Wednesday, January 25, 2012

ALA Midwinter 2012: A Wrap-up


Last year, I talked about how I thought that that ALA Midwinter was my favorite conference, but I'm pretty sure this year's ALA Midwinter might top last year's. I've got another post planned for the weekend to talk about some of the books I picked up (which, to be honest, is much smaller than in year's past since I've really come to be selective in what I decide to take). For now, a glimpse at what went down in Dallas.

Friday

I got into town late on Thursday and headed to my room, where I was staying with Liz, Stacy, and Sophie. Since all three ladies had committee assignments, they went to bed shortly after I got in. I, however, stayed up quite late instead and had a very long (but fun) Friday.

I hopped down to the convention center in the early afternoon to pick up all the registration stuff, and then went back to the hotel to read for a while before meeting up with a bunch of my favorite librarians for a late lunch. We got a recommendation for a little diner about half a mile from the convention center, so we walked over there and proceeded to not only enjoy delicious sandwiches, but we had an excellent conversation about recent blogging drama, what we've been up to, and more importantly, book talk. We had lengthy chats about recent favorites and not-so-favorites, as well as talked about what we hoped would be seeing new seals on the covers come Monday. As much as we all talk online, it's never quite the same as when we get together in person because in person, the passion is so much greater. Likewise, it's easier to have maybe more pointed and honest discussions.

Following lunch, we went back to a hotel and chatted even further at length about recent book releases and what we're looking forward to reading over the next few months. We talked about the titles we're excited about not only for ourselves, but that we're excited to sell to other readers.

Then we headed over to the convention center, where the exhibits were about to open. As you can see to the left, we had a second to even snap a picture before chaos ensued (not our chaos, but other chaos). We split up when exhibits opened, and I spent most of the time catching up with Janssen. One of the best things about the opening night was running into Siobhan Vivian. Siobhan is one of my buddies, as I brought her out to my library to do a program for the teens this summer. When she said she'd be at Midwinter promoting The List (which I will review closer to pub date in April), we said we'd meet up and sure enough, we literally ran into one another.

After maybe an hour or so wandering the floor, Janssen and I decided we were more interested in relaxing for a while before our big Friday night event, so we went back to my hotel and read for a bit. I like to think that good friends can do that, just spend quiet time together reading. As I've really come to learn over the last few conferences, I feel best when I'm not on the go the entire time; taking breaks is essential to not burning out.

We made our way back to the convention center at 8 for YALSA's first annual trivia night. Liz and I had been scheming for a while about this, and we managed to put together a team of ten ladies to dominate the program. After asking Twitter what we should call ourselves, we ended up becoming Judy and the Blooms (thanks to my college friend Becky, also a librarian). And because my team apparently loved me so much, they designated me as the captain. Not a small thing, mind you, because it meant not only did I have to write down the answers to the questions but in the event of a tie, I would have to answer the tie-breaking question. THE PRESSURE!

We went five rounds, and each of the rounds included questions about YALSA and the YALSA awards -- some were dates, some were books themselves, and some were straight up history of the association. Given we had a pretty rock star team, a lot of the answers could be figured out because someone knew from either having served on a committee or because we had enough reading variety on the team to succeed. After a few rounds of offering nothing to my team except my terrible handwriting skills, I was pleased with myself that the one right answer I did contribute was about Lucy Christopher's book Stolen.

Judy and the Blooms fought the good fight, and we made a nice ruckus at the event. In the end, we tied for second place, missing the coveted first spot by only two points. But, we walked away with audiobooks as prizes (I chose a copy of Blythe Woolston's The Freak Observer) and our team walked away with a new tradition: the Paul Zindel fist bump. See, one of the rounds of trivia was visual (and actually, I lied, I was pretty good at this round, seeing covers are one of my things) and we were having a hard time figuring out who the guy in the top row was. After much brain power, we guessed Paul Zindel and when we were right....the PZ fist bump emerged. Because why not?

After trivia, I did a room switcheroo and ended up going a bit away from downtown and stayed with Janssen and my lovely co-blogger Kimberly. The three of us went to UT together, and it was really nice to spend time just with each other since we haven't been all together for a while. It was an early night (for them) and another late one for me because I have this horrible thing about being unable to sleep in new places. On the bright side of it, I got in more reading time.

Saturday

We were up bright and early on Saturday because we were attending Little, Brown's librarian preview breakfast. First, I thought I'd show off the feast. On the left you'll see my plate, and I want you to see it because as far as I can remember this is one of the few meals I remembered to eat at the conference. It's easy to forget things like this. Also, I mostly wanted to say it was delicious!

What a blast the program was, too -- rather than only talk about the books coming out this season, we got a chance to see the books coming out through the end of the year, including the new Libba Bray and the new AS King. That also means we got to see the covers of those books before anyone else did.

At the end of the preview portion, there was a surprise for us. It was Peter Brown, who talked to us about the process of putting together his picture books. It was fascinating to hear about the behind the scenes stuff, and Peter himself was a really fun and funny speaker.

