Last Sunday in Las Vegas, on a ridiculously hot morning which eventually made it up to 108° F, I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 Alex Award Program. Ordinarily–as say, last year–at least 3 or 4 of the winning authors manage to make it to the program, but this year, after a brief introduction by Alex Committee Chair Danielle Dreger-Babbitt, we were graced with the presence of only John Searles, author of one of this blog’s favorite books of 2013, Help for the Haunted. John made it clear from the beginning, though, that “the reason the other Alex Awards winners aren’t here is because I killed them and buried them in my back yard.” So they had a pretty good excuse.
Personally, I knew we were in for a treat before the program began, when John made his way off the podium and started introducing himself individually to the 60 or so of us who were there. Considering that he ended the program by giving personalized autographs, chatting and joking, and taking pictures with all of us, it hardly would have mattered what he said in between. But while I’m sure we would have loved to hear from some of the other winners, having only one speaker gave the audience the chance to hear John give an amazing thirty-minute speech, rather than the brief 10 minutes usually allotted on the Alex Program.
John regaled us with stories of his awkward days on the road with his trucker father–designed to “make a man of him”, instead an opportunity to read Sidney Sheldon, Stephen King, and John Irving, all of whom, John claimed, made their way into Help for the Haunted. We heard plenty of gossip from his days working for Redbook, Cosmo, and The Today Show, as well as a story about some poor publicist claiming a bizarrely inappropriate read-a-like for John’s book (too blue for this blog–check my twitter feed to get the goods).
And we learned his secrets for keeping nosy airline travelers from reading his new work over his shoulder: Step 1) put everything in tiny font that no one can read. Step 2) when asked “Are you a writer?” answer, “No, I’m a dentist.”
Most poignant was John’s heartfelt description of how important it is for him to have teen readers, as he told us about his own lonely, bullied teen years, and how his “safe haven was my little town library.”
In the Q&A session after his speech, John was asked for some book recommendations, which I thought I would pass along:
Most importantly (to us) was Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, another of this blog’s favorites of 2013.
He also recommended:
- The Bird Box by Josh Malerman (Ecco, 2014)
- The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon (Doubleday, 2014)
- and (sheepishly) The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty (Amy Einhorn, 2013)
Finally, be sure to check out John’s 50 Book Clubs, 50 States Challenge–where he’s trying to meet with one book club in every state.
Thank you to John for the amazing speech, and thanks again to the wonderful Alex Committee!