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Voldemort, Heat, A Big Hole, and an Impressive Thermometer: Utah, Arizona, Vegas, and Baker, CA

It’s Monday afternoon, and as I write this we are flying down route Rt. 66 (now called I-15) with the air conditioner pushed to its very limit. It’s 108 degrees just outside of Baker, CA and we’re on our way to L.A., passing through the edge of Death Valley. Death as in nothing grows here. It’s dry and hot and we’re blasting the soundtrack to High School Musical for the zillionth time, and all of us our singing along at the tops of our lungs. 

Let’s catch up.


So, on Friday evening we arrived in Mapleton, Utah, just south of Provo, to visit my friend Tyler and his family. After ten hours of driving we were there at 11:50 PM, disappointed that leaving Boulder later than planned meant we’d arrived too late to join in any Harry Potter hoopla. But it turned out that Tyler and his daughter Johanna weren’t even home after all—they were in line at a Borders in Provo to purchase HP7. It was 30 minutes more driving, but we tore up the highway to join them. Here we are meeting Tyler at the store.

We were all exhausted, but even the kids were excited—as excited about Harry as Karen and I were. Even though it was about 12:20 A.M., it was still a mad house—crowds, costumes, lines. At about 1:15 A.M., we finally got our copy. 🙂 

We stayed with Tyler that night, and the next day we met the rest of his lovely family. Tyler, Lori, Jaelise, Johanna, John, and Josh were so kind to us, taking us in feeding us two home-cooked meals, and showing us around. They had more keyboards and other musical instruments than I could count, which makes them my kind of people! Then, we felt privileged to be shown the beautiful Provo LDS Temple, which was soon followed up with an ice cream at Brigham Young University. Thanks, Jensen family, for a much-needed family stop!

Utah is an impressive place. In parts dry and empty with desert brush and a whole lotta nothin’, but also filled with stunning mesas and canyons of red, red rock. In Cedar City we saw one of the loveliest sunsets ever. 


(Check out the sign in front of this gas station. We really aren’t in Massachusetts anymore.) 

So, it turned out that taking the side-trip to see the Grand Canyon added about five additional round-trip hours of driving to our already long journey from Cedar City, UT to Las Vegas. But in the end we figured, hey, it’s the Grand Canyon. Even if it’s just okay, how can we not go see it?

Well. Let me tell you. They don’t call it grand for nothing. 

I have to admit, I thought I’d ooh and ahh for ten minutes or so and then be ready to move on. As it turned out, I was far more affected by the canyon than I ever thought I would be. Looking down into it, I actually got choked up. The thing is huge. And far more impressive than I can relate here, or than my little camera could possibly capture. We were on the north rim, and we followed a long, long footpath that snaked across a dramatic finger of red rock that jutted over the canyon. There were points where we were standing a mile high over a sheer cliff that dropped straight down on either side of us. Thank god for the hand-rails. Anyway, I’ll stop gushing about the canyon. It was something special. ‘Nuff said.

A few months before we were married, Karen and I spent twenty-four fun-filled hours in Las Vegas. We’re not gamblers, but we were thrilled to run into a few Elvises, take in the Liberace museum, visit a couple of all-you-can eat buffets, and see a whole lotta other cool weird stuff. Coming back with three kids, however, was a whole nuther kettle of candelabras. I don’t think of myself as a particularly prudish guy or anything, but holy g-strings, Batman! Get that poor ad-girl something to wear! Didn’t her momma teach her how to act in front of children? Jeez. All I can say is, thank goodness our kids are sometimes completely oblivious to the world around them.

The NeverEnding Story

At the other end of Las Vegas, where actual people live actual lives, is a truly marvelous bookstore called The NeverEnding Story. They’ve only been around for a couple of years, but owners Kimberly Diehm and Jennifer Graves have already created a loyal following among teachers and readers of quality kid’s books. The store is colorful and comfortable, with high ceilings a terrific reading area at the back, which is where they served lemonade for my visit. Here I am with Jennifer and Kim, as well as bookseller Ani Tomasic, and Kim’s son Lukas. Ani, at sixteen-years-old, is working on becoming a famous film director someday—and after spending time talking with her, I truly believe she’ll make it happen. Thanks, guys, for a fun stop!
And a special hello to Judy the Librarian, who came across town just to see me. It was lovely to meet you! Thanks for your support, and a big wave to all your librarian friends! 🙂

And then we came to California…

A few minutes ago we stopped in the fabulously weird Baker, California—gateway to Death Vally and, for most, a mere pit stop on the road between Las Vegas and L.A. But Baker’s coolness runs deep. It’s the home not only of U.F.O. sightings, but also of the tallest thermometer in the world. It’s 134 feet tall, and when we were there it confirmed that it was hot like you read about. 108 degrees.

