Tucson Festival of Books

Dear Reader,

I just had the most incredible weekend.

I went to the Tucson Festival of Books (a k a @TFOB).

When you’re an author, you must go to this. Here are the reasons why:

1. You get to walk a red carpet. IMG_8652This was my wonderful welcome host, Emily Morrison. She and her husband Ted gave me a ride from my hotel to the University of Arizona campus where the event took place. I sat in the backseat of their car between Jacquelyn Mitchard and Christina Baker Kline. In case you don’t know (and I didn’t), it was for Jackie’s book, The Deep End of the Ocean, that Oprah started her book club. And Christina’s book, Orphan Train, has been on the New York Times bestseller list for the past seven weeks. I had no idea. I asked them dumb questions like, “Did you say your name is Pritchard?” And “What’s your favorite book that you’ve written?”

2. You get treated to a fancy dinner. IMG_8656Your book is the table’s centerpiece, and they make a little place card just for you. The other author at my table was D.J. MacHale. He’s a dashing dude, but I was too shy to say hello. As for his book, well . . . you don’t see it do you? I wonder what happened to his book . . . ??? (Shhh, when you’re vegetarian, many things are edible!)

3. You meet Kathy and Jerry Short. IMG_8659Here’s Kathy holding the beautiful service award she won from the Arizona Daily Star. Kathy is the founder and director of the Worlds of Words library at the College of Education at the University of Arizona. It contains the largest collection of children’s books in North America., around 40,000 titles. This is what it looks like:IMG_8694photo 3IMG_8698There are beautiful murals by David Christiana that invite you into another dimension:photo 2Like this:IMG_8707Aren’t they fantastic?!!!

Back inside, there’s an artist’s studio where illustrators are invited to come and work on their books:IMG_8693And a classroom for graduate students:IMG_8692And a large collection of signed first-edition books and a collection of signed original artwork, including these from Grace Lin:IMG_8697And friendly, helpful gatekeepers at the front desk:IMG_8699Dr. Short donated much of the books from her own collection from her travels around the world. She is also a professor of Language, Reading and Culture, the President-elect of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and is responsible for inviting the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators to the festival and determining the format of their presentations. She was also a member of last year’s Caldecott committee. In other words, she’s a super-duper VIP in the world of children’s lit. So you can imagine my surprise to find myself seated at her table. And you can imagine my further surprise when the MC mentioned my name as an example of the authors Kathy brought to this year’s festival. Really? Me?

Oh, I should have fixed myself up after getting off the plane!

4. You get to hear Rebecca Eaton, the executive producer of Masterpiece Theater, give the keynote speech. She’s the executive producer of Downton Abbey. I LOVE Downton Abbey! And she’s speaking and coughing into the same microphone in which my name was just spoken. Just when you think you’ve died and gone to book festival heaven . . . .

5. You get to appear on a panel discussion with God. IMG_8684Lois Lowry, two-time Newbery winner, and the winner of the international Hans Christian Anderson Award and everything else. You can’t stand any closer to the epicenter of children’s lit than this. Wow. I’m only cosmic dust in her orbit, but here I was in her orbit nonetheless! Orbiting on the other side is Patrick Jennings, author of the Guinea Dog series and other funny books. God even wanted a selfie with us!

6. After you’ve touched divinity, other authors start orbiting around you.IMG_8703Who are these guys anyway???

They were sticking to me like cosmic dust or something.IMG_8705They are none other than the award-winning illustrators and authors, James Ransome and Jarrett Krosoczka, my co-conspirators in crime, I mean creation. We had a gut-busting, butt-kicking good time in our session on our journeys as authors, moderated by the great Marney Weimers, ringmaster extraordinaire. Our wild, crazy circus swung between the Lunch Lady’s robot socks:IMG_8700And The Rope taking a million selfies for his Facebook page!

What a quick fall from divinity to photo bomb.

I rush for the shuttle to take me to the Phoenix airport.

