An Author Bonanza: Behind the Scenes at a Children’s Book and Literacy Dinner
Saturday night I got to take part in one of the most fun aspects of our rep jobs: an author dinner. This wasn’t a dinner for just one author, either; it was the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association (SCIBA) annual Children’s Book and Literacy dinner, featuring over 25 published (and a few not-yet-published) children’s book authors. For those readers unfamiliar with regional book associations, SCIBA is “a non-profit trade association of independent booksellers, book wholesalers, publishers and other industry professionals located primarily in Southern California, Arizona and Southern Nevada. ” Regional associations like SCIBA are a great support for independent bookstores: they foster community, encourage stores to interact with each other and to help each other succeed, provide event and advertising opportunities for regional stores and authors, and they advocate for their member stores.
I was thrilled to accompany two Random House authors, Lauren Kate, The New York Times bestselling author of Fallen, Torment, and the upcoming Passion, and John Stephens, the author of the upcoming book The Emerald Atlas, first in a fantastic middle grade fantasy series. Both authors were charming, self-deprecating, and seemed a little bit amazed by such an enthusiastic gathering of passionate booksellers, teachers, librarians and authors.
After an hour of cocktails and mingling while checking out bookstore displays, we were seated in the ballroom for the dinner. Each author “hosted” a table of booksellers, teachers, librarians and publishers’ reps. I was happy to find that I was sitting next to John Stephens, who happened to be celebrating a birthday that day. Since John is a debut author who comes from a television writing background, it was fun to experience his entrance into the world of children’s literature with him. I am thrilled to have spent time with him during this exciting pre-publication time before his book goes on-sale and his life changes forever! Author Cecil Castellucci was the dinner emcee, and she did a fabulous job of entertaining the audience. I loved her creative children’s book song that she performed at the event. You can check it out below (don’t miss the shout out to Philip Pullman!)
I was so inspired by all of the dinner speakers. Each author gave the attendees a fascinating glimpse into their writing process and their backgrounds. What I was most struck by is how most of the authors at the dinner worked in a wide variety of fields before becoming full-time authors, some quite unusual, like stand-up comedian, television writer, indie rock singer, high school teacher, and book editor. I took a few notes, so I wouldn’t forget the speaker’s highlights: first was Judy Blundell, the author of the new novel Strings Attached, who spoke about growing up in New York, spending long nights watching old film noir and screwball comedies, which greatly influenced her books’ themes and discussed how young girls are often so afraid not to please people that they are unable to say no in dangerous circumstances. Next author Brandon Mull of the Fablehaven series gave a dryly funny speech where he shared specific terms he wanted bloggers to use to describe him, such as “mysterious,” “tan,” with eyes like “windows to a carnival of forbidden delights.” He movingly talked about his biggest strength as an author being his imagination, and said that he began writing as a way to share his vivid daydreams by breaking them into scenes to express them on paper. After Brandon, Dr. Cuthbert Soup of A Whole Nother Story brought down the house with his stand-up comedy routine/writing discussion. He discussed his progression from a childhood where he was afraid to write or to share his thoughts, to an adulthood where he became a stand up comedian and then a movie screenwriter. What he said that I found most profound, especially for children (or adults!) who might be shy or intimidated by public speaking or putting their words out there for readers was, “My desire to have my story told was suddenly stronger than my fear of telling it.” The last speaker was young adult author Andrew Smith, whose most recent book is The Marbury Lens. He was inspirational and dynamic, and I was fascinated to hear that in addition to his busy writing life, he still teaches high school five days a week because he loves his daily interaction with kids. He spoke passionately about giving teenagers opportunities to express themselves and to take on responsibility (notably, his book trailer for the upcoming Stick was created entirely by teens, who wrote, directed, acted in it and even composed the score).
After the dinner, all attendees were able to chat with each author present and to have books and galleys signed. Both John and Lauren were surrounded by readers of all ages who were eager to discuss their work with them. I had them each sign one extra book to give away here, so if you are interested in receiving one, please leave a comment below and I will draw two names on Thursday.
It was a wonderful night, and I left the dinner feeling inspired by the children’s bookselling community, who work so hard and so passionately to give children books that will influence their lives and their dreams.