Celebrating the New York Public Library

This post is for the people attending this morning's screening of Ex Libris, which I will be introducing. 

It's a photo of me at the New York Public Library earlier this year, and I promise to tell everyone the whole story later. 

 

UPDATE: As promised, here's the full story behind that photo.



 

Book signing (2).jpg

So, Dallas VideoFest had a screening of the movie Ex Libris yesterday, and they asked me to help introduce it. It is a documentary about the New York Public Library. I don't think the VideoFest folks knew that I have some strong feelings about the library, even though I made my first visit there only a few years ago. 

I found the library by accident. I was in New York for my day job, and on a free evening, I had time for my favorite New York activity: Walking in a random direction until I find something interesting. In past years, this approach to sightseeing has led me to great bookstores, beautiful parks and all kinds of famous things that impress those of us who grew up in the middle of the country. (It also led me to at least one woman wearing a shirt made of paint, a guy with a python around his neck and a couple of offers to buy illegal things. So although I highly recommend this method of tourism, if you are the age of the characters in Revenge of the Star Survivors, I suppose you should ask an adult first.)

Anyhow, I got about half a mile from my hotel, and I came upon the rear of a lovely white building. "I think I'll check this one out," I said. I rounded the corner and -- there were lions! Famous ones. I had found the New York Public Library. It quickly became one of my favorite buildings in New York -- this beautiful, amazing temple to the importance of books and knowledge. And Ghostbusters. But mostly books and knowledge.

 

I snapped this photo at the New York Public Library in 2013. 

I snapped this photo at the New York Public Library in 2013. 

Revenge of the Star Survivors was then just an unsold manuscript. But when it finally became a book, one of the nicest endorsements it received was from ... the New York Public Library, which put it on their list of recommended middle-grade fiction. "Character-driven, Fast-paced, Realistic fiction, Witty," they said. 

Which meant a whole lot to me, and to the book. As I told the VideoFest crowd: It's one thing to get a nice review. But when the librarians at one of the greatest libraries in the world give you a shout-out -- people pay attention. I also thought that Clark and his friends, who spend a lot of time in their library, would think it was totally awesome. 

So when I was back in New York this spring, a couple of months after the book was published, I made it a point to stop by and see whether I could find the book on the shelf. It turns out, I was able to make the trip with my editor, Kelly Loughman of Holiday House, whose kindness and wisdom shaped the book into something much better than I could have accomplished on my own. 

When we arrived, I had a double surprise. 

First, the book was right there, on the shelf, almost as soon as we walked in. So that was exciting. 

Second, the librarian at the desk -- and I am pretty certain I caught a glimpse of her in Ex Libris, singing "Old MacDonald" to toddlers -- enthusiastically greeted us and pulled out this beautiful ledger filled with signatures of all the authors who have appeared at the NYPL. She let me be one of them. 

She also encouraged me to sign the library's copy of the book. 

And that's what's happening in the photo. I don't know if you can really tell, but I have a funny look on my face -- in that photo, and the one below. Why? 

Well, that's the look of an author who is fighting back tears. Because I spent a lot of years assuming that Clark, Ricki, Les and the rest of the Star Survivors crew were going to live only in my head. When I saw them in the New York Public Library, I realized -- they belong to the world now. To you, if you're reading this. 

It was a happy feeling. 

And that's the story of the photo.

Thanks, NYPL. 

 

 

Straight from the shelves (1).jpg
Michael Merschel
"Revenge of the Star Survivors" conquers the media universe

Well, there have been a few mentions of the book in various spots around the web, at least. 

First and freshest, there is a conversation with author Robert L. Fouch over on his blog. Rob's book is Christmas Carol & the Defenders of Clauswhich is possibly a legal thriller but probably a middle-grade novel that everyone will enjoy a lot. Rob -- the latest in a series of successful middle-grade authors who got their start sitting next to Mike at a newspaper early in their careers -- extracts the truth about writer's block and also posted a really embarrassing photo. So check him out. And buy his book.  

