At a birthday party in the Catskills this past Saturday night, not only did the conversation--among civilians, no less--turn to the pleasures of The Graveyard Book, the waitress chimed in as well: "that book is so awesome." So I was proud to be able to brag about my interview with Neil Himself at ALA last week. I was a little taken aback when I saw him, black-clad and sunglassed, coming down the aisle accompanied by a bevy of slender young women also dressed in black--jeez, a freaking entourage, I thought, but the conversation was good. The highlight, I thought, was Neil's response to my favorite question: "have you ever seen a ghost?" While Naomi Shihab Nye, hands down, had the best response I ever got to this one, Neil had a good story too, involving a dark country night, solitary streetlight, and a gypsy. His storytelling skills are as impressive off the cuff as they are on the page. [Update: Naomi's ghost story is posted in the comments.]
Although we had a little trouble perfecting the sound system (but kudos to my roadies Andrew and Randy for keeping at it) the five interviews I did were all swell. (Six were scheduled but Laurie Halse Anderson had a family emergency and had to go home.) Highlights from the others:
--I asked Candy Fleming if she had ever had to give up on a biography because she got bored with her subject. She said no, but that in her work on a forthcoming book about Amelia Earhart, she had definitely found her admiration for the aviator tempered. I hope the book will tell us why.
--Brian Selznick said that becoming an artist means accepting the fact that you will live in a state of terror. (I think he's been hanging out with Sendak too much.) He also said that he's working on a book that, at this point, is twice as long as Hugo Cabret.
--Ashley Bryan gave us a preview of his call-and-response Caldecott speech, getting us to roar along with Eloise Greenfield's "Things." The crowd also serenaded him with "Happy birthday," whereupon he invited us all to his party the next night. I wish I could have gone but, honestly, at eighty-six that man wears me out.
--We had a triple threat Monday morning with Caldecott medalist Beth Krommes (pictured), her author Susan Marie Swanson, and their editor, Ann Rider. Beth explained scratchboard technique and knowing when to stop; Susan read their book aloud; Ann talked about how an editor envisions a picture book with only a brief manuscript in hand. They all got bemusingly embarrassed when I asked Beth an innocent question about what reading antique furniture magazines at bedtime did to her dreams.
I hope we can do it again next year--hey, Midwinter is in Boston, maybe I can get some of my favorite homies to submit to interrogation.