Wednesday, June 22, 2011

FAN GIRL 101: Maintaining Your Dignity at an Author Event (or not)

Last Thursday, I had the privilege and pleasure of attending THIS IS TEEN, an event sponsored by Scholastic and hosted by the incomparable indie book store, Wellesley Booksmith featuring bestselling YA authors Libba Bray, Meg Cabot and Maggie Stiefvater.

If you are looking for great summer reads, flip-flop on down to your local library or indie bookstore and pick up their latest books – BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray, ABANDON by Meg Cabot, and on July 12, FOREVER by Maggie Stiefvater.

Okay, so I don’t do well with famous people. When I was ten, I was invited to be part of the studio audience for Earth Lab, a local television show starring Rex Trailer and I got to hand Mr. Trailer his guitar ON THE AIR. They ended up cutting that part out, probably because I was shaking so much because Rex Trailer is freakin’ famous!

Fast forward to June 16, 2011. I arrive late to THIS IS TEEN because *disclaimer* I’m always late for everything. The nice lady at the door gives me a ticket, which I shove into my pocket. I watch Libba/Meg/Maggie’s awesome presentation, which you can watch on this very cool blog here and then they announce ****drumroll**** books will be signed.

Cool! I want my books signed!

Remember that ticket I shoved in my pocket? Yeah, well, there was a number on it. Since I got there last, I’m the very last person in line. It takes me all of thirty seconds to see the bright side of this . . . with no one else waiting behind us, our chances of getting a photo with all three Amazing Authors is greatly enhanced.

Fellow Apocalypsie AC Gaughen, Meg Cabot, Maggie Stiefvater, Libba Bray, Gina Rosati

Meg Cabot is adorable. I tell Meg she has her very own shelf in the middle school library where I volunteer (she’s written that many books), and her books are consistently the most checked out by our students. Meg seems happy to hear this and she signs my books, even the Allie Finkle book I brought from home for my daughter.

Maggie Stiefvater is adorable, too. I ask Maggie if there’s anything she can't do, since she’s a bestselling author, she’s a fabulous artist, she can play the bagpipes and she’s SO brave, she let a real, live wolf kiss her on the mouth, which would make me wonder if it loved me or if it was just tasting me to see if I’m worth eating.

So far, so good! I’ve still got my dignity, plus three signed books!

Libba Bray is . . . well, once I’m standing in front of Libba Bray, I blurt out “Ohmigod, I love you!” And my brain must have been skipping just then, because I remember repeating that a few times.

Then I come out with this little gem: “Ohmigod, I didn’t cry when my own mother died, but I cried when *characterIwon’treveal* died!”

Yes, really.

So by now, Libba is looking concerned about my mental health. Someone must have snuck in AFTER me, because I am no longer the last person in line so I don’t have time to explain to Libba Bray why this crying/not crying situation was a good thing.

There are between 70-80,000 words in an average YA book, and every one of those words is a choice. I think the words that carry the most weight are those little crumbs from our own experience that spice up the story. In my upcoming YA paranormal romance, AURACLE, my main character, Anna, and I share a characteristic . . . crying does not come easy to us because we learned at a young age that crying children pissed our fathers off in a big, bad way.

I started writing AURACLE the summer my mom went through the end stage of Alzheimer’s. My mom had taken care of her own mother and her aunt when they were each sick with Alzheimer’s, and when things were really crazy (like when my aunt ate an entire bag of cookies then threw up all over her bed … yes, I know, yuck) my mom would laugh and tell me if she ever got like that, just take her out back and shoot her. That sounds terrible, doesn't it, but that was her gallows humor - it was her way of telling me she’d rather be dead than go through the humiliation that is Alzheimer’s. Eventually, we had to hide the bag of cookies from my mom, too, until the time came when she couldn’t even remember how to swallow. Instead of crying when she died, I celebrated her life by eating something decadently chocolate.

But sometimes, a good cry is good. I read Libba Bray’s THE SWEET FAR THING, the finale to the Gemma Doyle trilogy, four months after my mom died. People die in books all the time and I don’t even blink, but the way Libba Bray wrote one particular scene, I had to put the book down and go fetch the Puffs Plus. I cried for that dead character and the ones left behind, I cried for my mom and for everyone else who has ever pulled the short straw in life. I went through a lot of Puffs that day. It was a relief to know I was still capable of that kind of emotion. After, I felt this immense gratitude to Libba Bray because I don’t believe you can write like that unless you’ve loved and lost yourself.

To sum up that feeling of gratitude in the ninety seconds I stand before a (famous!) author is impossible for me to do in an eloquent manner. So as fair warning to the other authors who can really wring emotion out of me, like A.S. King and David Levithan, if a woman appears in your signing line babbling “Ohmigod, I love you!”, don’t worry. It’s only me.


  1. So sorry to read about your Mom, AC. But isn't that what is so awesome about books? They can be so catharctic.
    I love Libba Bray too. I read A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY over Christmas break several years ago. I was so into it that for the two days I was reading, my children ate only fudge and sugar cookies for meals :)

  2. This is just proof of the power books can have. Sometimes it takes a powerfully written scene to evoke that emotion we've been repressing over some real-life trauma. It's easier to cry under the cover of pages than in public. So your author adoration (particularly of those authors!) is completely warranted.

  3. I, too, can be a babbling idiot in front of my idols. God help me if I ever get to meet JK Rowling! I attended a panel with Meg Cabot last year and she's fantastic (her Mediator series is one of my favorites). And years ago I met Libba Bray and she is just so cool. I re-read her Gemma Doyle Trilogy while I was pregnant and was a complete hormonal mess when that death occurred! I can't wait to stalk her at SCBWI this summer. :-)