ALAN Nashville Report

I’m just back home in Austin from the ALAN 2006 workshop, “Young Adult Literature: Key to Open Minds,” at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville.

The workshop followed the NCTE conference. It was large, with 480ish in attendance, and sponsoring publishers provided tons of giveaway copies of the participating authors’ books (presented in big brown boxes to be shipped via FedEx).

With the exception of one breakout option each day, all programs were offered to the group as a whole, and autographings were quiet but busy affairs in the back of the main room. (I signed many, many copies of Jingle Dancer (Morrow/Harper, 2000) and the Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) ARC.

The event opened on Sunday night with the ALAN party where I met Sarah Dessen and Marc Aronson‘s (author interview) young son, both for the first time. Sarah seems thoughtful, upbeat, and warm–much like one would expect from her books. Marc’s son was shy, clinging to his legs. It was a treat to see Marc. The last time we were together was two residencies ago on the Vermont College MFA faculty. I kept trying to introduce him to Greg, but the three of us were never in the same place at the same time.

From there, I joined the HarperCollins family dinner at F. Scotts, where I enjoyed the salmon, the Art Deco decor, and getting to know Peter Abrahams.

The next day Greg spoke on the panel, “I Laughed So Hard I Cried” along with Jordan Sonnenblick (author interview), Lauren Myracle, and E. Lockhart (author interview). The chair was April Bannon of ASU in Tempe. It was a sparkling panel–smart, funny, a fitting way to end the day. They did something unusual in reading from each other’s books. I liked that.

Other panels I especially enjoyed included “Don’t Look and It Will Go Away: YA Books, A Key to Uncovering the Invisible Problem of Bullying,” featuring Patrick Jones, Nancy Garden (author interview), and Julie Ann Peters (author interview). Emphasis was placed on the role of bullying in school shootings and the heightened targeting of GLBTQ teens in schools as well as what teachers could do in response. Julie shared excerpts from reader letters, which was quite affecting, and on a lighter note, has the most divine new short-cropped red haircut.

I’d also like to highlight “Romance in YA Literature: More than Meets the Eye” with Brenda Woods, Sarah Dessen, and David Levithan. Brenda mentioned that interracial dating relationships (specifically African American-Latino) are addressed in her work. Sarah talked about writing stories with a love theme that had a literary depth to them. David was a strong, funny speaker who made good points about writing love stories involving gay characters.

It was a particular thrill for me to attend a breakout session, “What a Novel Idea: New Ideas for Telling Tales in Young Adult Literature.” Featured books were Autobiography of My Dead Brother by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers (Amistad, 2005); Rubber Houses by Ellen Yeomans (Little Brown, 2007); The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin (Dial, 2006)(author interview); The Sisters Grimm: The Problem Child by Michael Buckley (book 3 of the series)(Amulet, 2006); Refugees by Catherine Stine (Random House, 2005); and my own forthcoming YA gothic fantasy novel, Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2007).

In presenting Tantalize, enthusiastic and bubbly ASU graduate student Elle Wolterbeek offered fantastic tie-in overheads (Michael J. Fox in “Teen Wolf,” Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and many more). She also made a number of glowing points about Tantalize and pointed out: “Readers familiar with Tom Romano‘s alternative styles and blended voices will also enjoy this book as it employs…signs, advertisements and menus to tell the story, and teachers implementing multiple voice writing in their classroom will find a wonderful resource in this text…” Thanks, Elle!

Greg and I had dinner that night with the Candlewick family on Monday at Mambu. I ordered YoMama’s Chicken with crayfish baked mac and cheese–decadent and delicious. Cecil Castellucci (author interview), Deborah Noyes, and Don Gallo were in attendance.

Afterward, Greg and I enjoyed a late-night boat ride through the Delta section of the hotel with Cecil and John Green. We saw catfish, ducks, and plants from around the world. It was most memorable for the great company.

Tuesday’s highlight was John‘s mini keynote, which was brave, brilliant, hilarious, and insightful–quite possibly the best speech I’ve heard in six years of attending national conferences. It deserved its standing ovation.

My panel, “Picture This: Using Picture Books to Connect Teens with Young Adult Literature” was scheduled from 11:05 a.m. to 11:35 a.m. The panel was hosted by Sunya Osborn, of Nebo School District in Spanish Fork, Utah, and also featured Paul Janeczko and Sneed Collard. See my notes and expanded resources on the topic.

Afterward, I was whisked away for an author interview for The ALAN Review, and it was a wonderful experience, though I’m dashed at having to have missed “Keying In To New Voices in Young Adult Literature” with Paul Volponi, Cecil Castellucci, Coe Booth, and Kristen Smith. Yay, new voices! (Fortunately, I had other opportunities for quality time with Miss C.).

That day, I especially enjoyed “YA Anthologies: Opening Young Adult Readers to Diverse Views” with Michael Cart, Don Gallo, and Deborah Noyes (author interview). I appreciated what Deborah said about wanting to offer work that was both popular with teens and literary.

Also memorable was a breakout session with Bryan Gillis of ASU and Helen Hemphill (author interview) on “Reading with the Writer’s Eye: Integrating Writing Instruction with Young Adult Literature.” Bryan and I are in agreement that our favorite M.T. Anderson title is Burger Wuss (Candlewick, 2001)(author interview).

Additional sightings included: Tamora Pierce; Teri Lesesne; Gail Giles (in a stunning, full-length black dress)(author interview); Jane Yolen (author interview); Catherine Balkin; Robert Lipsyte; Chris Crutcher; and Ellen Schreiber. See Teri’s Power Point presentation on audio books. See also the ALAN authors list.

This morning, Greg and I had the most ideal travel experience one could imagine for the day before Thanksgiving. The Gaylord Opryland called a stretch limo for us (at regular cab rate), and we had a smooth flight on Southwest Airlines. Along the way, I buried my nose in Cecil’s latest and best novel to date, Beige (Candlewick, 2007)–amazing voice–and he studied What Are You Afraid Of? Stories About Phobias edited by Donald R. Gallo (Candlewick, 2006).

Thanks again to Candlewick and HarperCollins for sponsoring me to the event and to the ALAN officers and Nashville members who worked so hard on a successful conference! It was an honor to be included in such inspiring company.

Cynsational Notes

It was a special treat to visit with Sara Zarr (author interview) at her first national conference.

See more NCTE/ALAN reports from: The Goddess of YA Literature; Reading, Writing, Etc.; Good Times and Noodle Salad; The Divine Miss Pixie Woods (Dolly forever!); Sarah Dessen; and John Green (here’s hoping his re-entry into reality was a smooth one); The Boyfriend List; and GregLSBlog.

Thanks to Chicken Spaghetti and A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy for linking to my NCTE report.