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News From the HomeFront

I've been down with the flu for the last couple of weeks, but my spirits were buoyed considerably this morning when I found out that White Sands, Red Menace had won the New Mexico Book Award for YA!

(Following in the footsteps of its older sister, The Green Glass Sea, which took home the same prize in 2007, the first year of the NMBA.)

I love the Land of Enchantment!

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Come Hear Me Read and Speak and Laugh?

If you're going to be at the World Fantasy Convention in San Jose next weekend (Oct. 29 - Nov. 1st), here's where I'll be, officially. (The rest of the time, I'll just be around, or in the bar with the Aussies....)

• Reading my short story, "A Practical Girl" (from the BRAND-NEW anthology Eclipse 3), at 1:30 pm, in The Garden Room.  (Following the reading by Peter Straub!)

• Part of a panel / game show/ fundraiser for Variety Children's Charity --  Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Write Them, at 10:00
pm Saturday in Club Regent.

• After the World Fantasy Awards banquet, this year's jury (me, Delia Sherman, Peter Heck, Chris Roberson, and Jenny Blackford) will discuss our process and selections. Sunday, 4:00 in Crystal Room.
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(no subject)

Below is a map of the state of Nebraska, with my week-long journey super-imposed. The green dots are the places I spent the night, and the yellow line is an approximation of where we went. (Approximate because I wasn't driving, so I wasn't paying close attention to the actual routes, especially on days when we were on two-lane state and county roads.)

Here's the full itinerary, if you want to follow on your own, larger map of Nebraska:

Sunday Oct. 11 -
Flew into Scottsbluff (via Denver) and stayed the night.

Monday Oct. 12
Drove south to Kimball, then back to Scottsbluff. Then west to Mitchell.
Then a long drive east to North Platte, where I spent the night.

Tuesday Oct. 13
North Platte, then east to Gothenburg, then farther east to Grand Island.
Evening event there, and then sleep.

Wednesday Oct. 14
Hastings and Seward, then into Lincoln (briefly) and on to Plattsmouth.
Back to Lincoln after dinner. Spent the night in downtown Lincoln.

Thursday Oct. 15
North to Prague, then NW to Clarkson, north to Wayne, then SE to West Point.
Overnight in West Point.

Friday Oct. 16
West Point, then south to Scribner, then long drive SE to Loiusville.
West again to Lincoln for evening event. Overnight in Lincoln.

Saturday Oct. 17
East to Elmwood. Then l-o-n-g drive NW to Norfolk.
Then long drive back SE to Omaha for dinner and overnight.

Sunday Oct. 18
Afternoon event in Omaha, then to the airport.
Flew to Denver Sunday evening.

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The End of the Trail

Boulder, Colorado

"Klages Tours Nebraska" ended on Sunday afternoon with a small gathering at the Omaha Public Library downtown. I repacked my bag with all my school visit materials, my heavy jacket (it was 70 degrees in Omaha), and all the goodies I'd been given, including the official state cookbook, signed by the governor and his wife. (I'll post a recipe later.)

Luggage now consolidated and weighing a ton!

Watched football in the lounge at the Omaha airport until my 6:30 flight to Denver, where I was picked up by my sister Mary and her kids, Avery and Grayson.

(Yes, there is a family resemblence.)

I am in Boulder of a couple of days of downtime, then home to San Francisco Wednesday night.

My niece and nephew are in 5th grade and 4th grade (respectively) at Horizons School in Boulder, so I carpooled in with them on Monday morning (at 7:45, which is 6:45 Omaha time....) and did two presentations, to each of their classes. Lunch with Mary and then -- oh luxury of luxuries -- a nap.

Six days.

1250 miles.

20 schools and libraries.

1500 kids and adults.

One tired but very happy author.

(I will try and put my route on a map and post it later this week.)

Nebraska Library Commission,

Nebraska Humanities Council

Readers across the state ---

T H A N K   Y O U  !!

