Sunday, November 25, 2012

Event: Texas Book Festival, Day One

Okay, I think by now we all know the truth: I am a huge book nerd. I mean, huge. If it's remotely book-related, I'm probably going to be interested. Last year, I saw the schedule for the Texas Book Festival and really wanted to go, but my work schedule just wasn't going to let that happen. This year, things worked out for me and, on a late October weekend, I made the drive down to Austin to check out the 2012 Texas Book Festival.

The Texas Book Festival is completely free and runs for two days, basically taking over the State Capitol and surrounding area. There are talks and interviews, readings and signings, and basically books and authors for everyone from young to old. Because I am more specifically a youth literature book nerd, most of the sessions and other events I attended focused on this area. But you already guessed that, didn't you? However, I want to note that the festival did have some big name attendees in the realm of adult literature, including Cheryl Strayed, Jenny Lawson (the Bloggess, as she is better known), Naomi Wolf, and Dan Rather. I'm not kidding when I say there was something for everyone. Unfortunately, with the arrival of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast, some authors and speakers couldn't make it to the event (while others who did make it found themselves temporarily stranded in Austin). But, that didn't stop the Festival from being well worth attending.

Even within the more limited scope of youth literature, I had a difficult time deciding which sessions to attend. I planned out my schedule in advance, sometimes leaving a couple options for the same time, but of course, things ran a little differently once I got there. Since this was my first time attending the festival, I didn't know exactly what to expect. But I think I had a great experience and I'd like to share some of what I saw. (As a side note, after two conference/festival type events in a row, I discovered I definitely need a smartphone to keep up.)

The first session I went to was called "Class Acts" and featured Tim Green, Jon Sciezska, and Adam Rex. This was a must-attend for me. Adam Rex is one of my favorite authors and illustrators - his picture books are beautiful and stylish, as well as hilarious, and The True Meaning of Smekday is one of my all-time favorite books. I've never had an opportunity to see him speak before, so I definitely didn't want to miss this. Plus, Jon Sciezska is a legend in children's humor and has done some amazing things in closing the reading gap between boys and girls. I'm never read Tim Green's books as I don't usually gravitate to sports stories, but they've always looked like quality reads for kids who enjoy sports-focused novels. This session was a wonderful start to my first Texas Book Festival experience - I was laughing nearly the whole time. The three men had a great rapport and were also all engaging and well-spoken. They talked about their experiences growing up and how difficult it is to be a kid (which many adults forget), as well as times when they were bullied. I really appreciated that they also all talked about when they were the bully - something else a lot of people forget is that most people have been both at one time or another. Tim Green definitely got me interested in reading some of his books, so I've put them on my (neverending) to-read list. Like I said, this was a great way to start the weekend for me.

After the session, all three were signing books in a different location (which was true for all the authors present that weekend), so I headed over that way to pick out my books and get in line. As I mentioned, I'm a big fan of Adam Rex and have actually interacted with him on Twitter. Before the festival, I wondered if there was a way to identify myself when I met him in person. He suggested (via Twitter) a pink carnation in my lapel. Well, I didn't find one, but it prompted my opening line, which was great because I'm usually a nervous wreck meeting people. He was incredibly friendly and easy to talk to - we chatted about his books and assorted other topics. I got a book signed for myself, as well as for a friend (which was easily one of the best presents I've ever given someone). My biggest regret is that I didn't get my picture taken with him - I was so busy basking in the excitement of having finally met him that I didn't even think of it. Hopefully, I'll have another opportunity in the future. Anyway, after that, I got a signed book for one of my nephews from Jon Sciezska, who was also very friendly, and then I headed over to my next session.

Next on the agenda was "A Conversation with Maggie Stiefvater and Maureen Johnson." After my recent conversion to the church of Stiefvater, I definitely wanted to check out this little chat. I've enjoyed the few books by Johnson that I've read, and I follow both ladies on Twitter and find them entertaining with interesting things to say. The conversation was moderated by Sarah of Forever Young Adult. As one can imagine, though questions were prepared, the conversation was much more meandering and tangential. I think Stiefvater always has really interesting things to say and it was cool to see the interaction between the two women. That being said, Johnson seemed a bit more awkward and uncomfortable than I might have imagined her to be. The women talked about doing research for their books, their writing processes, advice for young writers, and, briefly, NaNoWriMo. There was a short audience Q&A at the end, but I ducked out early to get in line for a signing.

I got books signed by Tad Hills and Rob Scotton for my nephews and then a Peter Brown book for myself. Let me tell you, it was torturous trying to decide which Peter Brown - I love them all. I didn't have long conversations with any of them but Hills and Scotton seemed pleasant. Brown was incredibly personable and said he loved children's librarians - we love him, too! I'd love to get some picture book authors to come to our library for programming; unfortunately, I just don't think we have the budget for it. After getting my books signed (and apparently missing Bob Shea's signing for the second time that day), I grabbed some lunch and headed for the next session. The session I wanted to see ended up being full and I didn't really find anything else I felt inclined to go check out. So I read my book and killed time until the last session of the day.

The final session I attended on day one was called "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility" and featured a panel of YA fantasy, sci-fi authors: Bree Despain, Marie Lu, Andrea Cremer, Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate. I think this was my favorite panel of the festival. The authors talked about their writing processes, how modern events impact their writing of fantastical or futuristic worlds, whether they write themselves into their stories, and more advice for aspiring authors. I found all the authors on this panel to be incredibly well-spoken and fascinating to listen to. I loved seeing Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate together - they talked briefly about what it was like to write together and still has a successful relationship. I've only just read the first in the Gone series (review to come) but I think Grant was my favorite part of the panel. He was funny and brash and didn't pull any punches. I enjoyed this panel immensely - it covered a wide range of topics and was entertaining and thought-provoking. I'm so glad I chose this one!

I took a dinner and rest break after this panel and ended my night with one of the Texas Book Festival's Lit Crawl events. Sadly, Chris Elliott had to cancel because of Hurricane Sandy, but I still wanted to catch the bit he had been scheduled for - "The Encyclopedia Show." I'm not going to lie; I'd never heard of it (I think it's a podcast?) and I only wanted to go because it was going to feature Elliott. But it also featured another actor/writer: Stephen Tobolowsky. I admit that when I saw the name, I didn't immediately recognize it, but I spotted him at the signing tent earlier in the day and made the connection. Tobolowsky is a character actor, most recently appearing on shows like Californication and Glee. We had some trouble finding the venue - no one we asked knew what we were talking about and the Google Maps app led us astray. But we managed to arrive on time (I had wanted to try to catch some of the panel that was immediately before, "Dear Teen Me," but it just didn't work out), even a few minutes early. I spent those few minutes getting some books signed by the authors who had been part of the previous panel - I snagged a copy of The Raven Boys and Every Day and got them signed by Maggie Stiefvater and David Levithan. I attemped to make a joke with Levithan that just didn't go over very well, but he laughed politely. I asked Maggie when she was going to write the kraken romance and she suggested that The Scorpio Races was probably as close as she would get. Then it was time for "The Encyclopedia Show." There was an opening about character actors and their rights, put on by a couple of local actors (I assume). Tobolowsky did a reading from his new book and then they asked him to provide anecdotes on some of his roles over the years. It was a fun panel and an enjoyable way to end the night.

Stay tuned next week for day two!

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