…but it’s a dry heat.


We’re still driving on I-15 … Next stop, Los Angeles! 🙂

LEMONADE MOUTH (Delacorte Press, 2007)
I AM THE WALLPAPER (Delacorte Press, 2005)

Hot Sauce in the Spicy Southwest: New Mexico and Colorado

As I write, it’s Friday afternoon 7/20/2007 and we’re driving through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, heading toward Utah.It’s difficult to write, though, not only because the views are stunning up here at 10,000 feet, but also because the narrow roads are snaking back and forth through the valleys and are making me queasy.More about Colorado in a bit.First, I’ll bring you up to date.Karen helps out—she’s in a different font.


MARK:New Mexico is truly one of my favorite places on earth.I spent a summer in Albuquerque in 1994 and fell in love with adobe houses, pow-wows, green chilli, and the Spanish language.I met Karen the following spring and I think my introduction to the Espanol of New Mexico played a role in my early spark with her – Karen’s family is from Argentina, and from the very beginning I was eager for her to teach me Spanish, which is why I can speak it today.

I think every state has its own unique personality, but in my humble opinion there are probably none so distinct as New Mexico’s.When you’re there, you know it.“The Land of Enchantment” (that’s the state nickname) just looks and feels different from anywhere else.


KAREN:Santa Fe is beautiful.We spent most of a day walking around the town center.We visited the Georgia O’Keefe museum which was very interesting and gave us a good look into her life and why she loved New Mexico so much.Then went for lunch at a great Mexican restaurant called Tomasitas, where they were amazingly kind to us.Ignatios Patsalis, the owner/manager, showed us the royal treatment by giving us a tour of the restaurant.He took us into his the kitchen and showed us how they make Sopapillas. (MARK:A sopapilla is kind of a deep fried New Mexican donuty thing that, unfortunately, I can’t get enough of.) KAREN:Here is Ignatios showing us a barrel of red hot chili peppers.(MARK:Unfortunately, Lucy decided to stick her finger in and touch one, prompting Ignatios to have us wash her hand with soap immediately, before any of the spiciness got in her eye and burned her.Ahh, life with Lucy…)KAREN: Yes, even Evan ate the red and green chilies! It was the best Mexican food ever!! Thanks Ignatios and Tamasitas!


Santa Fe is the home of Garcia Street Books, a charming independent bookstore just a short walk from the center of historic old Santa Fe.They host quite a few authors.Here I am with bookseller Adam Gates, a recent transplant from the east coast. 🙂


So far on our trip, we’ve been fortunate to be able to stay in the houses of generous friends and family on all but one night.In Santa Fe, though, we started a string of evenings where we actually had to spring for hotels.:-(But the good news is that we’ve been running into terrific people wherever we’ve been.Here we are with Vince, Heidi, Nick and Sam Battelo of Redland, CA.We met Vince, Nick, and Sam at the Holiday Inn swimming pool.Nick took this underwater picture of Evan as he jumped into the pool.Way cool!Great to meet you, Battelo Family! 🙂


Just outside of Taos (which we loved!) we stayed overnight at a youth hostel called “The Abominable Snow Mansion.”It was warm so we had the window open.All night long a parade of cats kept walking in and out through the window, and I kept getting up to shoo them out.I’m allergic to cats.Lucy loved it, though.She has since said those cats were one of her favorite parts of our trip so far.

Staying with us at the hostel was a fun gang of bikers from the Ft. Worth, Texas area.Here we are with Dwight Wilson, Scott Dishnow, Malcom “The Dukester” Duke, Craig Bearden, Jeff McDonald, and Noel Yandell.They told us they are all from the same Sunday school.


Taos is the home of the fantastic Moby Dickens bookshop. In addition to having an excellent selection of new books, they also order and research rare and out of print books.Another draw to the store is Ruby the Cat, who appeared at the store’s door in 1995 and has lived there ever since.Ruby apparently has a slew of fans who visit the store just to see her.Here I am with Mary Raskin, Carole Vollmer, Elizabeth Shuler, and Susan Hilliker. I didn’t catch the name of the gorilla.:-)


KAREN:On our way from Taos to Denver we stopped by to meet Linda Louden a friend of my cousins Bernie and Liz of NYC.Linda is an artist who dropped everything in her high-flying New York life to move to a one-bedroom white adobe house in Costillas, NM with her dog Daisy.Now in her backyard she has a re-vamped trailer that she converted into a studio.When you walk into her house you feel an immediate sense of tranquility, and she is surrounded by her art and the art of her friends.There is nothing in the town except for a few houses…it made me appreciate Georgia O’Keefe’s reasoning to go into the New Mexico Desert to create art.Here we are with Linda, who gave us osha, a new Mexican root that is rumored to heal just about anything, and some hot cheese & jalapeno bagels.Thanks Linda!You are an inspiration!


