Category: Travel

SCIBA – 2010

This past weekend, Scholastic sent me to Hollywood for the annual trade show of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association, where I got to meet lots of book-loving people, and had a wonderful time.

The night before the trade show, I went out to eat with my publicist, Lauren, and Roz, the Scholastic sales rep for the Southern California area.  (Though her territory includes much more than Southern California.  She gets to go to Hawaii on business!)  Dinner was delicious, and the restaurant was decked out in cobwebs and spooky candles for Halloween.  I think Lauren referred to the style as “haunted bordello” or something like that.  Over our meal we talked a bit about my presentation, and afterward we walked back to the hotel, trodding upon the Hollywood stars (not the people, the pieces of cement).  As we walked, Roz commented on the placement of certain stars, and how some of them are kind of off to the side all by their lonesome.  Then Lauren pointed out that Dean Martin’s star now sits in front of a lingerie store, and we all agreed that Dean would likely have approved of women seeing his name and thinking of him as they go to buy their intimates.

We went back to the hotel, and as I walked to my room I noticed that each of the room-number plaques also featured a welcoming picture in silouette.  Like a hand holding a doorkey, or a champaign glass.  Well, this was the picture by my door…

…and it made me kind of vaguely nervous the first time I opened it.

The next day, I gave my speech.  I talked a bit about the books and the bookstores that have been important to me while growing up and moving around with the military.  And then I talked a bit about The Clockwork Three.  I think it went pretty well.  Fellow Utah author Ally Condie also spoke, and talked about choice and the role it plays in her new novel, Matched.  We shared the stage with several other authors, including Al Yankovic.  Yes, the “weird” one, but for his new picture book, he’s just Al.  Did you know that guy has sold, like, 12 million albums?  I remember listening to him as a kid, and if you had told me a couple of years ago that I would one day meet and speak on the same stage as Weird Al, I would probably have told you that you’d listened to “White and Nerdy” one too many times.  But nevertheless…

After the lunch, there was a signing, and Ally Condie and I shared a table and signed a lot of books.

Then the trade show started and I went to see Roz at the Scholastic booth, only to find Kazu Kibuishi there.  I’ve known of Kazu’s work as editor and contributor to the Flight comics anthologies, which are amazing, but more recently I’ve come to love his Amulet series of graphic novels for Scholastic.  If you haven’t read them, you should seek them out.  At any rate, I started talking with him about his books, and we had a great conversation about what he’s trying to achieve with them (and succeeding very well, if you ask me) which then turned into a conversation about story in general.  At some point I walked away to get a drink, and when I returned, Kazu was holding The Clockwork Three.

“This is you,” he said.

“Yes, it is,” I said.

I guess while I had been gone, he had picked up my book and said to Roz, “This author has the same name as that guy I was just talking to.”

To which Roz had said, “No, that guy was the author.”

I had been so excited to meet Kazu, I hadn’t even introduced myself.  So when I came back, we all kind of chuckled about it.  And then we continued our conversation, during the course of which Kazu’s interpretation of the Pixar film Ratatouille shifted the way I’ve been thinking about a future project of mine for the better.  So thanks to him for that.  We signed each other’s books, and he left to go to a dinner.

Kazu Kibuishi and me.

Roz, me, and Lauren

Then Lauren and I went to eat dinner at this place that served really amazing hamburgers.  Now, people who know me know how much I love hamburgers, so apparently Lauren knows me well.  Having worked in Hollywood for a film studio, Lauren also gave me a guided tour of Hollywood, past Grauman’s Chinese Theater

…where I snapped this photo, because I’m kind of nerdy like that:

The next day, I flew home.  It was a great weekend, and I owe a big thanks to Lauren and Roz for taking such good care of me.  If you’re interested, Publishers Weekly has a write-up on the event that you can read here.

ALA 2010

I’ve been meaning to post about my first conference of the American Library Association for a while now.  I had an amazing time.

Scholastic brought me in to promote The Clockwork Three.  It was the first real publicity for the book, with a reading and signing, and ARCs handed out.  But the weekend was also a chance to hang out with lots of great people who are involved with and passionate about children’s literature.

