July 06, 2010

You, At the ALA

Glasgow Airport 08What? You didn't get to go to the ALA Annual Convention this year? Just pretend you were there. Like this:

You arrive -- after an eight hour flight with a two hour (unnecessary) layover in a crazybig city (you do not try out the novel vending machine, because there's nothing in there you want, but it is still SUCH a cool idea for an airport). You're exhausted, and everyone's gone to the Kidlit Drink Night without you -- because you got held up in the long line clearing customs. You're nervous and jet-lagged and it's fifty-five degrees warmer than it was where you last were.

And you're due to attend a cocktail party... and you're so spun you have to write out which clothes you have that might match and make an outfit. Jet lag: so not your friend! You go and meet your editor and your publicist (and realize you didn't bring a gift for her -- SIGH!) and a lot of nice people from your publishing house. It's a little awkward, partying with strangers, but the Cat in the Hat is there, and everyone is kind and respects that you're a total wallflower. You go back to your hotel, change clothes and nervously wait downstairs. And who do you run into but your Poetry Peeps!

Which makes everything better.

ALA 2010 056In the convention center, there is SO MUCH to see. TOO much, really. You're overwhelmed by light, color, movement -- and trying to figure out where all the booths are. (Seriously, it takes an hour of wandering walking to find the Exhibit Hall itself, not to mention the Random House booth. Note to self: Next time, take the little ALA booklet with you... ALA Conventions are BIG!) So many houses and authors and people in line to get books signed! So many unfamiliar names and faces! You know you should do something like that and get involved, but it's a bit much. You're on your way, hightailing it out of there, when you spot banned-book-bracelet-babe Carolyn Forsman, and her awesome hair.

Somehow, that makes the day better.

Maureen Johnson, awhile back, blogged about an imaginary place called the YA Author's Mansion, where all the authors live.

It’s extremely easy to meet other YA authors. Because once you become a YA author, you have to move into the YA author mansion. We all live there. I live there. Justine lives there. Scott Westerfeld, Libba Bray, Meg Cabot, Holly Black, John Green, Cassie Clare . . . everyone. We all live there. They make you. It’s kind of big, so you sometimes don’t see everyone. (I know Stephanie Meyer lives there, for instance, but I’ve never seen her room. I think it’s over in the Judy Blume wing.)

After attending the massive YALSA Coffee Klatch/Speed Dating event on Sunday, you begin to believe with a cold certainty that Maureen's fantasy mansion exists. There are TONS of YA authors congregating over coffee and muffins in a single room. You can name-drop them all, and you've read their books. And they all seem to know each other. They all went to That School in Vermont. They chat and hug and air kiss, and look like best, best friends.

It is nothing short of terrifying. It reminds you greatly of walking into the cafeteria at school the very first day of junior year, in the new school you attended. It is ugly.

As you sidle in, get coffee that you don't even want, and prepare to hold up a wall, you're accosted by the idea that you don't belong in that room with those successful people. You try not to cry and slink out into the hallway. This time your editor isn't there to hang with you while you wallflower, but Judith from Random House steps in, and the two of you huddle in the back and watch the world go by. (You consider naming a child you don't have after this woman.)

By the time you go into the room with the five thousand librarians (Okay, maybe there were only five hundred. But still.) you're in a weird frame of mind which goes something like, "Okay, I don't know them. They don't know me either. Who gives a rat's behind?" You speak to table upon table of total strangers, giving them a zippy, four-minute spiel about your book, which you boil down and condense until it's almost perfect (by then it's almost over, too). You make them laugh (hopefully) and pass out the business cards Tech Boy made you get (you only let him get fifty. Boy, was that a mistake), and it is more than all right. They're an awesome audience. And you realize even if you're not "besties" with every author out there, these are your people. Your tribe. Librarians. You've known that all along.

And, then you meet Adrienne, and that makes the tough morning seem a whole lot better. Plus: she had cute sandals.

