Flo: Dancing with the Stars

April 21, 200817 CommentsPosted in Hanni, travel, Uncategorized

Could this be the mysterious stranger?  I\'ll never tell!!Move over Marlee. Flo is back.

After spending a month last winter in the hospital mending from cracked ribs and a fractured pelvis, my mom celebrated her 92nd birthday doing what she loves: dancing.

Flo fell in her apartment in December. She went through rehab at the hospital, then had a physical therapist come to the house for a while. Since then, she’s been rehabbing on her own, going through the exercises prescribed by the physical therapist every day, and adding a bit more on her own. One day she would take a couple steps with her walker, the next she’d head down to get her mail by herself. She figured out how to get down the hall with a walker to do her laundry, how to take the garbage out, how to get outside on her own when my sistr Cheryl came by to help her run errands.

Last weekend, Flo joined us in Louisville to celebrate her birthday. She danced. Both Friday and Me and Flo - cutting a rug.Saturday nights. A highlight: on Friday night a complete stranger approached and asked her to the dance floor. She is still beaming. “He was a good dancer!”

Note: one does not have to be able to see to tell if someone else is beaming. You can feel it in the air.

My dog did not join Flo on the dance floor –Hanni has two left feet. Hanni did honor Flo when we all got back to the hotel, though. I shared a hotel bed with Flo, and when the belle of the ball climbed into bed next to me Saturday night, she couldn’t help but boast. “Hanni is sleeping on my side of the bed tonight,” Flo whispered.

I wasn’t surprised. Hanni has a nose for talent.

Buses and Boats, Too

April 17, 20086 CommentsPosted in book tour, Hanni, Seeing Eye dogs, travel, Uncategorized

My presentation in Lansing, Michigan.Kids – and adults –often ask if Hanni goes right on the plane with me when we travel. She does.

On board, she sits with her butt under the seat in front of me, her head cradled between my feet. She’ll be doing exactly that on Sunday, when we fly home from Louisville. Before that, though, she will have been on four long car rides (she sits at my feet at the front passenger seat), two train rides and one bus ride. Planes, trains, and automobiles. Buses, too. All in one week! Hanni’s a trooper.

Our big travel week started with a speech to honor volunteers at the Mid-Illinois Talking Book Center in East Peoria on Monday. When I couldn’t find convenient transportation to and from that event, my niece Janet offered to drive. Baby Flo – Janet’s youngest daughter — came along, so we made sure to find a hotel with an indoor pool. Hanni and Baby Flo are just about the same height, so they had lots to talk about. We had fun!

Flapping my gums with some fans.On Tuesday Hanni and I boarded a train from Chicago to East Lansing, Michigan. This morning I gave a motivational speech to diabetes and kidney advocates before they took off to talk to state legislators. Along with blindness and leg amputation, kidney failure is another major complication of long term – or poorly controlled – diabetes. After the speech and a very lively book signing, Hanni and I got on a bus headed to Battle Creek. We caught a train there, and now, here I am, typing away from my seat on the train. Hanni is sleeping at my feet — she’s wise to get a few winks in, because tomorrow we leave again. My sister Cheryl is picking us up for this leg of our weeklong trip, and Flo and another sister – Bobbie –will come along.

They’ll be with us when Hanni and I give a talk at my great-nephew Grant’s school in Indianapolis on Friday morning. From there, we all take off to meet our other two sisters Marilee and Bev in Louisville, and Sister’s Weekend begins!

Every year my four sisters and I (and Flo, our honored guest) get together somewhere or another to celebrate our sisterhood,and we choose a book to read that has something to do with our locale. You know, Sister’s Book Club. This year’s book is a bit of a stretch. After visiting Long Island last month I found myself wanting to read The Great Gatsby again. When I went to order it, the notes said Jay Gatsby courted Daisy Buchanan in…Louisville. So that’s the book.

My brother Doug will provide appropriate Gatsby-esque music for the weekend. Doug lives in Louisville, and he’s a sought-after jazz trombonist. we’ll hear his band the West Market Street Stompers play on Friday night, and then on Saturday night Doug performs in a big band. On a riverboat!

