The Austin Teen Book Festival

September 29th was an especially awesome day in Austin for teen readers (and adults who pretend to be teen readers) and writers who want to write for those teen readers. I am the latter, and since my visit to Texas coincided with the festival, I thought, “What the heck?” Over 3,000 other truly cool people like me felt the same way, despite the soggy Austin weather. The Palmer Event Center was adorned in Texas stone and filled with lots of bathrooms (this may not seem like an important detail, but shove that many teens into one space and it totally becomes one).

My husband, as I said in my Keep Austin Weird! post, attended with me. He was cute, with his total oblivion to these books and really kickin’ Adidas tennis shoes. He sat with me, courteously listening and only getting on his computer when no one was looking. I owe him a thanks, because he also allowed me to wander and fidget around as necessary, preserving our awesome front row seats.

We got there on-time, 9 am, me still sucking down coffee and trying to pretend I was awake. Me and rainy mornings are not best friends. I like bed. I had received an email from the Festival staff that Neal Shusterman would not be giving the Keynote due to a family emergency. I was disappointed, and come the announcement to the kids, my feelings were shared. But, not to worry, Libbra Bray (check her out on Goodreads, and send me a friend request while you’re there) courageously stepped up in his place.

I had not read any of her books yet, after her speech I added like all of them to my TBR list. She was brilliance in the flesh. She opened her speech by donning a cape and wielding a light-saber to duel her quite theatrical husband in the dark. She then got serious, and thirsty, stating, “I need a little water. It’s thirsty work spearing people with a light saber. They don’t show you that in Star Wars, how dehydrated you get.”

She called her speech, which had 20 bullet points, “the complete history of everything I have ever learned to date, abridged.” With silly points like: “Change your underwear” or “When in doubt, Let’s order pizza, is probably a good answer” or the well received “Farts are always funny”. Within those, she also said things that carried weight for writers and readers alike.

One of my favorites was when she boldly informed everyone that “Tests are Bullshit!” Teens loved this, for the cussing and the content. When she began to talk about writing and revision saying, “First drafts are like presenting a false front. Revision is like your very best friend cutting that away. Writing is digging down to the very deepest, darkest place and then putting that on a page for everyone to read.” (That quote is slightly paraphrased.) When she segued into a personal anecdote about the time in her life when she experienced a horrific car accident that resulted in her face being almost irreparably wounded. This story was met with silence and awe, and then roaring support and understanding. She told it as a way to show how you can return from truly being broken, and it was powerful.

The Keynote speech ended with us (the teens, not me personally) putting on a rendition of Total Eclipse of the Heart, accompanied by a fog machine. It was thoroughly special.  Libbra Bray had a lot to say that was valuable and super entertaining. Also, she wore a DR.WHO t-shirt. This made her innately cool in my book. I did hear a few parents say, “She said bullshit a lot,” accompanied by their giggling teen, “Libbra Bray said Bullshit!”

I also attended the panel called “We’re not in Kansas Anymore”, featuring Bray, Sarah Rees Brennan, Leigh Bardugo, Rae Carson, Kami Garcia, and Margaret Stohl. This panel was exactly what I needed to hear. These authors discussed creating imagined worlds and how they formulated the magical forces in their worlds. They talked about research. They talked about Star Wars (Rae Carson is a Luke fan, as I was as a child. The others fell firmly on the side of Han.) One of my favorite quotes came from Margaret Stohl. She was discussing her readers. Her books are published in 48 countries, and when she was in Malaysia doing a panel much like the panel she was doing for these Austin teens, she met a sixteen year old girl who was about to be sent into an arranged marriage. She said, “As much as you guys here are my readers, this girl is too.” That was profound to me. A girl, living under law we in America would write fiction about as loathsomely barbaric, is reading and connecting with this literature. She is finding herself there. That is a testament to the power of the written word.

I volunteered in the afternoon, but as expected, the Teens had the blogging, twittering, tumblring down to a fine art, so I ended up directing traffic. I was just glad to lend a hand, and chat a little with the teenagers and observe them like the total weirdo I am. I especially liked to watch the Dads who had been dragged their by their daughters. It was adorable. (And not unlike my knight-in-shining-armor husband.)

Overall, the Festival was a great experience, and one I hope very soon to be experiencing from the other side. Thank you Austin Public Library Friends Foundation and Book People for putting on such an awesome, free event! Here are pics. I didn’t get a lot because I was recording voice memos in my phone while listening to the panel, and I am a socially awkward penguin when it comes to asking for photos. I putter and blush.

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