After the breakfast, I headed back to the exhibits with Kimberly and Janssen, where we roamed for a little while before heading to a buzz session. Almost every publisher and imprint did one of these 45 minute programs where they talked about a handful of their books coming out in the next six or so months. We saw one for Sterling and St Martin's Press, and they billed it as a battle of the books. The two publicists who did the program were really entertaining, and I added a ton of books to my must-read pile afterward. The photo on the left is a shot of one of the screens with a few of the St Martin's books they buzzed. I love these sessions because they put a lot of things on my radar I may have overlooked and because it helps me think about collection development in the longer-term.

Months ago, Kimberly and I were invited out to lunch with an editor who had been reading our blog, and so after the buzz session, we headed out with her. We had a lovely conversation about both sides of the table -- from hers about editing and about what she loves to read and us about blogging and what we love to read. It was really cool to talk to someone in another part of the book industry; so often, we forget the role an editor plays in the entire process. It was a really nice long lunch, and when Kim and I headed back to the convention center, we only had a few minutes to ourselves before heading to another event -- this time, the Scholastic preview.

The Scholastic preview was way different from any of the previews I've been to before. Rather than have the editors or publicists get up and talk about the books, they had the authors there to do reader's theater with them. They selected a scene from their forthcoming books and read them as though they were performances, so each author took shots reading some role from one another's books. We got to hear from Jordan Sonnenblick, Francisco X Stork, and Siobhan Vivian, among others.

When the Scholastic event wrapped up, Janssen took off to head back home, and Kim and I went back to our hotel for the evening. And in due fashion, she managed to go to sleep that night and I couldn't. But in the mean time, I finished a book -- one which already made my favorites of 2012 list and I'll blog about closer to pub date. The suspense will surely kill you.

Sunday

We took our time this morning, and we got to the convention center a while after the exhibits opened. Picked up a few books, but really not all that much. An hour or so later, we went to another publisher's preview, this time for Random House. Rather than the buzz session which was a quick overview of titles, this preview was longer and went into more depth about spring releases. Lots of exciting titles coming from them, and I'll talk about that when I post about the books I picked up.

I was about ready to crash at this point, so Kim and I went back to the hotel and relaxed, before shuffling back to the convention center to catch the teen feedback session portion of the Best Fiction for Young Adults panel. For anyone who doesn't know what that is, it's when local teens come and talk about the books being considered for the BFYA list and they talk about what they think about the books. It runs for two hours, and as someone said, it's probably the only time teens get 2 hours of undivided adult attention like that (adults aren't allowed to talk at all -- this is only for the teens). The room was packed with teens -- I'd guess 60 or 70 local teens -- and adults -- easily in the hundreds. For me, this is the most interesting conversation to hear. It gives such truth to the idea different books are meant for different readers. One teen will talk about hating a book and the next will talk about the love for it. After having read an immense number of the books on the BFYA consideration list, it was interesting to see what points the teens would make that either I hadn't considered.

Many books I wanted to hear them talk about they did and many more they didn't. But what stood out was how articulate these teenagers are about their books. Some of the comments that I noted were about things I felt, too -- many teens don't want romance in a book just to have it there. One girl commented about a book she was loving because of its strong female lead but said she hated the book at the end because the strong girl gives it all up for a boy. These things matter to teens, and they're passionate about them.

Following BFYA, Kim went home. I was so sad to say goodbye because, as much as we talk to one another and as much as we work together blogging, we never get to see each other (and for anyone who didn't know already, neither Kim nor I have met Jen in person!). When Kim left, I went back to my hotel to decompress before making the somewhat terrifying walk over to The Iron Cactus for our YA Blogger meet up. One of the things about the meeting in Dallas that surprised me was how deserted the downtown area was at any given time. A little eerie, to say the least.

It's been so fun putting these blogger meet ups together because each one has had a completely different tone to it. The first one, at last year's Midwinter, was much bigger than I expected and it was the first time I got to meet a lot of the people I consider my go-tos when I need something professionally. Then in June when we did it at Annual, our turn out was spectacular, thanks to the help of YA Highway. I got to meet many of the ladies behind that blog, who work their butts off putting together what I think is one of the most valuable and insightful ones around (that's your cue to read it if you're not already). This time, we had a much smaller turn out, but the intimacy was awesome. Rather than hang out at the bar, we actually sat down and did a more formal/informal dinner. I had the chance to meet a lot of people who were new to me, and we had the chance to talk about books we love and books we were hoping to see earn some sort of award on Monday.

I got along real well with the bartender, apparently; I note this since I guess it doesn't surprise anyone but myself this kind of thing happens. After he made me the spectacular margarita pictured above (an Elder, with 1800 Silver Tequila, Patron Cinronge, and St Germaine with pineapple and cinnamon), he made me another drink and didn't charge me for it. The food, drinks, and company were wonderful, and I'm always glad these things have allowed me to meet so many new bloggers and book lovers. I had the chance to talk with one of the wonderful publicity/marketing folks about blogging and about good pitches (because she writes some of the best) and then we got to have a long chat about how much we both love the Jersey Shore. Judge all you want.

The event went longer than I thought, which was a good thing. Great conversation and food was consumed (I cannot get good hatch chiles anywhere but Texas). I ended up going back to the hotel after and, as will be a certain surprise, spent most of the night not sleeping.

