Spanish Heart Redbird Style
Before I get started with today’s blog, I wanted to remind you all I have a character name up for auction over at http://dogearaudio.wordpress.com/character-name/. Please check it out along with the other great items up for grabs. We really need to raise just a bit more money to reach our goal.
Now, on to the main event:
I had the distinct honor of being invited back to my alma mater, Illinois State University, to do a reading at their new Queer Studies Institute. I could not have been more thrilled for several reasons. 1) I am a very proud ISU Alum. 2) The Queer Studies Institute has been a long time coming, and a lot of people have done a lot of work for decades to make that dream a much-needed reality on their campus, so I loved being able to celebrate that achievement. 3) My upcoming release (4 weeks!) Spanish Heart actually ends on the campus of ISU!
The day started early as we made the two-hour drive from our hometown to ISU. The trip brought back a lot of memories, and rolling into campus brought back even more. We had breakfast and lunch with friends and professors and took a walk around the quad for nostalgia’s sake. Everywhere we went, we ran into familiar faces and spaces, really making the day feel like a homecoming.
I felt very much like a student that afternoon when I walked into a classroom, took a seat, and pulled out my note pad. Then one of my favorite professors, Chris Breu, started discussing feminist narrative theory and asked if I’d be willing to take questions from the class about my own work. After a brief moment of panic about whether or not I was actually qualified, I fell into a nice rhythm of taking questions from the students and listening to their thoughts on their reading for the day in a nice blend of my old role and my new one.
From there, I transitioned into full teacher mode with the professional seminar in English Studies. Not only did those students show up in force, several other sections offered extra credit for the event, which meant I had a packed house. Mark Vegter introduced me by telling the story about how clearly he remembered my first freshman advising session in his office, 11 years ago. I think it made us both feel a little sappy, and a little old. I had virtually no idea what I’d say to the students, but in true ISU fashion, they had tons of educated, insightful questions on everything from writing craft to the changing landscape of publishing. I know I’m biased, but if those students are any indication of the calibre of young academics being nurtured at ISU, the future of Redbird nation looks strong. The time flew by, and several students stayed after to ask more questions. I even got thank you e-mails from a few of them afterwards.
After a fun dinner with faculty and staff, we walked back across campus to the Queer Studies Institute for the main event. While the building is a bit out of the way, the space itself if very welcoming, with study carrels, a small meeting space, and lots of books. Best of all, the room was filled to the brim with a wonderful mix of familiar faces and new students.
I had the privilege of being introduced by the director of the student center, Barb Dallinger, who was my mentor during undergrad and grad school and who continues to be a very good friend and beta reader for all my work. It felt almost surreal to stand up in front of my home school audience, but since Jackson went up front with me, he stole the show and gave me a minute to just enjoy the view. When it came time for me to read, everything sort of faded behind the characters I love, and once again I was back in my element.
After reading a short scene from LoveLife I settled into some really wonderful interaction with the audience. To one side I had friends who’d attended ISU with me, to the other I saw a group of young people taking notes on every little thing I said, then scattered throughout were community members and professors who’d touched my life over the last eleven years. They asked lots of fun, informed questions ranging from the personal to the professional, and while I can’t remember them all now, I do remember doing a lot of laughing and smiling so much that my face hurt. I could not have asked for a better audience.
After the questions started to wind down, I finished the event by reading the opening scene of Spanish Heart. I’m not going to lie. I got a little emotional, reading about start of my main character’s life-altering journey while standing back at ISU reflecting on my own. I had come full circle, and like Ren in Spanish Heart, I found myself back at Illinois State University. Standing in that place, among those people who represented so much of my past, as well as so much hope for the future, I couldn’t help but feel a little overwhelmed at how blessed I am to live this life I love and how much of that I owe to ISU.
Go you Redbirds!
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