MARK:By two days ago, when we came to Colorado, we’d been traveling for 22 days.We passed the 5,000 mile mark in Denver—which is why I upgraded my total-mileage estimation from 9,000 to 13,000.I think that’s why yesterday we all seemed to crash a little.We were tired.We needed a down-day.We’ve recovered now, but our little dip in energy meant that we didn’t do full justice to Denver.I’m sure it’s a lovely city – and what little that we saw of it (see below) was very nice – but we definitely benefitted from lazing around the hotel room and staring at the boob-tube.All better now.:-)


A yellow van that says “Lemonade Mouth” in big, bold letters seems to sometimes confuse passers-by.Here’s a guy in Denver who came over to ask if we had any lemonade for sale.

Sorry, overheated Denver guy. No actual lemonade here.

BTW: We’ve christened the car Penelope.

Another thing, we’ve been seeing so many amazing sights for so many days now that I think the kids are starting to get a little jaded.Example from this morning: “Look, Lucy!Have you ever seen such an interesting-looking bridge?I know I never have!”Lucy momentarily glances up from her Barbie laptop and in a bored singsong monotone says, “Whoah.That certainly is an interesting bridge.”Then back to Barbie.

As I type, we’re still driving through the Colorado mountains toward Utah.I’ll ask the kids what was their favorite part of the trip so far and report it here.Here are their answers:

LUCY:When the kittens slept with me.
(MARK: That was at the youth hostel in Taos, NM).

ZOE (Note that she and I only speak to each other in Spanish):?Te acuerdas el caballo mecanico?
(MARK: Translation – “Do you remember the mechanical horse?”She’s talking about a horse ride in the center of Taos, one of those rides for little kids where you put a quarter in the slot and the horse rocks back and forth for a minute or so.I wish I’d taken a picture.She really did love it.

EVAN:Burger Beach in Fort Worth.Remember? The big pool with all the diving boards and swings?

Okay, so not exactly the o-beautiful-for-spacious-skies answers Karen and I were hoping for.Still, I know that they really have enjoyed themselves so far.We all have.And they’ll always remember this long road-trip discovering America with their family. At least that’s what Karen and I keep telling ourselves.:-)


No book-lover’s trip to Denver would be complete without a pilgrimage to The Tattered Cover. It’s the second largest independent bookstore in the country.And it is huge. Sidney Jackson and Judy Bulow and met us and showed us around. Their Colfax Street location is in an old building that used to be a theater, and it still has the curtain, the lobby, the orchestra pit, etc.It’s way cool.Here I am with Sidney.Thanks, Tattered Cover!


The Bookies is a smaller but absolutely amazing bookstore away from the center of town.They specialize in books for kids and also teacher resources.Karen is a high school Spanish teacher, so she immediately got absorbed by the Spanish teaching resources and ended up buying a pile of loot.Here I am with Suzi Fischer, Vicki Hellman, and Mary Lou Steenrod.Such nice people!

Our hotel in Denver wasn’t that great.It was cramped, one of the beds actually broke when we sat down on it, and the TV didn’t work very well.Then as a final farewell just as we left, the toilet overflowed and ran out all over the floor.Lovely.

Goodbye, gushing toilet from the Hotel from Hell! 🙂


This morning we went to The Boulder Bookstore, another big independent that makes you want to lose yourself in its many comfy, shelf-lined rooms.Arsen Kashkashian met us and was very kind.Tonight is the big release-party for Harry Potter 7, and the Boulder Bookstore is having live owls, an actual wizard, and a lot of other fun stuff including this gigantic papier mache sorting hat!


While Evan, Zoe, and I went to fetch the car from our distant parking spot, Karen and Lucy had tea at The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, which is a big ‘ol fancy Tajikistani tea room in the middle of Boulder.Apparently the barista, Rama Kho, did magic tricks with Lucy and gave her a complimentary hibiscus flower tea.


