A Mid-Life Roadtrip

February 8th, 2011

Tommy Emmanuel playing in Elizabethtown, Ky., on Feb. 4.


I am writing this from the Louisville airport as I wait to head home after three days of total immersion in the phenomenon known as Tommy Emmanuel. Tommy — he’s on a first name basis with everyone — is one hell of a great guitarist, a member of an impossibly small elite of humans who are capable of performing the superhuman with nothing more than a wooden box and six steel strings. He calls the guitar a portal to the soul, and in his hands you can almost believe it.

I had never heard of Tommy Emmanuel until a couple years ago when my brother-in-law Peter Brown, himself a pretty darn good guitarist, put the Nashville-based Australian on my radar. I began checking out Emmanuel on Youtube and was impressed enough to say yes when Peter invited me to join him for a guy’s weekend built around an event known as TommyFest. As the name implies, TommyFest celebrates all things Tommy. And it took place (its ninth year) in the most unlikely of places: a high school auditorium in the tiny community of Elizabethtown, KY, about an hour south of Louisville.

Elizabethtown is not so much a town as a sprawling polyglot of strip plazas, fast-food restaurants and chain hotels a few miles outside Fort Knox. As far as vacation destinations, especially in February, let’s just say it’s not exactly New Orleans or Austin. But this trip was about just one thing: the music. And so, with only a little trepidation, I agreed to Peter’s suggestion that we attend all three of Tommy’s concerts, Thursday through Saturday nights, plus a three-hour workshop on Saturday morning. Yes, I know…a little overboard, but hey, as far as mid-life crises go, not so bad.

Before arriving, I assumed I would have had my fill by the second show and would just have to grin and bear all the rest in the name of being a good sport. But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed every minute of it. Not only is Emmanuel an over-the-top finger picker, he is a gifted composer and arranger. His version of Classical Gas alone was worth the flight down from Pennsylvania, and his soaring rendition of He Ain’t Heavy (He’s My Brother) made up for three days of bad food in chain restaurants. He’s wildly funny and likable to boot. What wasn’t to like?

By Day 3, I was feeling a bit like a shameless groupie, the middle-aged stalker who even showed up for Tommy’s sound check. I wasn’t alone. Devotees descended on Elizabethtown from all over the country; one guy came all the way from Denmark. Many stayed for all three shows. Tommy Emmanuel is not a household name in America, but those who know him tend to have strong feelings about the guy. I guess I’m one of those people now, too.

The only downside of the immersion weekend is that I now want to go home and smash my guitar. On the other hand, the weekend was a reminder of the power of music to inspire and bring strangers together in shared humanity. Not bad for notes coming out of a wooden box. During the Saturday workshop, Tommy gave a lot of technical advice, but what stuck with me was something that could apply to all of us. Noting that he spends 320 nights a year on the road, he said he believes each of us has to find our gift, our passion, and then seize it and take it as far as we can. “It really comes down to two things in life, doesn’t it?” he said. “The pursuit of happiness, and the pursuit of excellence.” Exactly.

Now back to real world, but with a tune in my head.

Goodbye to a gentle girl

January 18th, 2011


Those of you who have followed my writings and blog posts since the release of Marley & Me already know about Gracie. For the past six and a half years, she has been our sweet girl. We brought her home in September 2004, nine months after losing Marley. Even though she, like Marley, was a Labrador retriever, it was hard to believe they were the same breed. They couldn’t have had more different personalities. While he was wild and untrainable, hopelessly incapable of containing his unbridled energy, she was calm, sedate, and shy. He was big and powerful; she was delicate and petite. He was a bull in a china closet; she could daintily tiptoe through the most crowded glasswares shop without disturbing a single teacup. We called her the anti-Marley.