If you attended the University of Kansas, you have now had two chances to read about Revenge of the Star Survivors. The Jayhawk Journalist did one of the first, and now the Kansas Alumni magazine has one of the nicest. Thank you, Kansans, and Rock Chalk! (This is sort of like a secret password among Kansas people ... just ask one of us, and we will be happy to explain. At length. Did you know that the Kansas state motto is Ad Astra Per Aspera  -- "To the stars,  through difficulties"? That could be Clark's motto, come to think of it.)

Finally, over at the Texas Book Festival's site. Emily Vernon has been "Reading Our State."  When she got to Dallas, she found all kinds of great writers, and also Mike. She noted that "Revenge of the Star Survivors resonates with children and adults alike." For which we say -- thank you, Emily. 

Speaking of the Texas Book Festival -- it's a great event for anyone who loves books. Mike is ecstatic to be scheduled for a panel Nov. 5 with two best-selling authors; check the festival site soon for details. 

Mike has several public appearances coming up in October; check the events page for details. Hope to see you there! 

Michael Merschel
Does being on a podcast make me a pod person?

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Dallas-area podcaster Mark David Noble last week. We agreed to meet over lunch, and I was a little surprised when I saw that he had brought along equipment that looked as if it had just wandered off of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru’s farm.

 

Thingamabob I had to speak into.

Thingamabob I had to speak into.

Actual droid (courtesy Wookiepedia)

Actual droid (courtesy Wookiepedia)

But I was immediately put at ease when I saw that one of the beverages served by this establishment was known as a Rebel Alliance. 

The interview is posted here. Mark has done a neat trick where you can listen to the Soundcloud file while staring at a photo of me. So you can hear my voice without seeing my lips move. Most people dream of the world where the opposite happens, but I think it makes me look like the galaxy’s greatest ventriloquist.

Right off the bat, he asked an excellent question -- one I can’t believe I have never been asked before, and one I was stunned to not have a ready answer to. The question was: “What’s the first book you remember buying with your own money?”

You can listen to me talk my way around an answer, but the truth is, I can’t pin it down. I remember my first album, my first 45 (which, if you are the age of the characters in “Revenge of the Star Survivors,” I might need to explain later, but it was a thing), my first video games, and the first time I went clothes shopping on my own and bought a very ill-advised pair of white Levi’s … but that first book escapes me.

But if I don’t remember the specific title, I remember the general feeling. And it was almost indescribably wonderful.

My usual currency would be a B. Dalton Bookseller gift certificate. They were paper certificates back then -- and in my mind, the paper was heavy, like parchment or a stock certificate or the Constitution or the Gutenberg Bible. I would get certificates for my birthday or Christmas (thanks, family members who loved me) and hoard them as long as I could stand it. And then, finally, I would get my mom to take me to the mall (which was across a lake and practically another universe, even though it took probably less than half an hour to get there) and I would stare at the shelves, agonizing over my choices.

Courtesy Goodreads

Courtesy Goodreads

A $10 certificate could probably three or four paperbacks. I still own some of them -- well-known books such as “How to Eat Fried Worms,” “The Mouse and the Motorcycle” and of course, “A Wrinkle in Time,” but also some lesser-knowns, such as “The Midnight Fox” by Betsy Byars and “The Strange But Wonderful Cosmic Awareness of Duffy Moon,” by Jean Robinson.

Also, as I mentioned in my interview, a lot of Hardy Boys books. And “The Great Brain,” series by John D. Fitzgerald. (I’m not sure how well those hold up -- as I recall, the plot of one involves a boy rendered mute by trauma; the hero of the books, an otherwise nice kid who has a brother who is basically a con artist, gets the mute boy to grieve by spanking him until he cries. Which is hailed as a brilliant move by the adults. I am not sure that would pass as recommended therapy these days, so if you are not an adult, ask a librarian for advice before you check this one out. Also, don’t spank someone rendered mute by trauma. Seriously.)

