Why I’ve been away from blogging and why I’m back (with comments from Humphrey)

October 13th, 2017

Yes, it’s been a REALLY-REALLY-REALLY long time since I blogged. A few years back, I had major neck surgery that took over a year to recover from. The absolute worst, most pain-inducing thing I could do would be to sit, especially at the computer. I kept the book-writing going, but I dropped the blog and other things, like school visits (local only) and travel alone, because I can’t carry much of anything and was told never to lift a bag into the overhead compartment again – yikes!

Please don’t get the wrong idea. I’m active and healthy – I just have some skeletal issues. Except for the eight months of waiting for the bones to fuse, I’ve been doing Pilates twice a week and a deep tissue massage once a week at a local Wellness Center for several years, so I’m in better shape now than before this all began!

But sitting – not so great.

The writing continued but I stuck to writing about Humphrey and couldn’t accomplish much more than that. Though we did manage to have a great time at our son’s wedding 2016 with the whole family.

 

Then on the fateful day of January 6, 2017, I completely wrecked my knee. I knew I was overdue for knee replacements, but one step onto the patio and boom- the knee was shot. However, I had personal and professional obligations to fulfill, so I had to wait until the end of May to get the replacement. At first I rolled around the house in a desk chair. Then I graduated to crutches, a cane and finally hobbling for a few months. I hardly ever even made it out to my dear writing house in the backyard.

I got a laptop (bad for the neck, good for the knee) and worked in the kitchen. Here is the GOOD NEWS: I had a total knee replacement and it went very well. I was always ahead of the physical therapy milestones and my surgeon called my range of motion “phenomenal.” But since they completely realigned my knee, it caused subsequent hip/low back issues which “laid me low”.

I guess my mind was still working, because back when I was working in the kitchen, I had a sudden inspiration for a new kind of Humphrey book. It was a very challenging idea … but I quickly wrote some chapters and an outline, sent it to my agent and editor and got a two book deal. One of the reasons I had to wait until the end of May was to finish the book so Humphrey’s fans could get it in 2018. (There were other reasons as well.) Even though I was in the kitchen, where there’s more hubbub (phone, husband, repair people, etc.), I got it finished.

During my recovery, I was able to work with my editor on the copy-editing of this book and several new upcoming Humphrey’s Tiny Tales and eventually I went back to my office and to my sessions at the Wellness Center.

Now that I’m well on my way to recovery, I have discovered a renewed interest in doing lots of things I was struggling with before: writing more, reading more books, learning new things, connecting with people. Things I couldn’t do for a long time. I will never carry a suitcase or anything heavy again and I’ll never run a race, but I feel like my old self again.

Now I head out to my writing house at 5 am (or earlier) with lots of energy, looking forward to life.

 

As we approach the “cover reveal” of the new book, due out in July, 2018,  and its subject matter (this is not exactly an According to Humphrey book,) I remembered this long silent blog and decided to start communicating with fans again.

*****HUMPHREY DISCLAIMER***** READ-READ-READ! *****

Hi, Humphrey here! Just to say that I read this blog post and it does seem as if Betty G. Birney BELIEVES that she writes these books all by herself. Which is kind of cheeky, given that she doesn’t actually have to experience all of my sometimes scary but always hamster-iffic adventures! Just saying …. you’d better take all of this with a grain of salt, as they say. And some lovely crunchy celery would taste very nice with that salt. THANKS-THANKS-THANKS for listening!

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HOW TO BE IN TOUCH WITH HUMPHREY AND ME

There are several ways to communicate with me. Writing a letter is not the best way – you will wait a long time for an answer. But I answer emails fairly quickly. If you want to scan a letter and attach it, you can do that on the Contact  form. If you have trouble with that, let me know and I’ll tell you another way to do it.

To email me through this website – look for Contact link at the bottom of the Home Page or use this: https://www.bettybirney.com/blog/contact/

You can follow Humphrey on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/AccordingtoHumphrey/

You can follow me on Facebook using my name. You can follow me on Twitter @bettygbirney

(I’m just getting started on Instagram.)

You can sign up to a list of fans called Humphrey’s Handlers. http://www.bettybirney.com/blog/humphreys-handlers/

And you can come back here very soon as I get ready for the BIG reveal of the next book! Right, Humphrey?

  RIGHT-RIGHT-RIGHT!

