In Which I Arrive at Fame and the Big Four-Double-Oh

Today’s post, ladies and gentlemen and assorted rogues, is my 400th on the Ever On Word blog! A very special occasion! …for which I had no special event planned. (I mean, I have a giveaway going on that you should totally enter because it’s awesome, but that’s incidental.) So I thought this would be a fine time to tell you about an even more special event that took place a few weeks back: My first ever live, in-home author interview with two young girls named Mira and Caroline.

It’s Not What You Know. It’s Who the People Who Know People You Know…Know.

Gotta love having friends in high places – or in high fashion, in the case of a designer friend o’ the family who was fantastic enough to talk me up to some folks who work at a local bookstore. And those folks, in turn, somehow ended up giving my name to a school with a couple of girls looking for an author to interview.

Once I was done dancing giddily around the house to a little song that went “AAAAAAUGH, bookstore people are recommending me to schools! Children have been conned into thinking I’m famous! Shiny new levels of legitimacy, unlocked!” (sing along if you know this one), I e-mailed the school to express my eager delight at the prospect of accommodating the girls in their pursuit of firsthand authorial info.

Be the Awesomeness You Want to See in the World.

Upon receipt of my number, Mira phoned me on behalf of herself and her colleague to arrange a date and time suitable to come a-calling. (Don’t tell her I said so, but she was so adorable, it turned my voice to sugar. I will never sound nicer than when talking to children innocent by virtue of having yet to be proved guilty of obnoxiousness.)

I was a little nervous about letting the kids and whoever ferried them hither into my house (i.e., my bubble of protection against agonizing social situations). But, Come on, I told myself, think of the Awesome Points it would have added to your childhood if you’d gotten to sit down for a chat with a not-entirely-unfamous author in his/her home! Put that way, I saw no compelling reason to say no.

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and a Little Bit of Fiction Thrown In. (Also, Hair.)

My interviewers, aged 9 and 8, were relentless in their interrogation, frequently throwing out questions so fast, I could scarcely spit out half an answer! But among the questions I was able to address were…

“When did you start writing?” (Since I was younger than you, kiddos.)

“When did you decide to be an author?” (Not ‘til age 16 or so.)

“When you were a kid, what did you want to be?” (All sorts of things. Farmer, librarian, actress…)

“How many books have you written?” (I lost count ages ago.)

“How long did it take you to publish your first book?” (Somewhere around 8 years.)

“What is your favorite book you’ve written?” (Let’s pretend my upcoming “Outlaws of Avalon ” trilogy counts as one and say that.)

“What is your favorite book to read?” (Robin McKinley’s “Outlaws of Sherwood”. Mad love for the outlaws!)

“Do you like having curly hair?” (So long as it’s dry. Can’t do a thing with it, when wet.)

“Do you live here?” (Yeah, seemed easier to meet you in my own home than to kick somebody else out of theirs to use as our interview space for the morning.)

“What was your sister’s name, again?” (Dianne. *we all wave at Dianne, who’s fiddling with some electronic device in the next room*)

The gorgeous headshot that inspired the unforeseen line of questioning.
The gorgeous headshot that inspired the unforeseen line of questioning.

“Why did she shave her head?” (I don’t know. Dianne, why did you shave your head? *Dianne mumbles her hair’s journey over the years – blonde, shaved, Mohawk, the works*)

“When she dyed her hair blonde, did it grow blonde, or grow black?” (*Dianne and I guide the girls toward a greater understanding of hair dye*)

“How tall was her Mohawk?” (*Dianne holds her hand above her head for visual reference*)

“Is she wearing a hat?” (You’re looking right at her, Mira dear. You tell me. *we agree she is wearing a hat*)

“Why is she wearing a hat?” (*Dianne is bewildered past the point of surety*)

Along the way, I also learned much about Caroline’s reading tastes (she particularly enjoys mysteries and Roald Dahl’s “Matilda”), writing goals (among other things, there’s a mystery story of her own in the works), where she keeps what she calls “documentation” on her family (in her backpack pocket next to the forks, of course), and the perils of hiring very tall boys to play Peter Pan (harness issues).

