In which our heroine discovers the true price of donning the outwear of men
and takes horrendous advantage of a blood relation
Saturday morning bloomed bright and clear. The perfect weather for lugging yourself out of bed at an ungodly hour. At past ALAs I’ve eschewed publishers’ breakfasts since they have a tendency to occur earlier than I prefer to rouse myself. This year, however, I was just as moved by the prospect of a tasty muffin or two as I was by the fact that because I have a book out this spring with Harper Collins I was now obliged to wear my author cap and sing for my supper. Fortunately the breakfast was just across the river from my hotel room so I stumbled over in shoes that were cutting into my feet in entirely new and exciting ways. The breakfast went swimmingly and I got a chance to meet, albeit briefly, the notorious (in the best sense) Colby Sharp. He is like a minnow, he is! Darting about faster than you can blink. As I waded through a delicious breakfast that may or may not have included more than one chocolate muffin (mum’s the word on that one) he appeared in a scant second, introduced himself, and then *poof* disappeared before I was able to form my sleepy tongue into so much as a coherent blurg. The only conclusion I can reach from this is that I am truly terrifying in the early morning. I now have evidence to back this up.
Harper Collins was not obliged to, but they kindly gave me a quickie ride to the conference center where I was slated to sign my book that morning. I was signing at the same time as Mo Willems and a couple other luminaries, so I was prepared to just chat up the passersby. In fact (and this is true) it has been a secret desire of mine to chat up passersby at a desk at ALA for years. How fun would it be to just have a desk somewhere where lots of people can come and talk to you? I half want to have my own booth at the next conference with a big banner reading, “TALK TO A MATERIALS SPECIALIST FOR FUN” and me planted firmly beneath it. Can you tell I miss reference work?
Anyway, I planted myself at my little signing desk and promptly managed to knock a very large bottle water over so that it proceeded to soak the conference floor carpet. My poor editor rescued it, but not before I managed to create a little swampy pool that undoubtedly was going to swallow up whosoever was so unlucky to step there next. Despite that, however, I had a lovely signing. I sold out of my books (woot!) and started pulling galleys of it out of my bag to sign for fun. I also had my first signing flub, where I messed up someone’s name. But even then, someone bought THAT copy, and cleverly suggested I turn the flub into a little drawing. Whatta gal!
After that I finally had a chance to do the conference floor for myself. It was a good year. I already had a lot of the books on display so I was free to just flit about like a little butterfly. In this way I managed to procure:
- A button of Buster Keaton as a child, compliments of Matt Phelan’s booth in Artist’s Alley.
- A copy of Tim Tingle’s How I Became a Ghost: A Choctaw Trail of Tears Story which recently received a star from Kirkus but was on backorder at both Ingram and Baker & Taylor. I was assured there were plenty of copies in stock. Phew!
- A copy of The Other Side of Free by Krista Russell from Peachtree Publishers. You will recall my earlier post this year about the shocking lack of male black protagonists in 2013 middle grade fiction. This is one of the few I didn’t know about and it concerns the too little known fact that around the early 1700s slaves would escape south to the Spanish territories.
- Other assorted ephemera.
I mostly hung out with the smaller publishers since they’re so much fun and come up with some really great stuff, if you’re willing to track them down. I couldn’t hang out too long, however, since I was slated to lunch with Little, Brown. I did manage to swing by Paul Pope’s table, of course, for a signed galley of Battling Boy. Mm. Then it was over to the shuttle buses and to a steakhouse. It would have been a crime against man to spend all this time in Chicago and NOT eat some form of cow. At least that’s how I sold it to myself. It was a lunch with Peter Brown, Jerry Pinkney, and Jon Klassen so . . . yeah. Kind of fabulous. All three talked about their respective 2013 books (The Dark, The Tortoise and the Hare, and Mr. Tiger Goes Wild). In doing so they pointed out aspects to the books you’d never notice on your own. For example, you know that moment in The Dark where Milo holds up the lightbulb? Well, apparently if you turn the page that same lightbulb is plugged into the wall as a nightlight and were you to cut one lightbulb out it would take out the other. They are precisely on the opposite page of one another.