The reading took place at the Scholastic Literary Brunch, along with several other wonderful authors.  I enjoyed hearing passages from Lucy Christopher’s Stolen, Cynthia Lord’s Touch Blue, Erin Bow’s Plain Kate, Blue Balliett’s The Danger Box, and Deborah Wiles’ Countdown. All were engaging and made me want to read their books.  Which fortunately, I’m able to do because everyone attending the brunch left with a copy of each in a gift-bag.  Free books are a perk of this job I could definitely get used to!

After the reading, my editor, Lisa, showed me around the conference show-floor.  We walked through most of the publisher’s booths, and I met lots of people and saw lots of great books.  Friends’ titles were well-represented, including Mette Harrison’s The Princess and the Snowbird, Jessica Day George’s Princess of Glass, Rebecca Barnhouse’s The Coming of the Dragon, Lindsey Leavitt’s Princess for Hire, Carol Lynch Williams’ Glimpse, and Bree Despain’s The Dark Divine (Have you seen Bree’s book trailer yet?  Check it out here).  I was excited and grateful to see that The Clockwork Three was present as well.

Me and Blue Balliett

My signing that afternoon went great.  I’d never done a big signing like that before, and it was wonderful to meet librarians and readers from all over the country.  I signed for about an hour, but I was having so much fun I felt like I could’ve kept going forever.

After that, we went back to the hotel and changed into fancier clothes for the Newbery & Caldecott banquet, which was also amazing.  The energy and the shared love of children’s literature were palpable.  The speeches given by Rebecca Stead and Jerry Pinkney were eloquent and inspiring.  And I got to meet and thank M.T. Anderson, whose advice to “write what you think you can’t” led very directly to my second novel.

The next day, Lisa and I went to the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum.  When I was growing up in Maryland, it was my favorite museum, and I even had dreams of running away and living there, a la From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  I hadn’t been back in years, so it was pretty neat to see it again, although a lot of things have changed.  I don’t know if I like it as well as I used to.  Lisa noted how the displays don’t seem to follow any easy sense of order or sequence, and I agree.  It’s rather chaotic.  Everywhere you look, there’s something to see, but nothing to tell you what order to look in.  Perhaps this reflects a shift in the way we take in information in this modern internet age, that is, everything-from-everywhere-all-the-time.

After the museum I still had a couple of hours before I had to catch my plane, so I walked back over the convention center.  This turned out to be a mistake, because it was pouring rain by the time I had to leave.  There was a huge line for taxis outside the center, and I still had to get back to the hotel for my luggage.  So I decided to make a run for it through the rain, and while I was waiting a little too close to the curb at a cross-walk, I got splashed by a car.  I mean, really drenched.  Like in the movies.  The poor guy next to me was wearing an expensive-looking suit, and we just looked at each other, dripping, and he used an expletive I won’t repeat here (though I silently agreed with him).  I made it back to the hotel, got my things, took a cab to the airport, and changed into dry clothes while waiting for my flight.

The airport was extra fun, because there were two flights with very similar numbers, but going to very different locations, using the same gate.  My gate.  They kept announcing the wrong flights, causing everyone to get in line, even though half of them wanted to go to Atlanta, and the other half to Salt Lake City.  Fortunately, Jessica Day George was on the same flight as me, so we were able to commiserate and laugh about the whole thing.  (Did you enjoy your “crispy rice,” Jessica?)

All in all, it was a wonderful trip, full of great experiences and great people.  Many thanks to the wonderful folks at Scholastic for making the trip so enjoyable and memorable for me.  I hope I get to go to ALA again in 2011.  New Orleans or bust!

Some upcoming events

Just a little update about where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing this summer, writer-wise.

First, next week is the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop. I’ve written about it before, about what a great event this conference has been for me, and will continue to be for other writers. I’ll be speaking there in the afternoon on Tuesday, June 15th, as a part of a First Books Panel with Heather Dixon. It should be a lot of fun. If you’re attending the workshop, stop in. If you’re not attending the workshop, how come? Registration is still open for a few more days.

