July 2, 2010
It’s been a while! Lots to cover. But first, take a gander at the above video by Freya & Theo, Georgia, August, & Frankie, and the notorious Arne, in which they hilariously dramatize the beginning of the Very Polite War between the Vondorians and Snoosnids from The Order of Odd-Fish. I. Love. This. LOVE. Thank you!
So last weekend I attended the American Library Association’s annual conference in Washington, DC. Longtime readers may recall I’ve had my differences with the ALA. It started with my scathing expose of the ALA as a dark cult of obscene goblins who fail to give me awards, and culminated when I tackled Neil Gaiman and wrestled the Newbery from him. What scandal would erupt this time?
I was there to speak on a panel about book festivals with librarian Stephanie Squicciarini, Printz Honor author Terry Trueman, and bestselling poet novelist Ellen Hopkins. Stephanie is the maestro behind Rochester, New York’s annual Teen Book Festival, which I appeared at this May. It was a marvelous experience. 25 other young adult authors and I were flown out to Rochester, put up in a beautiful hotel, wined and dined, ferried around in limousines, and then let loose to speak to literally thousands of deliriously enthusiastic teens. When our limos rolled onto the campus where the festival was happening, we were preceded by a full marching band, greeted with a literal red carpet thronged by cheering, high-fiving crowds, and generally made to feel like rock stars.
Anyway, I’ve become friends with Terry Trueman, who in contrast to his deft, sensitive novel Stuck In Neutral is actually a ribald carouser. As for Ellen Hopkins (Crank), my signing-table was next to hers at TBF. A humiliating experience: her line of admirers was out the door, and I had but a handful of readers. I solved this problem by changing my namecard to read “Another Ellen Hopkins.” It worked!
Anyway, back to the ALA. I signed books at the Random House table and did a “YA kaffeeklatsch,” which was kind of like speed-dating between authors and librarians: authors would get four minutes to speak to a table of about 10 librarians, then the shriek of a whistle meant we had to move on to the next table. It was nice to see YA heavyweights like Laurie Halse Anderson, Holly Black, and newly minted Newbery medalist Rebecca Stead rubbing elbows with the rank and file.
By the way, I’ve noticed that when describing events like this in conversation, most of my friends and family have no idea whom I’m talking about. I’ll say something like, “I was talking with Laurie Halse Anderson” and most folks will say, “Who?” I have to assure them that Laurie Halse Anderson is huge in the subculture I’m talking about. (It’s what I imagine, say, the Christian rock scene is like. “OMG I just met Mac Powell of Third Day!!!” Nobody cares.)
My favorite part of the weekend, however, was a leisurely lunch with Betsy Bird (NYC children’s librarian and mistress of the essential Fuse #8 blog) and her husband Matt Bird (screenwriter and keeper of the meticulous, fascinating Cockeyed Caravan, a blog that alternates between astute storytelling advice and reviews of unjustly forgotten films). We were joined by M.T. Anderson, who goes by Tobin, and who thrilled me a couple months when he emailed out of the blue to tell me he enjoyed Odd-Fish. I loved Tobin’s whip-smart dystopic satire Feed and his ingenious, heartbreaking two-part historical epic Octavian Nothing, and we had exchanged some emails, so I was eager to meet him in real life.
It was a heavenly lunch. We talked about Scientology, urban exploring in Detroit, G.K. Chesterton, story structure, Japan, foppish Cambridge drinking societies, fake “underground railroads” for tourists . . . these were my people. I could have chattered all day.
By the way, Tobin has a great video up promoting his latest, The Suburb Beyond the Stars, which starts out as a standard book trailer, then heads down a deliciously weird sidetrack: part Blair Witch Project, part Zork, and then suddenly it’s Evil Dead II. I admit I jumped a little at the end, but I did watch it at 2 a.m. The music choices are impeccable. It’s probably best to watch the larger version here, but here’s the embedded version:
(You should really also check out his very funny Tourist’s Guide to Deepest, Darkest Delaware, “in aristocratic full color!”, describing the milieu of his middle-grade books such as Whales on Stilts!)
That night Tobin and I crashed the Newbery / Caldecott Awards Banquet. We didn’t have tickets, but managed to finagle our way to a table with two confused Nigerians who got up and left midway through, and some mild-mannered librarians who weren’t sure whether to be peeved at us or not. “Do you know who this is?” I roared at them, waving at Tobin. “This is M.T. Anderson! He won the National Book Award! This guy’s a big deal!” “Who?” they politely responded.
Rebecca Stead gave a lovely Newbery speech for her unanimously beloved When You Reach Me (just as affable and approachable as when she visited Chicago) and Jerry Pinkney was similarly eloquent when accepting in Caldecott for The Lion and the Mouse.
The programs for the Newbery / Caldecott award banquet are often done in the style of the Caldecott winner, and this year’s was a real stunner, a beautifully illustrated book in its own right. Betsy Bird also has a tradition: temporary body art inspired by the Newbery and Caldecott winners! Below: program on left, Betsy on right. Check out Betsy’s complete description of her tattoo strategy here.
My personal climax of the evening was a bizarre conversation with, you guessed it, Laurie Halse Anderson. She was good-naturedly kvetching about her son, who was between high school and college, and apparently a bit of a handful around the house during the summer.
“Tell you what, why don’t I sit down with your son for a man-to-man chat,” I suggested in my light-hearted way. “I think I can talk some good old-fashioned horse sense to the boy.”
Laurie Halse Anderson’s face went ice-cold. “Don’t speak to my children,” she said flatly.
I went on to say something else, but Laurie wanted to make her point clear. “We have guns at our house,” she said slowly and deliberately. “Stay away from my family.”
I went from discomfited surprise to sheer delight. “Do you have any daughters?”
“My daughter would break someone like you in half.”
“I don’t know about that,” I mused. “I’m pretty flexible.”
Nervous laughter. Clearings of throats. We subtly but resolutely drifted away from each other.