Monday, April 30, 2007

Sorry things have been so quiet around here lately! My time in Illinois was so rich and full, I had no time to blog, and in the hubbub of catching up, I haven't had much time since I've been back.

I was originally supposed to turn my novel in to my editor tomorrow, but I'm going to have to ask for an extension--between wanting to incorporate the new research I uncovered on my trip, plus hearing from my agent that the voice of the novel isn't quite right yet, I still have a lot to do. I'm sure my editor will understand.

I'm still glowing from being in Chicago. What a pleasure to visit all the places I loved so much as a child--including the park and the beach near my old apartment building. And how amazing to speak at my elementary school, to sit on tiny chairs in what had been my first and third grade classrooms and try to imagine my young self there, soaking in information about guppies and Aesop's fables and life on the prairie. The kids in the classes were so sweet, so excited to have me there. As I was leaving, one boy raised his hand for a high five; after I returned it, he said, in an awed voice, "I touched a real author!" My first grade home room teacher--one of my favorite teachers of all time--surprised me at one of my events, and I cried for about the first 10 minutes of my reading, I was so touched. She even brought a picture with her of my first grade class; we had fun trying to remember everyone's name.

I also spoke at one of my junior highs, a gorgeous building modeled after a palace in Venice. I don't think I fully appreciated the beauty of the building when I was a student there. As I walked up the stairs with the principal, I remarked that I remembered the tiles that lined the stairwell, showing pictures of Medieval times. "Oh yes," he said, "the Don Quixote tiles." As a student, I had no idea that those tiles told a progressive story--Cervantes, no less! I probably would have paid more attention to them, had I known. The kids in the class I visited didn't pay much attention to me, either--a marked difference from the elementary school, but that was good. To go from being a rock star to a rock in the matter of an hour keeps you humble!

I made a point of eating a veggie Chicago hot dog and some Chicago spinach stuffed pizza while I was in town. (YUM!!!) I visited some old favorite sites--The Shedd Aquarium, for instance--and some dazzling new sites (like Millennium Park.) I was delighted to realize that even though I haven't lived in the Chicago area for 21 years, my muscles often remembered where I was, where I needed to go. I had a chance to visit old friends and a beloved cousin I hadn't seen in ages, which made the trip even more meaningful (as did the Chicago area CODEPINK group filling the crowd at one of my readings. What inspiring women!)

My time in Springfield was also very moving. I got quite emotional visiting Lincoln's home and office, and even more so visiting his tomb. It was amazing to be in the very spaces where he lived and worked, the space where he was laid to rest. It helped me feel much more connected to my novel. So did going to Downers Grove and finding my characters' house, finding where their furniture store would be, soaking in the places where the story unfolds. Now I just need to translate all of that to the page!

When I got back to the Chicago area, I stayed at the Write Inn in Oak Park--a fun place to write! In all my years in Chicago, I had never been to Oak Park, and I was amazed at the beauty of the town. I didn't have time to really explore the area--I didn't visit the Hemingway museum across the street, and only got to Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio one day after it closed, but driving past all the homes he designed (and the stunning Unity Temple) I was overcome by awe. I realized that even if I had had the chance to delve into the history of these buildings, the technical details of their craftsmanship, it was that awe that would have stayed with me, so perhaps I didn't miss much. That is definitely the main feeling I've taken home from this trip: awe.

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