A couple of months ago, I got a request through my booking agent (who happens to be my daughter) for a Skype visit. Not a problem! I’ve done several of these, especially in connection with my next-to-latest book, Somebody on This Bus is Going to Be Famous. Because the place I live can be a bit dicey when it comes to internet connections (the signals get all flustered around thunderstorms and weather-related events) I drive 15 minutes to the nearest university, where the friendly librarian can provide a quiet space and a reliable connection.
But I wasn’t sure about this one because the school requesting the visit is located in Mongolia. Um . . . let’s see, north of China, Asian steppes, Genghis Khan, Marco Polo, world’s greatest horsemen, nomadic culture—that Mongolia?
Yep, and all because of a children’s book award I was not aware of. The Panda Award is given for English-language children’s literature in China, and to my surprise SOTB was on the nominations list. (Didn’t win, but I’m in great company; see the 2016 Panda list.)
After a few emails, though, we worked it out. The time difference is 14 hours—before I’m done with Tuesday they’re well into Wednesday. So, 9 a.m for the students at the International School of Ulaambaatar is 7 p.m. for me, and that’s a reasonable time to drive to town, do a few errands, proceed to the library, spend a few minutes catching up with my friend the librarian, set up my ancient laptop in a study room, restart a couple of times because it seems deadly slow, gnaw my thumbnails to stubs, try to do a little reading, give up and wait nervously, hoping this happens.
And it did! Skype came through, the wi-fi held up, and there I was talking to the seventh-grade class at ISU about SOTB. Not all had read the book because, as their librarian explained, it takes forever for packages to arrive at their city on the other side of the world, and they just got copies the week before. Nonetheless the questions came thick and fast, and some were quite perceptive, such as
- Which of the characters changed the most?
- Which of the characters are you most like?
- What kind of personal experience went into this book?
- When can you come to Mongolia?
Well, after this visit, I’d love to spend a few years teaching at ISU, but I don’t have the qualifications. The need second-grade teachers and substitutes–anybody want to apply? You can, here.
I love it when new windows open up in my world. I’ve had some blessed opportunities I could not have anticipated, like backpacking through central Europe, participating in a ladies’ retreat on the Isle of Patmos, and visiting my first (and only) Disneyland in Tokyo. For all my reservations about technology, it makes connections possible that would have been barely-conceivable when my first novel was published 15 years ago. For all the scariness and uncertainty about life on earth, it’s as packed with surprises as a Christmas stocking—“far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.”