A Great Time at the Great Falls Comic Expo (2017)

Last Saturday, right on the heels of all the birthday brouhaha, Clif and I had a table at the first ever Great Falls Comic Expo in Lewiston, Maine. Tired from all the festivities of the past two weeks, we weren’t sure what to expect at the Expo, but I am happy to report we had a great time. While the focus was on comic books and costumes, there was plenty of room for fantasy and horror and other overlapping genres.

First and very important, we sold enough books—Maya and the Book of Everything and The Wave of Time–to make the day worthwhile. This is always a very good thing. (How depressing to go to an event and barely make the table fee. Alas, this has happened to us a few times.)

Second, the other vendors were so friendly and wonderfully generous. They gave me tips about the many other comic book conventions in Maine. (I had no idea there were so many.) It didn’t take me long to realize I was among a group of kindred spirits who had a passion for fantasy and folderol.

Third, it was just plain to fun see all the people in various costumes—Ghost Busters, many Doctor Whos, and lots of other wild and creative characters. There were various events to spice up the Expo, including a drawing smack-down where two artists on stage had to quickly draw a scenario suggested by members of the audience.  One particularly good rendition—I think it was of a dragon being analyzed by the Cat in the Hat—was immediately sold to someone in the audience.

Many thanks to Benjamin Santos of Cosplay Convention Center for organizing such a terrfic event. Thanks to Benjamin, Clif and I will be attending more comic book conventions.

Reading Maya at the Vassalboro Public Library

Yesterday, I was the featured author at the Vassalboro Summer Reading Festival, and I presented my slide show Using Real Life in Fantasy. This, of course, included reading excerpts from my novel Maya and the Book of Everything.

What a day it was! Although the photo doesn’t show this, so many people came that extra chairs had to be brought out, and there was standing room only at the end. Many thanks to Donna Lambert, the Vassalboro Library director,  and David Theriault, the Vassalboro School librarian, for the wonderful publicity and for putting together such a fabulous event with a multitude of activities. Also, many thanks to friends and family who came.

There were several highlights to this presentation.

First, this is my hometown library, and it plays an essential role in my book. Several times, as I was talking about East Vassalboro, I actually got a little teary eyed.

Second, a young girl came early to buy a copy of my book. She and her mother had another commitment and were not able to stay for the presentation. The young girl actually used her birthday money to buy the book, and I was extremely touched by this.

Third, another young girl had me sign the book to both her and her friend, Mya—a little different spelling of my own “Maya.”  I hope they both like the book!

Over the past two weeks, I’ve tweaked my presentation so that it is more child friendly yet still appropriate for a general audience. There is a bit more tweaking I will do, but it is pretty close to the way I want it. I even have a writing exercise planned for children when I go into schools next year.

Anyway, such a terrific day yesterday. Again, thanks to Donna and David for organizing  the Summer Reading Festival. Not only was it  meaningful for me, but according to Donna, the festival was a big success for the town, with many people attending the various events.

Donna and David are prime examples of what can happen when positive, energetic people invest time and energy in a town. May the Vassalboro Summer Reading Festival continue and may other children’s writers join the festivities.

 

 

 

Maya and the Book of Everything at the Chapel Hill Library in North Carolina

Yesterday, I received a wonderful email from my daughter Shannon, who lives in North Carolina. She had put in a request for the Chapel Hill Library to carry my YA fantasy novel, Maya and the Book of Everything. And, by gum, they have! So now Maya and the Book of Everything is in a library in North Carolina.

Requesting that a library carry a book is a wonderful way to promote writers and to help spread the word about their books. (Some of you have also done this for Maya, and I thank you very much.)

Readers, if your library has Maya and the Book of Everything, be sure to let me know. After all, even though there is plenty of adventure and fantasy in my book, there are also some serious issues: the importance of libraries for spreading knowledge and the notion that facts do matter.

Perhaps in today’s world, that last notion seems a little quaint, but it is my belief that facts have always mattered and always will.

Threads of Realism at Hartland Public Library

Yesterday, Clif and I went to the Hartland Public Library, where I gave my presentation Threads of Realism in Fantasy: Maya, Maine, and the Franco-American Connection. My friend Beth Clark is a member of the Friends of the Library, and she recommended me and my presentation.  Thank you, Beth!

