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Still, he had gotten the book into the hands of some of his heroes, and their reaction made all the difference to him. Fantasy author Jane Yolen loved it. Peter S. Beagle loved it. Ursula K. LeGuin blogged about it, calling it “endearing and haunting.” She wrote, “I wish I’d read it when I was 11.”
“That line gives me great comfort,” Alexander said. “That happened fairly early, and that satisfied me. That was enough. That was absolutely enough.”
But then came October, and Alexander’s 36th birthday, and the phone call from the folks at the National Book Foundation.
A week in New York
Iris was just 2 weeks old when Alexander and his wife headed for New York in November for four days of celebration, bookstore visits and readings. “Nobody knew who the winners would be — it hadn’t actually been decided yet,” he said. “The whole vibe, the camaraderie of it, felt not at all competitive. We were all thrilled to be there.”
He tried not to feel unworthy. The other finalists in young people’s literature had written “some really heart-wrenchingly beautiful material, and here I am, writing about goblins.
“I did prepare a speech. I thought of it like being an understudy.”
When his name was called he made his way, leaning on his cane, to the podium, only to find that his speech was still in his wife’s purse.
The aftereffects of winning have been modest but important. His book didn’t bomb, but became a bestseller. His publisher decided to release an audiobook, and Alexander, ever the actor, wondered if he could record it himself. He sent a recording of himself reading in an old northeast Minneapolis movie theater, and it got him the job.
His second book, “Ghoulish Song” (which also takes place in Zombay), was already finished, and he was deep into his third book, “Ambassador” (a sci-fi book set in the Twin Cities and Outer Space). “So the feeling of ‘How do I follow this up?’ wasn’t a factor,” he said.
“I’m writing the books that I want to write. I’m actually going to get paid to write them. There’s a sense of stability. There’s also more pressure: These books should not suck.
“The show is the same. The audience just got bigger.”
Laurie Hertzel • 612-673-7302 on Twitter @StribBooks