Thursday, September 22, 2011

Of Blogs, Hogs, and Children's Books

On any typical day I am to be found toiling in obscurity in my home office, so it was a great pleasure to step out last weekend and head downtown for a conference and to mingle with real, live people in a bustling hotel, all in an atmosphere of books, books, books.

The event was a convention called KidLitCon, a gathering of people who blog about children's literature and review books; it also included a number of authors, some of whom were there to present to attendees.

I was one of the authors encouraged to introduce myself and some of my books in a 90-seconds-or-fewer time slot on the event's first night in a version of "speed dating." I will gently Draw A Veil over this 90 seconds, as standing up in front of a crowd to speak is not high on my list of abilities; I tend to transform into the answer of the riddle "What do you get when you cross Ratso Rizzo with a deer in the headlights?" But it was delightful to listen to the other presentations and to have the opportunity to chit-chat afterward.

Scott Westerfeld
Highlights of the event included a bright-and-early Saturday presentation by Scott Westerfeld, author of the acclaimed Uglies series, among others. With wonderful wit and self-deprecating humor, Westerfeld transported us back to the late 1800s and the heyday of illustrated newspaper serializations and novels, sharing images of the intricately rendered engravings that embellished these works.

Such illustrations, once commonplace, largely disappeared from works published for older readers and adults--an evolution he views as a great loss (a dismay that resonates with me, as I cherish finding old books with tipped-in illustrations in thrift stores and at yard sales). Fortunately, illustrations have made a resurgence, and Westerfeld's own Leviathan series features beautiful artwork that is thoroughly modern even as it bows respectfully to its ancestors.

His talk was further enlivened by stories about how author and artist worked together to bring the mutant mechanized animals to life (bringing to light such marvelous real-life inventions as a four-legged walking machine built to meander through French vineyards a century ago) and the interesting history of how the deerstalker hat came to be the symbol of detective fiction (despite Holmes never actually donning one in any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyles's books). And how, whenever Westerfeld runs into a roadblock in his narrative, he just has his characters "jump off stuff."

Salty Dog and his creator, Richard Jesse Watson
Illustrator Richard Jesse Watson (The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake and others) counterbalanced this fast-paced, futuristic presentation with a quiet oasis of a talk, in which he shared musings on poetry, nature, creativity, and the lyrical side of blogging. His celebration of creativity and the human spirit was both inspiring and calming. And it was where the hogs in this blog entry title come in: He started off by sharing three random--and very funny--stories about pigs, including one on a leash that attended one of his book signings and another that was being carried in a Baby Bjorn on its human "parent's" chest.

Other presentations I attended focused on marketing books in the post-Twilight era; how to write a critical book review; issues involving "political correctness" and diversity in YA books; and book apps--the good, the bad, and the ugly as well as the simply misguided--and how such apps should never leave the story  to run off on an unrelated tangent (which is the problem with the weakest of them).

Oh, and there was mingling, too. I'm about as bad at mingling as I am at marketing, but I did enjoy some lovely conversations with people such as Helen Landalf, whose novel Flyaway will be published in December 2011; Michelle Dunphy, a voice actor who reviews YA books; and even a little chat with Nancy White Carlstrom, who slipped in to sign copies of her charming book Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? that were available on the sales table provided by one of my favorite bookstores, The Secret Garden.

(I am sorry to say that I was giddy enough to say something as obvious as "Are you Nancy White Carlstrom?" when I found myself standing next to her; bless her heart, she was too gracious to respond by asking, well, just why else would I be signing these books? Fortunately, when I brought a book to Scott Westerfeld for his signature, I was too speechless to say much beyond the lame "My daughter absolutely loves your books"...however, my cliche-ocity was mitigated by my daughter's gasp of delight when I gave her the book upon my return home; she ran her finger over her name on the title page, slowly saying, "He. Wrote. My. Name!!!")

As with all good conferences, it wasn't just the mind that was sated--there was also excellent food and a bottomless supply of coffee. And the sheer delight of milling about in a hotel lobby pretending that one never had to clean gutters or catboxes and simply spent all one's time milling about in hotel lobbies.

I hadn't been to the Hotel Monaco in ages--the last time I was there, it was to dine with my friend R----, an Australian travel writer. (That's another thing I love about old novels in addition to engraved illustrations--haven't you always wondered what was being left out when you read an old book that included lines such as "When R---- arrived from -----shire, in the year 18--"...?)

The only dismaying thing was encountering this sign on a hallway downstairs--I ask you, where is a Sharpie when you need to write an apostrophe on the wall?


  1. Or a bottle of Tippex? Am thinking of adding the Thinking Girl's Apostrophe Kit to my stock next year. Bottle of Tippex, Large black marker pen, small black marker pen and glitter bomb for causing a distraction, should you need one.

  2. Here be mens. No, wait. There be mens.

  3. Thanks for the wonderful summary. and, I can totally identify with mingling and marketing anxiety! But good for you for going. Sounds like it was a great conference.