In which acclaimed author Frances Hardinge and her editor Michael Stearns (henceforth our heroes) undertake a breathless, breakneck tour across the continent and back—visiting seven cities, seventeen schools, eight libraries and bookstores, and one enormous (and rather interesting) gathering of national booksellers. A thrilling adventure filled with moments of high danger, humor, and courageous acts.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Day Two (May 10)

The goose-shaped hole in the tour is unexpectedly filled. The popularity of “big butts” during the late Victorian era. The curious fate of hats.

The day began at The Bookstall in Winnetka, a fantastic store run by people with extraordinarily good taste, where Frances signed a towering stack of books before dashing off on the day's school visits.

A book stack at the Bookstall.



Frances begins her talk by removing her “confidence hat,” only because Michael insists upon it.

First on the itinerary was Hubbard Woods School, which found our heroes hemmed in by a sea of fourth graders. When asked about the inspiration for her novel, Frances discussed a historical reenactment group to which she belongs. “We stage interactive murder mysteries in stately homes. We dress up in period costumes, fight duels, scheme, blackmail each other, and hold very loud ‘secret conversations’ behind bushes—and the public can eavesdrop, interrogate us, take sides, dance with us, and try to guess which of us is the murderer.” After Frances’s second reading, from the chapter “M is for Murder,” one girl in the front row was heard to remark, “That was really scary.”


“You may have noticed that I talk funny,” Frances tells the students by way of explaining that she lives in Oxford. As for her fondness for black garments, no explanation was forthcoming.



Frances reads a particularly thrilling passage in which Saracen resists an attempt to keep him from his friend Mosca Mye.

Next stop was Grace Lutheran School and a group of precocious and intimidatingly articulate fifth- and sixth-graders. The session began when Ms. Margaret, teacher emeritus, held up a tiny goose. Immediately the students raised their hands high; one launched into a impressively detailed goose classification, including several latin terms that left Frances and Michael dazed and daunted. We would recount it verbatim here, but have neither the knowledge nor vocabulary. The group was quite friendly. Frances told a moving tale of how one of her hats had vanished under mysterious circumstances in the heart of El Salvador. Many wept. Happily, another hat was delivered to her by a good friend in New Zealand. And happier still, another friend was delivered by Ms. Margaret to Frances, and the tour’s mascot was found.


Grace Lutheran teacher emeritus Ms. Margaret reunites Frances with a long-lost goose.

The final stop of the day was at the Magic Tree Bookstore in Oak Park, where Frances met with a small group of writers and discussed the long-but-pleasant task of composing Fly by Night. Afterward, Iris and the staff posed with Michael and Frances.


Day’s Most Memorable Questions:
“When you did historical reenactments, did you have to wear those dresses that give you a big butt?”
(Answer: No, wrong period. I wore eighteenth-century dresses, which are more like bells. What you’re asking about are called “bustles” and were quite the rage at one point in the nineteenth century.)
“How tall are you?”
(Michael said something to the effect of “Very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very tall. Which means six-four.”)
“If you were born in England, why are you touring schools here?”
(Answer: Good question, Frances looked at her editor, who was unable to explain much of anything, and then she explained that the book had just been published here.)

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