Gracie was well-behaved to the point of being a little boring. I used to joke, “Gracie, you’re a great dog but don’t expect me to write a book about you. You never do anything!” And yet she had a fairly hefty resume. As my book climbed the bestseller lists, more and more reporters and talk-show hosts wanted to interview me, and they often wanted me to bring along my new pet. Gracie appeared with me on Good Morning America and the Today Show. She was featured on The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Milan, and her photo appeared in countless magazines and newspapers, including People, The New York Times, and USA Today, not to mention on the back cover of tens of thousands of copies of my children’s books. A television crew even came all the way from Brazil to film her and our other Lab, Woodson, at my side walking through the meadows surrounding our home in Pennsylvania.

For the Good Morning America appearance, the show’s producers sent a Cadillac Escalade limo to drive her (I was allowed to tag along) to New York City, where they put us up at the fancy Millennium hotel in Times Square. I was a little nervous sitting down across from Diane Sawyer, but Gracie was not stressed in the least. She sniffed Sawyer’s hand, then curled up at our feet, yawned, and closed her eyes as we went live across the country. Yes, the anti-Marley.

I’m writing today to tell you that we lost Gracie last week. It’s a long, painful story, but the short version is she died from a rare complication of Lyme disease. We began noticing she wasn’t quite right in the second half of December. Her appetite was a little off, and her usual energy (she could sprint like a leopard) was down. I thought she might have a bladder infection or some other minor malady. Our local vet did a blood test and discovered Lyme disease and put her on a course of antibiotics. But the next day she called back with much more dire news: another test had found high levels of protein in her urine, a sign her kidneys were malfunctioning.

We rushed her to the University of Pennsylvania veterinary hospital, one of the best in the country, where she remained for the better part of a week as she underwent batteries of tests, including a kidney biopsy. It seems her immune system in its attempt to attack the Lyme cells had caused irreversible harm to her kidneys. All the vets were in agreement; there was nothing they could do for her. We brought her home and kept her as comfortable as we could for as long as we could.

On this past Friday, she let us know it was time to let her go. She had stopped eating and drinking, even stopped licking snow, and had grown very weak, just a shadow of the glossy-coated vibrant dog of a few weeks earlier. A vet came to the house so Gracie could end her life in her own home surrounded by the family that loved her. She slipped away peacefully.

With the help of my kind neighbor Neil Wotring, I buried her on the edge of the meadow behind our barn, right beside Marley. Two dogs, so different yet both so great in their own way, and both so dearly cherished members of our family.

Farewell, sweet Gracie, our gentle girl. Your home is now in our hearts.

An update for City & Shore

November 27th, 2010

Back at the height of the Marley & Me craze – just as the movie was coming out in December 2008 – City & Shore magazine, a slick glossy catering to South Florida’s monied waterfront set, ran a cover story on me. I had been a writer and columnist at the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale for a dozen years before moving on, and the magazine thought it would be interesting to tell the story of my journey from local scribe to bestselling author.

The piece was written by Jonathon King, a former colleague of mine whose work I have always admired, and I remember thinking he had done a good job. (You can read it here: http://www.cityandshore.com/archive_pages/JonathonKing.html )

Flash forward to last week when the magazine got back in touch with me, looking to run a short update via an email interview.

Here is our back and forth:

Q – I saw the recent  Newsweek “dogoir” piece [in which the magazine credited Marley & Me with spawning a new publishing niche]. Is Marley still a “phenomenon”, or has that phase ended?

A – The Marley rollercoaster ride has certainly slowed down, but I still receive emails everyday from readers all over the world telling me how the book touched them. The book is now out in more than 40 languages, including Vietnamese, which I find eternally surprising. The thought of a family in Hanoi relating to my story about an American couple in Florida makes me smile. Who could have ever imagined?

The Marley & Me movie also continues to find new viewers who reach out to me. Of course, they assume I look like Owen Wilson, am married to Jennifer Aniston and am best friends with Eric Dane, but hey, it’s all good.

Q -   Sales topping 6 million. Is that accurate?

A - Yes, something like that, in all languages.

