I had a fabulous weekend at the Northwest Bookfest
. Many if not most people who know me in real life (or on Goodreads
for that matter) might be surprised to know that I am absolutely gutless when it comes to authors. Oh, you’ve written a book? Congratulations, now you are a celebrity to me and I’m pretty much unable to speak to you. I have no qualms about spewing out my opinions about your work on the internet but I will sit in the front row at your panels and just stare at you. Did you notice that today, Sara Zarr
? I might not have had you sign any books—I didn’t have anyone sign any—but I sat through the entire Smart Chicks panel internally fangirling the whole panel, even those whose work I’ve yet to read. I was absolutely astounded at how intelligent and well-spoken Jennifer Lynn Barnes
is. (not that I had any expectations that she wouldn’t be, I was just very interested in what she had to say about how her scientific background influences her work) The Smart Chicks Kick It YA Tour is a group of YA authors who tour together and I found it was an efficient and organized format to reach a large audience and cover lots of ground. Organized by Melissa Marr
and Kelley Armstrong
, the group sits on a panel together and answers audience questions interspersed with a few quick games and lightning round questions where they have to answer as quickly as possible. I don’t have a lot of experience with author events but this was exactly what I was looking for—a glimpse into what the authors are actually like as people. Marr mentioned that the format has evolved a bit because the group travels together often and they were constantly learning fun factoids about each other. To mix things up and keep it fresh, they tried to integrate that feeling into the format. In case you are wondering what any of those fun factoids are, here are a few I picked up during the panels: Richelle Mead
has a crush on Gilbert Blythe
(who doesn’t?!), Melissa Marr snorkels in her bathtub or pool when she has writer’s block, Sara Zarr takes dance breaks to Perfect Stranger by Erasure
, and Jennifer Lynn Barnes spent a summer working on an island with 1,000 monkeys! It was absolutely clear that all of the authors had a lot of respect for each other and their work, in fact, one of my favorite parts of those panels was the fact that they all seemed to be friends. (They also played Chuck, F*ck, and Marry with the characters of all of their books and solicited opinions from the crowd, though they call it the much more kid-friendly "Marry, Shag & Cliff")
Here are the authors who were on the Smart Chicks Kick It YA Tour at the Northwest Bookfest today:
Richelle Mead, Melissa Marr, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Sara Zarr, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Rachel Vincent, Sophie Jordan, Rachel Caine
Margaret Stohl, Melissa de la Cruz, Kelley Armstrong, Jeri Smith-Ready, Stephanie Kuehnert
Other interesting facts I picked up from the panel are that Kelley Armstrong and Melissa Marr are working on a Norse-themed MG book/series together so that Marr’s 13-year old son can read something she’s written, Sara Zarr recommends Adele Griffin
’s books, Richelle Mead loved Marion Zimmer Bradley
as a teen, and that most of these women seem like absolutely awesome and fun people.
I went to several other panels over the weekend, the first of which was an historical fiction/nonfiction panel. I was skeptical about this one going into it and it turned out that I was riveted throughout the entire hour. The authors spoke about their newest books which ran the gamut from stealing geoducks to the life of Louisa May Alcott to the discovery of insulin. Seriously, if I wasn’t so poor at the moment, I’d be all over tons of the books I heard about this weekend. The authors on the panel, and their names will link to the books they spoke about, were Craig Welch
, Peter Mountford
, Maria Dahvana Headley
, Dave Boling
, Kathleen Alcala
, Kit Bakke
, and Thea Cooper
. I took two pages of notes on my little notepad during this panel but I don’t feel too nerdy about it because Craig Welch reminded the audience of a quote he enjoyed: “Notetakers make history.” Damn straight. All of them spoke about what inspired them to write about their specific topic and why they write historical books—for several of them it was the fact that the plot points are already ready-made. I found Kit Bakke’s story of why she wrote about Louisa May Alcott
particularly fascinating. I am of the opinion that too many people say they did x or y as a response to 9/11 so I was immediately ready to tune out when she said just that about her work, Miss Alcott’s Email
. However, her story was different from those I’ve heard before. She spent many years protesting governmental actions and feeling decidedly unpatriotic but when 9/11 happened she could not believe someone could do that to her country. Then she did a double take on the fact that she felt it was “her country” and tried to find some woman in history that really captured that feeling—that the US is something worth fighting for. Dave Boling discussed going to Guernica
and seeing, meeting, and hearing about people who were affected by the bombing. For him, the story really came together when he actually felt that emotional element. (Also interesting: The international title of the book is not Guernica in several countries because the word is still too evocative) I forgot to mention earlier that Jennifer Lynne Barnes and Sara Zarr told the audience that they don't necessarily write from physical experiences but often write from familiar emotional viewpoints--the reason they feel a certain way might not be the same but it should make the character (and you) feel something you've felt before.