The next day, June 16th at 3:00 PM, I’ll be doing a book talk with a group of kids at The King’s English. The staff there are amazing, and they went out of their way to get a bunch of Clockwork Three ARCs to share with some of their younger customers and set up this event. I’m not sure if it’s open to everyone, but anyway, that’s where I’ll be.

At the end of the month, from June 26-28, I’ll be in Washington D.C. for the American Library Association’s annual conference. I’m really excited about this, as it marks the official publicity launch of The Clockwork Three. I’m scheduled to give a reading at Scholastic’s Literary Brunch, and then I’ll be signing books at the Scholastic booth. Then, I get to attend the Newbery & Caldecott banquet, something I am very much looking forward to. Back in January, I got up early, drove through the snow to an elementary school library, and gathered with some friends around a computer screen to watch them announce the medalists and honor books. Now, I get to see the authors and illustrators receive their awards. Awesome.

From July 30th to August 2nd I’ll be in Los Angeles at the annual summer conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I love this event, and this will be my third year. I’m taking a class on writing graphic novels. I’ve always loved comics, and I’ve written and illustrated them before. I’ve always planned, or at least hoped, that graphic novels would be a part of my writing career, so I’m looking forward to the SCBWI class.

In October, I’ll be flying back to L.A. for the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association annual trade show. Along with Ally Condie, author of the forthcoming and much-buzzed Matched, I’ll be speaking at the Author Feast on the 23rd.

Between these trips, I’ll still be working on a new website, and starting on my next book. I’ll be busy, but it’s a good kind of busy.

Curse you, Doctor Who!

More on the title of this entry in a moment.  First things first.

I had one more entry I’d planned to write on my trip to NYC.  But that series of posts has already gone on longer than I’d planned, and anyway, the final day was mostly comprised of waiting in lines and passing through multiple security checkpoints to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (with an evacuation of the Statue due to the smell of burning rubber thrown in).  Rather than go into that whole ordeal, I figured I would just post a few cool pictures we took and move on.

Statue of Liberty Face

A life-sized replica of the Statue of Liberty’s face.  Note: in this photo I am either contemplating the meaning of Freedom and what it means to be an American, or I’m staring at that spot on the ceiling.  Can’t remember which.

The Statue of Liberty

She truly is impressive.  Another note: prior to visiting the Statue of Liberty, I had no idea she was green.  I am color blind, as you may recall from my stint as the Green Spy.  I’ve always thought that Lady Liberty was kind of an off-white marble color.  Mind you, knowing she’s green doesn’t mean I can see it, but it’s nice to feel in the loop.  (Other things that are green, which I only learned about in the last few years: pistachios.)

The Registry Room

Ellis Island.  I wish we would have had more time there.  It is a place steeped in significance, and I’m not sure whether that feeling came from the meaning I imposed on it, or whether it came from something external to me, a residual imprint left behind by those whose lives were changed by their passage through its halls.  Either way, it was a memorable experience.

Ellis Island

From the balcony I saw this child walking alone in the light across the Registry Room and had to take a picture.

And that’s it for NYC, I think.


And now, Doctor Who (with a warning that this will be pretty geeky).  Oh, where to start…

The Doctor (Tom Baker)I used to watch Doctor Who as a kid, the Tom Baker incarnation, with his trademark too-long scarf and unnatural affinity for Jelly Babies candy.  I loved that show, I think because it was so random, and weird and so different from most American TV programs.  I mean, what other show would take a slow-moving tank of a robot shaped like a salt-shaker, with a toilet plunger for a hand, and turn it into the most menacing being in the universe?  And yet, that’s exactly what they did with the perennial Daleks.

