Thursday, May 6, 2010

Authors can’t authorize lav passes

From 4/28 to 4/30/10, I set up camp in Simsbury, Connecticut, one town over from Avon, the town in which in spent my first seven years. I spoke at five Simsbury schools—and drove by the house in which my story (and storytelling) began:

(My dad will want me to note that he maintained the grounds much better when we lived there in the 1970s. The current owner—yes, I rang the doorbell—will want me to note that they were recently out of the country for several years, during which time they rented the house and could not easily keep tabs on the upkeep.)

During the Q&A portion of my presentation at the first Simsbury school, a boy asked what would turn out to be my favorite question of the trip: "May I go to the bathroom?"

To be clear, there were plenty of on-topic questions I also loved, but for its beautiful balance of courtesy and innocence, this one cried out for a spotlight. I posted it on Facebook and a friend commented "At least he didn’t say 'Can I…'"

I deferred to a teacher, who, of course, gave the boy permission to excuse himself. I don’t have that kind of authority.

At another Simsbury school, a sixth grader came up to me afterward to reveal that he is brilliant. He didn’t say that. What he said was in response to this cartoon, which I show during my presentation:

This astute young man said the caption does not need "I threw that"; it could end with "spill"—if italicized. Does he understand "trust your audience" or what? The cartoon editor of The New Yorker should keep an eye on this one.

I show that cartoon, and others, as part of an exercise on analyzing both the art and the humor of cartoons like mine. Part of this segment refers back to a segment about writing in which I explain that the art of writing is not only about what we put in our work but what we leave out. And this boy was so down with that idea that he pointed out something that has not occurred to me in my six years of using this cartoon as an example.

At a third Simsbury school, the library media specialist had created a Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman blow-up to try to drum up excitement for my upcoming visit.

Interestingly, she used not the cover or an interior page featuring Superman but rather the endpapers, which no one else I’ve seen has done. I was thrilled because the design of the endpapers (for any book) rarely gets much attention, and I happen to love what Ross MacDonald did with them for our book:

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