Thursday, September 29, 2011

Crunchy Socks, Subway Fires, and Dehydrated Space Monkeys

Dehydrated Space Monkey. I call him Kirk.
There's really no other way to start this blog entry. In fact, I'm considering starting everything I ever write from now on with a dehydrated space monkey.  Surely, if it's good enough for the venerable Smithsonian Museum, it is good enough for me.

And you.

Our second day in Washington was spent walking endlessly around the city, enjoying the wonderful sights and lamenting the fact that my socks were all crunchy. It seems indelicate to mention, and I suspect that I am opening myself up to cheap potshots from my friends, but my undies were on the crunchy side as well.

You may remember, from our last episode, I had traveled to Washington D.C. with my family to attend the National Book Festival. Upon arrival, I found that I had failed to pack a single pair of clean undies or socks and was forced to wash my one set of each in the sink and dry them with the hair dryer conveniently supplied by the hotel for just such a purpose.

The downside, if you can even imagine a downside to such a system, is that the hand soap–or possibly inadequate rinsing–left my socks and undies more crunchy than I normally care for them to be. After reading about this predicament, my friend Melissa suggested that I might have purchased new socks and undies in Washington, thus alleviating my suffering. Melissa is a real-life, professional, full-time editor and should know better. If I had bought new socks and undies, I would have had nothing to write about.

Except Kirk, the Dehydrated Space Monkey.

Which, really, might have been enough now that I think about it.

So we spent our second day in Washington wandering through the truly spectacular Smithsonian Museums. Our first stop was at the Air and Space Museum, home to, among other things:

Kirk, the Dehydrated Space Monkey. Again.
I would love to tell you all about this monkey; who he was, why he is dehydrated and propped up on display, what he is thinking about; but I cannot. As soon as I saw him, I fell into paroxysms of laughter so volcanic, that I almost passed out.

I have an annual tradition of swapping horrible gifts with friends and I'd like to take this opportunity to warn ALL my friends that if the Smithsonian ever has a yard sale, you are all in BIG trouble.

Our wanderings carried us to the mock up of the space station where my imagination was captivated by the amazing possibilities of the waste collection system.

I can only tell you that it is a vast improvement over some of the more primitive models they had on display.

Say Cheese!
There was also a nifty, but completely useless thermal imaging camera on display, merrily bombarding our delicate, defenseless, touristy bodies with nuclear radiation. You will notice the cold, black spot where my heart should be. That space is there because I was unable to purchase Kirk, the Dehydrated Space Monkey. That empty void shall remain there until I am able to have Kirk for my very own.

Our next stop was the Museum of American History. On the way, we passed many tourists posing for odd, awkward photos of themselves.

I took a picture of a guy taking a picture of a lady taking a picture of a guy.   I win.

The Museum of American History is wonderful and amazing and blah, blah, blah. You can see the actual Star Spangled Banner (it is huge) or Ladybird Johnson's Inaugural Ball Gown (it is the ugliest thing in history and I am negotiating its purchase for use in the gift swap with my friends), or, if you are very patient, you can see the rare and elusive, Guy Posing Behind A Stuffed Buffalo And Fanning the Air Like The Buffalo Farted.

 This guy actually asked Kerri to take his picture posing with a buffalo butt. He stood there fanning the air and wrinkling up his nose and had Kerri take at least a half dozen pictures of him, because it took him a few tries to find the perfect pose. I was too late to actually photograph him fanning himself because I was across the hall, photographing some Chinese girls who wanted their photo taken with a genuine museum guard. They actually got this guard to dance after this picture was taken. I have no idea how, but they did.

Feeling a need to get in on some of the hilarious photo action, Kerri took this brilliant picture of the kids and me looking through a hole. HA HA HA!

Aren't we clever?

Now you know what I look like when looking through a circle.

After we had absorbed all the culture, history, and Dehydrated Space Monkeys we could tolerate, we began the long walk back to Union Station where the hotel shuttle would pick us up and return us to the hotel. There were a few stops along the way as we had already walked 2.6 million miles and were weary.

I used the break as an opportunity to practice my serious look. I will use this as an author photo if I ever write a book that is not about boogers.
We slogged along until we arrived at Union Station. Once there, we were greeted by what appeared to be the entire Washington D.C. fire department and hoards of happy, patient commuters who had been evacuated from the subway because it was, in the words of an official on the scene, "On fire."