I saw Elizabeth Boyle
, Greg Bear
, Bob Mayer
, Deb Caletti
, and Sean Salazar
at the Genre Mashup panel and Bear made a comment near the onset about why he agreed to be on this particular panel—because things are so much more interesting with varying points of view. Exactly. Elizabeth Boyle was absolutely charming. Her analogy of romance books to bread and milk at the grocery store evoked a lot of chuckles from the audience and she admitted to going to Starbucks, putting her headphones in , not turning them on and then mining dialogue from all the crazy conversations that go on around her. Evidently, Starbucks is a total hot spot for awkwardness and hilarity. After being asked about the difference between genre writers and literature writers, Greg Bear hilariously said that “Literary authors get the awards. Genre authors get the checks.” All of them had quite a bit to say about the constraints of the shelving system and how publishers have told them to cut aspects out of their books because booksellers wouldn’t know where to shelve the book and Bob Mayer spoke about how important it is to self-select the correct genre tags if you are e-publishing. All in all, this panel was just fascinating because each author was coming from such a different place. I could’ve listened to them for at least another hour.
Mark Teppo, Cherie Priest, Mark Henry, Kat Richardson
The Steampunk and Urban Fantasy panel was one of the primary pulls for members of a book club I recently joined. (they’ve been together for over two years) I hate to be a major bummer (*salute*) but this one was just not as satisfying for me as most of the others. The authors on the panel were Cherie Priest
, Mark Henry
, Mark Teppo
, and Kat Richardson
. I think this panel just didn’t do it for me for two reasons—I couldn’t see anything because the room was packed and the chairs weren’t staggered and more importantly, the authors seemed to just be joking around with each other. They all seemed to be very nice people and I’m sure they know a ton about the industry and the genres but a lot of the hour- long panel was spent talking about their pets and sharing inside jokes. I feel like Ja’mie in Summer Heights High--“No offense, but it’s true.”
(I wrote in my notes that they seemed like wacky people having a good time at the beginning and “there’s a lot of talking about cats and dogs” at the end) The one hilarious thing about the panel was a quote from a librarian friend that Cherie Priest shared, “Steampunk is what happened whenever goth people discovered brown.” I still found the hour worthwhile and I was certainly excited to see these authors in real life, I just wish I could've learned as much information in that session as I did in others.
This morning, I watched authors from the Jack Straw Writers Program
read some of their original work. As is the case in all group readings or efforts, I found a few much more compelling than others. I loved listening to Larissa Min
read from her Breaking English
project about her parents moving from Korea to Rio and I liked Robert Lamirande’s piece about art/artists, though capturing the pretentiousness of art/artists might not have been the best choice for an event filled with artists of a sort. (it wasn’t lost on lowly bloggers who have law degrees but feel like puking every time they think about practicing law)
One of the weird parts of reviewing books on Goodreads or blogs is the moral dilemma about giving negative reviews. For the longest time I was a person who stood on the soapbox for fair, honest reviewing. Always. Even if I don’t enjoy a book, I try to write a critical review without ripping it to shreds. Though entertaining, those types of reviews just aren’t that useful. (at least for me) That said, I never want to ask publishers or authors for ARCs of their books because I’m afraid I’ll hate them. I recently read several ARCs from upcoming debut authors and I was absolutely underwhelmed. What to do? I have no illusions that my reach to readers is gargantuan or anything like that, however I do know that many of my reviews are the first ones that show up when you search books on Goodreads. Do I want to have the responsibility of turning even one or two readers off of a book? (especially before it is even released?!) If you’re wondering why the hell I’m thinking about this, it actually has to do with Northwest Bookfest. I went to a panel on “The Truth About Getting Published” which was filled with information about the process of writing, selling, and marketing your novel. All four books being discussed by their authors sounded extremely interesting to me and I’d love to get my hands on them. However, what if I ask an author for their upcoming book, they give it to me, and then I have nothing positive to say about it? A few authors have told me that even negative reviews are worthwhile because the things that bother me might actually draw a different reader in. Hmph. I really hope this is true. Anyway, the authors on the panel were Daniel Marks
, Megan Bostic
, Marissa Burt
, and J. Anderson Coats
. To the four of you: Your books all sound intriguing, but I’m too nervous to ask for them.
I hated the title of “Writing the Woo-Woo and Weird Stuff” but the panelists were great. Jessa Slade
, Alexis Morgan
, Theresa Meyers
, and Yasmine Galenorn
discussed their genre at length and with a lot of humor. Alexis Morgan shared a story about being stuck on one of her characters. A friend of hers told her to “put him in the freezer” until he was ready to come back into the storyline or another book. A few weeks or months later, the two of them were sitting at opposite ends of a table at Red Robin and Ms. Morgan spoke across to her friend, “Remember that guy I put in the freezer a while back but didn’t know what to do with? I figured it out!” They received a few awkward looks from fellow diners. Jessa Slade was a unique voice in the whole weekend. She is, I believe, the first author I’ve heard talk who spoke as if writing was a job and work that she doesn’t always enjoy. She works hard at it, organizes everything, and outlines everything. Though I’m sure other authors don’t love what they do all the time, I found it interesting that Ms. Slade said that a lot of her enjoyment comes from the reader’s experience. At least I think that’s what she was saying because I couldn’t stop staring at the mechanical horse
-esque cowboy with a laser that was on the large advertisement for Theresa Meyers upcoming book. (in this case, product placement FTW) Because I found Alexis Morgan so utterly charming, I wrote her an email telling her just that. Guess what? She’s sending me an autographed book! I guess good things do come to reviewers who pull their head out of their asses and tell authors how awesome they are.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is 2,100 words on Northwest Bookfest 2011.