Q - Has the Marley enterprise taken over your life, or have you been able to move beyond it? Do you even want to move beyond it?

A- No, it hasn’t hijacked my life at all. I’d say for a couple of years it did. But, even amid all the excitement of the bestseller lists and the movie’s making and release, I managed to write my second book, The Longest Trip Home, which is now out in paperback. I also wrote five Marley-themed children’s books and continue to oversee the release of a string of I Can Read books that I do not write. But that only takes a small percentage of my time. Very early on in the process, right after Marley hit the bestseller lists, I knew I did not want it to take over my life or to define me as a writer. And it hasn’t. The Longest Trip Home, my growing-up memoir, has nary a mention of a pet in it.

Q - The next children’s book is coming out in October 2011. Anything else on tap, children’s or adult? A novel maybe? Basically, what’s next for you?

A - I’m writing for myself and exploring a few possible projects. I took the summer off after a busy spring book-tour season, and since then have been journaling and sketching and outlining. I’m simultaneously building files of copy and notes for what I hope will turn into  future projects. At a certain point I will have to decide which one to get serious about.

Q - How old are your kids now?

A - My children, who were babies in Marley & Me, are now 18, 17, and 13. How did that happen? My oldest headed off to college this year.

Q - Any major life changes, personal or professional, in your life since C&S cover story in December 2008 that you care to share?

A - No major changes. Your cover story came out just as the Marley & Me movie hit the screens. In the intervening couple of years I have mostly worked at finding a good balance between work and home, publicity and privacy, celebrity and anonymity. I grew a huge garden this year, the first time since 2004 when I was writing Marley & Me; to me that’s a sign my life is getting back to normal. Ask me about my prize-winning tomatoes!

Q - How do you sum up, if you can, what Marley — the dog, book and movie — has meant to you and your family?

A - Marley taught my wife and me a lot of life lessons during his thirteen years — mostly about what really matters in life and what does not. He also taught us a lot about patience and accepting those we love flaws and all — not bad lessons for any parent to absorb. But in his second life as a posthumous book and movie star, he has taught even bigger lessons. I have made friends with good, kind, decent people all over the world because of that dumb dog, and I have had my eyes opened to the fact that, despite all our cultural and national and ethnic differences, we humans are all basically the same, with the same hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Because of Marley’s ambassadorship, I feel much more optimistic about the world as a global village.

Q -   What’s the dog situation now? How many do you have, what are their names?

A – We have two Labs now.  Gracie, whom I call “the anti-Marley” because she is so sweet and calm, is six. We got her about 9 months after Marley died. Woodson, who is two, was one of the puppy stars in the  movie. He was a gift to us from the producer and director on the last week of shooting. He’s got Marley’s goofy spirit, but is not nearly so wild.

We also have two cats and eight chickens.

Newsweek calls Marley a game-changer

November 20th, 2010

I received a call from a reporter for Newsweek magazine last week. She was working on a story about a recent phenomenon in publishing known as the “dogoir” — personal narratives of life with a dog. The consensus in the publishing industry, she told me, is that my 2005 book “Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog” spawned this new market niche. Who knew?

When I wrote Marley & Me, I certainly didn’t. I wasn’t thinking of it as a pet book, let alone a new publishing niche, nor was I targeting pet owners or any other audience. I just had a story to tell and I told it. You could say I didn’t put a lot of thought into what my book should or would be. I only wanted to write the personal story of my life, marriage, job, and family, all shaped in surprising ways by our insanely happy (and just plain insane) Labrador retriever.

Anyway, here’s the Newsweek piece on the my-life-with-my-pet rush that followed:

New Books Like It ‘Ruff’

First there was ‘Travels With Charley.’ Then ‘Marley and Me.’ Now the entire book industry has gone to the dogs.