Smoke was billowing up from the grates in the ground so, naturally, I grabbed the camera and strolled over to the subway entrance to get a few shots.

Some of the firefighters objected to my presence and expressed the opinion that I might want to relocate myself.

Kerri suggested, for the first time, that I restrict my picture taking to photos of random strangers that we don't know, posing awkwardly in front of national monuments.

But before I could take any pictures of the happy, patient people, displaced from their evening commute, the shuttle came and whisked us away to the hotel for our last night in Washington.

I spent the long drive home pondering how best to word the letter I'm going to write to the Smithsonian, asking about purchasing Kirk.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mr. Kelley Goes To Washington. His Socks Do Not. (Washington Travel Journal, Day 1)

First, I just want to say that it was an honest mistake.
I had a lot on my mind.
I was busy.
I was distracted.
That's why I forgot to pack clean socks and undies for my 4 day trip to Washington D.C.
I have found that washing socks and undies in the sink with hand soap is an effective way to get them clean, but hanging them on coat hangers, suspended over the air conditioning unit is NOT an effective way to dry them.

I had much better results with a hair dryer. Socks can simply be slipped over the business end of a hair dryer. After a few minutes, they are dry and, as an added bonus, the process infuses the entire hotel room with the delicate scent of burning fabric. Undies, especially boxers, are somewhat more problematic due to their unwieldy shape, but with patience, they can also be dried with a hair dryer.

Other than the whole undies/socks thing, we had a lovely time on our trip to Washington. We arrived Friday afternoon, just in time for me to shower quickly, change into clean clothes (except for those undies and socks) and race off to a reception at the Library of Congress. Getting into an "invitation only" reception was one of the perks of being chosen as the author to represent New Hampshire at the 2011 National Book Festival.

The other perks were, of course, the opportunity to learn how to blow dry socks, and the opportunity to discover how sweaty you can get running from Union Station to the National Mall in freshly dried socks. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After the reception, which Kerri and the kids drove me to, I wandered around near the Capitol Building, searching for a cab to take me back to my hotel. My recent adventure in New York had lead me to believe that 9 out of every 10 cars in a city are taxis. Not so in Washington. I wandered aimlessly to and fro, attracting the attention of the very highly strung police officers who stand guard at every street corner. When I finally managed to flag down a taxi, I gave the driver the address.

"Where?" he asked.

I repeated the address.

"Never heard o dat street, man. Get out."

"What?" I asked.

He slammed on the brakes. "I never heard o day street. Out my cab."

So I began my weary walk around the city, searching for a cab that might deliver me to the hotel. I got directions from a friendly police officer and was at least able to trudge in the proper direction until I finally managed to flag down a cab that delivered me to the hotel an the gourmet $50 pizza that Kerri had ordered in my absence.

Anyone who has ever met me will readily agree that:

1. I am a food snob.
2. I object, in the strongest possible fashion, to paying $50 for a pizza.

In fairness to Kerri, it was actually three "gourmet" pizzas, a bottle of Sprite and a plastic bag for $50. The plastic bag that the soda came in, our only souvenir from the trip, was itemized at $0.05 on the receipt.

The pizzas did not live up to their price tags and I'd prefer never to think about them again.

Instead, I will think about the festival itself, a literary bacchanal with many, many authors and many, many, many attendees, all seeking the same thing.

Free stuff.

I had been warned about this. Each state sent an envoy from the state library to show off the fact that people in their state could read. At least, I assume that's why they were there. They armed their representatives with free stuff to give to people. I really have no idea why the states felt obligated to give stuff away, but as it was in the name of literacy, I was all for it. Plus, I got some free stuff for myself.

"People will come through the pavilion," I was told by several librarians, "and they will grab anything that isn't nailed to the table. If you have a cell phone, DON'T put it on the table. They will take it."

The representatives from New Hampshire, in a bold effort to show just how cool we are, had color changing pencils to give away. "The kids will be all right," I was told, "but watch the adults."

Kids generally limited themselves to taking one or two pencils. And, even though they were asked politely to just take one, adults typically scooped up 10-20 pencils at a grab.

"Could you please just take one pencil?" the librarians asked politely.