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Into the Home Stretch

Omaha, Nebraska

Last full day in the Cornhusker State. I'm wearing my new sweatshirt, and trying to pass for a native. Richard Miller of the NE Library Commission picks me up at 8:30 and we drive to Elmwood, home of Bess Streeter Aldrich, who is the author of 2009's One Book for Nebraska [Adults], A Lantern in Her Hand.

It's a little eerie to notice that she died the year I was born. Passing the book lantern on?

The Elmwood-Murdock Schools hosted the morning's event, and we had 20 people come out at 9:30 on a Saturday morning to talk about books. Fifteen adults and four kids asked questions, listened to me tell historical (and hysterical) tales, and bought a good number of books. Refreshments were served: cookies, muffins, cupcakes -- Nebraskans have been tempting me with baked goods all week!

I was still chatting and signing when I noticed Richard gesturing at his watch. The next event wasn't until 2:30, but it was in a town 130 miles away, and we needed to get on the road.

We stopped for lunch at the Cafe on the Square in Seward, where I had a wonderful corn chowder and Richard had what he said was the best grilled cheese sandwich ever. I would have liked  to stay and try the homemade apple dumpling, but we had to eat and run. If you're ever in north central nebraska, check it out. It would be worth a detour!

We drove through now-familar country, since I'd been in Seward on Wednesday, and would pass by signs leading to Wayne, Scribner, and West Point. But -- hoorah! -- the sun was shining, it was about 65 degrees, and the sky was blue and filled with puffy white clouds. An absolutely beautiful day, and the fields of dried cornhusks stretched from horizon to endless horizon.

Despite detours and driving on two-lane roads behind farm machinery on occasion, we pulled into the parking lot of the Norfolk Public Library only about five minutes late. I walked in to cheers from about 25 kids and a handful of adults -- some parents, some librarians. The kids ranged from 9 to 12 or 13, and they had all read the book, so we had a very lively exchange. One girl recited the entire Greek alphabet to enthusiastic applause.

I drew names out of a box, and two kids won copies of White Sands, Red Menace, while another won a gift certificate to the local bookstore, all compliments of the Norfolk Library Foundation.

I signed books and bookmarks and chatted with some kids and two dads who had come out to support literature, even though the Nebraska - Texas Tech game had started at 2:30. (Alas, my 'Huskers sweatshirt was not a lucky charm. The home team lost, 31-10.)

Back through the prairies to Omaha, about 115 miles. We parked in front of The Bookworm at 6:15, and had a wonderful dinner at The Market Basket with Ellen Scott and other Bookworm staff and some Omaha Public librarians. I had a delicious filet -- my last chance for Nebraska beef -- and the 10 of us lingered for almost three hours, sipping wine, talking about books and eBay and other adventures.

Richard took me to the 24-hour Wal-Mart so that I could buy duct tape. (Frontier Airlines had ripped my duffel-like suitcase open at one end, which wasn't too bad when I was loading and unloading from car to hotel, but if I wanted to get home with all my socks, etc., I needed to make some sturdy temporary repairs.) We got a bit lost in downtown Omaha, but I was in my room at the Holiday in by 10:15, and kicked off my shoes and checked my email.

No wake-up call tomorrow! I'll be at the Omaha Public Library downtown at 2:00, and I fly to Denver at 6:30 for a couple of days of R&R at my sister's house. (And a visit to my niece and nephew's school...)

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...Drivin' that Hot Rod Lincoln

Lincoln, NE
(still the state capital)

Late night blogging, and in the middle of a really interesting dream when I was jangled out of slumber by my wake-up call at 8:00. After I picked the phone up off the floor, I repacked my suitcase again, got tea at the Breakfast Bar, and met Sally in the lobby of the Super-8. Our first stop was the West Point Public Library, about 6 blocks up the street.

