Poet Michael Henry to Read in Buffalo: Join Me!

No Stranger Than My Own, by Michael J. HenryDenver poet, executive director of Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and Buffalo area native Michael Henry is coming to town! Before I tell you the whole long story of why this is so exciting (because you know there’s a story, right?), here is the event information. Consider this an official invite for all you Buffalo peeps to join me as Mike reads from his collection of poetry, No Stranger Than My Own, at Talking Leaves next week.

Reading Event Details:
Michael Henry at Talking Leaves Books
Thursday, May 13, 7:00 PM
3158 Main Street
Buffalo, NY, 14214

Now, for the whole long story…

Why Twenty Boy Summer Fans Should Show a Little Love for the Lighthouse Poet

Mike Henry is the reason I write young adult books.

I mean, yeah, I know was born to do it and everything, but if it wasn’t for Mike, I don’t know that I would’ve found my way to the YA section in time to figure that out. Judy Blume aside, most of the books I read as a teen were the stuff of nightmares: V.C. Andrews, Mary Higgins Clark, Stephen King, Robin Cook, and the few adult romance novels I could sneak from the library into my room in a doubled-up Super Duper grocery bag. I’d spent my entire young life reading and writing everything but YA, hiding behind marketing communications jobs that skirted the edge of writing without forcing me to bare my creative soul in public. It was never enough, though.

Here’s the part where the movie voice-over kicks in…

In a world where artists are afraid to bare their creative souls in public, a formerly closeted writer pulls off a death-defying stunt to get her work noticed, and in facing her very public humiliation, discovers the path to her literary dreams…

It was 2003. We’d just moved from New York City to Denver and, in keeping with the new beginnings theme, I’d promised myself I’d sign up for a writers workshop. I Googled “Denver writing groups” and stumbled onto an excerpt about growing up in Buffalo. The author was a Buffalo area native who’d relocated out west and co-founded Lighthouse Writers Workshop, an independent creative writing program in Denver. Well, you all know how I am about signs, right? Right. So I signed up immediately for Mike’s next class: a memoir and personal essay workshop. I was 27 years old.

This is the part where the VH-1 voice-over kicks in…

But then things turned tragic for the band…

I was the youngest person in the class and, in my own opinion, had no business writing a memoir. I’d never done a critique workshop before. Never reviewed anyone’s writing and never willingly put my own out there for public response. All of the writers in that room were so talented, especially Mike, and he’d kick off each class with a 15-minute freewrite during which group members produced better stuff than I could cull from two decades of poems and journals. I lost a lot of weight that semester—I was totally on the nerve diet.

On the day of my critique, I thought I might pass out. Maybe I did, and I just hallucinated the whole thing. Writers weren’t allowed to talk during their own critique, so I just had to sit there and take whatever came. Was I immature? Did I lack style and substance? Was I a no-talent hack? I held my breath and prepared for the attack. But the writers in my class—the ones I’d spent the first half of the semester alternately admiring and feeling unnecessarily intimidated by—were so supportive, encouraging, and amazing. They liked my stuff. They actually liked my stuff!

When I left class that night, I was overjoyed. My smile was fixed; my head was in cloud central. I guess that’s how it happened, just as I waved goodnight to Mike Henry in the parking lot. Well, I was waving. Turns out Mike’s gestures loosely translated as, “Dude! You’re about to hit that telephone pole! STOP!” And here I thought his semi-jumping, two-handed flailing was just a little extra encouragement for the ride home: “See you next time, you shining, literary superstar!”

Ugh. I dented and scratched up my car, and I nearly died (of embarrassment, anyway), all because someone whose writing I’d admired had complimented mine. Ah, the things we do for art!

After class the following week, Mike pulled me aside to discuss one of my pieces—an essay I’d written recounting some trouble my BFF and I got into when we were fifteen involving some makeup and two power-trippy store security guards. He said the essay had a great teen voice and asked if I’d ever considered writing for young adults. Nope. I hadn’t really considered anything at that point—I just knew that I loved writing, had to write, would write anything. Mike told me that Lighthouse had a YA novel class with Jenny Itell starting up soon; he encouraged me to check it out. So I did. Four times in a row.