The riverboat we’ll be cruising on is 92 years old — the exact age Flo will be this Sunday, April 20. If you know my family you know we’ll start celebrating a day early. Dancing. To a big band. On a riverboat!
So yikes! I guess you can add “boat” to the list of transportation Hanni – and I – will ride this week

Wag Your Tail — "Safe & Sound" wins ASPCA Award

April 9, 200823 CommentsPosted in Beth Finke, Hanni, Uncategorized, Writing for Children

Book CoverHenry Bergh Award stampTomorrow is National ASPCA Day — that stands for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – and Hanni and I are getting the ball rolling by making a huge announcement.

And no, smarty pants. The announcement is not that I’ve learned the html code to bold words in my blog. I mean, as exciting as html coding can be, it ain’t nothing (note italics) compared to this news from the ASPCA:


It’s called the Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award, and a press release from ASPCA says it best:

Named in honor of ASPCA founder Henry Bergh, the annual awards recognize books based on their exemplary handling of subject matter pertaining to animals and the environment.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in 1866 and is the first humane organization established in the Americas. It has more than one million supporters throughout North America.

iow, the Henry Bergh Award is a huge deal. And a tremendous honor. Hanni and I are traveling to the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in Anaheim to accept the award at a special ceremony on June 30. I already bought a new dress. Hanni, of course, will have her nails done for the occasion.

Sweet Potato Prince

April 7, 20081 CommentPosted in book tour, Hanni, Uncategorized

The Sweet Potato Queen herself!The Sweet Potato Queen was one of the top speakers at the Arkansas Literary Festival last weekend. The Sweet Potato Queen’s’ Book of Love came out in 1999, and two subsequent titles (The Sweet Potato Queens' Field Guide to Men: Every Man I Love is Either Married, Gay, or Dead and The Sweet Potato Queens' Big-Ass Cookbook) were New York Times® #1 bestsellers.

And so, you may have heard of the Sweet Potato Queen, aka, Jill Connor Brown. Chances are you have never heard of Kyle Jennings, though. Kyle is married to the Sweet Potato Queen and is known to her readers as simply the “Cutest Boy in the World.”

I may not be able to vouch for his good looks, but I can say this: that Kyle guy sure is nice.

My friend Nancy led Hanni and me to our panel Saturday morning. A festival volunteer guided us to our noontime presentation at the Arkansas Historical Museum. Nancy wasn’t all that interested in the Sweet Potato Queen, so she took off after helping me to a seat at Jill Connor Brown’s presentation later that afternoon.

When Kyle Jennings saw Hanni and me sitting alone, he stopped to ask if we needed anything. I knew he and the Sweet Potato Queen were staying in the same hotel we were, so I made a confession: I had no idea what the route back to our hotel was.
Kyle said he’d be glad to walk Hanni and me there after the presentation. “But we’ll have to wait until Jill is done signing books.”

The Sweet Potato Queen is popular. VERY popular. Women stood in line for, hmm, at least an hour to get Jill to sign copies of various Sweet Potato Queen titles.

So while Jill signed away, Hanni and I waited outside on a bench. Sunshine, birds singing…it couldn’t get better than this.

But then, it did.

Kyle Jennings saw us outside and approached our bench. “Mind if I sit with you?” he asked. I scooted over, and, of course, we got to talking. He spoke lovingly about their own dogs. One is a rescue dog who had been hit by a car and left to die. A leg had to be amputated as a result of the accident. They named the dog Sosti, Kyle said. “Sost means ‘three’ in Ethiopian.”
We traded all sorts of stories after that. Eventually I unbuckled Hanni’s harness. She needed a break.
“Can I pet her now?” Kyle asked. I thought he would jump out of his shoes when I said yes. He ended up taking Hanni for a walk, picking up after her when she emptied, finding a bottle of water and cutting off the top so she could get a drink. How they bonded.