Troubador Books is a lovely independent bookstore outside of the center of Boulder. It specializes in new books and books on performing arts.Deb Evans and Julie Leonard really went out of their way for us, including providing lemonade and helping us figure out our route to Utah.It’s amazing how friendly booksellers can be!Here I am with Deb and Julie.Thanks, guys! 🙂


As I type, it’s 6:42 PM and we just got out of a lengthy traffic jam on Route 70 heading toward Grand Junction, CO.I took this photo of the Starbucks in the mountains because it seems very Colorado: half coffee-place, half camping store.

Next stop, Utah!

LEMONADE MOUTH (Delacorte Press, 2007)
I AM THE WALLPAPER (Delacorte Press, 2005)

Minivan with a Fringe On Top: Oklahoma and Amarillo

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We arrived a couple hours ago and just came back from eating tacos and hot green and red chili. But I’ll blog about that once we’ve finished our time here. Over the past few days we were in Oklahoma and Amarillo, TX, so I’ll catch you up on that. Karen helped out with today’s blog. She wrote the section on Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, TX (below, in a different font).


We arrived in OKC from Dallas on Thursday evening. There, we stayed with our friends Rich Schwab and Margaret Mantooth Schwab. They were incredibly nice to us, and took the day off on Friday just to drive us around. Thanks, Rich and Margaret!


First stop in Oklahoma City, I was interviewed on “Read All About It,” a state-wide show about books and authors that’s produced by the Metropolitan Library System for Cox TV. Now, I can’t say I’m used to being interviewed on talk shows, but boy-oh, this was fun. First, they put make-up on me (not sure why—isn’t the pasty-white look in?), then I hung out in the green room with other guests, including some way-cool local librarians, one of whom was doing a review on the novel Rules by my friend Cynthia Lord. Then they called me to the set. I was on for about eight minutes, interviewed by BJ Williams, the show’s producer and host. We talked about Lemonade Mouth and the tour, etc., etc. I think it went well, but who am I to say? It was my first time. I’ll get a copy of it whenever I can. 🙂

Thanks to BJ Williams and Cox TV! Hats off to “Read All About It” — what a wonderful way to promote books and reading!

Best Of Books

Later that afternoon we stopped at Best of Books, a terrific store in Edmond, OK, where Julie Hovis and Kathy Kinasewitz, the co-owners, were great to my family and me. The store has been in business for years, and it’s carved out a niche as one of the few independent booksellers in the area.

While there I ran into an old friend from Massachusetts, Meredith Pearlman, who had made the drive from Tulsa to see us–she moved to Oklahoma only three months ago. It was so great to see you, Meredith!

We made a stop at the memorial for the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. It was very moving. They have a place for kids to leave messages in chalk. Evan, Lucy, and Zoe each left one.

Uh-Oh. Oil Trouble!

We were driving around the city when suddenly a light started flashing on our car’s dashboard – it was an oil can. Uh oh, oil trouble. So we made a quick detour to the local Honda dealer, where Stephen Sponsler did a quick diagnosis – we were almost completely out of oil! Yikes! We must have a leak, but it must be a slow one because after he changed the oil he didn’t see the car lose any more. So, new strategy: We’ll check the oil every 500 miles or so!

While we were waiting for the oil situation to get resolved, we stopped into a local Barnes and Noble, where we met Chuck Ackerly and Dean Kraushaar. A cool way to spend the pit stop!


On Saturday (yesterday), it was goodbye Oklahoma, and back into Texas. We arrived in Amarillo where, in accordance with the old classic song, we grabbed a pillow.

Karen wrote the next part:

Camping in Palo Duro Canyon
KAREN: On Saturday night we went camping in Palo Duro Canyon, near Amarillo, TX.

It was a wild experience. First, we set up camp at the bottom of the canyon (the 2nd biggest in the US)! We spread out our tent on the hard red dirt covering all of the ants and other variations on bugs. The minute we got there, we were all being eaten alive by bugs. I could tell right away that I could never have been a cow girl. Even though I’ve camped in the past and loved it, I was already dreaming of a comfy bed in the air conditioning. Lucy, Zoe, and Evan were complaining about being bitten, Mark was complaining about how hot it was (it was 7pm), so I knew it would be a long night especially when Mark announced to the kids that if they see a Rattlesnake, don’t try to poke it with a stick! Rattlesnakes, no one prepared me for this!! The kids started to freak…who could blame them? Next we had dinner, no fire of course because we were too hot and would have roasted even more. Who told me that it cools down in the desert at night??

That evening we went to an amazing musical show called “Texas” in an amphitheater actually in the Canyon. It was all about Texas history, songs and there were even fireworks!

I liked the show so much, I even started thinking it would be fun to be a real Texan. I was amazed at how the Texan settlers could live here! Ok, so I could make it one night, why not?!