ALA 2010 064Plus: you round out the day by recording a page of The Wizard of Oz for a Lend Your Voice charity audio book. It is highly amusing, and you would have read it all in one take, if it weren't for the typos in the sheet you were given. (Librarians obviously did not type it.) You giggle mockingly at the exasperated producer guy, and do it in two takes. Oh, well. (I sound dreadful, but here it is...)

It is hot in Washington, D.C.. It is historically hot. You are having to see people and talk to people and run around when you would really rather be immersed in tepid water. It is trying. Your face shines. Your hair frizzes. Everyone else's hair frizzes. You take two showers a day, and drink liters and liters of water. But it is such a privilege to go to the Newbery/Caldecott Dinner. You are so proud of your friend and acquaintances who are going to be honored, that no matter how hot you are, and how ridiculous you think your outfit looks in that heat (the dress you brought you suddenly hate, so you wear something else), you smile and smile and applaud in all the right places.

ALA 2010 065It is, of course, awesome. And even though you think with sorrow that the Caldecott is illustrator-slanted, when your friend Liz is the writer of the book, you remember that in the beginning were the words, and you are satisfied.

Also: dessert. Almost equally satisfying.

You start to gear up for The Event for which you have attended the Convention. At seven thirty in the morning you nervously attend a breakfast with the Coretta Scott King jury. These are the people who nominated and voted for your book. You are ...well, nervous. But it fades after about four minutes, because these people are warm and kind -- and mostly hilarious. At the table, you sit around and giggle at the stories of their families, and whose uncle cooked various country "treats" like opossum stew, which their mothers would never let them eat (Darn?). You discover your father shares a name with the father of someone else in the group, and you discuss all the foods you love that fight cancer. This is a random sampling of all the things you talked about, but the conversation flows naturally and easily, and there's practically a group hug at the end.

These people are really nice.

ALA 2010 057And your book signing, after the breakfast and the YALSA Coffee Thingy, is a snap. Talking to so many people who all blurred into one friendly group means that some of them come by to say hello. Many of them take pictures, and you hope some of them actually turn out well. You regretfully do not remember any of their names, if you ever knew them, but they make a nerve-wracking event so much easier.

In the end, you get a signed book from Julie Anne Peters, and since you've been stalking her forever, and she signs after you -- it's both awesome AND convenient. (You have a picture of her, but you don't want to post it without her permission... and she's in BERMUDA, darn her.)

And after this? You wander the Exhibit Hall and you meet Jerry Pinkney. You think he is amazing, and you're so, so happy for him FINALLY WINNING A CALDECOTT. Since you really have nothing else to say to a stranger you think is awesome (Yes. You say, "You're awesome" to a seventy year old man, and then quietly wither inside from the humiliation of your inarticulate, high school vocabulary) you give him a copy of your book, and then briefly go into hysterics.

(We will draw a veil over the rest of that. And expunge it from the memories of all the people who were there, watching you get all red-faced and verklempt. And we will say, on pain of pain, "Let's never mention this again.")

ALA 2010 079And then, it's the next day, and you're facing the big dance - the CSK Breakfast. And you realize it's six thirty in the morning, and you're ...there. (And you're asking yourself, WHAT AM I DOING UP AT THIS HOUR!?) You're not sure if you have to give a speech... the Newbery/Caldecott people who had to give a speech had to turn it in early, so it's on a little audio file for all the dinner attendees. Surely, you reason, since they didn't ask you for your pre-written speech, no one needs you to say anything.


(You'll never forget the horrified expression on Miss Robin and Miss Carolyn's faces when you reveal to them this reasoning, partway through the eating portion of the breakfast. You hastily reassure them that you did plan for something...)

You listen. You speak.
You resist falling over on the table when it is over.

In spite of panic attacks and getting lost - constantly - you have a really, really good time at the ALA. And you promise yourself you won't be quite such a dork if you ever go again.