DalekAnd they totally pulled it off.  I bought it completely, mostly because the characters were so engaging.  I loved the Doctor.  The Tom Baker Doctor.  And that’s the problem with the show, and why I’m so frustrated and puzzled by it.  You see, when the Doctor dies, he regenerates with a brand-new body, to be played by a new actor.  Since the show holds the record for the longest running science fiction show in the world (and here is where I thank Wikipedia, to simultaneously cite a source and give myself an out if it’s wrong, because hey, it’s Wikipedia) there have been, at present counting, eleven Doctors.  And I can’t figure out how the show has lasted so long.  Not because it isn’t good, but because as a kid, after Tom Baker’s Doctor regenerated into a new actor, I lost all interest.  Who was this new guy calling himself the Doctor?  Where was his scarf?  Where were his Jelly Babies?  He was all wrong.

The Doctor and RoseThe show went off the air in ’89, and was then brought back in ’05, refreshed and rebooted (while remaining charmingly and bravely true to the original).  I still had little interest, but a couple of weeks ago I decided to watch an episode out of mild curiosity.  And then I watched another.  And another.  And I got hooked again.  And then they went and killed off that Doctor just as I was getting invested in him and replaced him with yet another Doctor.  Then I started the whole process again, trying to get reinvested in a character that keeps changing on me.  And did I mention the Doctor’s traveling companions?  They get swapped out every season or two.

And this is, essentially what’s bothering me, as a storyteller, and why I curse the show while still loving it.  How on earth do you have a series as successful and long-lived as Doctor Who when you regularly and systematically purge the cast of characters?  It defies what I know about storytelling, about how you sustain a reader/viewer/listener’s interest – you get them to care about your characters – and leaves me feeling that I’m missing something.  The popularity of the show is undeniable, so they’re doing something right.  I just don’t know what it is.  But I want to figure it out, because in spite of the frustration, and the effort it takes to follow a show that has seen three different doctors in the last five seasons, I’m still watching it.

What about you guys?  Do you watch Doctor Who?  And if so, how do you think they pull it off?

NYC – Part 4

Part 1, here.  Part 2, here.  Part 3, here.

So, after a long day of filming and a good night’s sleep, the next morning we rode the subway down to a recording studio.  There I met Mary Gruetzke, the audiobook editor for The Clockwork Three, and Cheryl Smith, the audiobook producer.  Both women were very nice and welcoming.

I was there at the recording studio because several weeks ago, Mary suggested the idea of adding some “bonus” material at the end of The Clockwork Three audiobook, kind of like the extras on a DVD.  She and Lisa and I bounced a couple of ideas around, and eventually settled on something that I think will be really cool (but as with most things related to the book right now, it’s too early to talk about in detail).  And since I was in New York City, they wanted me to record a brief introduction to go with the bonus material.

Being in a sound-booth was another first for me, and I was so struck by that little pocket of silence nestled right there in the heart of NYC, one of the noisiest places I’ve ever been.  I sat down at a microphone, put on a pair of headphones, and read the introduction I’d written.  But unlike my experience the previous day, I didn’t feel awkward with the reading at all.  It went smoothly, and I think I read through it three times.  Each time, Cheryl gave me a little direction – “Put more emphasis on this word.” “Read this section more slowly.” – and then we were all done.

Mary and me in front of the Scholastic building

Mary and me in front of the Scholastic building

After that, Mary got us a cab, but we had a few minutes before we had to be at the Scholastic offices, so she took us to see Union Square.  They have a really nice farmer’s market running there a few days a week, which we walked through and enjoyed.  If it had been lunch time, I could have easily made a fabulous meal of artisan cheeses and meats, with some crusty bread.  But as it was, we just looked and then got in another cab.

The Scholastic Building is in SoHo, and even from the outside it has a very different vibe than the publishers with their offices up in Midtown.  Mary showed us in, we got our visitor badges, and went up to my editor’s office.  It was cool to see where Lisa works.  Her office was as filled with books as I expected it to be, and to be honest, I was a bit envious.  I don’t currently have the shelving to load my office up with all the books I own.

Lisa and me

Lisa and me

I was supposed to give a reading at an office reception that afternoon, so Lisa and I talked about what I should read and settled on the passage where Giuseppe plays the green violin for the first time.  After that we started a series of meetings.  I met my publicist, Samantha Grefé, and we went downstairs to film a “5 Questions” feature that will appear on the Scholastic On Our Minds blog in a few months.

