February 23, 2015

Event Report: Montgomery County Book Festival

This Saturday I drove up to Conroe to attend the Montgomery County Book Festival.  Unfortunately, I'm an adult and had to miss the writing workshop and opening keynote to do some weekend chores.  But I was able to attend three panels and the closing keynote.

The Alex Crow One awesome thing about this festival was that bookstore sponsor Murder By the Book got permission to sell several books early, including SALT & STONE by Victoria Scott and UNLEASHED by Sophie Jordan.  I bought myself a copy of THE ALEX CROW by keynote speaker Andrew Smith, which comes out officially on March 10.  I also bought ENSNARED by A.G. Howard, because I can't wait to find out how everything gets resolved!  I already waited a month because I knew I was going to this event.

from Montgomery Council Book Festival site
"I've Got the Magic in Me" started with Victoria Scott reading a little from THE COLLECTOR and A.G. Howard reading from SPLINTERED.  This was a good move, because Scott has a great, low voice and Howard is awesome at doing voices for different characters.  She learned it from reading Harry Potter to her kid.  (Say it with me: Aw.)

Scott spoke quite a bit about how she managed to get Dante's voice down.  She asked a male, teenage neighbor, who kindly let her know that no one says swagger anymore.  ("It's swag now.")  She also cut any lines that her mom liked, because they were obviously too nice.  Meanwhile, Scott kept any that offended her even as she wrote them. 

Howard did something similar - she made sure to keep any lines of Morpheus's that made her blush when she wrote them.  She also said that his voice changed from how she heard it in her head to the final version, because her editor suggested codifying it as a Cockney accent.

Both agreed that the key to an anti-hero is reminding the audience of his redeemable qualities!

As for what's coming next, Scott is planning to slow down on her writing and publishing schedule.  However, if SALT & STONE does well there might be a third book in the series.  Howard and her agent are shopping some manuscripts around, including an adult Victorian romance about a young deaf girl who finds a flower in a cemetery and ends up haunted by a ghost and trying to solve his murder.

Funniest fact learned: Scott named the Pandoras as she did (magical animal companions in the FIRE & FLOOD series) because she was listening to Pandora radio at the time.

from Montgomery Council Book Festival site
Ellen Hopkins and Andrew Smith, the keynote speakers, spoke together in "Our Lips Are (Not) Sealed" about censorship, something both of them have experienced due to the content of their novels. In fact, a bookstore Smith is visiting asked him to speak at local schools, but said that they wouldn't provide books at the events due to their content.  Smith decided to attend the schools anyway after they reached out personally to him.

Hopkins has a quiet voice, but she can still command a room.  She's very passionate about her novels and the readers who tell her how much they've helped.  Hopkins was inspired by her own daughter's drug use, so the content of her stories hits close to home for her as well.

Smith is actually still uncomfortable with people reading his writing, and sensitive about some of the things people who want to censor his books have said.  He was going to quit publishing, and wrote GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE for himself.  (I think we're all glad he ended up getting it published!)

Both agree that they're very lucky with their editors, who never censor them, but instead push them to add more.  Hopkins emphasized that a good editor will always push you to add more, to be honest and not censor yourself before someone else can do it.

The session ended beautifully:
Hopkins: "Live bravely.  Write bravely; read bravely; live bravely."
Smith: "That's my next tattoo."

from Montgomery Council Book Festival site
The final panel I attended was "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang" about graphic novels, but writer and artist George O'Connor and writer Mariko Tamaki.  Tamaki has streaks of the perfect shade of green in her hair and O'Connor is ridiculously good-looking in real life, so this was a rather pulchritudinous panel.  It also had an interesting vibe compared to the others, because it was their third event of the day together so they were really in sync.

Tamaki started out as an English major because she didn't know what to do.  (She now has a Bachelor's in English and a Masters in Women's Studies.)  Her advice is to write for any opportunities that come your way, from plays to advertisements to whatever.  You'll figure out how to go with the story with whatever medium works.  Also, you should trap someone into collaborating with you before they know how much work it is.

O'Connor likes the control of doing both the art and the writing, although it means he has only himself to blame when he has to draw crowd scene after crowd scene.  He started on the art side of things, and still finds it easier to get the art on the page right than the words.  Thus, he's more proud of when he really nails the writing.  He wrote POSEIDON in the Olympians series three times, and the final result is still his favorite.

Both talked about some recent comics and graphic novels they recommend.  I'm going to have to look up BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS, which O'Connor raved about.  I hadn't heard of it, but it sounds awesome.  Both recommended that aspiring writers read a lot of what interests you and some of what isn't in your wheelhouse, so that you can bring in outside influences and create a new, unique voice for yourself.  They also recommended re-reading your faves so that you can tear them apart and see why they work.

O'Connor and Tamaki always carry sketchbooks to keep and remember ideas.  O'Connor emphasized not being precious about it, that the sketches and such inside will mostly be garbage, but you've got to get the idea down so that you can remember it later.  He's still kicking himself for forgetting the better name that he came up with for one of his characters (that he no longer writes) twenty years ago.

Finally, I went to the closing keynote, during which Smith talked about THE ALEX CROW, the importance of poetry, and why high school kids don't need to worry about their careers just yet.  I had to write down his response to his question about "What do you wish you could change?": "I wish that Beyonce would write a children's book, and that when she doesn't win the Newbery, Kanye attends the ALA meeting."  Unfortunately, he then had to admit that he's not that familiar with Beyonce's music.

It was a very fun event, with easy-to-find parking, a cheap and delicious bake sale (plus concessions upstairs), and a wide range of authors.  I'm sad that I wasn't able to see all of the panels, even though I enjoyed the ones I attended.  It was a good size, with a decent audience but not a crushed crowd. Next year I'll budget to buy the T-shirt ($15) so that I have something all of the authors can sign!

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