Hartland Library is a very sweet, welcoming place, filled with books, DVDS, and computers.  I was reminded, yet again, how lucky Maine is to have such a wealth of libraries in communities great and small across the state. Hartland has a population of approximately 1,700, and the library is a real gem, a center to the town.

Being new at giving presentations, I am always a little nervous at the start. But at the Hartland Library, those who came were so warm and appreciative that I was soon put at ease. When I had finished and we were chatting over refreshments, Beth made a comment that was music to my ears, as the saying goes. Beth told me that she enjoyed my presentation so much that she would like to hear it again and to let her know if I do another one within an hour’s radius of Hartland.

Oh, thanks, Beth! I’ll be sure to let you know.

Me, my book, and a slide from my presentation

Tea with a Young Reader

Yesterday  morning, I got an email from my friend Cheryl, who lives up the road from us. Her granddaughter Iris is visiting, and they had had a conversation about my YA fantasy novel Maya and the Book of Everything. Cheryl had gotten Iris the book for Christmas, and Iris really enjoyed the novel.  Cheryl wondered if she and Iris could come for a visit.

Yes, yes, and yes! As it turned out, Sam—Iris’s dad and Cheryl’s son—came, too, and what a delightful time Clif and I had talking with the three of them, book lovers all. We chatted a bit about Maya and the Book of Everything. Cheryl wondered where my ideas came from. I couldn’t give her much help on that one. Somehow, the ideas just come.  Iris hoped that Andy and Maya would eventually wind up together. (I gave her the answer, but you, dear readers, will have to wait and read Library Lost to discover  Andy’s and Maya’s fate.) Sam wondered how long it took me to write the book. My answer: About a year, but there was a lot of editing and tinkering with the story after that.

Then the conversation turned to other books.  Iris told me what she was reading, and as I knew I wouldn’t remember—oh, the aging memory!—I jotted them down. When I’m through with the current batch I’ve borrowed from the library, I’ll request Iris’s recommendations through interlibrary loan. The list includes the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan and the Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale.

When asked what I was reading, I replied, “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.” This slice-of-life novel centers on a young girl—the Calpurnia of the title—who lives in Texas in the late 1800s. She’s a budding naturalist at a time when young women aren’t supposed to be interested in such things. But Calpurnia has an ally in her grandfather, an amateur naturalist who teaches her how to look, draw, record, measure, and do research. Calpurnia is a spunky, satisfying heroine, but the pace of the novel is deliberate, and I was wondering how young readers would like it.

Today, I found out. It seems that Iris has also read Calpurnia Tate. She liked it very much, and this caused me to have an epiphany, of sorts. That is, young people who love books are patient readers, and it’s a mistake to think they need an explosion a minute to keep them interested.  It’s not that plot and narrative flow aren’t important, but well-developed characters are what keep young people interested in a story. If a novel’s pace is leisurely, then that’s perfectly fine as long as the characters are interesting.

So, all in all a terrific day. Tea with a wonderful, bright family and insight into the patience young people bring to reading books.

You might even call it a finest kind of day.

Iris and me

By a Strange Coincidence…from N.D. Wilson to Jeanne Birdsall

I could write about how this has been the Marchiest March we Mainers have had to endure in quite a while. Lots of snow,  plenty of mud—and we’re just starting with the melting—and joy of joys, another storm on the way with wet, heavy snow forecasted.  I could share this quotation I found on Facebook: “Maine. They call it ‘Vacationland’ because it sounds better than ‘Six Months of Suffering-Land.'”

But no, I’m not going to brood about the weather. Instead, I’m going to turn my attention to a much happier topic—books—and how I coincidentally came upon two authors who write children’s books and how those authors turned out to be connected, even though they write very different stories.

About a month ago, my husband Clif introduced me to the middle-reader fantasy 100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson. It’s set in Kansas, just like another famous children’s fantasy, and the protagonist, Henry York, discovers magical cupboards (portals) in the attic room he’s staying in while visiting his aunt, uncle, and cousins. Overprotected and somewhat neglected, Henry finds warmth, solace, and generosity with his aunt and uncle. Much of the book focuses on the everyday domestic life in a small town, with large dollops of barbecues and baseball. But through a magical cupboard Henry eventually goes, where he encounters strange mystical lands, an evil witch, and a mystery that takes him right back to Kansas.