Lisa and Samantha took us out for lunch, and my agent, Stephen Fraser met us at the restaurant.  Steve, ever the gentleman, brought flowers for the women.  Now, I don’t intend for this blog to become a food blog, but as much as I love food, I think it’s inevitable that I’ll mention it now and again.  So let me just say that we had another delicious meal.

Scholastic Credo CarpetAfterward we went back to the offices and sat down with the Sales and Marketing teams.  Everyone was so amazing and enthusiastic about The Clockwork Three.  But more than that, I could tell that every single person I met was passionate about children’s literature in general, and I once again felt lucky to at least be a peripheral member of the Scholastic family.  Oh, and something else I thought was pretty cool: they have the company credo printed on their carpet.

We then went to the office reception.  There were lots of people there, some of whom had already read The Clockwork Three.  I started out by talking a bit about the inspiration for the book, and then I gave the reading.  I think it went pretty well, although I did read a little too quickly.  I need to just get in the habit of slowing down when I do these kinds of things.  After the reading, I signed a few ARCs for people that had them.  And then Scholastic’s CEO Dick Robinson walked in.  I was pretty excited to meet him, and to tell him how much I appreciated the speech he gave in Bologna.  He had me sign an ARC for his son, which I was very happy to do!

We finished up the day with a quick meeting with the foreign rights team, who have been working very hard and done a tremendous job of handling the foreign licensing of The Clockwork Three.  I’ll let you know more when I can, so stay tuned for announcements on that front.

How do dinosaurs...After that meeting, Lisa and I chatted some more (I noticed a Cylon perched on one of her bookshelves, and found out we’re both Battlestar Galactica fans) and then I went down to the Scholastic bookstore on the building’s ground level.  I understand it’s a favorite destination for neighborhood parents and their kids.  It would be one of mine, too, if I lived in NYC.

All in all, it was one of the best days of my life.  Really.  I felt so welcomed, and everyone was so friendly and complimentary.  It was honestly a little overwhelming, but in such a wonderful way.  I feel very lucky, very grateful, and I owe a special thank you to Lisa for putting it all together.

No. 45 Crosby StreetOne block over from the Scholastic building lies Crosby Street.  That name might be familiar to those of you who have read The Clockwork Three.  I’ve already mentioned that one of the characters in the book, Giuseppe, was inspired by a 19th century boy from NYC named Joseph.  He lived, or rather, was imprisoned at No. 45 Crosby Street.  So after I left the Scholastic offices I had to go see the address myself.

The experience was very moving.  As you can see in the picture, the building has changed from what it was in the 1870’s when Joseph lived there, but the street has not.  Those are likely the same cobblestones that Joseph walked across every night on his way back to his master.  I’m glad I got to see it.

We met a writer friend of mine, Kate Milford, for pizza at a place called Lombardi’s.  Kate’s debut novel, The Boneshaker, will be released this month, and it’s getting tremendous reviews.  I’ve read it, and it’s wonderful, and I will put up a more lengthy post about it soon.  After dinner, we had planned to go see the Tim Burton exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, but when we got there we were very disappointed to learn that tickets for the evening were sold out.  We decided to still try to see some of the museum (even though it was closing soon) but ended up spending more time checking and claiming our bags than we did looking at actual art.  Plus, they made me carry my laptop around.  Not the bag.  Just the laptop, which for some reason could not stay in the bag when I checked it.

After leaving the museum, we were lured into a restaurant claiming to have “the best cheesecake in the world.”  It did not.  But it was in New York, so I suppose that made it New York Cheesecake, and it was nice to spend some more time talking with Kate.  Afterward we said goodnight, Kate got on the subway, and we went back to our hotel.

I called Lisa because earlier in the day she had invited us over to hers and Liel’s apartment.  I called assuming it would probably be too late, but they said no, come on over.  So we did, and had another lovely time with them, talking and laughing into the early morning hours.  I feel very fortunate that not only do I have in Lisa a trusted and talented editor, but also a great friend.

Up next, last day, last NYC post.

NYC – Part 3

For part 1, click here, and for part 2, click here.