Read the story here:

http://www.newsweek.com/2010/11/18/marley-me-and-the-rise-of-the-dog-memoir.html

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

August 31st, 2010


Summer is in its last glorious days, the kids are heading back to school, and with each day I note fall’s creeping arrival by the ever-earlier sunsets and crisper nights. It’s fair to say I mostly (gloriously) took the summer off. Here are a few highlights of the last couple months:

* Five nights in Montreal for the International Jazz Festival. Good food, good music, mercifully cool weather, and all those great French accents. What wasn’t to like? Added bonus for the 18-year-old: Legal to drink!
* Sailing. My childhood boat, The Mary Ann, which I write about in The Longest Trip Home, is back in the water for another season and I’ve managed to get out more often than in past (too busy) years.
* Gardening. The hot sunny weather, punctuated by just enough rain to keep things from frying, has resulted in a bumper year here in the Northeast. My 18×35-foot plot has been going crazy, yielding pounds and pounds of tomatoes and peppers and beets and beans and cantaloupe, and much more. Enough already!
* Summer reading. Much more heavy on fiction than my usual mix. “Hotel Iris” by Yoko Ogawa (definitely twisted); “This is Where I Leave You” by Jonathan Tropper (the most fun I’ve had with a book in ages); “Next” by James Hynes (a little overwrought but worthwhile); “City of Thieves” by David Benioff (totally engaging; a natural for film); “Leaving the World” by Douglas Kennedy (if you like downers, this one is for you); “Ship Fever” by Andrea Barrett (beautiful, beautiful). I tackled the opening chapters of “The Dome” by Stephen King before concluding that life is short and I just wasn’t engaged enough to hang on for 700 more pages. I’ve begun listening to “The Help” on audio, but need more driving time to finish. An excuse for a road trip?
* Writing. Mostly for myself, seeing where it leads me. To interesting places, as it turns out. And that’s okay.
* Writing II. I put the finishing touches on the final book in my children’s picture-book series. It will be called “Trick or Treat, Marley” and is due out for Halloween 2011. All I’ll say is that my collaborator, the very talented artist Richard Cowdrey, outdid himself on this one.
* My beloved Great Lakes. My daughter Colleen and I spent five nights on Lake Huron with our dear friends, Pete and Maureen Kelly and their daughters, Andrea and Kathryn. Why is it that cold Coronas with lime taste so much better when your toes are stuck in warm, white beach sand?
* Mom. At 94, Ruthie still has her sense of humor — and her love for ice cream sundaes. (That’s her in the photo with her granddaughter Colleen during our Michigan visit in mid August.)
* College sendoff. We dropped our oldest son at college and stood in the parking lot watching him disappear into the distance, knowing our little nuclear family had just changed in profound ways. I categorically deny being misty eyed. Passages.

And that about brings us up to speed. September, here we come.

[A technical note: If you had subscribed to this blog via an RSS feed, you will need to resubscribe, using the link on the homepage of johngroganbooks.com. I changed servers and all the previous RSS subscriptions were wiped out. Sorry about the inconvenience.]

Back from Book Tour

May 17th, 2010

I’m back home after spending the past week on the road to promote “Marley and the Kittens,” my new illustrated children’s book. The tour began in New York City where I spent half a day in a television studio doing interviews with stations around the country. From there, I headed to New Jersey, Chicago, Houston, Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Dayton, where I shared my hotel with about 200 body builders there for a competition. Talk about feeling like a wimpy kid!

The tour was fun. I always enjoy talking about writing and books with kids, whose enthusiasm is truly contagious. And their questions, comments, and cards crack me up.

Lowlight of the tour: Rising at 4 a.m. to catch an early morning flight out of Kansas City and arriving at the airport to learn my plane had been struck by lightning overnight (in a Wizard of Oz worthy storm) as it sat on the tarmac and was disabled with no other flights heading my way any time soon.

Highlight of the tour: The little girl who broke out of line as she was following her teacher back to her classroom after one of my talks in Houston. She walked over to me and without a word gave me a big hug. Awwww!

