Highlights of the Texas Book Festival (Saturday only…Sunday to come in a few days):
1) I hung out with Austin children’s book authors Frances Hill (The Bug Cemetery) and April Lurie (Dancing in the Streets of Brooklyn). We sat in on Christopher Paul Curtis’s presentation. Both women are a wealth of knowledge, and it was a pleasure to hang out with them for a few hours. I really look forward to picking April’s brain about some ideas I have concerning setting a book in the past. And as far as bubbly, outgoing personalities, I don’t know who’s more chipper, Frances or Cynthia Leitich Smith.
I’d met Mr. Curtis at the SCBWI conference in LA this past summer, and now that I wasn’t so star-struck, I was looking forward to speaking to him again. He gave a great talk about his path to publication, mixing both inspiration and humor into his presentation. Afterward, I moseyed over to the signing tent to have a few books signed. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: Hi, Mr. Curtis…I’m a really big fan of your work…I think you’re great…I really enjoyed your talk…I don’t know if you remember me, but we met at the SCBWI conference in LA earlier this year…. (And here’s where I stop and finally take a breath).
Mr. Curtis (looking me up and down): Well, you stood out then, and you stand out now.
(FYI – for those of you that don’t know, there aren’t a lot of skinny black men hanging out at children’s book writing events.)
We talked a little bit about the writing life, and I told him that I was there buying books for my aunt, and then he said:
Mr. Curtis: You know what, if you’re gonna buy all of these books, I’m going to buy one for you.
Mr. Curtis (pointing to a stack of books): Which one to do you want?
Mr. Curtis (handing a volunteer a twenty-dollar bill): Can you buy one of these books for me.
Me (finally waking up out of my trance): Mr. Curtis, I couldn’t –
Mr. Curtis: Which. One.
Me (grinning like a fool): The Watson.
And just like that, Christopher Paul Curtis bought me The Watsons Go To Birmingham – 1963. If I were smart, I would have said something like, “Well, the least I can do is give you one of my books.” But I guess I was too busy tripping over my bottom lip to say something like that.
3) I also met Chris Crutcher, a noted YA author that doesn’t let the possibility of getting a book banned stop him from writing what he believes in. I’ve been a big fan of Chris Crutcher for years (it seems like I say that about everyone). I read Stotan! when I was growing up, and I love his novels Whale Talk and Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes. Incidentally, somewhere between the Book Festival and home, I lost my signed copy of Whale Talk.
4) I sold 4 books. Well, I sold 3 books, and one had been sold before I got to the SCBWI booth. Four books may not sound like a lot, but for someone that’s never sold a book before, it was HUGE. My gut tells me that the first sale went to someone I know. I sold the second book to a college friend and his wife. The last two sales I made were really great, just because they were sales to someone I had never met before. I don’t know if I ever truly believed that people that I don’t know would buy the book. Plus, I helped sell some other SCBWIer’s books at the booth. I even took care of the money-handling responsibilities for Chris Barton, who couldn’t make it due to family illness.
I really enjoyed my first day of the Book Festival. If I ever see Christopher Paul Curtis again, I’m giving him one of my books. And if someone happens upon a signed copy of Whale Talk, please read the novel, and then send it to me.
More to come tomorrow (I hope) concerning George Nicholson, Broken China, and Gyro Meat.