After putting in a day-and-a-half of sightseeing, it was time to get down to the business that brought me to NYC in the first place.  So Thursday morning the Scholastic Book Fairs film crew came to pick us up at our hotel.  The members of the crew were great.  We had Larry (director), Jeff (the camera man), Glenn (the sound man), and Lara (who did a little bit of everything).  We all sat down and had breakfast together, and then set off into the city.

The Book Fairs brought me to NYC to film me for some promotional material related to The Clockwork Three.  As we get closer to the book’s release date, and when people might be able to watch the promotional video, I’ll tell you more about it.  (That still feels like a long way off.)  But briefly, the idea was for the Fairs to film me talking a bit about my book and its characters. 

The Clockwork Three takes place in an unnamed fictional city that’s not quite New York, not quite Boston, but inspired  a little by both.  So Larry had scouted out some locations around NYC that evoked certain settings and moods from my novel.  The city in The Clockwork Three has a park, an important place in the story for a number of reasons I don’t want to spoil.  So naturally, Central Park seemed like an ideal place to film some of the shots.

Filming at The Dairy in Central Park

Left to right: Larry, Glenn, Jeff, Me, and Lara

First, we filmed in front of The Dairy.  Giuseppe, one of the characters in the The Clockwork Three, was inspired by a real 19th century boy who once found food and shelter there (and who I’ll probably write about in more detail in a future post).  This was, incidentally, my first time in front of a camera.  I felt very… awkward.  It wasn’t that I was nervous.  And I did pretty well remembering the lines they gave me.  But I just couldn’t seem to make those lines sound natural.  I wish I could have been more excited and animated, like LeVar Burton from Reading Rainbow, but instead I sounded like Dan Rather reporting the nightly news.  Nothing against Dan Rather, but I don’t think most kids find him very compelling.  I think I might have done better if I were in conversation or interview with someone else, talking with a person instead of a dead-eyed camera.

The Delacorte Music Clock in Central ParkBut I muddled through the first shot, and we moved on to the next location, the Delacorte Music Clock near the Children’s Zoo.  At this point, I started loosening up.  Just a bit.  The director and crew had timed the filming so the clock chimed while we were there.  The animals started moving around the clock in a circle, and the bells played a slightly creepy song that sounded a bit more like a Tim Burton soundtrack than a nursery rhyme.

Camera Man Jeff and me

Camera Man Jeff and me

I should mention here that during all this time, Jeff was sick from food poisoning.  Like, really sick.  But he was a trooper and a professional, and he kept working to get the job done.  He wouldn’t even let me help him haul his gear around because he didn’t want me to get sweaty for the filming.  So hats off to Jeff, who continued to film whilst vomiting.

It didn’t help that it was a pretty warm day, unexpectedly warm considering the season.  But in spite of the heat, I enjoyed walking through Central Park.  The foresight and commitment it took to set aside such a large piece of land in the middle of the city still amazes me.  I mean, that’s some extremely valuable real estate, but the planners knew how important it was and would be to have a green space, first amidst the rising brick and mortar, later the towering glass and steel.  An open, public place of refuge and natural beauty.  I could have spent more time there, if I’d had it to spend.

Lara in front of the Dakota

Lara in front of the Dakota

After stopping at a few more locations around the park, we ended up in front of The Dakota, another NYC landmark, chosen for its similarities to a grand hotel described in The Clockwork Three.  I have to admit I hadn’t heard of it before, and didn’t know how famous it was.  Nor that it was the location of the murder of John Lennon.  But we did stop for a moment at his memorial.

We took a break at that point to have lunch.  Jeff was really not doing well, so after we finished eating he went back to his hotel, and the crew shifted responsibilities around.  Glenn took over filming, and Lara took over sound.  We hopped on the subway (which was a bit tricky with all the equipment, but we managed) and rode down to the Lower East Side.

