairy tale stories of NASTYbook. And I'm a little taken aback when I find no one's heard of Hans Christian Andersen. Nor the Grimm Bros. Gee??? So I explain, and read my sad tale of a poor monkey's dream of freedom. Following which, just to razzle the teachers, I ask if the kids would like another sad story ? or a really violent one? "VIOLENT!!" all the kids shout, naturally. So I give 'em my story about a guy who tickles his girlfriend and she explodes with a bang into little pieces. Here's a photo of me in action.
From Chicago, on to Dayton, OH. After lunching on that regional speciality, "Coneys" or chili hotdogs, I cross paths for some bookstore stock signings with another writer in town, Sean Wilsey, he of the memorable family memoir, Oh the Glory of It All. Turns out we're both big soccer fans, and Sean has co-edited a new anthology, The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup, featuring essays by Eggers, Hornby, Foer et al. It'll be out at the end of May. We talk great soccer books, such as prose-poet Eduardo Galeano???s glorious Soccer in Sun and Shadow.
For dinner, I have pasta and a side of spinach at my hotel restaurant. My order arrives ? mammoth portions easily enough for two. Gulp??? No wonder the locals are on the big side, if this is standard practice.
Next day more school barnstorming, in a gym (and again hardly a hand going up when I mention Hans Christian Andersen). In the evening, a reading at Books & Company, another redoubtable indie. I've been learning in my 24 hours here that Dayton boasts quite an array of local talent: Phil Donohue is from here, as was the late humorist Erma Bombeck. And Sara Kelly Roth, who presides at Books & Company, tells me how one evening the mad genius Jonathan Winters came wandering in, to see if his new book was on the shelves! He's a son of Dayton, too. He did some shtick for the patrons. A barnstormer, don't you know???
Another mammoth round of pasta and spinach; then set the alarm for 3:40am, to leave for Memphis.