At the end of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy clicks the heels of her silver shoes together three times, and she is magically transported back to her home in Kansas.
… and that’s exactly what happened to me on this trip. No foolin’!
But it was my novel in this case, “Silver Shoes,” that transported me. It whisked me away to my hometown in Kansas for an unforgettable visit, capped off by a book event that was co-sponsored by the Lawrence Public Library and the incredibly cool downtown bookstore known as The Raven.
I moved to Lawrence from New York City with my family when I was about four and a half years old. I was educated from nursery school straight through college in this same wonderful town. Eighteen years of my life, all told, before I moved back to New York again for a couple of years and then settled in Los Angeles. I’ve been living in L.A. for the past twenty-two years now—longer than than any other place—yet I still consider myself a “Kansas kid” at heart.
I miss a lot of things about Lawrence. Far too many to name, actually. But I remember the Kansas sunsets with a particular fondness and clarity. I wrote about them in my book, too. I used to gaze up at them as a kid and dream of other distant places. Some imagined and some not. So, whenever I would either read or watch “The Wizard of Oz,” it always seemed as if I were standing right at “ground zero” with Dorothy Gale. The place where all possibilities began.
My trip to Lawrence was divided into two parts, this time. We first arrived and spent a fast day and a half, driving all around, looking at familiar sights, old houses, shops, restaurants, and visiting near and dear friends. We even paused for a quick photo op at the Atkinson home on Seventh and Louisiana. It’s located in a registered historical district known as Old West Lawrence, and this was the stone house where my grandmother had lived when the great tornado of 1911 swept through the city. She was fifteen years old at the time. I wrote a full recollection of her incredible “tornado story” and mine, too. You can read more about them both by CLICKING HERE.
Then we were off to Wamego and Manhattan, Kansas, for the weekend Oz Club convention (see Part Oneof my “On the Road” adventures), and we returned to Lawrence two days later. This time, it was for my event at the public library.
I have to tell you how special this was for me. As a kid, I used to come to this library all the time. It was in this very spot where I discovered the rest of Baum’s Oz books, after I had read the five or so vintage copies that had previously belonged to my grandfather. I remember Mrs. Paretsky very well, too. She was a wonderful lady with gray hair and glasses who was always eager to help me find what I was looking for at the children’s desk. If her last name sounds comfortably familiar in its relationship to books and reading, it’s because her daughter grew up to be a famous author—Sara Paretsky of the V.I. Warshawski detective stories.
The Lawrence Public Library was as important to me as any literary influence I’ve had in my life. It was the “magic place” where imagination ruled. And all I needed to unlock it was this wallet-sized card they gave me for free—a symbolic passport, allowing me to “depart” and go on these incredible adventures of the mind.
Flash forward, thirty-odd years later, and I suddenly find myself in this library again, giving a full reading, signing, and presentation for an Oz-themed, action-adventure/fantasy novel that I had written out of my childhood love for those books. Was it a dream come true? Actually, I’m not even sure I imagined something like this would happen, growing up.
When I first walked inside the building to check it out again, I was immediately struck by how familiar everything looked and smelled. Not old and rundown, despite the passage of time. Clean, well-kept, and colorful. This library was vibrant and bustling with activity. Then I spotted my own book poster hanging on the wall and grinned. I asked someone at the front desk if I could speak with Maria Butler. She’s the Community Relations Coordinator for the library and had been helping me arrange everything in advance for the event. I had a great, welcoming chat with her.
The event itself was a bit of a reunion, in addition to being a homecoming. I had put the word out with local friends and family. Maria had seen to it that I was mentioned on every available web calendar and in the newspaper. She even had a radio station give it a nice plug, on air, in their rotation. And I had invited people online myself to attend, where I have a Facebook group created for “Silver Shoes.” Still, there were some wonderful surprises that night. Among the deeply appreciated attendees: Brilla Highfill Scott, who had first been my assistant principal at West Junior High School, before becoming principal there. She looked terrific, and I instantly recognized her. Childhood friends, including Leslie Rose, Chris Braden, Cindi Bogard Long with her mother Sondra and son Nick, and Darla Sieg, who was my neighbor growing up and who now worked at the public library. High school friends, like Juana Simons, Lori Wray and her husband Dan, Bill Holliday, Laura Meyer Pfeifer, and Laura McCorkill. Also some parents of former classmates, like the mothers of Cristi Catt and Jacque Scribner Pietsch, and Stefani Day’s parents. A former co-worker and friend of my mom’s, Karen Heeb, who had taught elementary school with her at Sunset Hill. And my wonderful choir teacher from junior high, Pam Bushouse, who seems to have found the Fountain of Youth. It’s been “just a few years” since I sang in that junior high choir, but you never would have known it from looking at Pam. My brother John drove in from Kansas City with his girlfriend Michelle. It was great to see them there. And Pauline Harvey, bless her heart, came to hear me talk. Pauline was using a walker that night, having recently fractured her pelvis in a fall. But that wasn’t going to keep her away. Such determination! I love her so much. Pauline’s late husband, Herk Harvey, was my father’s best friend when I was growing up in Lawrence. Together, they had made several award-winning educational films, first for Centron and then on their own. Herk is pretty widely known today as the director and star of the horror cult classic movie, “Carnival of Souls.”
The reading, the presentation, and the Q&A that immediately followed were a big success, and I sold and signed a lot of books that night via The Raven Book Store.
This was a night I will never forget. It inspired and encouraged me on many levels and for many reasons. I thank everyone who attended, whether I’d known them previously or not, and everyone who wished me well for this occasion.
Just two days later, I was off to Louisburg. It’s about a thirty-minute drive south of Kansas City. I had been invited by their public library to do another full presentation, reading, and book-signing. But I’ll save that recollection for Part Three of my “On the Road” blogs.
Stay tuned! My mini-book-tour in Kansas continues. I’ll have it posted in just a couple of days.