Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Me and J.K. Rowling... or Why You Should Always Take Photos of the Writers Who Lurk in Your Coffee House

Cool Elephant Chair at The Elephant House in Edinburgh, Scotland

This past Tuesday, approximately... well, okay, more like precisely nine months after our first international travel experience, my daughter and I finally finished our souvenir photo album. It is 109 pages detailing a ten day trip and I plan to read and relive every page of it at least a dozen times in the next several months.

Now that that's done, perhaps I can move forward on that travel memoir I had in mind...

Or maybe not, but I did want to share a story about our trip. Honestly, it's a bit shocking to me that I have not shared this story already.

On the list of things to see and do in Edinburgh, Scotland was The Elephant House. If that name does not ring a bell with you, let me elaborate. The Elephant House is the coffee house where J.K.Rowling allegedly wrote the first draft of the first Harry Potter novel.

It's a hard spot to miss if you are in Edinburgh. It's a bright orange building in a city where most everything is dark and gray. In fact, if I took away anything from Edinburgh, it was that Hogwarts and Hogsmeade seemed a lot less fanciful after walking the streets of such a dark and damp, made-all-of-stone city. It's got a huge black castle in the middle of it, after all. There was no need to remind myself. I certainly wasn't in Kansas, after all. (Though we did see Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow wandering the streets of Edinburgh. Go figure.)

Anyway, in the window of The Elephant House, there is a painting of J.K. Rowling sitting at a large round table right in the center of the room. I have to admit I was disappointed. I stared at the image for a bit before shaking my head. Nope. No way. You can't tell me that a want-to-be-writer sat right there in the middle of the room, at the biggest table, no less, drafting the first pages of what would become Harry Potter.

We went in and inspected the options for seating. It didn't take me long to select the far corner of the room, pretty much as far as one could get from the main entry. "This is where a writer would sit," I told my daughter. "Probably with her back to the door, so as not to be distracted."

I think this painting at The Elephant House should serve as a lesson to coffee houses the world over. Take a photo of every writer who frequents your tables. You have no idea when you might be serving the next J.K. Rowling, and it would be really nice for you to have an historically accurate picture on record for when they do get famous.

"Birthplace of Harry Potter" complete with historically inaccurate recreation by an artist.

Evie's Earl Grey Tea from The Elephant House.
I drank Ginger Beer at every opportunity. If we had Ginger Beer in the US, I would almost become a soda drinker.

Our wonderful breakfast of Portabello Mushroom and Goat Cheese on Toast. This is almost a regular dish in our house now.
The women's restroom at The Elephant House.
When I am a famous author one day, my fans will write beautiful tributes to me on the bathroom walls. I'm being serious here. This was the nicest graffeti I have ever read. Some of it even made me a little teary eyed.

**I'm tagging this as "today's stories" even though it took place nearly a year ago. Wonderful trip. So many stories that I can't believe I haven't told yet! 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Interview at Indie Author Land

"I tried out many titles before settling on Tiger Hunting. I was searching for a title that described that feeling of being lost or looking for direction in life. Hunting for a tiger is quite literally what the book is about, of course, but because the story takes place in Kansas, a place where there absolutely are no real tigers running wild, I began to see the title as more than a literal search for a circus animal. Jeni is looking for real meaning and direction in her life, and finding that—for some people—can be almost as rare as finding a white tiger, especially in the wilds of Kansas."  

Read the entire interview at Indie Author Land!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tiger Hunting in Topeka, Kansas

Today I drove to Topeka to talk at the District 1 meeting of the Kansas Authors Club. I spent a couple of years attending monthly KAC meetings in Topeka, so it was a little like going home again. I knew most, not all, of those in attendance. I missed several who are no longer with us; Elizabeth Nichols and Trudy McFarland especially, and a few others who have moved away or just weren't able to attend today. It's funny how you can leave a place, return several years later, and find yourself feeling surprised that it has changed. I've certainly changed in the seven-plus years since I left.

When I got there, I realized that I didn't have my notes. I don't really have a speach--I usually take more of a just-let-my-words-flow approach--but I have constructed a couple of sets of bullet points that have been useful for keeping me from straying too far from the topic at hand. I think of them as tools to prod myself along so that I don't end up staring dumbly at the crowd, but more accurately, I use them to keep myself from getting lost to the detours my mind has a tendency to take. I am terrible about being reminded of something mid-sentence and allowing myself to wander off elsewhere without ever fully finishing a thought.

Writing works like that, as well, but at least when the words are captured on paper I can go back and see where I veered away from topic. I can physically examine the words that belong together and the words that don't. I can regroup and rearrange, all luxuries that don't exist when speaking.

Monday, August 12, 2013

If my mother were not already dead, this story would kill her.

Frances Faith Chastity Grace Hedspeth was buried on a Thursday morning in June. My older sister, Faith, had calculated that it was the 79th day of Momma’s 79th year when we laid her to rest. My younger sister, Grace, said Momma’s funeral hadn’t come a day too soon. We three, burdened with Momma’s middle names since our births ten years apart, sat cross legged and fidgeting as friends, family, and neighbors stopped to pray over Momma in her casket and toss a ceremonial spade of dirt in the hole. We three were dressed from head to toe in black—for that’s what Momma taught us about proper etiquette at a funeral—except for the turquoise ribbon Grace used to tie back her hair. That girl was always a bit of a rebel.
As soon as the minister turned his palms upward, lifting his eyes to the clear blue sky while offering final words of advice to God about keeping Momma in heaven, Faith, Grace and I bolted from our graveside chairs, waving away our guests as we each took to our own appropriately somber and practical vehicles. I had no idea why my sisters were in such a hurry, but I had a post-funeral appointment with my hair stylist and I didn’t want to be late.
“Are you sure you want this purple?” the stylist asked.
“Sure as my momma is dead and buried,” I replied. “That’s a yes,” I confirmed when the stylist just furrowed her brow in response.
“Now honey,” she said, “this ain’t no rich, black hair dye that only looks purple when the light hits just right. It’s not burgundy. It’s not deep red. This here hair dye is flying-purple-people-eater vi-o-let.”
“Perfect,” I answered, smiling extra big to show her just how sure I was. Then I smiled a little less in case she thought I just looked crazy.

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