And now, the name-dropping. These are authors and illustrators I actually met, with whom I exchanged more than two words. And no, just seeing them or stalking them, or jumping up and down silently, pointing and mouthing, "OH, MY GOSH, THERE'S CORY DOCTOROW!" doesn't count, or I could have added tons of other people to this list:

Julia Alvarez
Christopher Paul Curtis
Kelly Fineman - whose book isn't out yet, but I *will* link to it, someday!
Laura Purdie Salas
Rebecca Stead
Libba Bray
Kekla Magoon
Rita Williams-Garcia
Chris Barton
Sara Lewis Holmes
Liz Garton Scanlon
Lyn Miller Lachmann
Carrie Jones
Julie Anne Peters
Jerry Pinkney
E.B. Lewis

And now we are home, and you have been to the convention, minus the miles we walked each day, the perspiration, and the voices of the crowd. It was lovely to have you with me. Thanks for being there.


Sarah Stevenson said...

Thanks for bringing us along with you in virtual form! I've noticed we seem to be amassing a small collection of photos of book vending machines...

You're right that there does seem to be a huge "Vermont connection"--but hey, we're about to create a Mills connection of our own, eh? And occasionally I meet someone like Laini Taylor and get reminded that there's a Berkeley connection, too. WestSIDE! :D

tanita✿davis said...

Word. WestSIDE! :does complicated finger sign:

Sarah Stevenson said...

I was trying to figure out how to get the hand signal into an emoticon, but I gave up. Fortunately, you read my mind!

Susan T. said...

Oh, Tanita, how wonderful! I'm so proud of you. I loved your speech, which I read at your other site.

I can't wait to read A. Fortis's book, too. Can't wait!!

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

sounds amazing....guess im in the outhouse! :)

Anamaria (bookstogether) said...

I think this was just about as good as being at ALA--and I WAS at ALA. So sorry I didn't get to meet you at the Newbery/Caldecott banquet (I was the one holding up that wall). And congratulations again!

Anonymous said...

I don't live in the YA mansion either. But I'm hoping to get over there for a volleyball game sometime. They do play volleyball in the backyard, right? I hope?

Sarah Stevenson said...

I'll join a backyard volleyball game at the YA mansion! As long as nobody minds my total sucktacular-ness. (Short people and volleyball don't necessarily mix...)

tanita✿davis said...

writerjenn, the volleyball is in the POOL.

...can you tread water?

Saints and Spinners said...

I'm glad to read this part as well as the one on your personal blog, Tanita. You made me laugh at the part where you temporarily sent Miss Robin and Miss Carolyn into shock.

Thanks for allowing us to enjoy ALA through your eyes without us having to endure the Washington, D.C. weather.

I'm looking forward to your next pass through Seattle, whenever that may be. (That goes for both of you, actually.)

Anonymous said...

My, my, my, but I miss you. And I am still in awe of your magnificent speech. And while I was not there for the event over which a veil has been drawn, I was there just after, and it was a good event, veil or no.

BookMoot said...

It has been so much fun to read all the ALA accounts. When you are invited to the Texas Library Assoc. convention, I will assign myself as your majordomo, aide-de-camp, what ever. You may stay at our house. No cool telephone booths but we do have a room filled with LOTR standups, a tapestry flag of Middle Earth and the flag of Rohan hangs in the entry. I have a piano for Bach too! You will be feted and honored and may eat all the real guacamole the Great State of Texas has to offer.

tanita✿davis said...

Oh, CAMILLE. You have NO idea how tantalizing that sounds. It would be so fun to see you and all the cool LOTR stuff in your house, and I miss Mexican/Tejana/TexMex food like wow and oh, my word (here, where people pickle all the spice out of their jalapeƱos and think food from Spain is "close enough" to Mexican food...argh.)!

I see I need to write a book wherein Texas features prominently! :)