Looking back on the night of the telephone pole incident, I like to think that Mike saw a lot of unrefined potential in me. A wayward writer with a natural talent and passion on the page—someone who just needed a little guidance to find her true artistic footing. Maybe he just saw me as a liability and wanted me out of his class. Whatever his motives, Mike set me on the path to YA literature—something I’d never before considered. In the Lighthouse YA class, I read Laurie Halse Anderson, Deb Caletti, Sarah Dessen. I wrote and revised. I read and critiqued. I practiced. Under Jenny’s guidance, I wrote Twenty Boy Summer, and I found my voice—my right place on the bookshelves.

And the rest, says the movie voice-over, is literary history.

It’s been seven years since the telephone pole incident and my first class at Lighthouse, and almost three since I last saw Mike. And now he’s coming to Buffalo, and I won’t miss it (or drive into it. Maybe I should walk, just to be safe)!

I can’t wait for Mike to share his latest collection of poetry, No Stranger Than My Own, at our hometown indie next Thursday. If you’re in the area, please join me at Talking Leaves Main Street to show your support for this talented writer and artist. See you there!

Holiday Love for Booksellers

Since the launch of Twenty Boy Summer this past June, I’ve gotten tons of support and encouragement from booksellers here in Buffalo and all across the states. I’ve done readings and signings, I’ve been selected for bookstore book clubs, I’ve walked in off the street to sign copies. But the best part? I’ve met some amazing people who are as passionate about books and stories as the authors who write them.

As we approach the hectic, crazified, whirlwind final days of holiday shopping, I want to show some love and appreciation for my book selling friends by encouraging you — whether you’re still doing some last minute gift buying or you’re looking for some great reads to kick off the new year right — to visit the bookstores in your area, hug the friendly people behind the counter (if the mood strikes and you aren’t the type to illicit an immediate call for a restraining order), and fork over some dough for a few new books. You don’t even have to bring any ideas or advanced research — the booksellers will help you! Go ask for a recommendation! Check out the merchandise! Squeeze in another hug!

Finding the Books

Not sure where to start? Support the locals! Visit IndieBound to look up independent bookstores in your neighborhood. Indies are great for personalized recommendations, books on local lore, eclectic collections, and specialty focuses like a mystery bookshop or a just-for-kids store. Some indies also have membership programs for frequent shoppers and discounts for authors and educators. Be sure to ask!

Check out the Barnes & Noble and Borders sites to locate the big stores in your area, perfect if you need a large selection to inspire gift ideas or you’re looking for a book that wasn’t available at your indie. Many of the larger stores also have cafes, which is a nice place to kick back with a hot chocolate when you need a break from your marathon shopping. These booksellers are also happy to help with recommendations if you need some ideas, and both stores have frequent shopper programs and discounts.

Best Buffalo Area Booksellers:

Jane and the staff at B is For Books in Orchard Park, NY.
B is For Books is a wonderful bookstore in the heart of the village with a focus on books and gifts for kids and teens (they have some adult stuff, too). There’s even a teen reading room if you need to get off your feet and page through the latest YA reads. B is for Books also hosts parties. Way better than the roller rink stuff of my past!

Vivian and the lovely ladies at Borders Express in the Boulevard Mall in Buffalo, NY.
Sadly, this Borders location is closing in January. Until then, stop by to wish the ladies well and snag some amazing deals on books. Prices are already marked down 20-40% and will continue to drop from there until they have to close their doors for the last time. Sales at this location are final, but you can still use your Borders Reward card.

