Bit late to the party with my BEA recap this year, but I had a lot to think about. So just think of this post as the online equivalent of the relieved sigh that came from each seat on the shuttle bus as it was claimed by a footsore, shoulder-sore convention-goer at the end of the day. Ahhhhh....
This annual one-day feast of author panels and publisher pitches was so full of talent and intelligence, and went off with so few hitches, and in such a nice, spacious space that organizer Luann Toth has taken to calling it "Day of Sheer Delight." She deserves to - it was delightful!
I sat right down in the center of the second row with my friend Paula - having a like-minded partner at these things is an unacknowledged must. You really need someone to trade significant glances with when a speaker says something amazing or a publisher pitches a book that sounds... um, not amazing. Or else you find yourself standing on the side leaning against a wall, making reaction faces that apparently EVERYONE can interpret. Not that that's happened to me.
Richard Peck spoke. National Treasure Richard Peck, I should say. Japan has these Living National Treasures and I really think the U.S. should follow suit. Who should it be? Richard Peck, Lois Ehlert, Rita Williams-Garcia, Chris Hemsworth. What? Why not Chris Hemsworth! Shut up.
Ok AMONG the interesting things Richard Peck said: "Most of who we are is determined in those first five years - when schools fail, families fail first." NB: Peck is a former teacher. He quoted Twain, as well he might: "Humor is anger that went to finishing school." He talked about his themes: "My books are always about a boy looking for a role model. The best role models are dead and the worst are a year ahead of you in school."
And he held up a poster for his book and said, "This is my idea of a PowerPoint." Living. National. Treasure.
During the nonfiction picture book panel, Candace Fleming and Eric Rohman, husband and wife creators of Giant Squid, described fitting his art and her words together to form kind of a piecemeal picture of a creature about which little is known. Leafing through the book, it's like how we meet the alien in Alien - we see streaming tentacles, a close-up of an eye, every image like a startling flash photo from a camera trap.
Great quotes from that panel:
Mara Rockliffe: "I believe in a usable past - I pick stories to tell not just because they happened but stories that can teach us something. I want boys and girls to know there have always been adventurous women."
Candy Fleming: "I'm a storyteller, not a fact-teller. I wanted a picture book that had some musicality, that would work being read aloud."
And I can't remember who said "Nonfiction picture books can never meet nonfiction standards, because we don't have sources for every moment. If Darwin walks down the street and leans against a lamppost - we are never going to have documentation of every step he takes and every lamppost he leans on."
Julia Kuo: "On the other hand, because of this, you can draw everything the author had to edit out."
Eric Rohman: "Picture books are a collaborative artwork - like opera."
The middle grade panel was intriguingly titled, "Truth be told: Big questions in middle grade fiction and what adults keep from children." It's kind of amusing that this panel was nominally about questions, because moderator Betsy Bird got the chance to ask exactly ONE: - her panel of Kelly Barnhill, Adam Gidwitz, Jenni Holm, Jason Reynolds, and Raina Telgemeier picked up that question and RAN RAN RAN. This was a 100% all-star panel - all of these guys write books that are not only popular but, ugh sorry I'm going to have to resort to fancy critic vocabulary - good. Like, DARN good.
Kelly Barnhill: "As far as your book is concerned, memory and imagination are the same."
Raina: "What you feel is always true regardless of whether it's historically accurate."
Kelly: "We've been telling stories since before we could talk. We invented language to tell stories more efficiently. Story seeks to blend the experience of the teller and the listener." Speaking of efficient - that last sentence is the best functional definition of a successful reading experience I've ever seen that was less than book-length.