97 Orchard Street - Tenement Museum

97 Orchard Street - Tenement Museum

Some of The Clockwork Three takes place in the city’s tenements.  So Larry found some old tenement buildings in NYC that have been there since the early part of the 20th century.  The NYC  Tenement Museum, a restored building constructed in 1863, was very near the spot where we were filming.  Over the years it was home to over 7000 immigrants, and today offers a glimpse into the lives of those who came to this country hoping for a new and better life.  I wish we could have filmed inside the museum, but we weren’t able to make the arrangements.

By this time we had been moving and filming for about eight hours, and everyone was exhausted.  It was also that time of day when shop owners were closing up their storefronts.  And those metal gates they pull down and lock up are loud.  We went through a lot of takes there, waiting for a moment of relative silence.  But in the end, I think we got everything they’ll need for the video.

The CrewWe all shook hands and parted ways.  It was a long day, but I had a great time.  What might have been a difficult experience was made enjoyable by the people I got to meet and work with.  Thanks again to Larry, Glenn, Jeff and Lara.  (And I meant it, Jeff.  The next time you’re on a ski trip to Utah, give me a ring and we’ll hit the slopes).

For dinner that night we rode the subway up to the Gray’s Papaya at 2090 Broadway.  I’ve heard about the place from people, seen it in movies like Fools Rush In and You’ve Got Mail, and watched Anthony Bourdain extol the wonders of its hot-dogs.  So naturally I had to try them for myself.  I have to say, they were good, but my favorite part of the restaurant was actually the fruity drinks.  Papaya, Piña Colada, orange, coconut, and more.  I ordered a couple of those on top of the drink that came with my “recession special.”

We rode the subway back to our hotel, and after a day like that I slept like a rock.

Next up, my day at the Scholastic offices.

NYC – Part 2 of… maybe 4?

For part 1, click here.

On the first day of sightseeing, we decided to ride the ferry out to Liberty Island and Ellis Island.  As a history buff, I was most excited about Ellis Island.  The problem was, there were a lot of other people who had the same idea.  The line to get tickets was long, but after buying tickets the wait to just get on a boat was still another two hours.  To top it off, NYC was experiencing unseasonably warm weather, and waiting outside in the hot sun wasn’t the way we wanted to spend our time.  So we bought tickets for another day, and rode the Staten Island Ferry instead.

Staten Island FerryThe Staten Island Ferry runs the five miles between Manhattan and Staten Island, and best of all, it’s free.  It takes you right by the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and offers great views of lower Manhattan and New York Harbor.  It was a lot of fun.  We got out on the water where the breeze was a lot cooler, and just enjoyed the ride.  When we reached Staten Island, we just hopped on the next ferry coming back to Manhattan, about an hour round-trip.

From there we walked up through the financial district, past Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange.  My editor, Lisa Sandell, met us at Trinity Church, a beautiful cathedral where we heard a youth choir sing for a few minutes.  It was really wonderful to meet Lisa for the first time.  She walked with us to Ground Zero, which was a haunting experience.  There is a profound absence there, and it’s not just the physical opening left behind in the density of the city.  There is a psychological void there, waiting to be filled.  I hope the city will soon resolve the issues and conflicts around the building of a memorial.

The Brooklyn BridgeAfter that, we walked to the Brooklyn Bridge.  A few years ago, I watched a documentary about the building of the bridge, and ever since I’ve been fascinated by the ingenuity, the bravery, and the will it took to construct it, a truly monumental feat.  So to stand beneath its grand arches, to look down at the water below, was an inspiring experience.  I can only imagine what it would have been like to cross that bridge upon its opening, at the time the largest suspension bridge in the world.  Okay, I think I might be verging on becoming a documentary myself here, so I’ll move on.

After that, we walkeWinnie the Pooh & Friendsd up through Chinatown and Little Italy, and then rode the subway up to Grand Central Station.  From there we went to the New York Public Library.  The Children’s Room there has Winnie the Pooh on display.  Like, the actual Winnie the Pooh.  And Tigger, and Kanga, and Piglet.  Even Eeyore.  The library has the original stuffed animals that A. A. Milne gave to his son, Christopher Robin.  The same toys that later inspired one of the most beloved characters in children’s literature.  They look a little threadbare and tattered (it actually appears as though Kanga might have been decapitated and had her head reattached at some point) but that only adds to their significance and charm.