 

 

 

Pomp and Circumstance all over again

May 14th, 2015

I was stunned a month or so ago, when the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of Webster University, David Wilson, called to say I had been selected as this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Alumna Award. I certainly didn’t feel worthy to accept it but how do you say “no” to such a generous offer? So I said “yes.” Then Dean Wilson said I would be delivering the commencement address – not to the whole university, but to the College of Arts and Sciences graduates in a separate ceremony where they receive their diplomas. Not only would I be receiving this great recognition …. but the ceremony is held at the Muny in Forest Park! Some of the happiest moments of my childhood were spent at the 11,000 seat open-air amphitheater where musicals have been staged for the last 96 summers. I saw so many stars sing and dance across the mammoth stage and even remember lying with my head on my mother’s lap and looking up at the stars when I was very young. My mother remembered her favorite stars from childhood performing there: Irene Dunne and Archie Leach (later to become Cary Grant). Sitting onstage at the Muny with the faculty of Webster University? YES-YES-YES!

 

Webster

It was Webster College when I was there, transitioning from a girls’ college to co-ed and immediately transitioning from a Catholic college run by the Sisters of Loretto to a lay school – that all happened when I was there. At the time, Webster was well known locally for its theatre arts program and generally for its fine arts. I started out in theatre but switched to a straight English major. I was editor of the paper, worked on the yearbook and was a happy Webster student. I even loved my student job, working for the new Master of Arts in Teaching degree. Then, Webster was a standout for its personal attention to students. Amazingly, that hasn’t changed with growth. I’m now on the Advisory Board of the College of Arts and Sciences and am thrilled to discover that the same attributes that made Webster special when I was there haven’t changed.

 

Webster Alumna Award

 

There was a great party the night before – a dinner at the Khorassan Room of the Chase Park-Plaza where we stayed. Hey, I had my proms at the Khorassan Room – deja vu! A group of us had drinks afterwards and then my son arrived. That was truly the best part of all – my son, Walshe, who lives in New York (so far from our home in Los Angeles that we don’t get to see him often) flew in for the event, which also happened to coincide with Mother’s Day! And we got to celebrate his recent engagement. Here he is with husband Frank and me. Walshe hadn’t been to St. Louis in many years, so we all visited with cousins, aunts, my sister Janet, brother-in-law Steve, niece, Jen and her husband Jeff, her daughters, Samantha and Carter and nephew Todd. What fun!Frank, Betty, Walshe in St. Louis 2015

 

Speaking in the Rain

 

My speech was delivered on the rehearsal stage in the pouring rain. Luckily, it didn’t rain until the very end of the larger ceremony, but it poured for the second part. The speech, my clothes, my hair were soaked. My shoes were ruined. The Dean’s introductory notes were in ink and they ran into a blur. My pages got stuck together and I had to stop to pry them apart. Everyone was more than  polite, I talked fast and every graduate got a signed copy of The World According to Humphrey! Left, I’m delivering the speech and a kind gentleman is holding an  umbrella over my head. You know what? I enjoyed it all!

 

Onstage at Muny 2    My soggy speech.Sodden speech Webster 2015

Above … yes I’m on stage at the Muny – can’t you see me? Actually, I was on the end of the inner aisle, row 2, so pretty much right behind the podium. Some of my cousins watched the live feed and they could actually see me!

Luckily, it wasn’t raining as the ceremony began. Pomp and Circumstance played as the students processed in while the faculty – and I – lined up. Then came the parade of flags representing every country with students graduating – carrying the colorful banners down the aisles of the Muny. Next, the bagpipers arrived, led with panache by Dean of the College of Fine Arts, Peter Sargent, who was there when I was in school. Finally, the faculty (and I) processed down the center of the Muny from the very top down to the stage. It’s very steep – don’t wear heels! (I didn’t). At this point, I relaxed and decided to enjoy every minute of the day, soak it all in (pun intended) because it was a once in a lifetime experience. I walked down to the stage with a big smile on my face, despite the threat of an oncoming storm.

 

Here’s a clip of how it looked from the stage.

It was the best graduation I’ve ever attended – formal yet personal, reflective and exuberant. The rain held off and honorary doctorate recipient, actress Jenifer Lewis, delivered the best commencement speech ever. Funny, sad, hopeful, musical,  honest and most of all inspiring. She rocked it. If you want a few minutes of inspiration, skip through the intros and watch her speech.