I was up all night listening to various interesting sounds of wildlife. While the family snored happily, I kept thinking of all those Rattlesnakes. I swear I heard some close by slithering. Mark thinks I was imagining things, but I DON’T THINK SO!! The next morning Mark admitted that the park ranger warned him that there was a “bumper crop” of Rattlesnakes in the canyon this year. Enough said!!

The next morning, getting up at 7 am with 3 hours of sleep and all wet because there was a lot of dew all night (so much for comfortable sleeping in the dry desert), we rushed to pack up camp, eat and dress to be presentable because in one hour we were going to be interviewed by the Amarillo NBC TV station at Barnes & Noble! Can you believe this? The only time in my life that I was a actually going to be on TV is after spending a night camping full of dirt and bug bites…so much for any beauty rest! I’ll let Mark tell you the rest, I’m fading from exhaustion!

(I just re-read this and although it sounds like I had a miserable time, it was a great adventure I wouldn’t have missed. We really are having a great time. Our next camping trip might include bears. I’ll let you know if we go do it and I don’t chicken out!)


MARK: Jeez, I can’t believe I’m still typing. This was an action-packed few days! So, in Amarillo, TX this morning the local NBC-TV affiliate (KAMR) was there to interview us! They have a weekly series on families doing stuff together, so our trip kinda fit in. (Note, this gig was due entirely to the amazing promotional efforts of my friend Tyler Jensen who, out of sheer kindness, sent out a funny email to media outlets all over the known world, telling them about our road-trip. Thanks, Tyler! You da best!) for the interview, Evan stole the show when he described the camping experience and gave an enthusiastic, detailed tour of the van. They loved him so much they ran out of videotape filming him. No kidding!

The series runs every Friday, part of the local evening news. Our story is scheduled for four Fridays AFTER this Friday. Faith, the local news anchor (she was the one doing the interviews!) promises to let me know when it runs, and how I can get a copy of it. I’ll get the word out when I have access to the video. 🙂

We were very lucky to meet up with Kimberly Willis Holt and her husband Jerry for coffee. Kimberly is the New York Times bestselling author of such books as When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, My Louisiana Sky and Waiting For Gregory. Such nice people! We ended up chatting for quite a while. 🙂

Finally, here’s a picture of Samantha Adkins and Cassie Mason, two soon-to-be high-school seniors who we met in Amarillo. Among other things we talked about Harry Potter and his unknown fate—which will be known later this week. Nice to meet you, Samantha and Cassie!

Next stop: Santa Fe!

Cowboys, Heat, and Texas Swimming Pools: Dallas and Ft Worth

What is it about Texas?Sure, it’s big.Hot too.So hot and humid that sometimes I can barely stand it.Still, there’s something about this state that sets it apart.Wide, wide highways, state flags flown just as high as old glory (Aren’t state flags usually flown a little lower than the U.S. flags?Is it just me?), and enormous guys in Stetsons and wranglers – and they’re dead serious.There’s no place like Texas.

Fort Worth–at least the touristy part where we looked around–is full of honest to god cowboys. And lots of cowboy stuff. Here are Karen and Zoe bellying up to a bar in Fort Worth – note that the stools are actual saddles!

The last photo above is of some nice local women we ran into.

We almost got kicked out of a high-end cowboy-stuff store. No kidding. I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth. So, we go in and I’m admiring the $5,000 boots, and Karen whispers to me, “Hey, Mark. Go put on those cowboy legging thingies and Evan’s hat and let me take a picture of you for the blog. So I do. But then this cowboy guy sprints over and calls out, “Can I sell you some chaps?” Now, I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. Chaps, apparently, is the name of the pants I was wearing. But I wasn’t sure what he meant. So I said, “Uh…I’m not sure. How much are they?” And he says, “Oh, about $500 dollars.” Eventually I understood what was up. This was his way of saying, hey don’t mess with the expensive cowboy stuff unless you’re a serious buyer! And he didn’t have an ounce of humor in him. He gave me an earful about real cowboys and Texas mesquite and I came off as the ignorant Yankee (which was only appropriate since that is exactly what I am). In the end we weren’t exactly buddies, but we managed to smooth it out between us. No cause for interstate alarm. Plus, Karen did manage to snap a pretty good shot. 🙂

Another great thing about Texas (and the south in general): fantastic barbecue. Here’s Lucy and me enjoying some amazing ribs.

In Dallas, we stayed with our good friends Gigi and Johan, and their 6-year old son Anders. They were very kind to us. Johan made Swedish pancakes every morning, which Evan scoffed down like a starving Swedish boy. They also took us to an amazing lake/water park in Ft. Worth.