Midlight of the tour: Really great barbecue at Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City. I ordered the half slab of ribs, and it was enough meat for a family of four. Who gets the full slab?

Now I’m home catching up on spring yard and garden work. Picked the first salad from my backyard patch today: four kinds of lettuce, spinach, arugula, chives, tarragon, pea sprouts…all tossed in a little olive oil and fresh lime juice and sprinkled with pumpkin seeds. Nice. I swear, my kids are half rabbit.

Thanks to everyone who came out for my events the past week — especially all you kids who made me feel so welcome in your schools. It was great meeting all of you!

And a quick note: I’ll be speaking in Fairless HIlls, suburban Philadelphia, this Thursday, May 20, and in York, PA, on May 27. Details to come soon.

Marley and the Kittens

May 7th, 2010


A couple summers ago, my daughter Colleen and I were driving down a country road near our home in eastern Pennsylvania when we spotted movement in the weeds along the pavement. I stopped the car, and we got out to investigate: There in the high grass were three tiny kittens, hungry and crying. They clearly had been abandoned by some heartless soul. We knew we could not leave them there. Home the cats came with us, and soon they had names. And their own bed. And a litter box. And pans of food and water. Our household had just gotten a little bit bigger.

That real-life experience is the inspiration for my newest children’s book, Marley and the Kittens, now in bookstores. Once again, I have teamed up with the abundantly talented artist Richard Cowdrey who provides his trademark charmingly joyous illustrations to accompany my story. Richard and I enjoy working together, and our creative collaboration is rewarding for both of us. My words inspire his drawings; his drawings inspire my words. It’s a beautiful thing.

This is our fourth illustrated children’s book together, following the bestsellers Bad Dog, Marley!, A Very Marley Christmas, and Marley Goes to School. And with this new book out, you know what that means, don’t you? Yes…. ROAD TRIP! I’m off on another book tour. Actually the tour began Thursday in New York City with a satellite television tour, which took me via satellite to TV morning shows in fifteen markets around the country. This morning I made my way out of Manhattan to the leafy New Jersey suburbs, where I presented Marley and the Kittens to about 700 school children (who I am delighted to report squealed their enthusiastic approval). I’m home for a truncated weekend, then head out again for a week of appearances. My schedule will take me to two schools during the day and a bookstore each evening. The bookstore events are open to the public, and I also will be signing my adult books, Marley & Me and The Longest Trip Home. Hope to see you there!

Here is my tour schedule:

Sunday, May 9, 2 p.m. — Hollywood Palms theater, 352 South Route 59, Naperville, IL 60540. Sponsored by Anderson’s Bookshop.

Tuesday, May 11, 5 p.m. — Blue Willow Bookshop, 14532 Memorial Drive, Houston, TX 77079

Wednesday, May 12, 6:30 p.m. — Rainy Day Books, 17800 West 106th Street, Olathe, KS 66061

Thursday, May 13, 6 p.m. — Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 2692 Madison Rd. Rookwood Pavilion, Cincinnati, OH 45208

Friday, May 14, 7 p.m. — Books & Co., The Greene Shopping Center, 4453 Walnut Street, Beavercreek, OH 45440

Thursday, May 20, 4:30 p.m. — Barnes & Noble, 210 Commerce Blvd, Fairless Hills, PA 19030

Thursday, May 27, 7 p.m. — Borders, 3000 Whiteford Road, York, PA 17402

The Gardener in Me

March 31st, 2010

On this blog I mostly write about books and book travel, dogs and family. But you know what has me jazzed lately?

Gardening.