I liked 100 Cupboards so much that I immediately read the sequel, Dandelion Fire, which dispenses with the domesticity and hurtles Henry headlong into the fight between good and evil, the concern of most good fantasy novels. There’s a third book in the series—Chestnut King—which I definitely plan to read.

A week or so ago, on a blog I follow—Letters from a Hill Farm—I came across a book recommendation, The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. A day or two later, I found The Penderwicks at a bookstore, The Book Review, which I recently visited for the first time. I loved The Penderwicks so much that I borrowed the next three in the series from our library, and I’m whipping through those books the way I would a box of chocolates.

Now as far as writers go, N. D. Wilson and Jeanne Birdsall couldn’t be more different, even though they write for the same age group.  As I indicated earlier, Wilson’s books are classic fantasies. Family is important—as it turns out, very important—but so is the larger story of the battle between good and evil. With her Penderwicks series, Birdsall focuses exclusively on the family, with its gentle ups and downs and the relationships of the various characters. Death brings a thread of sadness into these stories of four sisters and their father, but these are quiet books compared with Wilson’s fantasies. You might even call the Penderwicks series the Miss Read books of children’s literature. (However, Little Women was Birdsall’s inspiration.)

Here’s where the weird coincidence part kicks in. I like to read author websites, where I can find out a little bit more about writers and their books. I was reading Jeanne Birdsall’s author website, and I came across an event that featured both Birdsall and her friend (her wording) N.D. Wilson, where they would discuss Narnia. Unfortunately, the event took place last year in Chicago, and as I have no portals (or a Book of Everything) to take me back in time and across the country, this qualifies as a missed event.

Still, what a strange coincidence to come upon that nugget of information. Two months ago, I had never heard of either N.D. Wilson or Jeanne Birdsall. Now, not only am I fan of both writers, but I discover they are friends.

Thinking about books, authors, and neat coincidences sure beats brooding about snow.

Threads of Realism in Fantasy: The Great Library

As regular readers of this blog know, I have put together a slide show—Threads of Realism in Fantasy—to go with my YA novel, Maya and the Book of Everything. (I recently gave my first presentation at the University of Maine at Orono.)The gist of the presentation is this: Even though my book is a fantasy that takes its heroine, Maya, across the universe, there are elements of realism to ground the novel. The story is partially set in central Maine, and I weave my Franco-American heritage into the book.

Central to Maya and the Book of Everything is a place called the Great Library. It is home to the sentient Book of Everything, which can travel through time and space. Both the Book of Everything and the Great Library definitely fall into one of my favorite categories—fantasy, fairy tales, and folderol.  But even here I used realism when I imagined what the Great Library would look like.

Because I love fairy tales so much, I immediately thought of a castle in envisioning the Great Library, and I ended up picking out two castles—one for the locale and one for the actual look. Both castles are from France. I didn’t set out to choose castles from France, but somehow I did. It must have been my Franco-American roots urging me forward.

The first castle I thought of was Mont St. Michel, which certainly looks like it comes straight from a fairy tale. I love how remote it looks and how the castle is surrounded by water when the tide is in. Mont St. Michel also happens to be in Normandy, where some of my ancestors are from.

Here is another view of Mont St. Michel.

So that was the locale I wanted.

But for the actual look of the Great Library, I wanted something more compact, something that looked a little less Gothic, a little less like a cathedral.

For this I chose the Chateau de Chaumont, which is in France’s Loire Valley.

One of the things I especially like about fantasy is that you can mix and match various aspects of realism if you want and still have a magical story. Maine, my Franco-American heritage, and two castles from France all come together in Maya and the Book of Everything.

A Warm Review of Maya for a Brisk Day

Winter, it seems, has returned to Maine. For the past few days, the wind has been blowing hard, and the temperature, with the wind-chill factor, has been below zero. And that’s Fahrenheit, not centigrade.

When it is this cold, our wood furnace doesn’t really go through the night, and the house is pretty darned chilly when we get up in the morning—below 60°.

Another word we Mainers use to describe the cold is brisk, as in, it’s wicked brisk outside today.