We also got a babysitter and went out to a cuban restaurant in Dallas. My camera’s battery was about to run out, but I told the waiter that if the camera actually lasted long enough to take a picture of him I’d put it up on the blog. So here he is, our waiter, Mathew Morgan:

As we’ve traveled the country so far, one of the most surprising things we’ve experienced is the incredible kindness of people. Here’s a great example: Jay Moody is our neighbor from Massachusetts. He spoke with his mother, Ann Moody, and she offered to throw us a shindig when we came to Dallas. Well, did she ever. I’m guessing there were forty or fifty people at her house in Irving — all there to meet us, all happy and excited for us and about Lemonade Mouth. At not one of them had ever met us before. Ann is an amazingly gracious person. She served dinner, wine, cheese, and desserts, and opened up her home to us–and her swimming pool to our children. It was a truly wonderful event, and an incredible show of support for total strangers. We met lots of great new friends there too. I cannot fully express our gratitude to the wonderful Ann Moody. Many, many thanks!

While we were in the Ft. Worth area, we visited the lovely Bryston Children’s Books in Watauga, TX.  What a great store!  And unusual too–many of their clients are teachers so their books are separated into school subjects like science, math, etc.  Here I am with Adrienne and Dana Harper, who run the store (which has been around for over 15 years) along with their mother Marianne (not shown).  Dana’s the one with the ukulele and the rock ‘n’ roll snarl. 🙂

Next stop Oklahoma!
— Mark
LEMONADE MOUTH (Delacorte Press, 2007)
I AM THE WALLPAPER (Delacorte Press, 2005)


After Breakfast We Went To Texas

MARK: Today I had help from Lucy, age 8, with today’s update. I asked her to talk about our stays in Bryan and Austin, TX while I typed what she said. Full disclosure – I took what she said and changed the order of some sentences so that it goes in chronological order. Otherwise, though, this is what she said. Her comments are in the larger font.

LUCY: When we came into Texas, we were listening to a song named “After Breakfast Let’s Go to Texas.” My mom and dad are in a band that’s called the Church Ladies and it’s their song.

We went to Bryan, Texas and stayed with Petey, my mom’s friend. Petey is a really nice man. We walked around Texas A and M. It was really hot out and I liked it a lot. Petey told us about butterflies and Texas Rangers and trees.

MARK: For the Texas A&M football team, there is great importance given to “The Twelveth Man.” Here’s Karen with her hand on the thigh of that hallowed player.

Also, in Bryan we finally got our antenna fixed! Yay! Here’s a picture with Daniel from the Honda dealer.  Such a nice guy!

LUCY: We went to a restaurant. It was my dad’s birthday. It was a Mexican restaurant and I tried Sopapillas and I loved them. In the Sopapillas we put a candle and sang Happy Birthday to my dad.

Another day we went to Aunt Pat and Uncle Frank’s house in Austin, Texas. We saw Suzanne and Stephen my second cousins and Francesco, which is a baby, my new cousin. Francesco was 3 months old when I met him. He was really cute. I love the way that he holded on to my finger.

MARK: Here’s Zoe with lovely Francesco, and then my family:

MARK: While we were at in Austin, Lucy decided to play with my aunt’s weight set and promptly dropped a 5lb weight hard on her left ring finger. It then proceeded to turn purple and swell up. It’s still purple and swelled, but a bit better now. And she can move it around, so we’ve decided it must be okay. Yet another adventure with Lucy.

(I have a picture of Lucy’s finger but Karen seems to have hidden the camera and she’s asleep right now — the nerve! — so I can’t download it.  But I’ll put it up here soon)

LUCY: We went to lots of bookstores and me and Zoe got these little stuffed animals and my brother got a hat. We went in the kids section and played with the trains.

MARK: We loved the beautiful state capital building — where we arrived just in time for an amazing tour. And we remembered the Alamo…

We visited an amazing independent bookstore in Autsin called Book People. They were very kind to us!