The person would look the librarian in the eye, drop one of the 20 pencils back on the table, and throw the rest into her bag before running off into the crowd.

I suggested a metal yardstick to whack fingers with, and even offered to do the whacking, but my suggestions were ignored. My job, technically, was to merely stand around and be eye candy, something I am vastly experienced at. I was the author from New Hampshire, after all.

People wandered through the pavilion, traveling from state to state with a map of the US clutched in their sweaty, pencil filled hands. Each state had a sticker or a stamp that they would place on the map. Once you got all 50 states, you received the grand prize, a warm sense of satisfaction and a map with 50 stickers on it.

People raced from state to state in a fevered state of near frenzy to get the coveted stamps or stickers. I was conscripted into helping out with the stamping and took it upon myself to make sure people had an opportunity to slow down and enjoy the process. When they shoved their maps in my face and waved them back and forth, I put my stamp down and smiled.

"Hi," I'd say. "Having a good time this morning?"


"Yup," I'd respond, "I can't believe the crowds, can you? Amazing that this many people are..."


"Interested in books. I'm Marty Kelley, the featured author from..."


"New Hampshire. Do you need a stamp from New Hampshire?"


"I've got the stamp right here," I'd say, picking it up and waving it tantalizingly, "Can you find New Hampshire on that map you've got?"

The person would scan the map frantically and jab at any state that started with an N.

"Nope. That's Nevada," I'd say, "New Hampshire is a bit more toward the eastern side."

The person would then flip the map over, looking–I assume–for China. Then he would flip it back and jab randomly again.

"You're getting closer, but that's New Jersey."

Another jab.

"New York. Getting warmer."

The person would then let fly with an agonized howl and I would smile and gently stamp a New Hampshire stamp on his map. He would then plow to the other end of the table, grab a fistful of color-changing pencils and race off into the crowd.

Notice how happy the children are after they get to meet a real, live author.

I had a wonderful time and actually met lots of very cool teachers and librarians who were there for more than the free pencils.

Some states had bookmarks.

After a few hours, I bade a fond farewell to Ann, Michael, and Kelly, the brave souls guarding New Hampshire's strategic pencil reserves, and set off with my family to wander around Washington D.C. and soak up all the historic wonder of our country.

As we wandered through the National Mall, we passed a "Legalize Medical Marijuana" rally that had drawn exactly one attendee. The organizers probably should take a hint from the librarians and start giving away free stuff.

We forced our way through the Medical Marijuana crowd and gazed in awe upon the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. I can only assume that budget cuts are responsible for its current condition.

Likewise the state of security in the area.

When we arrived at the Lincoln Memorial where I noticed that visitors don't actually want pictures of the famous monuments. They want pictures of themselves, in front of famous monuments. This was to be a pervasive theme on our trip.

I found taking these pictures to be immensely satisfying. My family, especially my daughter, were unamused by this, however.

We eventually tired of all our wandering, made our way back to the hotel and stewed ourselves in the pool before heading to bed to rest up for another day of adventure and photographs of random strangers that lay ahead.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sorry, Mom. I've Been A Little Busy.

I recently received the following email:

"I think you should rename your Blog....Marty Kelley's Sort of Active Blog.  It hasn't seen any action for a long time!"

It was from my mother.

While it's reassuring to know that there are people (or at least a person; even if it is my mother) who feel that life isn't worth living without regular updates from me, there are times when I can't be as vigilant as I need to be about maintaining my blog. I never suspected that anyone would be suffering withdrawal symptoms after a few days without regular updates. (I know it doesn't say anything about withdrawal symptoms in the email; it's implied. I hope.)

I considered several responses, including:

1. So go write your own blog.
2. I've been updating it daily. Your internet must be broken.*
3. I'm so sorry to have missed updating my blog. I do sincerely appreciate your patronage and will be working to correct the situation as quickly as possible. Please forgive me for any inconvenience this lapse may have cause you, and I do look forward to  your readership in the future.

*This one might actually work.

I also considered hiring a ghost writer, but for some strange reason, nobody was interested in slaving away over a keyboard for several hours a day for free.

The simple fact, dear readers (and Mom), is that I've been really, really busy.

I just sold a chapter book to Holiday House and have been hard at work on revisions. My writing career, up to this point, has consisted entirely of picture books. They are certainly not without their difficulties, but at least they're short. A few pages, maybe.