And indeed it was brisk, brisk, brisk today, this Monday morning, when I made my tea and toast and headed to my office.

But something immediately warmed me up, and that was a review of Maya and the Book of Everything written by my blog friend Melissa, of The Aran Artisan. She is formerly a resident of Maine and now lives with her family on “Inis Mor, one of the Aran Islands in County Galway, located off the west coast of mainland Ireland.”

Melissa writes, “I was really looking forward to reading Maya and The Book of Everything by Laurie Graves in a way I hadn’t looked forward to reading a fiction book in a long time. Even though it’s a young adult fantasy novel and a gift to my 13-year-old daughter, something about the plot caught my attention. The cover art charmed me also and I ended up reading it before she did.

“The story begins in modern times America (coincidentally the same area where I grew up) and it centres around the young heroine Maya and the magical secret Book of Everything. In fulfilling her destiny to protect the book from an evil syndicate that would like to control and alter its purpose, she travels through time and space encountering dangerous situations and tough decisions at every turn. Many other compelling characters are superbly developed and contribute much to the plot which twists and weaves into such an intriguing storyline, I found it hard to put down. Talking books, a royal toad, a magic forest and Shakespearean references are just a few of the books creative highlights for me. The story grips you right out of the gate and continues straight through to the last page. In fact, the ending caught me by surprise as much as it did Maya and gave me the thought ‘this could easily be a movie’.”

Merci beaucoup, Melissa! What a great way to start the week.

maya-and-the-book-of-everything-web-medium

To UMO I Went, Where I Gave My Presentation, Threads of Realism in Fantasy

Yesterday, Clif and I went to the University of Maine at Orono, where I gave my presentation Threads of Realism in Fantasy to a class about Franco-Americans and Place.

We got up very early—before breakfast as my mother would have put it. Orono is ninety miles from where we live, and we had to be there by 9 a.m.

As I’ve written previously, public speaking is not my strong point. (Damn it, Jim, I’m a writer, not a speaker.) In the past, I’ve usually had a prepared piece, which I have then proceeded to read. This time, I had resolved not to do that. Even though I had copious notes for my presentation, I was determined to make eye contact with the audience—in this case, the students.

Clif, who is a good speaker, sat in the back of the class so that he could observe me, and he told me I did just fine. I did indeed make eye contact with the students. In fact, I expect the two students who were sitting right in front of me might have wished that I didn’t have my beaming eye on them quite so often.

There were only a few minor mishaps with the presentation—I lost control of my cursor a couple of times—but all in all it went well, and despite being nervous, I enjoyed myself.

When I was done, some of the students asked me questions about how I write. Do I have an outline? Do I write certain scenes, even if they are out of order, as they come to me? No and no. I have a general plot arc in my head, and then I start at the beginning and write straight through. If something I write in chapter twenty impacts chapter one, then I change it in chapter one.

The students seemed surprised that I wrote this way, and they asked the question again, in several different ways. Each time my answer was the same, but I did add that there is no one correct way to write a book—there are different approaches for different writers.

I was asked where they could buy the book, and I mentioned a local bookstore—Bull Moose—as well as on Amazon. One student, bless her, whipped out her smart phone and ordered the book then and there.

The student and I had a little conversation about YA fantasy, and she told me that many fantasy books written for adults just didn’t appeal to her.

“I know what you mean,” I said. “In fantasy stories for adults, there is often too much sex and too much violence. In YA and Middle Reader fantasy, this is kept to a minimum, and the story’s the thing.”

“Yes,” she said. “That’s right.”

After class, the professor, Susan Pinette, invited us to come back to the Franco-American Centre. She had made soup, and she offered to make salad as well.  Would we like to join her for lunch? Would we ever!

How lovely it was to sit around the big table at the Centre and eat delicious lentil, vegetable soup. Being Francos, Susan and I did a lot of chatting and laughing as well as eating. (Susan is the woman at the head of the table.)

img_6204

And then Clif took this picture of Susan and me.

img_6208

After tea and Susan’s delectable homemade molasses cookies, it was time to go home. It was such a good day, and I was sorry to leave.

But the end of April, there will be a Franco-American Artist gathering at the Centre, where I will probably give a much shortened version of my presentation.

I’m looking forward to going back to Orono.