On Saturday, we (Eisha and Adrienne of What Adrienne Thinks About That) attended the Third Annual Teen Book Festival in Rochester, NY. We had a fabulous time, and thought we’d co-blog about it and share the highlights with you. This will be cross-posted on both 7-Imp and WATAT, for your viewing pleasure.
The event started with a red-carpet arrival for the authors, which we totally missed ’cause, um, it was Saturday morning and, you know. We had to get coffee at Adrienne’s favorite place, the Leaf and Bean. Which totally exceeded all expectations.
Then there was a general assembly, with the organizer Stephanie introducing all the authors on a stage that was flanked by members of the Garrison Excelsior 501st Legions, in full Star Wars regalia. It was particularly fitting that Timothy Zahn was almost totally obscured by the faux-Queen Amidala’s headdress (seen here). There was a “lightning round” of questions, led by two teen volunteers, where they asked a question and the authors passed the mike down the row giving short answers.
Then each author was put in his/her own room for three “breakout sessions,” and you could choose any three to attend. In between sessions one and two, there was pizza for lunch in the cafeteria (delivered - not actual cafeteria food). And at the end, there were books and merch for sale in the gym, with all the authors available for autographs.
It was extremely well-attended, with teens bussed in from all over, and tons of local librarians, teachers, and teens volunteering to keep the whole thing running smoothly.
For a full description of the event and complete list of the authors in attendance, see the website for TBF LIVE! 2008.
eisha: Well, first, I just want to say thanks, Adrienne, for inviting me to this totally excellent event. I’m sort of in awe at the assemblage of talent they had going there.
adrienne: Yes, thanks for driving up! This is my third year at TBF, and it’s so much fun. I always have a hard time deciding which authors to go see.
eisha: Yeah, that was a challenge. We both agreed that Libba Bray was a top priority, but after that it was tough. I liked your idea of waiting until after the opening introduction thingy to make our decisions. It was kind of like an audition, like you said.
adrienne: We didn’t wind up going to see him, but Todd Strasser rocked the house with his serial killer persona in the intro, and we didn’t get to see him in one of the breakout sessions. That was kind of sad.
eisha: That’s true - if there’d been a FOURTH breakout session, he’d have been it for me. But really, how could he have topped the stuff he did in that lightning-round of questions the kids had prepared for them? And really, it was the way he and Terry Trueman played off each other that was so hilarious. Like, when they asked the authors to describe themselves as teenagers in one word - Todd said “hostile,” and Terry said “hostile-er.” Or was it the other way around? I should have taken notes.
adrienne: I also enjoyed a lot of Libba Bray’s answers, like that she said she wanted to be David Bowie when she grew up. I think that you and I are in agreement that we want to be Libba Bray when we grow up, especially after seeing her at the breakout session. She knows how to write, but she’s also really fun and upbeat. I love how she handled everyone’s questions and responses, even the ones where I was thinking, “Wow, I would not know how to respond if someone just said that to me.”
eisha: I KNOW! She was totally the rock star of the event, which was evident by the INSANELY LONG LINE she had at the signing at the end of the day. We kept going to other authors to get stuff signed, thinking her line would eventually die down, but it never did - it was still stretching into the hallway after the whole thing was supposed to be over. Which kind of defies logic - where did all those people come from?
I loved the way she formatted her session - asking the kids about their inner critics (I didn’t realize other people actually had NAMES for their critics) and coming up with ways to shut them up. The critics, I mean - not the kids.
adrienne: I loved her scarf, incidentally. Did you notice her scarf?
eisha: I did. I loved her shoes. We both had black chucks on, do you think she noticed? Hers were way cleaner though. I also particularly coveted Sara Ryan’s purse, which is an awful lot like your purse. We all know how hard I covet your purse.
adrienne: I want you to know that *I* noticed you were both wearing black chucks. I was pretty excited about Sara Ryan having a Queen Bee bag, but it shouldn’t surprise us that she has exquisite taste being a librarian and all. She lives in Portland. Do you think she’ll hang out with us at the Kidlitosphere Conference in September?
eisha: I can only hope. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t actually read her books yet, but after her session I’m totally slapping them up on top of my to-read pile. I loved the excerpts she read, especially the intro to Empress of the World. Hopefully I’ll get to them before September and then I can admire her for more than her taste in purses, dresses and boots. Those were serious, I-could-kick-your-ass boots.