Forty lively and inquisitive fourth-graders trooped in at 9:00 am, and sat on the floor while I perched on the edge of a table and told them about my books. For the next hour I answered questions, showed pictures, bounced a pink rubber ball (a demonstration of how a scientist and an artist might use the same object in very different ways), and explained 20th-century events to a room full of 21st-century kids. Met the mayor of West Point, signed some books and bookmarks.

At 10:20 the kids got on the school bus, and Sally and I got into the car and drove to Scribner (pop. 971). Because of class schedules, we'd been told I'd be talking to the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades during their lunch hour, but the fates intervened and we met in the gym instead. About 65 students, half a dozen teachers, and a few parents spread out over the bleachers while I walked up and down with a mike and took questions, told stories, and thought about how similar, and yet how different, this was from being in a ballroom in Madison.

The local librarian and the regional library coordinator, Kathy joined us for lunch at a local pizza place before we all went on with our afternoons. Scribner has a classic 19th-century midwestern Main Street -- two-story brick buildings with the founding years chiseled over the entrance, an ornate Opera House, a water tower and the railroad just on the edge of town.

So it was a bit of a shock when, half an hour later, we were suddenly driving through the suburban edges of Omaha -- Starbucks and a mall and chain restaurants. Not sure if it felt like culture shock or time travel.

Down the highway past grain elevators and housing developments insterspersed with cornfields to Louisville (Loo-us-vil), where the school district is contained in one sprawling building that houses the elementary, middle, and high schools -- with three separate libraries.

Pat Coshow, the librarian, met us and took us to the Commons Area. Her father had been in the Navy during the Bikini tests in 1946, and she brought in some of his papers and insignia to show the students. I would have loved to have read those when I was working on WSRM!

Almost 100 people packed the room, and were an excellent audience -- especially at 2:30 on a Friday afternoon, with the weekend beckoning. Lots of budding writers asked questions worthy of Clarion students.

Back on 1-80, west to Lincoln, where I'm staying at a Comfort Suites. I had almost two hours to unpack and check my email before heading out to Lee Booksellers, the only public event on this tour not in a school or library. I was delighted by a dozen eager readers, all adults, and spent 90 minutes reading aloud and talking in depth about topics that are a bit too esoteric for most middle schoolers.

Sally took me to her favorite Mexican restaurant afterwards -- she lives in Lincoln -- and we had our last dinner together. She gave me a Cornhuskers sweatshirt, which I will wear tomorrow during The Game, and I gave her a signed copy of the chapbook of "In the House of the Seven Librarians."

Tomorrow: Elmwood, Norfolk, and a dinner party in Omaha.

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The Corn is as High as an Elephant's Knee

West Point, NE

I left the luxury of the Cornhusker at 9:00 am, armed with a Decaf Chai from the Starbucks in the lobby. Didn't get to see much of Lincoln except a view of the capitol building from my window, but I'll be back tomorrow evening. (Staying at a different hotel, because the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers are playing Texas Tech --  a home game -- and almost every room in town is booked. GO BIG RED!!!)

Nebraska Capitol

Sally Snyder was my driver and native guide again, and we drove north through picturesque cornfields -- dry stalks rustling in the breeze, everything a golden-beige color for as far as the eye could see. Temperature above 40, so I had abandoned my wool sweater for a long-sleeved t-shirt and was feeling almost tropical. Clouds gathered on the horizon, but no precipitation at all.

We arrived in Prague (Pronouced Pray-g. Prah-g is in Europe) about 10:15. A small town of about 300, and "Home of the World's Largest Kolach." (Kolach is a fruit-filled pastry of Czech descent. The WLK weighed 5200 pounds, and is no longer in residence, having been eaten soon after it was created in 1992.

Prague's Elementary, Middle School, and High School are all in a great old brick building and a newer annex. Total enrollment is 109. Librarian Heather Kavan greeted us at the door, and introduced us to English teacher Erin Cico. I talked to the 7th and 8th grade students, who had all read GGS, and came prepared with lots of questions. Hands were still waving when the bell rang for the lunch period.

