Thursday, October 23, 2008

Confessions of a Library Lover

From the time I was old enough to hold a book in my hands, I’ve been a huge fan of public libraries. Some of my earliest and best memories are of trips with my mother to our local library, where I could pick up to seventeen books at a time (the maximum allowed then) to take home and read. I was seven years old when I got my first library card, and I still remember my first selections: a couple of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, a Zane Grey novel (pushed on me by my mom), a collection of Greek mythology, and what was to become my all-time favorite book, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I was a voracious reader and blew through so many books that sometimes we made two trips to the library in one week.

When my children were little (they’re both teenagers now), I continued the tradition and brought them on outings to our public library here in Rancho Penasquitos every week. We checked out all their favorites and read every book that had a series: Curious George, Dirty Harry, Dr. Seuss, Corduroy, Babar the Elephant, Madeline. As my kids got older, we graduated to Harry Potter and the Narnia series. My son doesn’t read as much now as he used to, but when he does, he goes for fantasy and video-game related novels. My daughter enjoys young adult fiction and will often read a book in one day.

Now that I’m a publicist and writer myself, I confess that I don’t get to read as much as I would like. But I still visit my local public library and do my best to get my kids to go with me (harder to do now, with their busy schedules). The Penasquitos branch that I frequent doesn’t open until 12:30 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On those days, I’m often one of the twenty or so individuals congregated outside the door in the sunshine, eagerly awaiting the moment when the librarian slides the Closed sign to Open and lets us in.

When I’m away at an artist residency or on vacation, my first priority is checking out the local library. One of my most treasured possessions is my Hawaii state library card, which is good on any of the islands. Last year, while staying on the Big Island for a residency, I visited five branches during my trip. Some, like the Na’alehu branch, are housed in tiny trailers. The Hilo branch has a huge central open-air courtyard encased by windows and visible from all four sides of the stacks and Internet carrels that surround it. I’ve been to some equally gorgeous and unique libraries in California, Oregon, Florida, Hawaii, and Vermont, and can’t wait to pick up library cards in trips to future states.

As a book publicist, it’s no surprise that I urge my clients to hold signings at public libraries. These institutions offer terrific opportunities to reach an entirely different audience than those that authors meet at bookstores. Many libraries are willing to order books for signings and do great jobs of promoting events through newsletters, flyers, press releases to the media, and email outreach. Some libraries will showcase authors, placing books, posters, and signage in their lobbies or designated areas for announcements or featured items. And they’re open to all types of writing, embracing traditionally published, self-published, and print-on-demand authors equally.

Many libraries have dedicated sections for local authors, so every writer with a published book should be sure to get it housed in at least one branch in the local system. Authors can introduce their books to other libraries across the country by sending email inquiries and/or visiting the library websites for submission requirements. A great resource for locating libraries across the country can be found at

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Take-Away

I recently spent two weeks at an artist residency at the Vermont Studio Center, a large compound in the quaint northern town of Johnson, which caters to artists and writers who seek a get-away place to work, reflect, and experience a sense of community. My time there was a strange mix of esoteric highs and lows. On the low end, I found the place to be a technological twilight zone, with limited Internet capability, printers that didn’t work, and cell phone service that ranged from intermittent to non-existent. My calling card number wouldn’t go through on the local land line, my key to the writer’s studio building had to be replaced three times, and the light bulbs in my dorm room mysteriously flickered on and off the entire length of my stay, keeping time to the beat of some unknown rhythm they alone heard.

Compounding these technical difficulties was a distressing lack of sympathy by most of the VSC staff. In one instance, I made the mistake of asking for help with my Dell laptop, which refused to boot up. The staff member I approached sniffed disdainfully at me and suggested that since I didn’t own a Mac, which is the VSC computer of choice, I should just go out and hire my own technical support.

There were other lows: hot and hectic work shifts in the dining room kitchen; a floor mate who sang and/or shouted into her cell phone until two o’clock in the morning; models who didn’t show for scheduled life drawing sessions; the ophthalmologist back home in San Diego who refused to call in a prescription to the Rite Aid drugstore in Morrisville.

But the high points more than made up for the lows. The legendary Vermont foliage put on a spectacular display of yellows, oranges, and reds, and the Gihon River burbled merrily outside my studio window. The campus meditation house was a practitioner’s dream – situated in a quiet garden, it exuded peace and tranquility, and came furnished with candles, incense, and rows of comfortable meditation cushions. The food was plentiful and the conversation lively during mealtimes, and the resident presentations at the Center’s lecture hall provided fascinating glimpses into each artist’s personal view of the world. I managed to scratch out four new scenes for my novel; met with literary great, Antonya Nelson; took day trips to Burlington and North Conway, New Hampshire; saw a charming local production of 1776 in Hyde Park; and hiked the surrounding area in perfect 57-degree fall weather, photographing winding trails, flowers, green fields, and waterfalls.

But what I’ll remember most about VSC are the incredible voices of my fellow writing residents. There were eleven of us, and though we were outnumbered by more than forty visual artists, we emerged as the most vocal and boisterous segment of our creative community. We met as a group under our own reconnaissance in the Mason House conference room, a small living room area in one of the residence halls. Armed with wine, tortilla chips, and M&M’s, we read our poetry and prose aloud, shared constructive feedback, and exchanged observations about the writing life. The more the group met, the more we bonded, and our deepening respect and appreciation for each other made this residency one of the most profoundly memorable I’ve experienced.

There are many take-aways from this trip, but for me, the most vivid will be the amazing depth and grace of the non-fiction vignettes from Bill, a CPA in Idaho; the gentle wisdom and thoughtfulness of the animal poems by John, a spiritual guide and teacher in upstate New York; Monique’s sparkling wit and fast-paced coming-of-age humor; Nina’s southern twang and heartfelt take on life as an Indian American girl growing up in Kansas; Louise’s British bildungsroman, told in her cockney accent, all flashing teeth and smiles; Cortney’s adult fairy tales, magical and transcendent, punctuated by cigarette breaks and an impish smile; George’s lyrical narrative about the life of a Russian boy during the time of Perestroika; Heather’s dazzling flash fiction; Leigh’s revealing haikus; my own humble take on love and history in the time of Pocahontas.

I’ve measured my other residency experiences in terms of the beauty of the landscapes or the friendships I formed during my stay. But this trip, while mixed in terms of highs and lows, stands out for the deep admiration and tremendous heart and talent shared by the writers there.

To all my VSC friends (including the visual artists, who generously allowed me to participate in life drawing sessions; Gerard Huber, who touched me with his friendship and kindness; and John Fitzpatrick, who willingly shared his healing knowledge), I send my love and best wishes. Namaste.