AKA: If I Go To Anymore Cons This Year, My Feet May Fall Off

The Backstory: This past Saturday I finally dusted myself off and talked myself out of the social phobias that had been plaguing me, and made my way to my first meeting of the Austin Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. This month’s guest speaker, Janet Fox, gave an excellent talk covering both character and plot (how many books/lectures have I been to which only focused on one of those two issues, at the complete disregard of the other!) and I spent a long time talking with Debbie Gonzales during lunch about finding good critique groups in a new city, and comparing our MFA experiences. As I was leaving, the topic of the upcoming Texas Library Association Conference came up, and whether or not I would be attending. Gamely, I announced that if it didn’t involve driving to San Antonio alone, I would love to. “Talk to Stephanie Pellegrin” someone suggested, and, having dropped her a note over twitter, Thursday morning saw the two of us wandering the block around the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, looking for parking.

The Event: The theme for this year’s conference may have been “Filtering Chaos from Information to Knowledge” but, having never been in the exhibit hall for a book conference, the first couple of hours of the event passed by me in an overwhelming blur. Several of the youth and YA publishers there I recognized on sight, and I spent a lot of time looking through their upcoming catalogs and drooling at their various titles on display. But there were many names that were new to me: not just the library furniture and local storyteller booths, but many smaller presses as well. What was particularly of interest to me, given the work I did with East River CREW last fall, was the number of publishers represented who deal exclusively in children’s nonfiction titles. While I guess there was a part of my brain that had always known those publishers were out there, my experience in New York had been so focused on fiction with nonfiction only mentioned in rare commercially viable circumstances, that my own experience picking up nonfiction titles as a child was all but forgotten. The “of course! why didn’t I think of that” moment when seeing all those vendors made me feel 17 different kinds of silly that I had jumped into this TxLA trip without doing proper research and planning beforehand. Despite not having time to think up intelligent questions to pose to the publishers there, though, I still made several mental notes about different styles/age specifications/subjects, and hope to follow up with some of these houses in the future.

The day was hardly all notes and study, however. I practically ran over to Margaret Clauder‘s booth when I saw her in her Mother Goose costume, making Stephanie face her fears of mascots to take a picture of the two (three?) of us together. “I remember you,” Goosey said, giving me a cross-eyed look. “You got big!”

A bit later I found myself in a fascinating conversation with Suzanne Bloom who was signing in the Boyds Mills Press booth. It started out simply enough, with her pointing out that despite the few simple words in A Splendid Friend, Indeed the emotional resonance of the story carried to a much older age range than I had anticipated at first glance. From there we discussed my own writing history, and her challenges and advice on “taking it up a notch”. I really appreciate her taking the time to chat with me about writing– it really made the whole drive down and back worthwhile just for that bit of conversation!

After a lunch with several of the Austin SCBWI members, I wandered alone for a bit, looking at more of the big name publishers, and picking up a number of Advanced Reader Copies for various notable 2010 releases (expect reviews soon!) that made my bags very heavy to carry around all afternoon– especially once I added to it the numerous titles that I purchased outright after glancing at them in the booth! Stopping by the Publishers Group West booth at 1pm, I joined in the Texas Sweethearts reception and quite enjoyed their merry conversation and delicious snacks. (Buried Editor has a fabulous picture of the madness here. Trust me, there was so much deliciousness to be had, it was amazing. And so much less scary looking than the giant blue-frosting cupcakes a few aisles over.) After desert, Stephanie and I rushed out to my car during a slow moment in the rain to drop off books, and then rushed back to make it in time for Maureen Johnson‘s signing in the Scholastic booth. We had joked about getting jars to have signed, but there was no time that morning– although I think Stephanie might have pulled it off during today’s signing. Stephanie did come with presents, however, being the only person at the event to gift Maureen with squirrel underpants.

While that particular instance of madness was going on, I was chatting with Greg Rodgers and Tim Tingle about their contribution to the new graphic novel Trickster, which I had been excited about ever since seeing it at the Fulcrum Publishing booth earlier in the day. (Dear Fulcrum: you really should have had ARCs and/or sale copies. To have been so fascinated by your title and yet not been able to take a copy with me made me quite sad. If Greg & Tim hadn’t been selling it, I don’t know what I would have done. Cried, maybe. Possibly. A lot.) While speaking with them, the announcement came over the loudspeaker that the exhibit hall was closing, and I rushed back to the scene of Stephanie’s underpants gift giving. Managed to score a copy of the ARC for Linger, and crawled back to the car, my bag nearly as heavy with books as it had been on the first trip out.

There’s one more half day of madness at the convention center tomorrow, and I know that several of the vendors who were selling book titles are going to be giving deep discounts to avoid shipping things back to New York. Passes to the exhibit hall are $20.00 but if you look online, a few places have day coupons for free entry. More information, including info on the last few panels, can of course be found on the TxLA 2010 Conference website.

As for me, I’ll be sleeping in. I’ve got a lot of reading ahead of me, and need to rest up.


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