Sunday, March 30, 2014

SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Meet & Greet...and Mount Rushmore

Yesterday I got to put on my children's book author cap and attend the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Meet and Greet.  It was just a few miles from my house and just a few hours in the afternoon, and I was grateful that my husband could hang out with our three children for the afternoon so I could attend.

At the meet and greet, there were two things on the agenda: First, a roundtable discussion with six panelists about "The Creative Life."  We attendees heard different authors' tell their journey of getting published, how they make time for writing, and what nuggets of wisdom they had for us.  Next up was a talk about how to be an editor or agent's dream by marketing yourself really well.  Tina Nichols Coury spoke about this by telling us, via flashy power point, her story about publishing Hanging on Jefferson's Nose: Growing Up On Mount Rushmore.

I scribbled down some of what she had to say in my little notebook, but it was her book that captured my attention.  First of all, it took her 17 years to write it and get it published.  That's a long time.  I mean, a really long time!  Second, her research brought her to Mount Rushmore many times, where she had access to the transcripts of a long interview that provided fodder for her children's book. Third, the book, about the son of the artist who created Mount Rushmore and eventually took over when his father died, sounded really good.

But that's not why I wanted the book.  I wanted--I NEEDED the book--for my mom.  After her last flashy slide blew up in electronic flames and we were finished applauding, I jumped up to get in line to buy a copy of her book and have her sign it.

When it was my turn, I asked her to please write, "Dear Kathi, Here's the real story!"

Tina Nichols Coury looked at me, looking for the story, the not real story.

I told her an abridged version of this:

When my mother was 8 or 9, she, an only child at that point, and her parents drove from Erie, Pennsylvania, to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore as part of a family trip.  My mother probably prayed the whole way.  She was good and devout and holy and...well, a believer in a sweet and innocent and childlike way.  Her parents, especially her mom, was a strict Catholic and my mother had every reason to follow in her steps.  My mom wanted to be a nun from a very early age, perhaps this early an age.  She believed, as many still do, that God had a hand in everything.  And I mean everything.

My grandparents and the little girl version of my mom drove to South Dakota and finally stood at the foot of Mount Rushmore. My mom remembers staring up at these huge faces looking down at her.  Washington.  Jefferson.  Lincoln.  Teddy Roosevelt.  They were big, imposing, awesome.

And my sweet mom remembers thinking, "How on earth could someone not vote for them when God carved their faces out of stone?"

Now, I do NOT want you to think that my mother is the opposite of smart!  That is not true!  She was in the same thing that I was in at 8 or 9: an innocent bubble of childhood.  Logic and facts entered that bubble at an appropriate rate, but the facts of Mount Rushmore clearly hadn't quite fought their way through her very Catholic bubble just yet.  And I certainly was in my own bubble (read this if you want an example); my mom and I share many traits, among them being a little gullible and naive.

Of course, she didn't believe that for long, and she realized that sculptors and their workmen actually had a teensy-tiny role to play in the whole side-of-the-mountain carving thing.

But I bought the book.  So she could read the real story to her grandchildren, but tell them her own story as an aside.


  1. It is so nice to know what our parents did and said as little ones, they really do have the most wonderful stories and we never tire of hearing them. I am so happy you got to go to a Meet and Greet with authors all alone, knowing you could listen and hang off every word. My favourite part of this post....'a long interview that provided fodder' I loved this, it made pictures in my mind of something plentiful. I loved you mum's innocence too. When you get to publish a book, I want to know, I would love to read it. :)

  2. Great post, Kate! I love how you found special meaning in the day. I hope your mom loves your gift and she enjoys sharing the book and her story with your children! There is a power in words!

  3. Fantastic post. Thanks for sharing your experience at the gathering with us.

    I'm unable to go to my regional conference in early May. I'm hoping to be able to get to another SCBWI event this fall.

  4. This is one of my most favorite Kathi stories ever. Love her and her whimsy. I know that Grammy will delight all the grands with both stories...and will take the ribbing in stride.