Once again -- Go Panthers! (and Lady Panthers!)

Sally and I inquired about a good place to stop for lunch, and were invited down to the faculty lounge for a 50th birthday potluck for Mrs. Paseka. What an amazing Midwestern feast! I sampled a little bit of everything -- sloppy joes; deviled eggs; tater-tot casserole; broccoli/cheese soup; two different kinds of potato salad; salami, cream cheese and dill pickle roll-ups; lasagna; and, of course -- birthday cake. We really picked the right day to visit! (SDN: Diet Mtn. Dew the beverage of choice.)

We left with a gift box of a dozen kolache (that's the plural of kolach) -- apricot, cherry, prune, and bavarian cream -- and headed off to Clarkson, about 45 minutes away.

I looked up from the map (I was helping to navigate), and saw a strange and unusual sight -- the sky! And there was an odd golden light (Sally said it was something called "sun") shining on the cornfields a few miles away. Warmth came through the car windows!

 O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

The librarians in Clarkson had made brownies, cupcakes, cookies, and pumpkin bars with cream-cheese icing. (Yes, it was Amazing Pastry Day here in Nebraksa.) About 40 kids from the Middle School arrived at 2:30, along with a handful of local adults, and were a lot more interested in history and science than I would have been at that age, given that there was cake in the next room.

By 4:00, we were on the road again, and arrived in Wayne early enough to do a little window-shopping on Main Street before heading over to the public library for the evening event.

Oh, gentle reader, what an event it was. Everything was green, in honor of GGS, from the refreshments to the door prizes (cool rubber lizards among other things). An audience of more than 90 kids packed the high-ceilinged room -- on a school night! (A few had arrived at 4:30 to be sure to get a seat near the podium to see -- me. Wow. I felt almost like Neil.)

The enthusiasm of Wayne's kids is really going to be hard to top. They listened when there was listening to be done, they raised their hands high enough to dislocate an older shoulder, and they played a very spirited game of "Stump the Author," in which they attempted to ask me questions about GGS that I would be unable to answer. (It was an open-book game, but questions like, "what's the first word on page 27?" were disallowed by the celebrity judge, the middle-school librarian.) Much groaning when it turned out I did, in fact, remember what I'd written, but about a dozen signed postcards were awarded to the cleverest stumpers.

A nice dinner at Geno's, and then a 40-mile drive to West Point, where I'm comfortably ensconced at the Super-8. Sally and I played a couple of games of Cribbage before I excused myself to blog and (soon...) sleep.

Tomorrow: West Point, Scribner, Louisville, Lincoln (II).

This blog and book tour are made possible by the Nebraska Library Commission, with partial funding from a generous grant by the Nebraksa Humanities Council.

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(Not Quite) Across the Wide Missouri

Lincoln, Nebraska
(the state capital)

Got up at 7:00 in Grand Island, and Sherry drove me to Hastings for a 9:00 am event at the Public Library. Two avid groups of readers, one from Hastings Middle School (Go Panthers! Go Tigers!?), and one from an adult book group that had read Green Glass Sea. (And a family of three home-schooled girls.) Lively discussion and questions, followed by lemonade and cookies. Talked to many wonderful people, some about Dewey's age, and one who *was* Dewey's age when Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic!  (The recommended age for the book is 9 and up. "Up," so far, is 94.)

We had a bit of time before the next visit, and spent it at the Hastings Museum, because Hastings is the birthplace of Kool-Aid! (Formerly Kool-Ade.) Had a wonderful time walking through an extensive exhibit on the history of Nebraska's state soft drink.

