Confessions of a Children's Author

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I Made Markus Zusak Laugh!

Wow, here I was trying to be more consistent by writing more often, and a month has passed since I last wrote. Time flies. Sometimes there are things I want to write about my mother, but I don't want everything to be a downer, and sometimes I want to write about other things, but then I feel guilty, as if by not writing about her that means I'm not thinking about her. Do I think about her a million times a day? Yes. Would she want me to get on with my life, even though my life is altered forever (and from the way I thought it would be) because she's not here? Yes. Therefore, for this entry I will mention that I joined a bereavement group (which I will get into in more detail in another entry), that I'm dreading Mother's Day like the plague, and there are times where I want to throw myself onto the floor and have a raving temper tantrum, complete with arm-flailing and kicking, screaming "I want my mother back! Give me my mother back!" That being said, I did have a wonderful experience lately, and for lack of being able to tell my mother about it, I shall write about it here.

So, last weekend my husband and I went to the LA Times Festival of Books. I approached the event rather half-heartedly, I admit--I went once before, I think the year they started it, and hadn't been back since. I saw that one of the events was going to be a YA author panel, including John Green (Looking for Alaska) and Markus Zusak (The Book Thief), but I didn't even try to get tickets. I thought I'd just go for the book signings and that would be it. I decided to be a super-book-dork and wear my NaNoWriMo shirt from 2004 (it has a Superman logo on it, so I looked like even more of a dork because from a distance I'm sure people just assumed I was showing my excitement for the impending movie opening), and my husband said he'd give me $5 for each time someone said something to me about it. (We later had a debate as to what was more dorky, wearing a NaNoWriMo shirt, or wearing a previous year's Festival of Books shirt.) Anyway, we got there and initially thought we were in the wrong place, since there were long lines at authors' tables everywhere except at the YA ones. I was second in line at John Green's table, and when this young man who looked like he just graduated from college rather than having written a Printz Award-winning novel strode up to the tent, I was somehow surprised at how low-key he seemed. When it was my turn to approach the table, I did manage to remain fairly calm, and I hoped kept my rambling in check (mostly). "I loved this book!" I told him. Then I congratulated him on winning the Printz award, and how excited I'd been for him, even though I didn't know him, and how the photos on his blog showing his reaction when he got the phone call about it were so great, blah blah blah (yes, it was on the verge of rambling--but I hope in an excited way). He accepted the praise very appreciatively and genuinely, not at all in the polite thank-you-but-I've-already-heard-this-a-million-times-so-I-have-nothing-to-say-to-you-but-I'll-smile-anyway kind of way that I've been met with before at some book signings. He seemed genuinely excited that I was excited for him and his success. If you haven't read this book, go to a bookstore, go to a library, borrow it from any teenager you might know who owns it, but read it--NOW. It is one of my favorite books, YA or adult, that I have read in at least the past year. I came away from the table grinning from ear to ear, and showed my husband the signature as if I was a teenager who'd just gotten an autograph from Jesse McCartney.

Next, I was off to the neighboring table to stand in line for Markus Zusak. Of his books, I've only read Fighting Ruben Wolfe, but I loved it, and I've heard nothing but praise for the award-winning I Am the Messenger and the recent The Book Thief. I read somewhere that he doesn't venture out of Australia too often for book siginings, so I was excited that he was there. Ever since I'd read on a website somewhere that he'd taken on a plan to read 52 books in 52 weeks and write a book about it, I was extremely curious to know if he'd actually done it. The line for him was a bit longer (I almost wanted to tell people "Go get John Green's book signed, too!"), but at last it was my turn. Okay, can I just say that Markus Zusak is a cutie? (Actually, John Green's a cutie, too--but I digress.) Yes, I have book crushes now. Not in any stalker/fantasizing/making-me-want-to-leave-my-husband kind of way, just that they're so COOL. (No wonder I like writing for teens--I sound like one.) Anyway, I did get to ask him my burning question: "Did you really read 52 books in 52 weeks?" He laughed. (Well, it was sort of a snort--but mostly a laugh.) "Well, I started with Ulysses, because I thought that if I did that then everything after would be easy, but no, I didn't." He explained that he'd been busy with writing and rewriting, which is perfectly understandable, and frankly, I was relieved. I don't have to feel like an idiot for only averaging one or two books a month--phew! I also asked him how he was enjoying his tour of the States, and he started chatting about how the California climate was so similar to Australia so he'd really like to spend some more time on the East Coast because it was so different. Then, at one point, he looked up and said "I like your shirt" (just imagine that being said with an Australian accent...). "Thanks!" I beamed. (Hubby was hesitant to pay up because he said that Markus Zusak didn't acknowledge that it was NaNoWriMo, but he did concede that the shirt does say "Super-Novelist"so it's possible that that was what Markus Zusak was referring to, so I got my five bucks... :) ).

I walked away from both tables kind of floating. I know, dork-supreme, but I think any writer will understand that meeting another writer whose work you admire is a gift in itself, but made all the better when the writers are nice, and sincere, and who seem happy to be meeting those of us who admire them. I admit that there were a couple of authors who were a bit more famous who I purposely did not go stand in line for, because I feared that if meeting them in person was in any way disappointing, then it would taint how I feel about their work. I can't speak highly enough about how great the experiences of meeting these two particular authors were for me--gratifying in every way.

Oh, and I got to meet L.A. authoress extraordinaire Cecil Castellucci, who signed her new book The Queen of Cool, which is about a girl who gets an internship at the LA Zoo--how cool is that??? I loved Boy Proof, and I wanted to talk to her about writing about characters who have interests or professions that are other than the usual (I mean, has anyone written a YA book that takes place at a zoo before? Or one whose father is a sci-fi/fantasy makeup artist, as in Boy Proof? I love it!), but I felt stupid (this probably comes from previous experiences of walking away from signings or other celebrity meetings after which I feel like I gushed a bit much and felt like an idiot), so hopefully I'll meet her another time and actually ask.

The festival was crowded but fun, overwhelming but inspirational, and I can't wait until next year. Where else can you see Amy Tan wearing a blonde wig and singing backup onstage with Roger McGuinn fronting as Dave Barry plays guitar and Mitch Albom is on the keyboard? (With the Rock Bottom Remainders, of course.) But first comes the SCBWI Conference in August--yahoo!!!

So, a thank you to John Green, Markus Zusak, Cecil Castellucci and all the other writers that were fun and gracious and seemed just as happy to be there as I hope to be in the near future. And with that, I am inspired to work on my revision, as difficult as it has seemed to be able to do without my mom here to read it, because I want to be on the other side of that table one day. And I know that she wouldn't expect anything else of me than to get my book published. So thanks to my mom, too.


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