 

Because the weather forecasts were so dire, the College of Arts and Sciences videotaped me delivering my speech the day before graduation. It’s much tamer than the version I delivered in the rain and it was kind of odd to speak without an audience, but here it is, including the introduction by Dean David Carl Wilson. At least you can see me in cap and gown – though they thankfully reshot and edited the part where the tassel swung into my mouth. If only I had the out-takes!

Humphrey Show and Tell

January 24th, 2015


This week was so exciting, Humphrey’s whiskers were wiggling and his tail was twitching. I was pretty excited as well because of four BIG-BIG-BIG releases.

On Thursday January 22:

 

BOOK 11, Imagination According to Humphrey, was released in hardcover in the U.S. (It comes out in the UK on 5 February.) I love the cover and I’m especially excited because the book has a lot to do with using your imagination and writing. I’ve learned from many students I’ve talked to that writing can sometimes be more difficult than it sounds. In this story, Humphrey tries to write a story and is surprised that his imagination doesn’t seem to be working. (Sometimes mine is a little sluggish, too.) Here readers can get some tips about jump-starting story ideas … and also read about real and imaginary dragons, as well as ghosts, crying babies and so much more.

Here’s an excerpt from the Booklist review – I cut out some spoilers and I don’t know where the reviewer got the idea that Humphrey’s been around for 15 years, but other than that, I’m pleased. (It’s 11 years, by the way.)

“Humphrey celebrates 15 years in this eleventh outing of the forever popular classroom pet series. In characteristic hamster style,
Humphrey solves a new sibling problem for a student, helps a lonely classroom pet in another classroom, and learns about creative writing.
Working along with the students, Humphrey experiences difficulty with the process. Birney cleverly intertwines various characters and subplots.
For example, a hissing bearded dragon briefly disrupts Humphrey’s concentration when Mrs.Brisbane is reading an absorbing book about dragons.”

 

The same day Imagination came out, BOOK 10, Secrets According to Humphrey, came out in paperback. I’m always happy when the paperback versions come out so more people can read about Humphrey’s adventures.

 

I’m thrilled that on Thursday, the Spanish translation of BOOK 1, The World According to Humphrey, was published in the US.  I’ve been hoping for this for a long time and here it is!

 


There’s been quite a gap in the audiobook releases but also on Thursday, this 4-book audio collection was released. It contains Mysteries According to Humphrey, Winter According to Humphrey, Secrets According to Humphrey and Imagination According to Humphrey. I hear from lots of families who listen to Humphrey books in the car.

Now Humphrey will have to spin his wheel until May, when the third Tiny Tales book is published: Humphrey’s Creepy-Crawly–Camping Adventure!

As for me, Book 12 is just about to go into editing as well as the fourth Tiny Tales book. Next week, I’m doing a Skype tour for Penguin Kids, visiting 16 classrooms from my desk. If you wish you had known about this opportunity and want to keep up with events like these, please follow Humphrey on his Facebook page.  www.facebook.com/AccordingtoHumphrey.  You can follow me as well. Also follow Penguin Kids – they always have great ideas for teachers and librarians.

HAPPY-HAPPY-HAPPY Reading!

 

 

A Happy New Year

December 30th, 2014

Sending thanks to all the wonderful fans of Humphrey and Eben McAllister as well as best wishes for a HAPPY-HAPPY-HAPPY 2015!

Don’t forget to make those resolutions – they just might take off this year!

HAPPY-HAPPY-HAPPY Holidays from Humphrey and me

December 20th, 2014

It’s been an unsqueakably busy year – most of which was taken up by neck surgery and ongoing recovery – but I’m doing much better. Of course, for our furry friend, it’s been a year of great adventures, including the launch of the new shorter, illustrated Tiny Tales series. Humphrey’s Really Wheely Racing Day and Humphrey’s Playful Puppy Problem are already available and Humphrey’s Creepy Crawly Camping Adventure comes out in March. I’m so lucky that Priscilla Burris is the illustrator. I can’t think of anyone better suited to bring Humphrey and his friends to life!

Book 11 in the According to Humphrey series, Imagination According to Humphrey, will be published January 22 in hardcover. It’s all about writing! Also in January will be the paperback release of Secrets According to Humphrey.

As the year ends, I look back with gratitude for Humphrey’s wonderful fans – the best in the world. I wish each and every one of you a fantastic 2015! I hope you all read a lot of great books

Here’s a peek of me with Priscilla – I think we’re very colorful characters, too!