That night, we went out to dinner at The Spice Market with Lisa and her husband, Liel.  It was a wonderful evening full of great food and great company, with plenty of fascinating and entertaining conversation.  If you ever meet either of them, you must ask them about the time they shared a train with smugglers on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  I’d try to tell you the story myself, but I know I wouldn’t do it justice.

More to come.

NYC – Part 1 of… not sure yet

Statue of LibertyLast week, I went to New York City.  I did a lot and saw a lot, so it’ll likely take a few posts to share it all with you.  As I mentioned, my publisher flew me in for business, but I tacked on a couple of extra days to do some sightseeing.  It was the kind of trip where you feel like you need another vacation afterward just so you can recover.  But it was an amazing experience, and I loved it.

I’ve only been to NYC once before, as a kid.  My family was living in Maryland back during the heyday of Phantom of the Opera, and one day my dad drove us up to New York to see it on Broadway.  I remember a few things about that trip, little details here and there, but I didn’t come away with a real sense of the city.  It was great to go back as an adult.

Our flight was late getting in, first because we had a freakish snowstorm in Salt Lake City and had to wait for them to defrost the plane, and second because JFK was a mess and we had to wait on the tarmac for a while before our plane could squeeze into its little parking space at the terminal.  There was this guy sitting next to us who really seemed upset by the delays.  At first, he was just shouting into his cell phone in a language that sounded Russian.  But the longer we waited, the more agitated he became.  When people got up to use the restroom, he’d gesture at them and yell what I assume were Russian swear words, because the flight crew kept saying that the pilot couldn’t move the plane until everyone was seated.  Then he started punching the seat in front of him, jarring its occupant, who pretended that the whiplash didn’t bother them.  By the time we were safely parked at the gate, all the passengers around this guy just let him get off first – “No, no, Mr. Swearing Russian Man, I already missed my connecting flight, so why don’t you go ahead of me.”  Sheesh.

The bread is a mere formality so that it can still be called a sandwich.

The bread is a mere formality so that it can still be called a "sandwich."

From JFK we caught a cab into the city.  Scholastic put us up in a hotel right off Times Square, which was pretty much an unbeatable location.  It wasn’t too late in the evening, and we were hungry, so we took a look at the map and decided to go wander around a bit.  We walked a few blocks up to Carnegie Deli, which is kind of a tourist spot, but still a landmark that serves great food.  I ordered the “Woody Allen,” a monster sandwich of corned beef and pastrami, enjoyed some hot sauerkraut, and ate a few half-sour pickles.

Apple Store - NYCThen we wandered over to the Apple Store, which I looked at but did not go inside because we didn’t have time. (That’s just what I tell myself.  The real reason is that I’m not cool enough to go inside.)  Then we walked to Rockefeller Center and watched the ice-skating.  I have to say, I was surprised by how small that rink is.  It’s the smallest ice-skating rink I think I’ve seen, but considering the little slice of real estate it occupies, it’s probably the most expensive ice skating rink on the planet.  But there were some talented skaters out on the ice.  One of them looked like he was ready for the Olympics, and another kid was just doing his own thing – a mix of hip-hop and skating.  Really cool to watch.

Times SquareWe walked through Times Square, which is a lot like walking down the Vegas Strip.  It was kind of overwhelming; full of light, and people, and energy.  The one thing it didn’t feel like was New York City, which is weird because the two are practically synonymous.  But everywhere I looked I saw generic America – “Oh, look.  There’s T.G.I. Fridays.  There’s the Hard Rock Cafe.  And there’s The Olive Garden.”  The Olive Garden??? Really?  On the one hand, I understand it.  People want to experience new things, but they want it with the safety net of the familiar beneath them.  They may be in a strange city, but if things get too stressful they can always take refuge in the menu of the chain restaurant they eat at back home.  I get it.  That’s just not what I went to NYC for.  But it was still cool to stand there in the center of it all, where they drop the ball on New Year’s Eve, and think about how many people from all around the world have been there on that same spot.  Boggles the mind, it does.

Stay tuned for more.

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