At a Barnes and Noble in Austin we had an unlikely encounter too strange for fiction: I was standing there talking with a bookseller when I heard a woman’s voice behind me say, “Mark? Mark Hughes, is that you?” I turned around and there, out of the blue, stood a familiar face from Rhode Island. Beverly Pettine is a friend of the family who used to work with my mother. Beverly doesn’t live down here in Texas–it was just a strange coincidence that she just happened to be visiting her sister in Austin (who knew?) and just happened to be in exactly the right the bookstore with her sister and niece when she saw a sign announcing that I was going to be appearing here. She looked at the time and my appearance just happened to be exactly when she was here. If I were to put that in a story, no one would believe it. Yet, here’s the proof: Here I am with Beverly in front of our car in Austin, TX, of all places. Whoda thunk? 🙂


We also had a very nice afternoon with friends of friends. Our neighbor, Jay, grew up in the Dallas area so we were very pleased to meet Brad, Holly, Katie, and Grace, who live in Austin. Lovely people and our new friends in Texas. 🙂

LUCY: Yesterday we went to Stephen and Jonathan’s house and they have five dogs. Their names were Max, Casey, Billy, Toby, and Lloyd. They were cute. I loved to pick Max up. He was the littlest but he was 31 years old. We went in Stephen and Jonathan’s pool and swam. Stephen and my dad and mom threw us in. It was really fun.

Right now my brother and sister are filling their stomachs with Cheetos. We’re driving to Dallas, Texas. We’re going to stay with Gigi. We were just listening to High School Musical in the car.

MARK: A sad note: I just got some terribly disappointing news from NPR – they are not going to air the road-trip stories after all. Given their already busy line up and the fact that the producer working with me will be away in Alaska for a month starting this week, they made their decision not to go forward with the road-trip stories. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am about this. I sent out the message about NPRs decision earlier this morning and was truly touched by the many, many the kind emails people sent in reply. I’m grateful to have such a supportive network.

On the other hand, I’ve already learned a great deal from working with NPR so far, and the experience has been a lot of fun. Perhaps after the summer is over I’ll submit some commentaries in the style of the first one, where I talked about quitting my job. We’ll see.

In any case, this is so far the only significant set-back in an otherwise successful and happy road trip/book tour. And I’m determined to get over it before we reach Dallas. 🙂

I appreciate your friendship.
— Mark

LEMONADE MOUTH (Delacorte Press, 2007)
I AM THE WALLPAPER (Delacorte Press, 2005)

Deep South, Sweet Tea and The Elvis of Country Music

Today I share the blogging with my son, Evan, age nine, who earlier today wrote an update of our time in the deep south (see below). Evan’s comments will be in a bigger font. We just arrived in Bryan, Texas a moment ago, so I don’t have much to say about Texas yet except that it is big and dark and rainy. [Oh, I just realized that as I type this, it is techincally by 41st birthday! 🙂 ]

EVAN: Ok, so yesterday we left Atlanta (we got up at 7:00) and did a 2 and a half hour drive to Alabama, and all Of a sudden, we see this sign that said: ENTERING ALABAMA CENTRAL TIME ZONE . What?! We shouted. Then the clock that before said 9:49 (which was when we were supposed to arrive) went down to 8:49. We could have slept an hour later! Well, at least we get to relive the past hour, said my dad. On the road we made up a game. The game was, if you saw a water tower and shouted torre de agua (that’s Spanish) first, then you would get a point. At the end of the trip, whoever had the most points, won. To me, the driving wasn’t very long, but that’s probably because I was waching tv.

MARK: I love the south. It’s green and lush, and the people are friendly and the weather has been beautiful. I also love that it has a chain of grocery stores called Piggly Wiggly. Whevenver we see one, we Hugheses are all about the Piggly Wiggly! I took this picture through the windsheild of our car on our way to Birmingham, AL:

Oh yes, Piggly. I will follow…

One thing I do miss about Massachusetts, though, is the availability of Starbucks. In fact, I’ve been on a daily quest to find one anywhere near where we go. On the way to Birmingham I found one! I was so pleased, I took a picture of my grande Gazebo blend.

Evan: We went to the Alabama welcome center and my dad and me got Hank Williams posters. Hank Williams is like an Elvis to country music. My dad was very happy. I was happy too, except I had never heard of Hank Williams before this. But I’m sure he must be pretty good.

Mark: Because of the unexpected time-change (what? did we miss a memo or something?), we arrived in Birmingham earlier than planned, which allowed us time to look around. Since Birmingham metal-working played a big role in the city’s history, they have a huge statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of the fire and forge.

EVAN: Later, we had lunch with Hester Bass the author of So Many Houses, and her family (father Clayton, kids Anderson and Miranda) in Birmingham. We ate at a Cracker Barrell, a southern place I’d never eaten before. It was good. My mom and dad ate southern food. I ate grilled cheese. It was good. Hester gave us copies of her book, which was very nice of her.