Yes, that simple, age-old pursuit of sticking hands in dirt and nurturing seeds into plants and plants into harvests. I’ve always had a passion for it, ever since I was a kid. As I described in The Longest Trip Home, I used to be my father’s yardwork sidekick, helping him cut grass, rake leaves, pull weeds, and trim hedges. Then in ninth grade, I sprouted some popcorn seeds on my windowsill and watched them grow all winter. (Yeah, I was growing some other things, too, but you have to read the book for that.) My windowsill popcorn led me to dig up part of the backyard. “You want to do what?” Dad asked with some agitation, sensing another lame-brain kid idea that would become his headache. But he relented, and in my square of soil I planted tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, herbs, and lettuce. I was hooked.

All through high school and college, I kept that summer garden going. Dad’s fears were never realized; I stuck with my little plot, keeping it weeded and tidy and hauling in a surprising amount of food. Mom, one of the world’s great cooks, was thrilled. She made good use of the backyard produce I brought in each day. One of her great garden creations was a dish we called eggplant pizza. She would sauté eggplant slabs in olive oil, then top each with a slice of tomato, fresh herbs and swiss cheese and placed it under the broiler. Who knew such a dreaded vegetable could be so delicious?

After college, I continued to find whatever bit of soil I could around the various rentals I lived in, planting a few tomatoes and whatever else I could fit. Then I moved to Florida, married Jenny and settled into our first house on Churchill Road in West Palm Beach. The first thing I did was plant a garden, using all the knowledge I had acquired since that first effort back when I was 14. The whole bloody thing was fried to a crisp within weeks. Florida, I learned, played by its own set of rules. For one thing, you planted vegetables not in the spring but in the fall. This way the tender plants avoided the scorching summer sun. For another the sandy soil needed serious amending to nurture anything other than sand fleas. I began reading Organic Gardening magazine, learned how to compost, and how to repel insects without chemicals.

In one of those life twists no one could predict, a decade later I found myself moving my family to Pennsylvania to become editor of that magazine. While at Organic Gardening, I did what you’d expect: I gardened with abandon, on a grand scale. We now owned two acres of land, and I dug up plenty of it for flower and vegetable beds. I grew everything from corn on the cob to purple potatoes to giant pumpkins to heirloom melons. And tomatoes. So many of them, we ate all we could, canned as many as we had jars for, and gave the rest away.

One year led to another. I left the gardening magazine for the Philadelphia Inquirer, but kept the big garden going. Until 2004 when I began to work on my first book, Marley & Me. Suddenly, I had a new preoccupation — and not a lot of time for toiling in the soil. After the book came out and became a bestseller, and then a movie, the time crunch only grew. I spent weeks on the road, and the garden beds filled with weeds, sad orphans of neglect.

This is a long way of saying that, six years later, the gardener in me is back. We live in a new home now, just a few miles from our old place, and with even more land to dig up. My life has calmed down considerably, and this past winter I found myself back to my old snowbound preoccupation of perusing the seed catalogs, which are to gardening what pornography is to sex. As soon as the ground thawed, I sent a soil sample off to Penn State University and was thrilled all out of proportion to the news that the earth beneath my feet is pretty close to perfect, not too acid, not too base, and needed no amendments other than good old fashioned compost.

As I write this, the daylilies and sedums and other perennials are all poking their heads up, and the peas I sowed on St. Patrick’s Day are just breaking ground. The daffodils are in bloom, and the cardoon and and rhubarb and oregano and tarragon made it through the winter and are back, too. Down in the cellar beneath a row of fluorescent lights, some 200 vegetable seedlings are enjoying a pampered introduction to life. They better not get too comfortable. In a few weeks they are going to find the world is a harsh and hostile place, filled with bitter winds, scorching sun, and ravenous predators. (I have a love-hate relationship with the scores of deer and groundhogs around here). But my little charges have my assurance I’ll do everything in my power to help them through it. First up: a new fence worthy of Leavenworth.

And that’s what’s happening on this end. The promise of a new spring. It’s good to be back.