7. Back in the real world, no one cares that you’ve had drinks and dinner with God. You’re not cosmic dust. You’re not even a photo bomb. Your name is not on the passenger manifest for the shuttle because your publicist did not make a reservation for you because you’re a nobody. The driver looks at you contemptuously and flicks you on the sidewalk like a cigarette butt.

Your plane leaves in three hours and you are two hours away from the airport.

You cannot miss your flight because you need to be at a school visit within 48 hours.

Your superpower is not IT (Instantaneous Transport).

8. But Jerry Short’s is. He owns this awesome car:IMG_8714It’s a Shelby GT500. It has a 6th gear that will take you up to 185 mph at 2000 rpm. The engine looks like this:IMG_8717It is a BEAST, and a menace:IMG_8715See the cobra? If you see it in your rearview mirror, it means you better get out of the way!

Whoa, baby.

Without hesitation, my gracious host who had taken me to the shuttle stop and insisted on staying until I got on the shuttle, throws my bags back into the Shelby and I tuck into shotgun, and off we roar, spinning the yellow Tucson dust behind us. IMG_8710I’ve never been in a faster car in my life! Yikes!!!

To take my mind off ID (Instantaneous Death), I ask him lots of questions about his car. I learn all about the rare, expensive Shelby. It’s FAST. It’s DANGEROUS. It can go from 0 to 60 in 4.4 seconds, and eat 1/4 mile in just 12.5 seconds at 119 mph. It is BADASS.

Jerry handled The Beast really well. I began to relax.

Then about halfway, we made a pit stop. We needed the restrooms and a soda.

Coming out of the convenience store, Jerry asked, “Wanna drive it?”

That was what he said. But what I heard was, “I dare you to drive it.”

I stopped dead in my tracks.

“Me, drive it?” I squeaked.

“You’ll have a lot of fun,” he said. We were walking towards the car, and somehow I was on the driver’s side and he was on the passenger’s side. When I looked down, the keys were in my hand. Wait a minute. How did that happen???!!!

“I’d love to drive it, but I think you’re much better at it, so I better not,” I sputtered nervously. You’d sputter too if you’re facing Certain Death just minutes away!

“Press the unlock button,” Jerry said.

Before I knew it, I was pressing the button to buzz the driver’s seat forward so that my foot could reach the clutch.IMG_8723 I adjusted the mirrors. I grabbed the stick shift. I don’t think I said my prayers though. It was too late for that. As soon as you turn the ignition on The Beast, you’ve sold your soul.

I rolled gently out of the parking lot, getting a feel for it like one would gently feel a cobra before jumping on it’s back and riding it. Oh, I was SOOOO scared!!!!!!

Then the on-ramp. I know what to do on on-ramps. You accelerate. You get up to speed with the traffic on the highway. You merge. Your life is NOT supposed to flash before your eyes. You are NOT supposed to be thinking of how you’re a few feet away from dying without a will. Intestate they call it. Intestate. Intestate. Intestate. Intestate on the interstate. Gulp. I never imagined that my final moments on earth would be filled with this single word. It doesn’t even sound nice. It sounds like something I will not mention.

Still rolling on the on-ramp, I was no longer waking a cobra, but I was driving like an old lady behind a walker. I heard Jerry say, “Get on it. Get on it.”

Huh? Then before I knew it, I got on it. VAROOOOOOM!!!! 

I peeled the asphalt right off the road.

I shifted into 6th gear and hit 90 mph. Maybe even 100, when I wasn’t looking.

I passed cars on the right and left.IMG_8734“Get on it,” Jerry said again.

I passed 16-wheelers.

I flew past a couple of cop cars waiting by the side of the road. Oops!

I sweated a little. I slowed down a LOT.

Then I went back to dodging drivers who tailed me, pushing the atomic batteries to power, turbines to speed!

I passed the Arizona Shuttle that had left me on the sidewalk :).

I owned Route 10, honey.

I zoomed all the way to the Phoenix airport, just like that. Here I am at the end of my ride:IMG_8737Badass.

THANK YOU, Jerry and Kathy Short for everything!!! You guys really ROCK!!!!

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