But probably the moment that touched my heart most was when the girls shared their early concern that an author celebrity like myself might have been too important and busy to reply to an e-mail request for an interview with a couple of kids.

No, little dear ones. I am not (and hope I never shall be) too important and busy for the likes of you.

You Know You’ve Arrived When…

You Know You've Arrived When...

…Or actually, maybe you never do. I used to think there was a single line separating here from there, ambition from success, me from the famous author I intend to be. But where is that line? When you’ve written your first book? When an agent or publisher accepts it? When it’s bound between covers and available for sale? When a stranger buys a copy? When two little strangers, curious and precocious, come to your house looking to you for some answers on the recommendation of friends of a friend?

Looking backward and ahead from where I stand, there is no one line. There’s a whole sidewalk of them, marking out a trail of irregular squares, with exciting landmarks and milestones along the way I hadn’t even known to look for.

I have arrived, and am arriving, and shall someday arrive, this 400th blog post just one more line crossed along the way.

Thank You Note from Caroline and Mira

“Father” or “An Open Letter to Someone’s World”

Honor and gratitude wherever it’s due, I say. Meaning, I suppose, that I ought begin this post with thanks to my author for extending to me the privilege of writing it. There you are, Danielle; consider yourself acknowledged.

With that out of the way, introductions: Grateful greetings, honored readers, from Gant-o’-the-Lute! – king among minstrels, chief among characters and, perhaps highest of all, father of Allyn-a-Dale.

Seems to go rather counter to the foundations of the universe, doesn’t it? Any role greater than that of a minstrel? Surely not! But it’s so, though it took me quite long enough to know it.

The perusal of a number of the stories within my author’s portfolio might lead one to suspect that she’s had rather damaging relations with “the man who child in question did beget; or, sire or nay, did raise or nurture yet”. ‘Twould be a misguided assumption; so far as I know, Danielle and her father have always gotten on fairly well. Why, then, do a generous portion of her plotlines feature father-centric hardship? For the very same reason this third Sunday in June is dedicated far and wide to the celebration of fathers: Because fathers are important.

I didn’t use to think so; or I convinced myself I didn’t, for you see, I didn’t have one. I never met the man who biologically fathered me, and the man who would have been glad to serve as surrogate sire died too soon for me to appreciate him. All of it making for a poor first impression of paternity, as far as I was concerned, I entered the role of father to my own offspring woefully ill-equipped – and, it shames me to say, indifferent. I knew not all that I meant to the little lad ever at my side; knew not I was his world. But too many years of unfair heartache later, that lad has taught me this:

Fathers,

You don’t have to be Gant-o’-the-Lute for your child to believe you are the greatest.

Because you are Daddy, you are the strongest.

Because you are Papa, you are the smartest.

Nothing can touch you, for you are invincible.

“With Father” should be the safest place they’ll ever be.

Lute and little Allyn.

You are your child’s first hero, and you will not be worthy of it.

You will be the best that you know how, and you will yet fall short.

You will not give him enough.

You will not guard her enough.

You will not love them enough – and the more, the deeper, the harder you love them, the truer you’ll know this to be.

You will fail your children unforgivably.

And yet will they forgive you.

Or they’ll wish to.

In the innermost chamber of the heart, your child will always love you, always yearn for you, always crave a special heart-space of their own within you.

It cannot be helped.

You’re Father.

Honor that, and they will be forever grateful.

PerGoSeeMo Psalm 17

Psalm 17. Psalms 50:8-14

            You don’t really need another song.

You’ve had more throughout the ages

Than any but you could count –

From the sorrowfully substandard,

To the best Man has to offer,

To the “holy, holy, holy” from your hosts of heavenly seraphs.

            And surely any music you made –

A Holy Trinity trio,

Or a symphony from nothing –

Would reduce all man- and angel-kind to weeping,

Could their lesser ears discern it.

