Rochester Teen Book Fest

On the bus to the Fest.

On Saturday I attended the Rochester Teen ¬†Book Festival with English teachers and librarians from Albany High School, along with 45 of their students. They were kind enough to let me tag along to a fest that I wanted to be a part of, but didn’t get the invite to. And now that I’ve been, damn, do I wanted to get invited next year.

First, the lineup of authors was stellar. Seriously, there are too many New York Times bestselling authors here to list; check the site. And beyond being well-read, the authors were fabulous to the teens and all held excellent sessions for them to attend.

I had the pleasure of listening to A.G. Howard (Splintered series and Rose Blood) and Danielle Paige (Dorothy Must Die) in conversation about their paths to writing and publication and then their excellent answers and advice to budding authors in the audience.

And I love these two all the more because they snuck me into the author lunch with them ūüėČ

I also had the good fortune to see Libba Bray (Beauty Queens, Going Bovine, Diviners). She read a story to the audience to prove a phenomenal point, writing improves. Her story was from her childhood and sprawled genres from Paranormal to Sci-Fi time travel, and included great plot holes, both literal and figurative. The audience loved it, and for many teens who have read her work, I can imagine it opened their eyes to the principle, “we all have to start somewhere.”

Libba warming up with some interpretive dance.

The last session I attended was with A.S. King (Ask the Passengers, Still Life with Tornado) and Zac Brewer (the Vladimir Tod series), who riffed with each other about the ills of our society and the things we are afraid to talk about, especially with teens. The librarian who attended with me said, “They’re like a walking PSA.” Which, indeed, they were, in all the right ways. Both addressed issues in their lives and how they deal with them in their own writing, and how it’s a shame that teens aren’t given the respect they deserve by adults when considering whether or not conversations should go¬†there. So they went there, and it was glorious.

A.S. King giving zero f@*&s to the delight of all.

Zac on the right, because once the session began, I was so enthralled I forgot to get up and take a pic. Apologies, all around.

 

 

I’ve been to a number of festivals, as an author and as an attendee, and this one is truly worth putting on your calendar for next year, not solely because I’m hoping to be there as an author, but because it is everything a teen fest should be: a gathering of fabulous authors, who are there first and foremost for the teens, who deliver sessions that inspire, delight, and entertain.

I’m so glad that Albany High went and that they were kind enough to let me on board. Their book club is full of the kids who deserve a day like this, one that fosters lifelong reading in a world where attention to stories and our ever-expanding world is not only necessary, but vital.

I tip my hat to all who had a hand in making the Fest a reality. I’ll see you next year.

 

 

 

 

 

The Reality of Readers

It is very easy in this industry to lose sight of the fact that the majority of readership and the conversations about books exist in the real world. I am guilty of giving far too much attention to social media and online reviews, and forgetting the unbelievable importance of readers in the real world.

It’s an issue of reach. As an author, it seems like you’re reaching more when you are online, being social, and it feels as if EVERYONE will read that review. But that’s not true. Yes, lots of eyes will be on those things, but to what extent they care is impossible to measurable.

However, the readers I meet, the ¬†ones who I have a chance to interact with, and spend some time just talking about story–and not just my stories–provide me a¬†tangible sense of just how much books and my work matter to them.

Friday, this past week, I was fortunate enough to visit Hudson High school and present to various classes about my work, the day before the annual Hudson Children’s Book Festival. The students were great and we had fun together. That afternoon, I got to talk about my work, on air, with Ellen Hopkins, Jack Gantos, Crissa-Jean Chappell, and Laurie Stolarz. Another fabulous experience. But the best was the following day.

This was my third year at the festival and it was busier than I’ve ever seen it. People were there early and stayed late. I signed books steadily and talked to so many adults and teens about my work and writing and books in general.¬†However, this year, two things were different.

One,¬†so many teens who I had met the day before during my presentations in their classrooms, showed up to buy my books. Some specifically came to this event, which hosted over 75 authors, just to get my work. Yeah, those are readers, real, in the flesh, awesome people, who made the effort because we connected. And still others, who couldn’t attend because of prior commitments, sent mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters to get my books. This happened so much, I had only one copy of Dare Me¬†left by the end of the festival. Unreal.

Two,¬†Look Past was available this year. I had a few ARC copies last year, but that was it. This year I was able to get copies of that book into hands of those who were curious, and those, like Max, needed it. Max asked me to sign a copy of Look Past, and when I asked for his name, there was a moment of hesitation, and then he¬†said, “I’m Max.” I began to sign, but heard the teens with Max reacting and asking if he was okay. I paused and looked up. Max was crying. I asked if everything was all right, and he said this was the first time he felt comfortable asking someone to refer to him as Max, and this was the absolute first book he had signed to him as such. The fact that it was Look Past¬†was not lost on me. I made sure to give him props for asserting who he is, and circled his name a half-dozen times on that page in my book, which¬†speaks volumes about his lived experience. “Powerful” doesn’t cut it as a description for a moment like that.

It’s why I write. For the stories, for the readers, those I will only meet virtually, and for those who will stand in front of me and say, “I love your work.”

So, thanks Hudson HS and the entire Hudson Children’s Book Fest crew for keeping such a wonderful event going. As much as it is a day for those readers, it is one for the authors, too. We live in this world, and it’s nice to be reminded that we are seen.