Jeff Kinney’s breakout session was pretty great, too - although I can’t say I particularly noticed his clothing. I loved his presentation - the way he had that Jeopardy-style grid up on the Powerpoint screen, with nine “categories” for the audience to choose from, so call-outs from the audience determined the order in which he talked about his life and work. Kinda cool.
adrienne: I appreciated the way he talked about his decision to start using a tablet computer to do his drawings so he could write and draw but also continue working a full-time job and spending time with his family. I think a lot of the teens who attended the event are aspiring writers, and those are the very real kinds of decisions authors have to make.
I also loved Kinney’s demonstration of how he uses just a few lines to show his characters’ emotions and where he drew that from, citing, for instance, Charles Schulz. WAIT! This reminds me–I LOVED how many of the writers said they love TV shows I love, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer (That was Libba Bray, right?) and Lost. It makes me think that my brain may not be any immediate danger of atrophying from my television viewing.
eisha: I think in the lightning-round, where each author had to name his/her fave TV show, Doctor Who. And maybe she said Lost too - no, wait, I think that was Ellen Hopkins. But in the breakout session, when someone asked Libba about her inspiration for the Gemma Doyle trilogy, she said she wanted to write a Victorian Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Which is so very apt, and probably explains why she was the rock star of the day.
Speaking of, I thought the line of questioning that came from the teens was really interesting. They often had to do with favorite songs, TV shows, or movies. It made me realize how differently teens approach this kind of author interaction. I tend to want to ask about the writing process, how they conduct research, literary influences… The teens just want to know what they’re like as people.
adrienne: I think the biggest news for some of these teens is that the authors *are* people, you know? You could tell from the teens’ reactions that they loved hearing that these authors were into some of the same things they were, and also that the authors were nervous speaking in front of people or had struggled in high school. That was fun, but I agree that I always enjoy hearing about people’s writing process. Like that notebook Jeff Kinney showed us pages from where he spent something crazy like four years writing down potential story ideas before he’d even let himself think about writing Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Wasn’t it interesting, too, to hear that he initially thought of the book as something for adults? That was brilliant. He talked about his concerns about giving kids a book in which his main character makes poor decisions and doesn’t really suffer the consequences or learn a Valuable Lesson (or at least not the one most parents would want him to learn). Of course, I think that’s one reason the book has been so successful: Kinney wansn’t talking down to anyone.
eisha: Exactly! He compared it to A Christmas Story and The Wonder Years - something nostalgic for adults who would be in on the joke. But I agree, that’s got to be a big part of the appeal to kids - they’re in on the joke, too.
So, what was your very favorite part of the whole TBF experience?
adrienne: Hm, tough one. We didn’t go to Timothy Zahn’s breakout session, but I got a total fangirl thrill from getting our picture taken with him. I read all the books in the Thrawn as soon as they came out. They were a BIG DEAL to me at the time.
eisha: Also tough. Probably that lightning question round at the beginning. I loved seeing all the authors interact and play off each other. But also just seeing so many kids who were so very very very enthusiastic about books and meeting the authors. They were so engaged. It was sort of inspiring, if I may go all corny on you.
How about the least favorite part?
adrienne: I hate to say it, but that music in the gym. I mean, “The Macarena?” “Cotten-Eyed Joe?” THREE TIMES? And OMG it was LOUD. I said this at the time, but if there is music that loud, someone ought to be bringing me a beer.
eisha: Yes, beer would have certainly lessened the sting the THIRD TIME they played “Cotton-Eyed Joe.” I’d completely forgotten about Rednex, which was fine by me. And really, were those kids even born when that came out?
Geez, I just sounded like the grumpy old lady I apparently am. But the music was a trial, for serious. Poor Timothy Zahn mentioned it when I was getting a book signed - he was right next to the speakers. Even the stormtrooper who had apparently appointed himself as a personal bodyguard couldn’t protect him from that crap.
Despite that, the whole event was awesome. I am definitely coming back for another round next year - if you’ll have me?
adrienne: Yes, of course, although we’ll certainly have to have other adventures before then. Maybe we could pick an author to stalk or something. Co-blog that.