But now I'm looking at an 80 page manuscript with over 23,000 words in it, including a glossary because some of the 23,000 words are "prestidigitation", "sartorial", "pinguid" and "mephitic".

That's a lot of revising. To make it more exciting, I'm not just revising it by myself anymore. Now I am under the dictatorial, tyrannical rule of my evil overlord of an editor, Sylvie.

(Note to Sylvie, please get a more evil and tyrannical sounding name. Like "Tyrannicon" or "Evilicious".) Any readers with suggestions for more evil names, please comment on this post.

Actually, Sylvie, lives up to her non-evil sounding name. She's been great to work with and has offered a lot of suggestions that have improved the book immensely.

Some of the revisions were simple:
"You forgot a period here."
"Could you add a bit more detail here?"

Some were a bit more complicated:
"Do you think you could possibly rewrite the entire book in the first person instead of the third person?"*
"I'm not sure I know why these characters are friends. Can you give some reasons that they would hang around together? But work it into the story-line. Don't just drop it in."
"We need to get that 12 page Glossary down to about 5 pages."*
"Could you please rewrite the entire book in Mandarin?"**

*True revision.
**This is a big, fat lie.

The work is not without its rewards, however. And, as soon as I can think of some, I'll let you know what they are.

I've also been working on the artwork for the book. I had a few problems with the first piece I created for it. Namely, that it looked like at least one of the characters had suffered a tragic, horrific gunshot wound to the face.

I tried to work it into the storyline, but it was kind of awkward. Maybe in my next book. So I had to fix up the artwork.

I've also been working on designing the CD cover for my buddy, Steve Blunt's next CD. I had trouble with that, too, as Steve is also a dictatorial, tyrannical, evil overlord of a friend with a non-evil sounding name.

The first CD cover design I sent him was "too scary".
"Remember", he reminded me, "this is for really little kids. Do you really think they need to see all those severed heads you put on the CD cover?"
"They need to learn about it sometime, Steve," was my unheeded response.

So we have this.

Hardly the terrifying, blood-spattered scene of unspeakable carnage I had originally envisioned, but that's the way it goes when you are working for The Man. The Man, in this case being Steve.

And, because that's not enough, I have been working on a series of 7 comics that will run simultaneously in 6 different magazines and must integrate characters from all 6 magazines, some of which have not been created yet. The characters, not the magazines. Confused? Me too.

And I've also been selected as the author to represent New Hampshire at the 2011 National Book Festival in Washington D.C.

It is, of course a great honor. And, if this year's poster is to be believed, I am very much looking forward to being read to by a giant reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln. Or, possibly, a giant robotic Abraham Lincoln. Either would be fine.

So, I hope you will all forgive me this recent lapse in blog updates. I will certainly try harder in the future.

If you have any further suggestions, I'll be in Washington listening to Honest Abe.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

New York; New Book!

I recently returned from a trip to New York City. Close observers will realize quickly that the photo above is not me in New York. It is me with Julie (my hiking wife) just before we climbed Mt. Cube in New Hampshire, which is not in New York City. I offer this picture as a point of comparison.

Please notice the expression on my face when I am out in the woods.

Look carefully and see if you can spot the subtle differences between that picture and this photo of me in New York City.

There are other differences between my real life and NYC.

1. The scenery.

View from a New Hampshire summit:

View from a NYC summit:

2. The natural wonders.

New Hampshire's rare and much sought after natural beer spring:

New York's shy and elusive Lego lion:

I went to New York City with Kerri (my real-life, non-hike wife) to meet my agent, Abi, and my editor, Sylvie.

I was meeting them because it seems that I have finally managed to sell my first chapter book.

(insert sound effect of wild applause)

In the interest of total disclosure, I have not yet signed the contract so there is still the extremely slight but very real possibility that this will totally tank, but I think not. And I hope not. 

I wrote about this book on my blog a long time ago. You can go back and read it or skip ahead for a brief, yet thrilling, summary.

