Tag Archive: audrey niffenegger

My Dinner with Audrey Niffenegger

On Wednesday night, I had dinner at Russian Tea Time, sharing a table with Audrey Niffenegger.

Audrey Niffenegger's The Night Bookmobile

Audrey signed my copy of The Night Bookmobile

I’d bid on and won the seat through Evanston Public Library FriendsArmchair Auction. The 11 other lucky bidders came from varied backgrounds, covering an age range from college student to retiree.

Blink and you may not have noticed Audrey’s entrance – because contrary to popular belief, bestselling authors put one foot in front of the other just like the rest of us. They also sit at tables, introduce themselves, and seek fellow guests’ names just like we do. When the introductions reached me, I shook her hand and said my name.

But this wasn’t the first time I’d met Audrey.

In July 2007, Ms. Niffenegger gave an illuminating discussion and Q&A on THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE at the Chicago History Museum. Afterwards, she signed my limited-run first edition, complete with her own jacket illustration: a beautiful sea of flowing red hair. And I got up some sort of gumption. I told her about a short story I planned to develop into a book, and could she take a peek? (I’d like to imagine I was very charming.)

Audrey has a flair for creating real, flawed characters, so I’d probably mentioned that and a few other nervous blubberings. Out of an outsized kindness, she invited me to send her the story. Wow, was I ever excited, and so lucky – the chances of this happening have to be slim, given Audrey’s multiple, established, and busy careers as a writer, artist, and teacher.

I sent her the short story that same night.

Less than two weeks later, I received several paragraphs of questions, comments, and notes from Audrey. Totally unexpected, wonderful food for the mind. She also said I was an “interesting writer” and she’d be glad to see the next stage of the story.

More than three years passed. Audrey’s email and her recommendations to read “The Lottery” and re-read THE HANDMAID’S TALE helped shape the novel-length version of THIRTY DECIBELS. (Back then it was named FIFTEEN, until the Boring Police called.) I outlined, wrote a few chapters, stalled a bit, completed draft one, and hurtled through many months of revisions.

So when Audrey shook my hand on Wednesday night, I expected to be a new face.
Instead, her head tilted the tiniest bit.

“We’ve met.”


“I read your story.”

Oh. My. God.
“I’m so impressed you remember!”

I guess that was the best reply I could come up with. I’d like to imagine I was very charming.

The evening couldn’t have been more engaging. Nearly all of us had fine arts backgrounds. We discussed the merits of rye bread. We laughed about silly things, and reflected on sad things. Technically we were strangers, but for at least that night, we were good friends.

And someone – let alone an incredible writer – remembered reading my story, three years later.

The Armchair Auction for Evanston Public Library Friends was a success in many respects: it raised enough money to keep Evanston’s branch libraries open for an additional six months, reaffirmed my belief that citizens value their libraries, and offered an excellent opportunity to reach out and get some writer friends involved.

All that aside:

I can hardly sit still in my chair right now because tomorrow night – also thanks to the auction – I’m having dinner with Audrey Niffenegger (she of THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY, and THE NIGHT BOOKMOBILE)!

Twelve seats were on auction, and I managed to nab one! I still can’t believe it.

Stay tuned here for a full report…….!

Libraries’ Armchair Auction: AMAZING

I want to extend the warmest of thanks to everyone involved with the Evanston, IL Public Library FriendsArmchair Auction.

All I had to do was ask – and my heroes, Adam Selzer, James Kennedy, Claire Zulkey, Jodi MacArthur, Trina Sotira, Cynthea Liu, and Beverly Patt contributed fabulous auction prizes. (Jodi asked Ms. Karen Schindler to donate – pyramid scheming at its finest.) Their items raised $500. And, they just rock.

But even they would agree: the best heroes of the day were the ones clicking, bidding and winning from those armchairs, snatching up 300+ items among 30 categories, from Memorabilia to Health & Fitness… to Author Outings of “hilarity and literarity.

The success astounds.

Organizers have informed me the auction raised over $34,000 for Evanston Libraries.

Taken with their fundraising efforts thus far, the EPLF has raised well over half of their $200,000 goal to keep Evanston’s North and South branches open. (Click here and here for the big-pic sitch.)
Your support is greatly appreciated.

Lori Keenan, VP of Evanston Public Library Friends (and another of my heroes), shared her thoughts with me this morning:

Overall, it was an amazing effort by an incredibly talented and creative team. From development of the auction name and logo, right down to the final bid, they were a model of organization and enthusiasm. We are extremely grateful, and the money raised by the auction will go a long way in supporting our efforts to keep the libraries open. Everyone involved can feel great in knowing they helped to make a real difference.

If you haven’t yet, please consider supporting the EPLF.
Libraries mean so much more than books. And books mean the world!

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Dystopia hitting libraries too soon

This isn’t supposed to be happening. It’s not 2093, after all.

Thirty Decibels, the teen sci-fi manuscript I’m currently revising, is set three generations into the future – in 2093. Some of its central conflict stems from the impending closure of all libraries. (It may seem odd out of context, but the libraries in Thirty Decibels carry a different meaning.)

So when I heard about the possibility that Evanston’s libraries may close – that is, real libraries closing in present-day – I was floored. It was the dystopia I’d imagined, almost a century too soon.

There’d been a similar scare in Philadelphia last September, where all the city’s libraries were to close mere weeks later. I heard about it through an old friend, and retweeted the link. I couldn’t believe something like this could happen. But The Consumerist, source of the original story, soon ran an update that Philadelphia’s libraries had been saved by an online-sales tax.

Last month, I heard about Illinois’s library trouble. State budget cuts were anticipated to shut them down. Save Illinois Libraries gathered support, and the cuts were smaller than they could’ve been. The libraries have survived, but now they’re down to the quick in funding. Some of our elected officials have pledged support, but SIL could use Illinoisans’ help to drum up more. (You can also become their fan on Facebook.)

Support BranchLove

The latest library crunch looms in Evanston.
On February 2, the city council voted to close their branch libraries, even though visits are up from 2008. While grassroots organization BranchLove scrambled for non-profit status in order to accept donations, citizens pledged dollar-amounts of support via email. At February 4th’s city council meeting, 3rd-Ward Alderman Melissa Wynne and library activists set their sights on a six-month reprieve. This would keep the libraries open while a task force searches out alternate, long-term funding. Nothing is final; Evanston’s budget meeting is February 20, and the city council’s vote is February 22nd.

BranchLove.org co-founder Lori Keenan says it best:

We walk gingerly and think good things and are again, cautiously optimistic until the final vote (the one that counts) to pass the budget, as proposed, Monday night. It would be great once more to have as much support there on Monday night as possible.

And Evanston’s own Audrey Niffenegger, best-selling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, offers staunch support:

I grew up near the Central Street branch of the Evanston Library and I am not too happy to imagine it closing down. My mom took us there every week, we got to take home a stack of exciting books; it was my introduction to the whole concept of libraries. We could walk there from home. The experience made me a life-long library user. It seems very short-sighted to solve temporary budget problems with drastic solutions that benefit no one.

Show your support and help save Evanston’s branch libraries:

– Come to the budget workshop, Saturday, Feb. 20, 9am, at Evanston’s civic center
– Attend the city council meeting, Monday, Feb. 22nd, at 7pm
– Join BranchLove for a volunteer meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 24th, at 7pm
Please send questions/thoughts/pledges to info@branchlove.org

I still can’t get over it – this is supposed to be fiction.

UPDATE: I attended the February budget meeting. Here’s what happened.

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