This past Saturday, April 11, the annual Greater Houston Teen Book Con was held at Alief Taylor High School, sponsored by the Alief Education Foundation, Blue Willow Bookshop, Follet Library Resources, Mackin Educational Resources, Escue & Associates, and more.
One thing I thought this book convention did especially well was their selection of authors. There was a nice mix of big names, steadily working authors, and newbies. Debut author Henry Turner's ASK THE DARK even came out the week of the event. There was also a diverse mix of authors, which is particularly important in Houston, currently the most diverse city in the US. Our students need to see that someone like them can have a career as an author. As Ally Carter said in "The Secrets That Bind Us" panel, just knowing S.E. Hinton was a teen girl from Oklahoma opened her mind to the possibility of writing professionally, and every kid deserves that. The diverse authors included Jason Rynolds, Aisha Saeed (Vice President of We Need Diverse Books), Lydia Kang, David Levithan, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, and Jen Wang.
I noticed a few areas for improvement. One of the panels I attended was crowded and another was extremely crowded. I like the idea of teens getting to see as many authors as possible, but I think more smaller panels would help spread people out. Most of the panels included five authors. Another was that they stopped selling refreshments before the closing speech, at which point the event was supposed to go on for another two hours. I know I wanted to buy a bottle of water and just used the vending machines instead. I think many people could've still used a drink and a small snack at that point. I do give the event props for having multiple food trucks during the lunch hours. That was delicious.
I was a little late getting to the event because I had trouble finding Alief Taylor High School. (David Levithan assured me that his escort got lost on the way too.) The first panel I attended was "The Secrets That Bind Us" with Ally Carter, Henry Turner (who has the voice of a late-night DJ), Lindsay Cummings, and Justine Larbalestier. They briefly introduced their books and then launched into a Q&A. I was particularly interested in Cummings' story - she was bedridden for three years and did little other than read and write. She wrote THE MURDER COMPLEX when she was eighteen because MOCKINGJAY made her so angry. (I read it for this year's Cybils; it's a good book.) They had a variety of opinions on plot twists. Turner works his out in revision; Carter likes them best if they surprise even her; and Cummings plans them first because they're her favorite part. None of them liked rereading their work. When Carter needs to remember a continuity detail, she likes to ask Twitter and ask her fans to tell her if she's mentioned something before.
Second, I attended "The Hardest Thing," featuring Gayle Forman, Jason Reynolds, Aisha Saeed, and Elizabeth Wein. (Kevin Emerson was also on this panel, but teaching a workshop during the session I attended.) They introduced each other's books, and then the moderator played a game where we had to guess which fact was true about which author. A general Q&A started, and then the moderator asked the authors a few lighting-round questions. I liked the slightly more structured format of this panel. All four of them really write setting as a character; however, unlike the others, Forman doesn't always love her setting. She revealed that she was happy to move out of the Pacific Northwest because she doesn't like the Grateful Dead or many other trademarks of the region. When asked whether movies inspired them, Wein revealed both a passion for Star Wars and that she took inspiration from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic when writing BLACK DOVE, WHITE RAVEN. Reynolds revealed that the last book he read is THE SELLOUT by Paul Beatty, a modern satire about a man who owns a slave. I think I have to read that book just to find out what?
Third, I attended the "Magical Mayhem" panel featuring Joe Shine, Leslye Walton, Sarah Cross, Josephine Angelini, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, and Rachel Hartman. Walton was born in the PNW, so I might've just started a blood feud between her and Forman. They spoke about their editors first. Hartman had a contentious relationship with hers until he helped her realize that they were in cahoots. McCall really appreciates that hers points out when she's being lazy. They also spoke about how they write hard emotions. Hartman uses Estonian death metal to tap into anger; McCall acts it out; and Cross just keeps coming back to it and adding layers until she's in the mood to get it right. For inspiration, I particularly liked Angelini's stories of how she has trouble sleeping. TRIAL BY FIRE came about when she couldn't sleep because she realized that a clone of herself would be her worst enemy. Shine mentioned that he has to keep little notes throughout the day since he can't write until he gets home from his day job and gets his seventh-month-old fed and sleeping. (Angelini has a six-month-old and also spoke of the getting-the-baby-to-sleep struggle.)
Then there was the closing speech, a conversation between Levithan and Carter. I really liked that their conversation touched on Levithan's work as an editor. It is amazing that he's been involved in so many of my favorite books behind the scenes. Finally came the signing. It was very well organized, so the lines went pretty fast. The best part of this bit was Wein letting me know that there is a sixth and final Lion Hunters book featuring Telemakos that is written but unpublished. I want that book so bad, people, so bad. I'm also happy I managed to get Forman's signature before she had to leave early to catch her flight!
It was a fun convention, and I'm sure I'll try to attend next year if I'm in Houston.