Megan and Dave at Barnes & Noble in the McKinley Mall in Hamburg, NY and Jill at the Transit Road location in Clarence, NY.
With huge selections, friendly staff, and cafes full of sweet treats and hot drinks, you’ll find everything you need here (maybe even a few signed copies of Twenty Boy Summer *wink wink nudge nudge*)! 🙂

Talking Leaves Books, right here in Elmwood Village next to Cafe Aroma (with another location on Main Street in Buffalo).
Great gifts for kids and adults (and free gift wrapping, too)! Be sure to ask about the member program — sign up for a 10% discount.

Fave New York City Shop:

If you happen to be in New York City this season, stop by Books of Wonder. In addition to having a great selection of books for kids and teens and a super knowledgeable staff, B of W hosts tons of author events year-round (remember the Sarahs of YA signing in August? Yep – Books of Wonder!). They’re also attached to a cafe that serves, among other things, yummylicious cupcakes. One step through the door and you’ll see why this place is my fave for booksplurging in Manhattan.

Denver Indie Book Hotspot:

What’s a trip to the Centennial State without a visit to the Tattered Cover? TC has 3 locations (Downtown Denver, Highlands Ranch, and Colfax Avenue), but the downtown store is my favorite. It’s all big and old and made of wood and awesome. There’s a cafe and three floors of bookshelves and event space. If you can think of a book or book-related gift, chances are it’s available at the Tattered Cover. And even if it isn’t, TC is just a cool place to hang out.

Show Some Bookseller Love!

Yeah, what are you waiting for?! Get out there and snag some books, and take heart in knowing that when you give the gift of story, you enrich someone’s life in a way that a Whitman’s Sampler and a pair of slipper socks can’t. Truly.

To my local faves and booksellers everywhere, thank you for working tirelessly this season and all year long to bring the magic of books to the world of readers. Happy holidays, and best wishes for a wonderful 2010!

B&N Signing

Zombie Horde Terrorizes Buffalo

…and Sarah risks her life to capture it all on film for our viewers at home (particularly Sharon and Khy)! It’s okay, though. I had the Left4Dead zombie fightin’ champ with me, so I felt well protected. And after enduring all the apocalyptic stuff of the 2009 Buffalo Zombie Walk, we got spinach benedict at Mythos, making the whole life-endangering thing totally worth it… until some of the zombies came in to the diner for a bite. Apparently they dig the Greek finger sandwiches. Who knew?

Anyway, a glimpse of the pre-benedict mayhem:

Fearless readers, today I learned an important lesson about the end of the world. When the real zombie apocalypse hits, we’re all going to die, like pretty much immediately. Not because we don’t have the right guns and canned goods and mad mad zombie-brain-bashin’ skillz, but because we’ll all rush out into the street to take pictures.

“Look, Ma! The zombies are coming! Get the camera!”

Nomnomnom…

Leader of the Pack

Dude

At Ease, Pumpkinhead

Watch Out for the Cute Ones

Here Comes the Bride

Oh, We're Having Fun!

Leg Man

Want more pics? Check out the complete zombie photo shoot. And by the way, Happy Halloween, my little ghoulies!

Treasure Hunting on Lake Erie

After a particularly vicious storm on Sunday (you know, the one I where stood outside watching the lightening?), Mom and I spent the following day hunting for sea glass along the shores of Lake Erie at Woodlawn and Hamburg Town beaches. Together, we came away with over 700 new pieces, plus a few interesting rocks and fossils, shells, ceramic tiles, and one dinosaur. That was Mom’s — the dinosaur. Something about abandoned toys really freaks me out, especially when they’re floating in the water, so I leave the creepy stuff to her and stick with what I know.

Lake Erie Gems

Looking for sea glass requires patience and skill — it’s generally quite small and can be hard to spot among similarly colored rocks, shells, leaves, things that crawl, and other lakeside debris. No matter how many times Mom and I walked back and forth over the same stretch of beach, heads down, eyes trained on the thin spread of rocks where the water meets the sand, we continued to find pieces that we’d overlooked just moments earlier. Often, we’d catch a shimmer in the wet sand as the tide pulled back the lake like a skirt, only to lose sight of it as the water again rushed forward. Other times, we’d spot a brightly colored blue or red square a few paces ahead only to scoop up a piece of old plastic. There’s also the tricky matter of avoiding fish bones and litter and separating genuine lake-aged glass from the just-broken bottle shards of last night’s party crowd. Dangerous work, for sure.