Jason Reynolds: There will always be a commonality if the writer is authentic - pain, family, etc. You may not be pursued by knights like Adam's characters or live in Brooklyn like mine but a kid is a kid and if your kids react correctly then you can make a connection. (this is a big paraphrase - Jason is an incredible speaker with unerring word choice, and I wasn't writing fast enough to get it right)
Oh and may I just interrupt myself to say - yes of course I read Ghosts right off the bat and yes it is just as good as you hoped it was going to be. Raina stated during the panel discussion that she was a little worried about this foray into out-and-out fiction, but the story is marvelous, the characters are totally real, and the art - the art surpasses everything she has done to this point. With every book you can see Raina drawing a few more landscapes, adding a few more panels with scenic backgrounds and plants in the foreground, and this book, set on the Northern California coast, has some magnificent drawings of the cliffs and the bay, and the kind of semi-kooky bungalows and plant life you find in that part of the country. Plus, it is so much about endings and transitions and making your peace with change and... I have to admit I got kind of emotional there toward the end.
Laini Taylor was the after-lunch keynote speaker, and if Richard Peck is a hero author we all had grown up with, Laini is like our carpool/coffee shop/Twitter sisterwife. In discussing her new book Strange the Dreamer, she spoke about genres and how much she loves them and how she likes it when two of her favorites get together and have mutant babies.
She quoted herself from the New York Times Book Review (girl, there is no shame in that - if I ever get published in the New York Times Book Review, I am going to quote that shit every chance I get): something about how plot conventions and the uses of genre are so popular because they satisfy "cravings that have been satisfied by myth since the dawn of time - cravings like heroism, true love, villainy." She said, "This accounts for the passion of genre readers - their reading becomes part of their identity." And she made up a word that we all immediately took to heart: "readers find things in [genre fiction] - the satisfaction of the desire to be special. We have a myth-hole that wants to be filled."
"Myth-hole," she giggled. "That sounds so wrong." SO WRONG IT'S RIGHT, ya pink-haired Fluevog-wearing intergalactic fairy warrior mom! Laini Taylor is just the best.
How am I doing? Still on the first day, I see. Sigh. Every year I think I'm going to recap BEA in one post, but then I get going and...
Panel III was a bunch of YA fantasy authors - all women, as it turned out. They were asked if they'd ever felt any pressure or expectations in the way that female characters were portrayed, and the answers were very nuanced. I've asked this question - notably of male authors - and gotten kind of a harrumph answer: 'I don't let market demand push me around;' 'I must stay true to the character;' all that stuff. Which, sure, that's true. But it's also true what Roshani Chokshi said: "Female readers can be extraordinarily critical of female characters - because we identify and care about them so strongly." They all talked about how they're sick of the word "strong," saying, "We don't all have to be Katniss."
I think I'm kind of in love with Roshani Chokshi - when asked about explicit romantic behavior in their books, she said, "I wanted to write more kissing scenes, but I was living at home with my parents. My dad would walk in the room where I was working and be like, 'What are you writing?' and I'd be like 'DAAAAD!'"
And then there was the last panel, which was so chock full of talent I literally was unable to take notes. Kate Beaton was on it, y'all. Kate Beaton has written a book about how babies do not GAF, and she described some of her observations of babies. "You'll be in this coffee shop and there's all this stuff going on, people are having conversations and what not, and the baby is just oblivious. The baby is just trying to get its foot in its mouth." She talked about her sister's baby's first Christmas, "My mom is like, 'do you think he has any idea about the birth of Our Lord?' and I'm like, 'Mom I think he's just discovered his toes.'"
There were other people on the panel. Lots of them. Like, Erin Stead. Jerry Pinkney - Living National Treasure Jerry Pinkney and you can look that up, he won two lifetime achievement awards this year alone. But I have to be honest. KATE BEATON.
After a final round of applause, it was into the signing room! TWENTY-FOUR artists and authors were seated behind tables signing free copies of their newest books to attendees. WHY is Day of Dialog worth the price of admission? IN ADDITION to getting to hear some of the top brains in the business talk about their work? It's because you get to meet the creators face to face and walk away with - literally - as many books as you can carry. Cue ecstatic sigh.