I worked in a little more conference floor work and, amongst other things, witnessed James Kennedy and his 90-Second Newbery talk. Beautiful stuff. It was standing room only for the Kennedy man, as well it should have been. I was able to acquire a newfound appreciation for The Story of Mankind too. I always liked the video, but . . . well, you just have to see it for yourself.
Then it was off to a Chronicle cocktail party. And not just any cocktail party, mind you. Chronicle, you see, has just turned 25, so they wanted to celebrate in style. To do so they commissioned a whole slew of fantastic artists ranging from Herve Tullet and Nina Laden to Tom Lichtenheld and Taro Gomi to draw a version of their glasses logo. Then we were each given a ticket to place in the bowl of whichever art we preferred to win. I admittedly went for the Sophie Blackall because even out of context it was a beauty. However, I do not win things usually and this time was no exception. I WAS happy to see Mary Ann Scheuer of Great Kids Books win the Melissa Sweet stuff, though.
After that a delightful dinner with Bloomsbury with the chance of meeting and getting to talk to Megan Frazer Blakemore. You may recall that I’m quite over the moon with her The Water Castle. The dinner was delicious and the company charming, though I worry I may have bored my tablemates senseless with an explanation of the name of this blog. It involves a 1989 Buick Century. I’ll tell you about it someday.
And since all of THAT could not be enough it was off to the Simon & Schuster dessert party. A hopping joint if ever there was one I was happy to mingle with some folks I hadn’t seen in a long time. I would say that the highlight was Walter the Giant kissing my hand but that high point was trumped at the very last minute by three young women. Sleep deprived and packed to the gills with pudding I had some difficulty figuring out who they were. Whosoever they might have professed to be, they informed me that not only did they love my picture book but that they had read it aloud to the UPS guy. As far as compliments go, that’s pretty much as good as it gets. I was walking on air the whole way home. Later research revealed that one of them was Melissa of The Classroom Library Company. So Melissa, please pass along my compliments to your pretty companions and yourself. You made my conference right there.
The next day was Sunday and that could mean only one thing: The Newbery/Caldecott Banquet.
Faithful readers will recall that in the past I’ve gotten a bit creative with my clothing choices. Whether it was tattoos (a band of covers on one arm one year (I find it’s more fun to watch if you turn the sound off), then two arms and the chest with photos of the winners involved, and then circles of covers on arms and legs and slinky words down an arm causing me to look like nothing so much as the victim of some highly literary splotchy disease) or Shrinky Dink jewelry, I’ve made a point of getting a bit complex with my ideas. And this year the bar was very high indeed. With the Caldecott hitting its 75th birthday I was faced with the prospect of showing up in a room where everyone else was wearing as much kooky fare as myself. My response? Time to tone everything down. As much as I still would like to wear a dress made out of those ribbons they hand out on the conference floor (I say I’ll do this at every single conference, but I have yet to collect any at all for this purpose) or a gown of discarded card catalog cards, now was not the time. Now was the moment to class up the joint. In short: To tux it up.
Turns out, if you are a woman and walk into a Men’s Warehouse asking for a tux, they do not even blink twice. You get measured, sign all the appropriate forms, and that is that. So it was that I found myself in possession of a tuxedo on Sunday. What I did not have, was a hat.
You see, my entire idea was to wear something that represented each of that year’s current crop of Newbery winners. That meant an outfit consisting of:
For One Cool Friend
A creepy carrot in the lapel…
For Creepy Carrots
A pair of tiger gloves
For Sleep Like a Tiger
And for Green, Extra Yarn, and This Is Not My Hat? For those, I figured I’d get all three in one blow. Just go over to etsy and buy myself a green knit fascinator (that’s the name for those tiny hats out there). Nothing could be easier, right?
Wrong. Turns out I must have seen those fascinators sometime around St. Patrick’s Day. When I looked again recently they were nowhere to be seen. In fact, I had a devil of a time finding what I needed. And then . . . I saw him.