From Philly to Florida

March 7th, 2010

Apologies for being AWOL on my blog here for the past several weeks. The month of February was largely consumed by…three guesses…yes, snow shoveling. Here in eastern Pennsylvania, it snowed and it snowed. And it snowed. And, being one of those guys who believes only weenie men hire other men to cut their grass and shovel their driveways, I pretty much made a full-time job out of snow removal. It was fun up to a point. Man against nature, mano a mano, and all that. And then I began rationalizing it as a way to stay fit without joining a gym. Screw the Stairmaster; I had Snowmaster. In the final days, I just gave in and did as my father used to do: offered up my agony to the poor souls in purgatory.

In the midst of the February blizzard month, I got the great idea of a South Florida getaway. It is where Jenny and I spent twelve years of our lives and where all three of our kids were born. Of course, the night before we were supposed to fly out, yet more snow hit. A lot more. I spent five hours plowing and shoveling, getting my tractor stuck (and stuck good) twice. But I did manage to dig us out, and at 6:30 the next morning we were on our way to Philadelphia International Airport, the only car on the road. The computer said our flight was on schedule; and so did an airline rep I reached by phone. We arrived at the airport and were overjoyed to find not a single person in line at security. Our lucky day! Then we got to the gate and I found out why. Our 10 a.m. flight was still sitting in Orlando. The crew was stranded in Pittsburgh. And all runways in Philadelphia were closed. The whole family tried to be philosophical about it. Hey, in every life a few snow emergencies must fall. Scrabble, anyone?

We made it to West Palm Beach six hours late (not bad, considering), and burst out of the airport doors to enjoy the balmy tropical air. Whoa! Retreat! An icy blast greeted us, more worthy of Boston than Boca. Suffice it to say we didn’t do a lot of swimming or even sunbathing during our chilly five-day stay, but we did see a lot of old, great friends and had a lot of fun. We visited our old houses in West Palm Beach and Boa Raton and other spots that I described in Marley & Me. I showed the kids where Marley fouled the public beach and where the neighbor girl was stabbed. We went by their old school and favorite park. I didn’t know teenagers were capable of such nostalgia. And on the warmest day — a respectable high of 67 but with biting winds — all three kids and I threw hypothermia to the wind and went body surfing. Freezing but great fun. When we woke on our last day in Florida, the thermometer read 42 degrees; a few hours later when we landed in Philadelphia, the thermometer read…. this is not a misprint…. 42 degrees.

And now March is here and hints of spring. I spotted my first swamp cabbage popping out of the ground in the marsh, and the forsythia and cherry branches I cut last week and brought inside just burst into glorious bloom. My mother used to force blooms each year in late winter, and now I do, too. And every time I do, I think of her.

I’ve also been keeping fairly busy on the author front. Last week I participated in a panel discussion sponsored by the Philadelphia Free Library and One Film, One Philadelphia. Our topic was books that have been made into movies. I told the story of how I learned 20th Century Fox wanted to turn my book into a movie (while standing in a parking lot in Stuart, Florida), and how the process went (about as smoothly as any author could hope for). On Friday I spoke to two groups of children at Moravian Academy in Bethlehem, PA, not far from my home. And the day before that I signed copies of my book at the Moravian Book Shop (www.moravianbookshop.com), which continues to offer signed and personalized copies of all of my books for shipping anywhere in the world. On March 16, I will be in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to speak at a fund-raiser breakfast for Erin’s House for Grieving Children. It’s a great group that helps a lot of kids who have lost a parent or sibling, and I’m looking forward to speaking there. Come on out if you’re in the area.

And finally, my latest illustrated children’s book, Marley and the Kittens, is coming off the printing presses as I write this and will be in bookstores late next month. More on that as we get closer.

Happy Almost Spring, everyone. We earned this one.

Bringing Marley Home

January 4th, 2010

Here is the link to the piece I wrote in Sunday’s PARADE magazine. It’s titled “Bringing Marley Home,” and yes, we really did.

http://www.parade.com/news/2010/01/03-bringing-marley-home.html

And so the new decade begins…