Friday, April 27, 2007

Challenger Elementary

I absolutely must write about an author visit I made to Challenger Elementary in Thief River Falls on Monday. It was my first experience with a school visit, so I didn't know what to expect, and went prepared with material as I always do for any public speaking engagement. After all, I thought, these are fourth and fifth graders; they won't have read the book.

Arriving at the school, however, I was completely surprised to be greeted by a huge sign proclaiming "Welcome, S.T. Underdahl!" In addition and even more remarkably, the walls were literally plastered with 50-60 posters, made by the children, each depicting events and emotions from "The Other Sister." "Did the kids actually read the book?" I asked in wonder. (It's a young adult novel, after all) "No," the world's best librarian, Jamie Bakken, replied. "I read it and told them what it was about." She must have done an amazing job of it, I thought, looking at all the dead-on interpretations the children had produced.

The visit with the children was equally mind-boggling; I never even got to touch the material I'd prepared on "How to Become a Writer," because each group kept me hopping for thirty high-intensity minutes, answer questions that ranged from "How long did it take you to write "The Other Sister?" to "Do you plan a sequel?" to "What other books have you written?" Of course there were a few of the "How many pets do you have and what are their names?" variety, which are equally fun, and a couple kids wanted to impress upon me how mean their siblings are to them. In the end, I came away terribly impressed by the intelligence, poise, and inquiring minds of 'kids these days.' I don't think I would have had the courage to ask a single question when I was ten or eleven years old, but I'm greatly cheered knowing how far we've come.

I feel like these promotional events are teaching me so many unexpected things about people, when as a psychologist I would have thought that I already knew a heck of a lot. Go figure.

So thanks, Challenger kids; you were an absolute treat and a revelation!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Karma's a Funny, Funny Gal

Well, wouldn't you know it; after my last posting about the unfairness of being asked to list my favorite books, last night I ran across a posting where some wonderful young girl had included "The Other Sister" on a list of her favorite books. It was a lovely surprise, although my initial reaction was similar to the feeling I get when I occasionally and unexpectedly come across my own name in the newspaper obituaries...kind of a 'that couldn't REALLY be me, could it?' (The obituary thing happens a lot less often now that my last name is no longer just 'Thompson," but it never fails to give one pause!)

Friday's Author Panel at Fargo's Barnes & Noble was not exactly well-attended; there were eight authors playing to an audience of two people, one of whom was my aunt Coral. Basically we spent three hours visiting with each other and discussing our writing histories (in my case, it was a short speech!) I was lucky enough to be seated between Steve Grineski, MSUM and Peter Rennebohm, two regional authors I've never before had the opportunity to meet. Grineski is the author of Baby Dragons: The Story of Moorhead Campus School 1888-1972, easily the most popular book with visitors to Barnes & Noble that day. An MSU professor, Grineski also teaches at the Moorhead Area Learning Center, and tells me that the proceeds from Baby Dragons will go to fund a college scholarship for a student at the school. Steve's kind and gentle spirit reminded me very much of my uncle, the late Dr. Fran Ulschak.

Equally interesting was meeting Peter Rennebohm, a writer from Minneapolis who has penned two thrillers in French Creek and Blue Springs: A Suspense Novel, as well as the deeply moving Be Not Afraid: Ben Peyton's Story. Previously a business owner and salesman in the construction and contracting industry, it's clear that Peter is enjoying his 'second life' as a writer.
We talked about our mutual ties to the Minnesota Lake area; I've written a story that takes place on Lake Tulaby, near Waubun, and Peter is part owner of a duck-hunting camp in the same area.

In the end, new friends were made, conversations were enjoyed, and a few books were sold (mostly to each other). Overall, a success of an unexpected kind.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

These Are A Few (Hundred) Of My Favorite Things...

During a recent online interview, I was unexpectedly asked to list my 'Top Ten Books.' Believe me, the interview ground to a screeching halt at that point! Thinking back on it, I can imagine the interviewer tapping fingers impatiently on her keyboard, wanting desperately to wrap up the interview, as I painstakingly weighed and considered the various merits of all eighteen million books I've read during my lifetime. In the end, I was actually cheating; including entire bodies of work by certain authors under some numbers, while inserting subcategories such as "My Favorite Historical Fiction Books" under others. I really wanted to leave #10 open in sort of a 'yet-to-be-determined' fashion, but at the last moment I suddenly thought of a book that absolutely couldn't be left off the list, so I went with that and was left feeling stirred up and uneasy. In the time since, of course, I've been regretting all the books I forgot to mention... (Note to future interviewers: PLEASE DO NOT ASK ME THAT QUESTION!)

Right now I'm enjoying "Death of a Writer" by Michael Collins (2000 Booker Prize finalist); for some reason I can't stop myself from underlining passages that are particularly brilliant, so I guess I won't be lending it out to anyone with a low threshold for distraction. Besides being a talented and accomplished writer, MC is also an extreme athlete (this is actually a category of sportsman, not just my comment on his athleticism.) Good grief.