The Sweet Potato Queen sounded exhausted when she finally came out to join us. We all took off for the hotel, but after one block Jill asked if Kyle and I wouldn’t mind going on without her. “I’m going to duck in this gallery and rest,” she said. “I can’t walk that far in these heels!” She asked Kyle to pick some things up for her from their hotel room – he’d come back with the car.

And so, Hanni and I proceeded on, our heads held high. After all, we were being escorted to our fancy-schmancey Little Rock hotel by the cutest boy in the world.

Meeting Sonny Brewer

April 2, 20083 CommentsPosted in book tour, travel, Uncategorized, writing, Writing for Children

Arkansas Literary Festival logoA NOVELSonny Brewer’s CORMAC 

Hanni and I head to the Arkansas Literary Festival this weekend – we’re doing one session for children, then sitting on a panel called Dogs and Their People.

With us on the panel? None other than Sonny Brewer.

I first met Sonny Brewer at an Arkansas Literary Festival years ago. I was in Little Rock with Mike and Hanni for the 2004 festival to promote Long Time, No See.
. The Saturday night gala that year was at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, and festival organizers were kind enough to arrange for a volunteer to drive Mike, Hanni and me to the event. An author named Sonny Brewer was supposed to come with us, too. But he was late getting to the car. It was hot in Little Rock, and Hanni, Mike and I were squished in the back seat. I was very eager to get to the Clinton Library – it was relatively new at the time. I wanted to spend as much time there as possible. But we had to wait. For some guy named Sonny Brewer. We waited. I was wearing pantyhose. It was hot. Nuff said? I was ready to blow my stack when Sonny finally showed up. The minute he opened his mouth, all was forgiven.

“Sorry, y’all,” he said with a whimsical southern drawl. “I lost track of the time.  My name is Sonny, glad to meet you.” He shook our hands. Hanni even gave him her paw.
We got stuck in traffic – of course – but I didn’t mind. It gave Sonny time to tell us his story.
Sonny had opened an independent bookstore in his hometown of Fairhope, Alabama, in 1997. “I was nearing 50 back then,” he said. “Owning a bookstore had been a lifelong dream of mine.”
After seven years in business, Over the Transom Books was still in the red.

Enter Jill Connor Brown with some queenly advice. The author of The Sweet Potato Queens Book of Love met her husband Kyle Jennings in Sonny Brewer’s bookstore, and she and Sonny have been friends ever since.

“Jill told me I oughta try selling my book,” Sonny told us, explaining he had already started writing a novel back then, pounding the keyboard late at night when his wife and two young boys were asleep. “She said I had nothing to lose by sending it out, and who knows, if I got a book deal, the money might help prop up the bookstore.”

After mailing 20 pages of his manuscript to a New York agent, Sonny set up an appointment with a bankruptcy lawyer for the next Thursday. “The agent called on Wednesday,” he said with that lovely southern drawl of his. Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, wanted his book. They were offering an advance. “I cancelled the appointment with the bankruptcy lawyer.”

Poet of Tolstoy Park came out in 2006. And Over the Transom Books? It’s still up and running. In order to have more time to devote to writing, though, Sunny turned over most of the day-to-day bookstore operations to an employee.

“It has just been a magical, kind of crazy, enchanted trajectory,” Sonny told me a year later, when he picked Hanni and me up at the airport for a trip to Alabama. His second novel, also based in Fairhope, had been published by Ballantine already. He’d just returned from LA. Talking with Billy Bob Thornton. About the screenplay for Poet of Tolstoy Park. “I’m black and blue all over from pinching myself so much!” he laughed.
The book he’ll be touting on our dogs and Their People panel is his latest: Cormac, the Tale of a Dog Gone Missing. Like his first two novels, this book is also set in Fairhope, Alabama. But this one is inspired by Sonny’s dog – the book is based on a true story of how Cormac went missing for almost a month, and was found more than a thousand miles away.

I’m looking forward to sitting on a panel with Sonny this Saturday–I just hope he shows up on time!