Day had started out chilly, but dry. By the time we left the museum, it was raining again. Said goodbye to Sherry and moved my bags over to the car of Kathryn Brockmeier of the state library commission. Lunch was a quick bite from Arby's, scarfed down in the car, on the way to Seward. Seward Memorial Library is brand-new, and the interior is gorgeous, done in a Frank Lloyd Wright - Prairie style motif. Talked to a group of about 25 people, mostly students from the middle school (go Bluejays!), and a handful of adults. Partook of some tasty candy corn while I signed books.

Followed Southeastern Library System rep Brenda through Lincoln, then drove through almost zero visibility rain, skirting fields of seed corn and pumpkin patches, the orange globes brightening the view thought the mist. Plattsmouth is a mid-19th-century town at the confluence of the Missouri and Platte rivers. Nice old brick buildings and a Carnegie Library. (It's at the far eastern edge of the state. If we'd crossed the bridge, we would have been in Iowa.)

Event was scheduled to be in the middle school gym, but the weather was harsh, and only a few teachers braved the elements. So we chatted and I signed books for the school library, and then Brenda and Kathryn and I went out to dinner with Stephen, the director of the town's library.

Stephen is a professional chef-turned-librarian, and knows where to find great food. We dined at the Firehouse Grille in Murray, which looks like a dive bar on the outside, and where I had one of the best steaks I have ever eaten. Steak, salad, glass of Merlot, all for under $20!

Rain had stopped by the time we drove back to Lincoln (50 miles), and I checked into my room about 10:00 pm. I'm spending the night at the Cornhusker Hotel downtown, a wonderful old place that I'd love to explore a bit -- but I have to fall over now if I'm going to answer my 8:00 wake-up call.

Tomorrow: Prague, Clarkson, and Wayne.

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Little Sod(den) House on the Prairie

Grand Island, Nebraska

This will be a fairly short post, because it was a long day, with an evening event, and when I got to my hotel room, the wireless was down. It's up again, but almost midnight, and my wake-up call is for 7:00 am.

Started the day in North Platte, and woke to freezing rain. Snow mostly gone, but still only 35 degrees, gray and drizzling. First stop was McDaid Elementary, where the gym was filled with kids from McDaid, St. Pat's Catholic School, and Our Redeemer Lutheran School. About 150 kids, and all of them had read the book, so the questions flew fast and furious -- everything from the writing process and character development and how the publishing industry works to physics, geology, and politics. They kept me on my toes!

In the lobby, I was greeted with this very cool poster that was a class project:

Signed many books and postcards (and a shoe and several hands), then RVLS (Republican Valley Library System - one of six in the state) rep Sherry Houston drove me to Gothenburg, which was a stop on the Pony Express route, back in the 1880s. We stopped at the Sod House museum so I could take a picture before stopping for lunch at a Runza place. Runza is a local delicacy featuring freshly baked dough surrounding a mix of hamburger, cabbage, onions, and spices. ( Tasty, warm, and filling -- perfect for a blustery day.

Nebraska Sod House, Gothenburg

Meridian Library System rep. Sharon Osenga met us at Runza and accompanied us for the rest of the day.

On to Gothenburg High School, where students from Dudley Elementary filled the brand-spanking-new auditiorium. I was interviewed for the local paper, and also for North Platte TV! Another great audience and an hour chock-full o'questions. In the lobby, we sold out of every copy of White Sands, Red Menace that was in the car. Hoping to get a new supply soon!

After a stop for tea and honey, we drove east on I-80 through the rain to Grand Island, arriving at the Holiday in with enough time to unload the bags and have a quick happy hour before heading off to the Grand Island Public Library for a 7:00 event, open to the public. A good crowd for a school night -- about 30 middle school kids, teachers, and parents with the most challenging Q& A so far, including some almost-stumpers about nuclear physics and a demonstration of how uranium marbles glow under UV light.

Quick bite to eat, back to the Holiday Inn. Wireless down, but now up again, so I'll post while the intramanets are still my friends.

Tomorrow: Hastings, Seward, and Plattsmouth, and an overnight in Lincoln.