The Tale of Two Kingsleys

So, yesterday was pretty much a fantastic day. I know there’s nothing more irritating than hearing someone else is having a good time, especially if it coincides with you (or those you love) NOT having a good day, but so it goes.

Yesterday, I got to go out to Red Wing, Minnesota to take part in the 10th Anniversary Celebration of Minnesota Children’s Book Authors & Illustrators. It’s a really cool festival of sorts that takes place out at what I can only describe as an artist’s compound/haven. It’s got a whole bunch of old buildings and apparently writers/artists/musicians, etc. can rent these cool old houses for the day to get away from everything and just work on their art.

But, one day a year, it’s like they open the floodgates and let a bunch of kids, teachers, librarians and everyone else who’s interested in children’s literature and illustration in. They had people walking on stilts, face painting, music, magic, books, books and more books.

I’d been asked by the people I work with at Picture Window Books months ago if I’d like to come out and read from my new book IF I WERE THE PRESIDENT. I’m no veteran to readings or school visits (having only done one each so far) but I was more than honored. The idea was, I’d come out, talk a little bit about writing, read the book and then sign some if people wanted me to.

Red Wing is about an hour away from my house and while I would have loved to bring Laura and the boys out there, we decided it was best if this was a solo trip. Jake’s been a little crabby the last week, so we thought we’d spare the rest of the people at the festival his crazy antics. I was scheduled to read at 2pm and then again at 3pm.

I got there at 1pm and got to meet one of the people I’d only known through e-mail and Facebook face-to-face. I helped set up the Capstone Publishers stand (Picture Window Books is one of their imprints) and was floored by how much stuff they produce. Gotta say I was pretty giddy about seeing my four books front and center.

The interesting thing about the stand was that we had all these books there, but we weren’t allowed to sell any of them. The Red Balloon Bookshop, which is probably our most famous kid’s book store in the cities, had a place set up inside where they were selling all sorts of books, most of which were from the authors that were there to read and do signings. So, a bunch of people would come by to look at the cool books and want to buy them but we had to tell ’em. “Sorry. Only Red Balloon can sell book here, today.” Never one to disappoint, we ended up giving some of the books away.

Good PR, I tell you. Very few people went away disappointed.

Anyway, pretty soon it was time to get to the room where I was going to read.

Now, I should say this. I was definitely the little fish in a bigger pond. Most of the other authors were bigger names for sure and got sort of ‘top-billing’ and big ol’ autograph tables and all that fun stuff. They had me in a really cool classroom of sorts in the basement which looked like something I would decorate. Cool pictures of musicians, artists, etc…were all over the walls. There was inspirational messages, etc. Etc. The room was down in the basement, so my editor (Shelly) went around and roped people into coming and hearing me read.

I gotta admit, I was worried it was going to be a little like the scene in This Is Spinal Tap where they have a record signing event at a music store and no one shows up. Thankfully, Shelly was able to find a bunch of people and we were underway.

Before I started, a little guy walked up to me, eyes as big as saucers and nervous as all get-out. He said something I couldn’t hear. I said: “I’m sorry. What did you say, buddy?” He was maybe two years old or just shy of it. He tried again and I think he was scared to death. His mom said: “He’s trying to tell you his middle name is Kingsley, too.”

I was floored. How awesome is that?

So, we talked about our names and where they originated from, etc. (for the record, ‘Kingsley’ is my great, great grandfathers last name. He had all girls, so the name died with him) Apparently, this little guy doesn’t even go by his first name, just Kingsley. Very cool.

One of the things we did for each reading was have a drawing for a couple of my books. I ended up reading both IF I WERE PRESIDENT and PATRICK’S SUPER SOCKS and then giving ’em away right after. Sadly, little Kingsley didn’t win one.

After the reading, I went upstairs to check out the place where The Red Balloon was selling books. I wanted to meet Lise Lunge-Larsen, who is an expert on Trolls and when writing THE TRUTH ABOUT TROLLS, I e-mailed her to clear up some questions I had. As I was looking through the books, Kingsley and his mom came by and told me they couldn’t find my PRESIDENT book to buy. We were told they’d have it to sell to people and, conversely, let me sign them for anyone interested in that sort of thing.

“They said they left them back in the cities,” Kingsley’s mom said.

I was bummed by that, but it just so happened I had an extra copy in my laptop bag. I gave them my copy and she wanted to pay for it, yadda yadda. I told her I wouldn’t hear of it. She then asked if I’d sign it and I said:

“Of course!”

I cracked open the book and wrote: “From one Kingsley to another!” and then signed my goofy signature.

Later on, I got to meet a really cool guy. He was an older dude named Ted who came by the Picture Window Books booth and was looking at all of the books laid out. Ted asked:

“You write any of these?”

I was almost a smart alec and said: “Any? Dude. I’ve written ALL of these.” But I didn’t. I smiled and pointed toward the ones at the front of the set up.

“I’ve written 4 of them, up there.”

Ted asked if I did the illustrations and I told him what I tell a lot of people who ask me that. “Nope. I couldn’t draw a picture to save my life.”

Anyway, we got to talking about stuff. Turns out Ted’s an illustrator and we talked about how despite the obstacles we have this need to keep doing what we love instead of saying: Eh…I’ll never make it. Guess I’ll watch Seinfeld re-runs.He then asked how long I’d been at it. I told him since I was in 2nd grade, which is pretty much accurate. I wrote a story called Stick Man’s First Voyage Into the Black Hole and I’ve never looked back.


Somehow we got on the topic of other books and I told Ted that even though I was asked to write a ballerina book (ahem) I was also given a chance to write a firefighter book. I told him I was a firefighter/EMT celebrating my 6 year anniversary on 9/11. He sort of laughed and said:

“That’s a heckuva date for anniversaries.” Ted then pointed down to his left leg, which I hadn’t noticed until then was fake. He went on to explain that on the day the World Trade Center fell, he was in a life-altering crash. He was driving a bus with a bunch of special needs kids and another driver going in the opposite direction jumped over the center line and took them out. A bunch of the kids didn’t make it, but four did. Ted’s left leg was another casualty.

We talked for a long time and Shelly ended up giving Ted a copy of PATRICK’S SUPER SOCKS and I signed it for his grandson. I asked him if he had a card because it would be cool to keep in touch with him. He said he didn’t, but asked me to wait there for a moment. Since his booth was right next to ours, it wasn’t a problem. I do have to admit feeling bad that he was headed back to his car, just to get a business card.

When he came back, he handed me a giant, hardboard print of some of his work. It was this really cool picture of a bunch of tropical fish that’s going to look insanely cool on the wall somewhere in our house (I’m thinking Jake’s room). He said he wanted me to have it and we shook hands and said it was truly great to talk to each other. And you know what? It was.

I went home a little later, listening to the newest Eels album (Hombre Lobo), hurrying home to go see Patton Oswalt (stand-up comedian) on a date with my wife and some friends.

Yeah. Not a bad day/weekend.