Monday, June 30, 2008

On the Road Again : June - Part One

LA -- We left Key West on May 29, heading for the west coast and the biggest book convention of the year, BEA. If you have a book coming out in the fall, your publisher may ask you to attend. It's a way to introduce the fall list to the booksellers. Since Going, Going, Gone! will be published in September I was invited to speak at the Children's Book&Author breakfast in front of about 1200 booksellers and publishers (that was the expected audience, anyway).

I said Yes! because 30 years ago, at the first Children's Book&Author breakfast, the guest speakers were Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, and me. I don't think anyone on this year's committee realized that and I didn't tell them because I have a priceless (to me) photo of that event taken by Jill Krementz and I decided to share it with the audience. I mean, we're talking 30 years ago! I wonder if anyone in this year's audience attended that breakfast? Do I even have to say what a thrill it was for me to appear with two of my heroes in Atlanta, May, 1978?

(This photo is copyright by Jill Krementz and may not be reproduced)

When I first began to write I wanted to be the next Dr. Seuss (to my left in photo). Everything I wrote was in rhyme -- very bad rhyme. Fortunately, I was taking a course at NYU in writing for young readers, and my teacher suggested (very gently) that I might want to try prose. Whew! Thank you, Lee Wyndham. And Maurice -- well, who doesn't love Maurice and his incredible work?

When that photo went up on two huge screens, one on each side of the dais and I told the audience (because I'm not sure they recognized us) who we were -- well, it was a magic moment for me. I think I forgot to tell them Elliot took that photo to his kindergarten class for sharing. All the kids knew about Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak. I doubt any of them had ever heard of me but Elliot got a lot of points for having his grandmother in the picture.

This Book&Author breakfast was very different -- instead of being the new girl on the block I was the grande dame (or something) sandwiched between a group of young(er) turks. Naughty boys all (or pretending to be naughty boys -- I'm not sure). First we had Jon Scieszka, the first national ambassador for young people's literature, warming up the audience. Then we had Eoin Colfer (Irish writer/comedian) introducing each of the three speakers in alphabetical order. First speaker was Sherman Alexie. I'd recently read his first YA book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. He was charming and told a poignant story about one of his fans. Then it was my turn. Then Neil Gaiman (black leather jacket, jeans, curly black hair) a sexy looking guy with a British accent. No wonder he had groupies lined up at his book signing afterward.

Here we are just before the Book&Author breakfast.

(to my left, Neil Gaiman, to my right, Eion Colfer, Sherman Alexie, John Scieszka)

In the world of children's books it felt very odd to be the only woman on stage. What was that all about? Or did the planners of the event think the audience would enjoy the guys more? Hmmm.... in 1978 it was the same thing, wasn't it? Either way, the early morning audience (we began at 8am) seemed to enjoy the raucous program. Maybe it woke them up. I know it woke me up -- it was freezing on the dais! I kept thinking about Neil's black leather jacket and wishing I'd had mine with me. But, okay -- I admit it was fun! When the audience is with you it feels really good.

On Saturday night Random House Children's books hosted a party for 300 guests at Dodger Stadium. I once saw a movie set in LA where two families were competing for most outlandish Bar Mitzvah of the year. One of them was to take place at Dodger Stadium. I couldn't help thinking about that movie during our party.

The nine Random House writers sat in the dugout and as Chip Gibson (head of RHCB) introduced us we ran out.

I was Judy,The Scooter, Blume.

Then each of us was escorted to a table under an umbrella to sign -- No, not our books -- but baseballs. Nine signatures on each baseball. The RH Team! Did I mention I was freezing? Never again will I go to LA without a leather jacket and boots.

Best part of the evening -- I asked Chip if I could use the loud speaker system to wish George a Happy Birthday. Wow!! Then everyone joined in, singing Happy Birthday to George. He handled it well.

June, Part Two to come...