            What have I but words already written,

Melodies already strung,

Harmonies used over and over

Since the dawn of chords?

Sing him a new song” indeed.

            New to me, the song may be,

Slowly discovered, line by line,

A lyrical adventure…

Its surprise on me only.

            For your knowledge transcends silly things like time.

You knew the poetry I’d craft

While I’d yet to be crafted in the womb.

It’s all “been there, read that” for you;

Yours truly, last to know, as always.

            What to get the God who has it all?

You said, “I’ll take a ‘thank you’.”

            Thank you, then, with all my heart.

I’ll gift you with my gratitude.

I’ll wrap your praises up in verse,

And give it all my human best;

Present it with an eager smile

And eyes that shine with hoping that you’ll like it.

            And you’ll take it with gentle hands,

Exclaiming over the intent,

And add my scrap to the display on your divine refrigerator,

Loving gift for giver’s sake,

As those with children do.

            Oh, you.

            “Oh, you.”

            And it was then she re-knew she was precious.

“Homeschool”

When I was a precious tyke of five, or so my mother tells me, I was ready and eager to head off and seek my fortune in the public schooling system. Trouble was, my birthday came particularly late in the year – too late, apparently, for the local schools to accept me until the following year. I wasn’t interested in waiting, and neither was Mom, so she decided “to instruct [me] in an educational program outside of established schools, [specifically] in the home”. In other words, she homeschooled me.

            Since that pivotal day, The People have wanted to know: Did I go to school in my pajamas?

            (Could someone please explain this obsession with getting away with life in one’s pajamas? This is one of many things I’ve never understood about the world.)

            Other FAQs included something along the lines of:

“So… what grade are you in?”

“How do you make friends?”

“Is it weird having your mom as a teacher?”

“Do you wish that you could go to regular school?”

            I’ll start out by putting an end to your slow death by curiosity, informing you that yes, I did sometimes tackle my lessons while wearing pajamas. And I gotta tell ya, it really wasn’t all that. Algebra is algebra, no matter your ensemble. And all else being equal, I’ll usually prefer to be dressed.

            As for the grading system, we barely bothered with it. My classmates (a.k.a. sisters) and I learned new material whenever we’d gotten the knack of the old stuff. The incorporated workbooks, computer programs, and videos might have been aimed at any grade, from that comparable to most other children our respective ages, to high school or college-level students. To simplify life in the world outside, I would generally claim whatever grade matched my age, but it was basically a worthless answer to a silly question.

            …Not as silly a question as the one about making friends, of course. Was I seriously getting asked how I met people by people who had obviously managed to meet me?? I was homeschooled, not a prisoner in solitary confinement. I left the house all the time for lessons of all sorts – dance, gymnastics, horseback riding, ice skating, piano, theater. I joined an orchestra with MYA (acronym, “Midwest Young Artists”). I took tons of park district classes for art, acting, some “fit kids” thing where they ran you up a hill. I went to church. I chatted up kids in the grocery store parking lot. (Seriously, I ended up getting invited to two of that girl’s birthday parties.) Strange but true: You don’t actually have to lock up a child in a classroom full of children their age for three seasons out of four to gain them friends. Socialization doesn’t have to sound like a nightmare.

            Talking of nightmares, you know those kids who want to die of shame after having accidentally called their teacher “Mommy”? Never worried me. Mommy was my teacher, and I forgave her for it. She listened patiently as I sounded out a story, syllable by syllable, and she made mathematical word problems comprehensible. She recorded herself reading my piano instructor’s notes for me when I couldn’t be bothered to decipher cursive writing, ending every directive with the pleasant command, “Turn off the tape, and do that.” She encouraged reading and writing and drawing and viewing edutainment like “Kratt’s Creatures”, “Bill Nye the Science Guy”, and my favorite forever, “The Magic School Bus”.

            Ah, school buses… The real reason that I ever wanted to go to public school in the first place, I’m told, and therefore one of the very few features of public school that ever caused me to feel that I was possibly missing out. School bus rides, field trips to outer space and under the sea and inside a classmate, food fights… my lack in these areas was my only regret. (And having subsequently ridden in a school bus and decided that throwing food everywhere is wasteful and gross, my list of unrealized dreams shortens.)