Mark: In addition to being the author of the early reader So Many Houses, Hester is also the author of a soon-to-be released picture book biography of American artist, Walter Inglis Anderson, to be illustrated by the acclaimed E. B. Lewis and published by Candlewick Press. Hester and her family were amazingly kind to drive all the way down to Huntsville to meet with us. It’s lovely to meet such wonderful people when you’re far from home. Many thanks to the ‘Bama Basses, our new friends!


EVAN: Next, we had dinner with the Campbell family In Jackson, Mississippi. I played with three boys named Graem, Nathan and Douglas. They had a big snail called a wolf snail. I let it crawl up my arm. It was so cool!

Mark: Sarah is the author and photographer of an upcoming picture book about wolf snails, snails that eat other snails — an amazing creature I’d never heard of before. Her photographs are absolutely beautiful and her book will be published in the Spring. Although we were total strangers, Sarah and Richard and their boys fed us and treated us like family. We had a wonderful Mississippi evening which we will never forget — complete with fireworks set off by neighbors. Thanks you, Campbells, our other new friends in the south!

This morning (actually, yesterday morning now) we stopped by at Lemuria Books in Jackson, a cool independent bookstore with a relaxing atmosphere. Here we are with a very nice bookseller named Ciel. 

Lots of traffic problems on the way through Louisianna to Bryan, TX, so it took us much longer than it should have. Still, we’re here safe, sound, and happy. Soon I’ll actually go to bed. 

A big, Texas good night to y’all. 
— Mark

Amazing Giant Bugs in Atlanta: Georgia On My Map

I’m typing in the air conditioned comfort of an old, high-ceilinged, civil-war-style house in downtown Atlanta, GA — have you ever seen Gone With the Wind? It’s like that, only instead of Rhett Butler, it’s just us inside. The house belongs to our friends Ayesha and Dave, but they’re not here either–coincidentally, their already-planned vacation coincided with our visit (at least they told us it was coincidental…) so they’re off in parts unknown. Still, they let us use their glorious pad in their absence. Thanks, guys!

Here’s a picture of us in Frisco, NC, before we left. Also, a picture with Leslie Ann Lanier of the wonderful bookstore Books To Be Red in Ocracoke, NC. A must-visit if you’re a bibliophile on the Outer Banks.  The ‘Red’ in the store’s name comes from Ann’s hair.  Isn’t that cool? 🙂

Two days ago we left North Carolina’s Outer Banks at 9:30 AM and drove all day, arriving here after midnight. Believe it or not, it wasn’t too bad a trip. The kids were happily involved with the backseat DVD player (many thanks to my parents for providing that!), and Karen and I actually got a chance to talk. Weird, huh? We ended up stopping at South Of The Border (, a Mecca for weary travelers of Interstate 95. There we had a fabulously fun 24-story elevator ride up into a giant Mexican sombrero. Que barbaro! 🙂

I love Atlanta! Such nice people, such nice weather, good coffee–it’s got it all. And Evan, Lucy, and Zoe are fascinated by the GIANT bugs we see everywhere here in the south. I need to take a photo. They really are somethin’ to see!

Yesterday we were given the royal treatment by the Barnes and Noble in Alpharetta, GA. Before I spoke to readers, they had a ‘dragon’ — a big ol’ lizard — as the opening act.  I never opened up for a reptile before. 🙂 Here’s a picture with Cindy Rittenhouse, who runs the amazing children’s/young-adult section and Rachel, a high school junior and future star critic.

The Little Shop of Stories, a fantastic independent book store in Decatur, GA, did an absolutely amazing window display about our road trip. See the pictures below — although they don’t actually do justice to it. Still, can you believe this? In the last photo I’m also shown with store co-owner Dave Shallenberger, who did the artwork, and Terra McVoy, store manager. Thanks, guys!

Here are Elle Race and Regan Foster of Storyville, a lovely book shop for younger kids in Duluth, GA. They served lemonade for my visit–a very nice touch.  They’re a new bookstore in the northern suburbs of Atlanta — Good luck to them! 🙂

Some fun news: Check out the Publisher’s Weekly Web site – we’re the lead article! 🙂 Here’s the link:

A Note added by Karen:  A highlight of our stay in Atlanta was that we met up with one of my best friends from high school, Karen Sytsma and her family!  I haven’t seen Karen in 20 years, and we hit it off as if we see each other everyday!  Karen and her sons Josiah and Caleb followed us to all the bookstores, and we got a chance to visit her husband Mike at work!  Josiah showed the kids a dragon lizard called Beowolf…a relative of the giant iguana we saw earlier.  All these lizards in Atlanta, is it a requirement to have one?  What a great visit!!

Tomorrow we’re off to Jackson, MS, via Birmingham, AL. 🙂

Happy travels!