Despite the obstacles, the long search is always worth the effort. Genuine beach glass uncovered as easily as something plucked form a store shelf wouldn’t hold such mystery, like the rare red glass in TWENTY BOY SUMMER, or the amber glass largely created not by our modern beer bottles as I once thought, but by Prohibition-era rumrunners who smuggled cases of booze from Canada into Buffalo, dumping bottles in the lake whenever the police got too close.

Rumrunners

As we continued our treasure hunt, girls chatted on blankets in the sand despite the post-storm chill and thrillseekers braved the choppy, muddy water to windsurf and kiteboard. On one beach, a bulldozer beeped and roared along the waterfront, clearing tree branches and other debris that washed ashore in Sunday’s rain. Not far from where the waves nipped at our toes, the windmills from Lackawana’s urban wind farm towered in the sky, shooting up like trees from the industrial remnants of the Bethlehem Steel plant.

Lackawanna Windmills

Here in the southtowns of Buffalo, despite greening efforts like the Lackawanna wind farm, a storm like Sunday’s is enough to flood area waterways and contaminate the lake, and swimming is still forbidden on certain beaches for the entire season due to pollution.

Boats

Oil Change

McRetro

Still, for our walk up and down the shore, the sun shone warm on our backs and the rush of the wind-tossed waves dulled the sounds of civilization. As we combed the sand for hidden gems, it was enough just to be there, to hear the seagulls call to one another across the sky as we dropped tiny bits of amber and kelly green and aqua and white into our bags and wandered along the beach in search of more, a never-ending quest to unearth the buried treasures of the lake.

Treasures of Lake Erie

Prairie Doggin’ for a Hot Minute

So I’ve been kind of blog-absent lately, busy with supercrazyfun Twenty Boy Summer launch stuff and revisions for my next book, Fixing Delilah Hannaford (more on my new BFF Delilah later). And don’t get too excited because this post isn’t going to be an in-depth one, either. 🙂 I just wanted to pop out of the ground for a minute to shake off the dirt, wave, and share a few guest posts / links / event news meant to substitute for a real, actual, thought-out blog post. Forgive me?

*Looks around and whistles while waving hands in a Jedi mind trick sort of way…*

You will accept and embrace the links in place of a real blog post…

Oh, hi! Hey! Check out these links and stuff!

  1. Woman Around Town article, Grown Up Girls Come Out of the YA Book Closet, in which it’s totally okay for adults to show some YA PDA.
  2. Featured Guest Nose for agent sister Sydney Salter, author of My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters, in which I whine about that one time in college when I broke my nose.
  3. Zoe’s Birthday Celebration guest post at Zoe’s Book Reviews. Pull up a chair for a story from my craziest birthday party ever, in which once again “emotions run high” as we kiss boys and commune with the dead. Er, not necessarily related…
  4. Sarah’s YouTube Channel. I totally forgot to mention this, but I plan to do lots more vlogs in the future. Like, the future where revisions are done and books are launched and videos can be made in a stress-free environment in which I am nice to Pet Monster and he agrees to make a few more cameos. If you have a YouTube account, you can subscribe to the channel and get… I don’t know. Good YouTube karma!

Events

For those of you in the Western New York area, I’d love to see you in person at any of these upcoming events!

  • Girls Afternoon at B is for Books
    Thursday June 25, 2:00 PM
    6562 E. Quaker Street
    Orchard Park, NY 14127
  • Book signing at Barnes & Noble Clarence
    Friday July 24, 6:00 PM
    4401 Transit Road
    Clarence, NY 14221
  • Book signing at Barnes & Noble McKinley
    Saturday August 8, 1:00 PM
    3701 McKinley Parkway
    Buffalo, NY 14219

Okay, must return to revision underground…