Monday

Getting up early was surprisingly easy when I hadn't really slept and when I was anticipating attending my first Youth Media Awards ceremony. I've tuned in before via the live web cast, but never have I been able to go. And man, what an experience!

The energy in the room was amazing from start to finish, and if anything, it felt like it grew from the beginning until the end. Getting to be there in the theater with thousands of other people who are as excited and passionate about books as you are is such a neat experience. The picture on the left doesn't do justice to what it was like sitting in the room, which was literally filled from top to bottom. If I had to guess, I'd say there were maybe 2,000 or more folks in the theater.

There's really nothing like it. Being surrounded by some of my favorite people -- the same ones who I'd been making predictions with about potential winners all weekend -- only made it better, as did having an entire back channel via Twitter.

The cheers when books were named -- the cheers especially when John Corey Whaley took not only the Morris but then the Printz -- were unlike anything I'd expected. The silences when books that were long-thought front runners didn't make the list were just as powerful.

When all was said and done, it was interesting to not only think about the titles that did and didn't make it, but also about the tremendous amount of work that goes into making these selections. It's so easy to criticize, but the awards process is much more complicated than anyone knows. I haven't served on a committee, but it was interesting to listen to my roommates who were talk about the process a bit. These folks deserve so much credit for their work.

I did one last walk through the exhibits before heading back to my room on Monday. I debated making it to the Morris/Non-Fiction reception, but I couldn't do it. In retrospect I regret that a little, but I'm eager to see Corey speak at the Printz reception in Anaheim this June. So instead of the reception, I spent most of the day in my hotel room and most of it in the afternoon with the lovely Liz, catching up. Despite rooming together, we probably saw one another a total of ten minutes or so.

All in all, this was a fun and potentially life/career-changing conference. Like last year's ALA and Kid Lit Con, I got so much out of it because it was so much about talking with other people. I have had some really amazing opportunities come out of this conference -- definitely things that were entirely unexpected -- and I'm walking away feeling really re-energized about books and my passion for reading and talking about them.

I'm wrapping up with this as sort of a teaser to a post I have planned for Friday about something that's been bothering me (and something over which I have guilt and angst). I had a really neat reading experience at the same time as this conference, and it all reminded me of the fact books and reading are important. They need to continue being talked about and advocated for. As much as we continue to push for technology, we can't forget the value and power found in reading a book, regardless of format. Words and stories matter immensely.

17 comments:

  1. What a amazing conference. And Yay! Let's hear it for my fellow editors.

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  2. A YA Trivia contest! Be still my heart! This post has inspired me to go to a national conference. I always find some excuse not to spend the money, but I am going to do it next year! Thanks for the inspiring post. Maybe I'll see you there (and I promise I'd be an asset on a trivia team!)

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    Replies
    1. Don't worry -- we don't have any sort of requirements when it comes to being on the team. I didn't contribute much beyond being the answer-writer ;)

      I think they're worth the money if you choose the right conference!

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  3. It sounds like you had a wonderful time. One day I hope to attend.

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  4. Oh, Kelly! You are that much cooler in my book for also being a UT alum (2004 here). Thank you for letting me experience the conference vicariously. Could you mail a little piece of Jordan Sonnenblick's awesomeness to Paris? He's one of my faves--pure gold. (And not just because he blurbed THE KNIFE AND THE BUTTERFLY.) I still think about AFTER EVER AFTER and hope my son will grow up to have some of the sweetness (but not fake) of his male characters.

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  5. <3<3<3<3<3 <--- just some of the love YA Highway has for you! Wish we could have been there this round.

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    Replies
    1. RIGHT BACK AT YOU <3
      Maybe I'll see some of you lovely ladies at Annual!

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  6. Twice a year I tell myself I will go to an ALA conf. I just need to do it (but for some reason, it seems so SCARY to me :)

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  7. Love the post.

    Adore the bacon photo.

    Can't wait to hear about all the books.

    Jealous all around :)

    (Just keep an eye out for those elves.)

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    1. I can't wait to meet you at Annual! I think you, Jackie, and myself will need to get together. Quite a bit, even. Maybe over bacon.

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    2. So. Very. Excited. for Annual!

      We shall take it BY STORM.

      And I'm just going to suggest something:
      BACON. In DISNEYLAND.

      I'm just sayin'.

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    3. You know, I'm allergic to Disney, but I can totally do bacon elsewhere. Especially if it involves alcohol. Which Jackie owes me. . .

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  8. The whole affair just sounds fan-freaking-tastic. Readers Theater at the Scholastic preview?? I love it. And now I'm just itching to see the new Libba Bray cover!!! And now extremely curious about Friday's post...

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    Replies
    1. My self control is such I'm posting it tomorrow because it's more relevant :)

      The Libba Bray cover should be floating around somewhere. I know someone took pictures of it!

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  9. It WAS a great year. So glad we could all go!

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    Replies
    1. Ditto! It was so nice to spend time with you and Kimberly and reminisce about ... the good ole days of UT. Or something like that ;)

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