            I liked being homeschooled; probably would have enjoyed being unschooled, too. (More on unschooling here and also here, for the curious.) And I’m proud to represent (homeschoolers unite!) as a living refutation of all those bizarre stereotypes that would have you believe that homeschoolers are a special brand of uneducated freak.

            …Not denying that I’m a freak, mind you. But I’m thinking that’s mostly genetic. Thanks for everything, Mom.

“Name”

You did a blog piece on naming things three days ago!” some mouth in the back complains.

            I signal Security to keep an eye on that one, then patiently explain, “No, the post to which you refer was about titling. This post is about naming.”

            “What’s the difference?!

            Precious little, actually. After all, a title (I recap) is an identifying name. And a name, of course, is “a word or words by which an entity is designated and distinguished from others”. That’s probably not news to anybody. We’re all of us decently familiar with the concept of names, right? I’ll even go so far as to assume that most of us have them; even the chatterbox in the back, though I’ve yet to learn it.

            “Milt!

            Charmed.

            To inform the curious, it took me close to a full minute to decide on the name “Milt”. Even my outspoken extras are named with some measure of care. Names matter to me, like that.

            When I was a kid, virtually everything got named. Figures in doodles that I’d never draw again. The animatronic farmer who rode his tractor around the ceiling at the mall. My fashion dolls and action figures, my stuffed animals, my ninety-nine identical green marbles (much to my mother’s amusement). Some of these names were sadly predictable – Fluffy the bunny, Blacky the black bear… nothing you’d never see coming, like my sister’s stuffed rabbit, Uncle Ruddyduck. Some were trying a little too obviously to be clever – Huckleberry Fin the fish, Claire-Annette the clarinet… nothing awesomely off-the-wall, like my sister’s goldfish, Dog.

            I used to spend a lot of time wondering what to name my future children. For years, I assumed there’d be a son named Jeremy. Then I fell for a boy named let’s-call-him-“Dean”, and wondered if we ought to keep up a family tradition of “D” names for all our offspring. (It became a moot point, by the way; that adolescent love story ended up being painfully one-sided.) I could never settle long on names for my hypothetical girls. Felicity? Ida? Delicatessen? (That would have worked in the Dean scenario!) I still don’t having anything written in stone – and I’m not currently too enthused about the idea of bearing children, anyway – though I’m lately leaning toward Tailor for a boy and Kevyn for a girl. (When in doubt, name your babies in honor of some of your strongest crushes, right? Let’s shoot for three kids and have a Dean, why don’t we.)

            People who hate naming things should probably not become authors of fiction. And authors of fiction who love naming things, rejoice! A novel is a naming playground, full of people and places and pets and peculiar miscellany in need of identification. But for all that I enjoy naming characters, I do not take it lightly. These are names that I’ll have to see and say and type over and over. These names might well be the first my readers will know of the character in question: Before appearance, before voice, before any of the incalculable things that make him or her themselves… we’re told the name.

            I want the name to suit the character absolutely. If I’m in the creation process and the name doesn’t feel right, it’s back to the drawing board (or the book or website dedicated to inspiring people like me who have babies to name). Some of the names that have made the cut are fairly standard – Sam, Jason, Bruno. Some of the names I strung together out of whimsical bits and pieces – Austeryn, Kel-Korrel, Christopher Washington Geoffrey Alexander Riverwood II. Whatever seems like a perfect fit in sight, sound, meaning, or some combination thereof. Whichever name I’ll always know as theirs, no matter how many other “Jason”s or “Austeryn”s I’ll encounter down the road.

            “So how’d you come to settle on ‘Milt’?!” inquiring minds in the back want to know.

            I don’t know. Flipping through an arbitrary list of options, it just seemed you-est.

            “I like ‘Kent’!

            Kent Milton, then. (We nod in mutual satisfaction.)