He’s described as “Ironic Steampunk Hipster Octopus Crochet Fascinator Headband”. Could anything be more perfect? Okay. Admittedly if he were a fish he’d be better. But at least an octopus is an underwater denizen. Trouble is, he was handmade and, worse, wouldn’t arrive in my home before I left for Chicago. The solution? Well… did I ever tell you that I have a brother? A brother who lives in Chicago? A brother who lives in Chicago who is willing to trek over to a hotel downtown in spite of the fact that he lives all the way over in Andersonville to deliver to his sister an octopus hat? And for all that all he got a signed Paul Pope graphic novel that wasn’t even inscribed to him.
And that wasn’t even the worst thing I made the poor guy do. But more on that later.
Sunday consisted of meeting with publishers like Marissa Moss, Claudia Zoe Bedrick, and going over edits with co-writer Jules Danielson. Then lunch with Schwartz & Wade and a quick pop over to the convention center before the sound check at the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet. Hat? Check. Tux? Check. Spectator shoes that I love more than life itself? Check and check.
You’ll recall from my video with Jim Averbeck that along with author Kristin Clark we would once more be doing the Red Carpet interview series. This time it was with the full blessing of ALSC and a jazzy as all get out backdrop. I learned the following facts while getting changed:
- Women’s bodies are different from those of men. When wearing a tux you can get the pants on over your bee-hind just fine, but those white button up shirts are no good. They do not allow for hips. And the coats do not expect you to have anything going on in the chest area whatsonever.
- Ties are the work of the devil himself. And me without even an adam’s apple. Poor fellers.
- When the nice woman at Men’s Warehouse asks if you want suspenders you say yes. Even with a full set of hips I had a hard time keeping those darn things from slipping downward
A pretty darn good recap of all the outfits on display at the banquet can be found here. I’m fairly easy to find here:
And here’s a more flattering shot of the hat itself:
Its sole flaw was that folks kept asking me if I made it myself. I have no such skills in this arena. So no. Disappointing, I know.
Then it was time to interview. Initially I was just slated to do four, but I had the innate advantage of knowing who folks were, so more often than not they’d toss me somebody huge. My first person? Patricia Polacco. So right there that set the tone. I had to keep everything to five minutes, and thanks to my stellar librarian training I was able to meet the goal pretty close to the mark. We’ll be editing the interview footage soon, so I’ll be able to tell you who all I spoke to later. I do know that I must have spoken to Sheila Turnage:
Thanks to Kathy Dawson for the images.
And there was a moment with Paul O. Zelinsky:
Thanks to Alison A. Ernst for that one.
And Rocco Staino:
Thanks to Ed Spicer for that one.
After a surprisingly fast cocktail hour I realized that I was slated to sit at the Harper Collins table but had no idea where it actually was. This can be a bit of a problem since walking into the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet you are instantly struck by the sheer size of the room. So many tables. So many industry types. My brain realized that since the Newbery winner that year was Harper Collins, the chances were good that they’d be somewhere at the front of the room. Indeed as I stumbled towards the head table I met the eye of the aforementioned Mr. Zelinsky. He indicated the chair next to him which just so happened to have my name on it. Bonus! So it was I whiled away a pleasant night with him, some charming Newbery committee members I hadn’t known before, my editor Virginia Duncan, Kevin Henkes and (I believe) Laura Dronzek.
What can I say about the awards that hasn’t been recapped for you elsewhere? At the lunch the day before Mr. Klassen had wondered what sort of hat he should wear to the banquet. I was surprised then to see him there at the head table without a hat in sight. Fortunately this was remedied when he stood up to give his speech and doffed a Blackhawks cap along the way. The speech had me scared at first, since he began by thanking his best beloved. “Is it just going to be thanks and nothing more?” I wondered to myself. No fears. The talk transitioned smoothly into a lovely speech, peppered with real honest-to-god humility at his great good luck (though one might point out that talent had a bit to do with it as well).