Briefly, here is what happened:

Many years ago, I sent a picture book manuscript to Abi, my editor at Tricycle.
Abi did not like my book.
She suggested that it might make a good chapter book if I could bulk it up  a bit. Like, you know, bring it up from 800 words to... oh... I don't know... 23,000 words.
So I did.
But she didn't like that either. 
So I did another one.
And she liked it.
So, I sat waiting for her to send me a contract.
But she had to take it to meetings and convince other people that it was a good book.
So I waited.
And waited.
And waited.
And then Random House bought Tricycle.
And everyone was very excited.
And I waited.
And waited.
And waited.
And then Random House shut Tricycle down.
And people were not so excited about that.
Especially Abi, my editor, who, in addition to the crippling blow of not being able to edit my book, no longer had a job.
I had my manuscript back.
I sent it to Holiday House and heard from Sylvie, an omnipotent editor who said she liked it.
Meanwhile, back at the farm, Abi became an agent and, after eventually getting sick of my constant pleading, whining, begging, and wheedling, said that she would represent me.
So, armed with Abi's ridiculous ninja-like agent powers, we have hammered out a deal to finally bring my chapter book to the masses.
The book itself is sort of like Charlotte's Web, except that it has no pig, no spider, no farm, no animals, and is actually about a dorky boy and his two dorky friends who try to start a boy-band to win the school competition. But other than that, it is almost a complete rip-off of Charlotte's Web.
Sylvie, the editor extraordinaire, has contributed many very helpful ideas to the development of the book including changing it to be a first-person story.
My previous experiences in publishing have all been with picture books, which have a very low word count. Editing and revising an 800 word story can be slightly time-consuming, but completely rewriting a 23,000 word book is slightly more time consuming.
I was very happy to have her input on the book, however–no matter how much I cried as I rewrote it again and again and again.

So when, in the midst of a flurry of emails about contract negotiations, which included phrases like

"Notwithstanding the foregoing, should, during the term of this Agreement"...

There was mention of meeting for breakfast, I took notice.

"I like breakfast," I thought, "I should get in on this!"

The fine print, that the breakfast in question would take place in New York City, did not fully dawn on me until I had committed to it.

So Kerri and I packed the kids away in a closet and spent a delightful 36 hours in Manhattan at a hotel that was, if the description on their website was to be believed, "Nestled in a quiet, residential neighborhood."

This is the view out of our hotel window:

I suppose that everything is relative and it was quiet compared to a Slayer concert. During low level nuclear testing.

We spent the first day wandering around Manhattan, enjoying the many splendid sights that await a couple of slack-jawed yokels visiting the big city.

We gaped at the ceiling in the NY Public Library (in which we were unable to locate a single book):

We enjoyed the view from the top of The Empire State Building and learned that this big pole thing on the top was designed as a docking site for blimps. True fact.

We saw surly teen-aged kids who did not want their pictures to be taken:

We saw parents of those kids who probably wish that this picture had not been taken:

We saw the Police Department Riot Squad arrive for some festivities (we did not bother to stick around and discover what the festivities in question were):

And we saw some things that utterly mystified us:

If anyone can explain what a "Disco Nap" is , or why anyone might be willing to shell out $2/minute for it, I would very much like to know.

We also went to Times Square where people from all over the world gather together to watch 100 foot TV ads for hours at a time:

We eventually staggered back to our quiet, residential hotel in mid-town Manhattan and dropped off to a restful slumber, lulled to sleep by the relaxing sirens, horns, and random shouts that danced in the still night air.

The next morning, we went off to meet and eat with Abi and Sylvie, the two most powerful people in the publishing world.

It was a delightful breakfast, made even more delightful by the fact that Holiday House paid for it. Sylvie and Abi were both charming, intelligent, and lovely and I would say that even if my future earnings didn't depend so much on their continued interest in my work.

To my lasting chagrin, I completely forgot to get a picture of the three of us together. I suspect that it wouldn't have worked out even if I had remembered. I have a sneaky suspicion that Abi's slick ninja powers make it so she doesn't even show up on film.

Sylvie then took us on a tour of the Holiday House offices, where I met the staff and saw lots of amazing artwork by some of my favorite illustrators. I'm humbled and excited to be on a list with Trina Schart Hyman, Edward Gorey, and James Ransome.

Maybe when I finish the artwork for this book, it will hang with those wonderful pieces. If it does, I'll celebrate by having another breakfast with Abi and Sylvie. But next time it will be in New Hampshire. Maybe I'll take them out to that beer fountain in the woods.
And after that, we can all take a Disco Nap.