Courtesy Goodreads

 

It would take a lot of effort not to start reading in the car on the way home. But no matter when I started, they rarely stayed unused more than a day: In the summertime, I could stay up pretty much as late as I wanted reading them. And re-reading them. And then reading them again. Because that is what you do with books when you are in love with them.

In the interview, Mark asked me what I liked about the titles I mentioned. And again, you can hear me have to talk my way around an answer. Because sometimes, asking why you like a book is like asking why you like air: You don’t really know. It’s just always been there, and you can’t imagine life without it.

Anyhow, it was a fun lunch, and I hope you enjoy the interview.

Michael Merschel
Newbery awards, and evidence that the planet does not actually deserve to be blasted by Vexons

Because of my job, I often get to attend events that feature cool authors. On Saturday, that meant Newbery Medal winner Kwame Alexander.

Now, getting to meet an author who wrote a book as powerful as The Crossover would make for a good day no matter what. But the people at the Dallas Museum of Art, where I interviewed him onstage, made it doubly nice by displaying my book on a table right next to his.

This is where I have to step back and say that the word “Newbery” has sort of a spiritual quality to me. My grade-school library had a poster that listed all the winners; I checked out and read and re-read every one of them I could get my hands on. You know how Clark in Revenge of the Star Survivors feels about people associated with Star Wars? This is how I feel about people associated with the Newbery awards.

The first Newbery-related person I met was Adam Gidwitz. He won a Newbery Honor earlier this year. His book The Inquisitor’s Tale amazing -- when I introduced him at another Dallas Museum of Art event, I told the audience how it inspired me to work twice as hard on the revisions to my book, because his is so perfectly crafted. He's since said some very nice things about Revenge of the Star Survivors, and each time that has happened, my head has exploded a little. 

Kwame Alexander, however, was the first Newbery Medal winner I had met. And I had a good time interviewing him in front of the crowd.

 

My day got even better after that, though, because the Dallas Museum of Art people let me sign my own book for a few people as he signed his. The book-loving boy who lives inside my head was pretty excited. (That's middle-aged me on the right; the actual book-loving boys are on the left.)

Michelle Witcher

Michelle Witcher

 

But if the 12-year-old boy in my head was pleased so far, you can imagine how he felt when Kwame Alexander walked over with several copies of Revenge of the Star Survivors for me to sign. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it. I think the goofy look on my face here might say it all.

Michelle Witcher

Michelle Witcher

 

 

One of the things Kwame Alexander spoke about when he was onstage was his years as a student of the poet Nikki Giovanni. He describes himself as a stubborn, argumentative pupil. But even when he didn’t seem to deserve it, she supported him with acts of kindness that launched his career.

Kindness has surrounded me from the moment I started sharing my manuscript. I certainly have not deserved all that I have received. A few of the people who helped me are mentioned in the back in the acknowledgments. Many others have done things, small and large, since the book was published.  

Most writers I know have similar stories. I'll bet even Nikki Giovanni does.

Which – aside from the fact that it gives me an excuse to post a photo of a Newbery winner holding my book – is my point in writing this.

To point out that even on our real world, where the headlines are full of truly terrible and scary things, it’s possible to find a chain of good, kind, selfless people that stretches back as far as I can see.

It makes me think – this is actually a pretty nice planet to be on.   

Oh my gosh, it's full of nerds (an interview with the Nerdy Book Club)

First of all, we all need to celebrate the fact that there is a thing called the Nerdy Book Club. The characters in Revenge of the Star Survivors would definitely be charter members of the Festus Middle School Chapter. 

Second, we need to celebrate author Kate Hannigan, who alerted me to the existence of the Nerdy Book Club. Kate – whom I knew in her previous life as a journalist – is the award-winning author of The Detective's Assistant, a wonderful book marred only by a complete absence of lasers and spaceships, but the heroine is so cool and smart that you won't really mind. 

And finally, we need to thank Kate for interviewing me for the Nerdy Book Club. Unlike Groucho Marx, I am happy to belong to a club that would have me as a member. This one, at least. 

 

 

 

Michael Merschel