Jon’s speech was followed soon thereafter by Katherine Applegate for the Newbery. As she spoke she had the distinction, not of being the first Newbery winner to write romance novels (I know of at least one other), but of being the first to read the particularly egregious parts aloud in her acceptance speech. As she spoke she brought up some of the mass produced products she’d helped write over the years, including Sweet Valley High and Animorphs. She gave a shout out to The Nerdy Book Club, which I’m sure pleased them immensely, and like Jon her speech was topped off with emotion. In fact, that was the #1 thing folks had to say about this year’s speeches. They had more heart than we’d seen in a while. It was very nice.
Now during the course of Ms. Applegate’s speech I became aware that I was seated next to her family’s table. And then it occurred to me that the man directly next to me was probably Michael Grant. Michael Grant is one of the rare fellows in this business that has the ability to make me feel a stabbing pain of guilt in my gut every damn time I hear his name. You see, I interviewed Ms. Applegate for SLJ and . . . ah . . . may have referred to her husband as Michael Scott. This was corrected in the online edition but as for the print . . . *sigh* So I did not reveal myself to him. It would probably detract from the proceedings to remind the honoree’s husband that I confused him with the author of The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series (not the antihero of The Office, despite what he may suspect).
Katherine Paterson was the winner of this year’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and of course she had to go and blow us all out of the water with her speech. The woman, as you might recall, can write. Better still she mentioned that the first Newbery/Caldecott Banquet she attended was in 1978. I was born in 1978. For some reason I took this as a good sign. Then I recalled that I’d interviewed her on the red carpet not an hour before. Wonder what I asked her. Guess we’ll have to check the tapes.
Afterwards it was back to work. While others stood in the receiving line to shake the hands of the winners, Kristin, Jim and I wandered up and down interviewing the folks we found. The fine tradition of taking the only partially drunk bottles of wine and placing them in the lobby for general consumption was continuing unabated. But eventually I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to get out of that danged tux. A quickchange in the bathroom was in order. As I did so I honest-to-god heard people talking about me in the stalls, albeit briefly. I’ve always sort of wanted this. It’s a rite of junior high and high school passage I’ve never personally experienced, though it appears in 40% of the MG novels I read in a given year. In this particular case the folks were just discussing the fact that they’d tried to figure out what to wear based on some post I’d written. Woo-hoo!
I was asked if I’d had the dress on underneath my tux all this time, which made me feel like a kind of superhero. If I have any superpowers at all, however, it would be the ability to lurk. I planted myself firmly behind Laura Amy Schlitz, who may be the winner for Best Outfit of All Time. It was luminous. Iridescent. The kind of outfit you’d kill for. In any case, behind Laura was our agent Stephen Barbara and there is no better place to be at a cocktail party than beside Stephen. Not that I didn’t meet a couple other really charming agents at the bash (you know who you are) but Stephen is the best of the best in my book.
After that it was time to retire. I said my goodnights and managed to remember to drag my tux home. The next morning I’d be flying back to NYC. So all’s well that ends well, right?
Except . . .
Remember that tux? Well somebody didn’t. Me. That’s right, I checked out of my hotel merry as you please, boarded a subway bound for the airport, checked my bag, went through security . . . and came to the horrid realization that I’d left my tux in the hotel room closet. Worse still, both of my roommates had already checked out by the time this occurred to me. You know what that meant, don’t you?
My poor brother. Not only had he hand delivered a hat, but now I was calling him in a panic to (A) Go to that same hotel in the downtown area to ask for my tux from the hotel’s lost & found and (B) walk up Michigan Avenue to return it to Men’s Warehouse. So basically I owe this guy big time. Big big big time. He didn’t even complain. Just sighed a little and then texted me that I wouldn’t have to worry about anything. So yeah. I’m scum. But I’ve got a great brother and that’s the long and short of it.
By now my mother is reading this and horrified at this news (which I have conveniently forgotten to tell her until now). Rest assured that Ben has been compensated in some fashion, mamar. It was a doofus move on my part, but otherwise the conference was a hit of a hit of a hit. Thanks to everyone who attended and who took the time to meet with me. And if you’d like to read a recap by my roomie Jules, you may do so here.
See you in Philly next?