Wednesday, March 23, 2011
The first major conference Alex Flinn, the author of BREATHING UNDERWATER and FADE TO BLACK, ever attended
We asked Alex Flinn what it was like the first time she went to a major conference. Here’s her response:
The first major conference I ever attended was NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) in Atlanta, Georgia in 2002. I was surprised to be invited because I wasn't very well-known. I was speaking at ALAN (the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents), which had a lot of big young adult authors like Chris Crutcher and Paul Zindel (I was very glad I got to hear Paul Zindel, whom I had read as a teen, speak at the ALAN breakfast shortly before he died). I was very concerned about what to wear, and a friend said, "Wear black, so it won't show if you spill something on yourself." I still follow this advice for conferences.
What I remember about the conference was that it was very big and overwhelming. I recently went back to NCTE and was surprised to find that it wasn't nearly as big as either ALA (the American Library Association) or IRA (International Reading Association), but at the time, it seemed very huge. What fascinated me about it was the number of free galleys being given away, and also the opportunity to see in person the well-known librarians whose names and opinions I knew only from e-groups and reviews. I was like a fangirl the whole time, going, "Oooh! Teri Lesesne! Wow! Patty Campbell!" They knew me, too! There was an editor from my publisher who took me around to everything, bought me lunches and even took me to the Coca Cola museum. It was nice but I was also a little freaked out by the attention. I'm sort of a loner. It reminded me of the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry's agent kept warning him about every contingency like he was some big star who needed to be coddled. However, I was very proud of myself to be able to demonstrate to the editor that I actually knew some people there, and people were fans of my work.
Another thing I remember was Bill Morris showing me around the Books and Authors luncheon and sitting by me at the Harper dinner. He was such a nice man and made everyone feel like a star.
For my talk, I was supposed to share time with an author named Louise Plummer. I went right out and got her latest book, A Dance for Three, which I loved, but I wasn't really sure how our speeches were supposed to dovetail. I couldn't get in touch with her, so the editor just said, "Make your own speech that takes half the time, and ask if you can go first." I did that, and boy, was I surprised when Louise went up and spent most of HER speech talking about MY book, Breathing Underwater, instead of her own. She was such a lovely, generous person. After we spoke, the next author up, Sonya Sones said, "I'm going to talk about Louise Plummer's books."
They were giving away my book, Breathing Underwater, in the goody bags at ALAN. The day after I spoke, I met a librarian, Terri Moore, who said she'd gone right back to her room to read the book and really liked it. Last year, I saw her again at a conference in Texas, and she reminded me of that meeting, but I remembered. NCTE was a great place to make connections, which lasted for years. My books, Breathing Underwater and Fade to Black, which were the books that were in the bags the two times I spoke at ALAN, are still on required reading lists all over the country, and I'm sure it was because of going to the conference.
By the way, Breathing Underwater is being re-released next year with a new cover and updated content (e.g., no beepers! No Beanie Babies!). I hope those English teachers will be happy about that. They've been very supportive of the book.