The Goodnight Moon Room upstairs at the Blue Marble is small.  I wasn't worried about filling it.  But a number of people had regretted at the last minute, and I was beginning to feel the onset of disappointment. 

To my surprise a steady flow of old friends came in the door, many I had not seen for some time.  I was uplifted by the support--and more than a little overwhelmed.  I was drained emotionally and physically by the end.  (I had risen shortly after 5:00 am, and I signed over forty books.)

Now I need complete strangers to invest in the book!

I made my first author visit this week: a presentation to the Wilson Elementary School Running Club.  Imagine my surprise to find there were more than fifty young runners in attendance.  Forest Hills sponsors its own 5K race in May which draws a lot of student entrants.  Joining the club serves as the best way to prepare for a successful race.

 Mercer principal, Jodi Davidson, referred me to running club coordinator, Megan Staey, who referred me to Melissa Gerth, director of the Wilson club.  I had two days to put together a program.  Good thing I already had the outlines of one worked out in my mind.

 The presentation went relatively well.  I took too much time on the history of the marathon, so had to rush into the main activity.  Introducing the race competitors, I struggled to keep their attention.  Handing out the voting pages, I worked a bit too hard to keep the noise from getting out of hand.  (There were a lot of them!) Then we tallied up the votes for the runner they thought would be the winner.  Ed Gardner was the biggest vote-getter, followed by Arthur Newton, and Giusto.  The three or four who voted for Andy Payne cheered enthusiastically when the final result was revealed.  That was satisfying.

 Then they all went out to run!

Marathons are commonplace now, but one of the earliest 20th-century long-distance races was the multiday, coast-to-coast Transcontinental Foot Race, little known now but an event that captured the world's imagination in 1928. The race began in Los Angeles and finished in New York City, covering 3,423.5 miles. Out of the 199 runners who began on March 4, 1928, only 55 finished 84 days later. Newspapers called it the Bunion Derby. The race was conceived by Oklahoma businessman Cyrus Avery at the height of the Roaring '20s, a time of optimism and excess. Charles Lindbergh had recently made the first solo trans-Atlantic flight. People tried to outdo each other with outrageous stunts. Dance marathoners danced for days, and pole-sitters sat atop flagpoles for weeks to set and break records. Avery teamed up with C.C. Pyle, the "P.T. Barnum of Professional Sports," to organize the race. The nearly 200 men of all races and nationalities who started the race faced a variety of obstacles—extreme weather, poor food and living conditions, prejudice, and injury. Speno's detailed, engaging narrative brings the times and the race vividly to today's readers. Chapters are broken up into topical subsections (on the "Good Roads Movement" and international participation, for instance), and plentiful archival material complements the lively narrative. An absorbing story of colorful times. (photos, maps, statistics, bibliography, source notes) (Nonfiction. 10-16)

The Great American Foot Race will be released on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.  A signing event will take place at Blue Marble Books on Thursday, April 13, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.  The store is located at 1356 S. Ft. Thomas Ave, Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, 41075.  Please call ahead (859-781-0602) or email ( with spenoa in subject line) to notify the store of your attendance and to reserve a copy of the book.  Book reservations are not required but should be made by April 6 to guarantee availability.

See you there!

I just finished reading M. T. Anderson's Symphony for the City of the Dead, a book that feels like it was written for me.  I love the music of Dmitri Shostakovich and have wondered for many years how he survived in Stalinist Soviet Union.   Was he a stooge, writing music to please his Communist handlers?  Or was he a dissident, coding his music with subversive messages?  Through his narrative, Anderson makes clear that the great Soviet composer was a mixture of both defiance and compliance, both courage and cowardice.  In short: "He kept himself alive."

Read the book for the story of a man of twitchy nervousness, a chain smoker with a mania for soccer and a tenderness for his children, the ability to write lyrical music with bombs thundering all around him.

Read the book for the tale of a city of canals and bridges, palaces and concert halls, as it undergoes revolution, purges, and the longest siege in recorded history.  All the horrors of the twentieth century are concentrated in a single city: St. Petersburg/Petrograd/Leningrad.

Read the book for the descriptions of the music.  They will impel you to your local library to find recordings of the pieces he mentions, above all Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7, the Leningrad. 

Jonathan Daniels may be the most important Civil Rights hero you've never heard about.  Rich and Sandra Wallace aim to correct that injustice with their new book, Blood Brother.  The subtitle says a lot: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights.  Daniels makes the ultimate sacrifice, and he does so with his eyes open all the way.  He understands the risks of fighting against Southern racism:  "No white outsider here is entirely safe….  The possibility of death, whether immediate or remote, cannot be a deciding factor for me."  But his idealism pushed him forward:  "My freedom depends upon everyone having their freedom."  What an inspiration!

I received a surprise package on my fifty-third birthday: five ARC copies of The Great American Foot Race.  ARC stands for Advance Reader Copy--advance because there may still be errors that need to be fixed before the final product reaches the shelves in April 2017. 

More changes.  Possibly.  When I look at my digital files for this book I see seven different draft folders.  The first one, from 2010, has only three different drafts.  The second, from 2012, contains nine numbered drafts.  2013 has six more.  In 2014 I hired an editor and wrote fifteen; in 2015 Calkins Creek editor, Carolyn Yoder, spurred me to another fifteen.  I still had many more times to read through my manuscript to make the sentences clearer and the information more accurate, but you get the picture.  The finished book, when it arrives, will represent a lot of work--and not just mine.  A whole team went into creating it. 

Freelance writer and editor Deborah Kalb included The Great American Foot Race in her blog, Book Q&As.  It is an honor to be included in a blog that has run continuously for five years, maintained by an editor and author as accomplished as she.  Follow the link to see how I replied to her questions: