Wordstock Day 2: The Convention Floor, Children’s Lit and Colin Meloy

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Tara Lehmann and Mandi Russell at the RainTown Press booth on the convention floor. Tara Lehmann and Mandi Russell at the RainTown Press booth on the convention floor.

Tara Lehmann and Mandi Russell at the RainTown Press booth.

 

(So I am listening to The Decemberists song After the Bomb, which is appropriate on so many different levels, but more on that later. ) Wordstock day two did not disappoint. I am both overwhelmed and somewhat at a loss for words to describe the wonderful state of ecstasy and overflowing inspiration I have after two days of books, authors, presentations, and convention floor networking all surrounding books. I am trying to take it all in. I am sure that you will hear more about it in the days to come. For now, let me walk you through today’s wonderful book feast.

I spent more time at the kids stage today for several reasons. Most importantly, many of the books geek parents would find interesting were featured on this stage. The day began with a reading of two picture books. Erin O’connell read her book on the Native American legend of the creation of Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens, Loowit’s Legend. This was a must for me because these legends have always stuck with me ever since as I child I took a field trip to see Chief Lelooska tell us these same stories. Susan Kerner followed with a reading of her book, Always By My Side, which was written for her daughter Lily Alan after the death of her father (Kerner’s husband). The book encourages children to recognize that even if a father lives in a different home or is no longer in their life for some reason, they can still recognize them in their own talents and choices, as well as their surroundings. It seemed an excellent choice for children dealing with a military deployment or loss of their father. Kerner and I hope to connect further on the topic as the book comes closer to publication.

I spent the next hour wandering the floor of the convention hall. There were the usual small presses with the books to sell, as well as degrees and other classes offered by various groups. While wandering, several things stood out.

Digital Bindary is a full service ebook conversion and creation house which does much more than simply transform your text into HTML and spit it out in .epub or .mobi format. They had a travel book on display in which video journals from the author’s travel were embedded in the book. Let me say that again: they had a book with embedded video! This just opens up huge possibilities for cross media collaboration and experimentation. They also had completed workbook projects for customers which allowed book owners to fill in answers in their own workbook right on their Kindle or iPad — really neat stuff. I am looking forward to talking with them more about the future of cross-media books.

I had a great conversation with Nancy Barnes, an editor, about how the CSS and HTML underpinnings of ebooks would allow for wonderful “Choose Your Own Adventure” type books. Both she and I want to see something attempted for adults on a novel length scale.

I also had a really great conversation with Dennis Widmyer and Kirk Clawes on their one year old website for writers www.litreactor.com. What makes their site interesting to me is they have online classes as well as a writers community which provides critique and feedback. They also have an online writing magazine as well. Writers interested in learning more about their craft and getting feedback in an online environment should check it out.

Finally, in total unfairness to the many small publishers who had great books available, I am going to highlight the upcoming book for just one. RainTown press author Danielle Myers was at the Raintown booth discussing her upcoming book The Last Burning of New London. I asked Tara Lehmann with RainTown why they chose to publish her work. Lehmann said that twenty-year-old Myers’ writing stood out for both its strength and her ability to create unique voices for each of her characters. When Myers set out to tell the story of a London street gang rebelling against a tyrannical government which rules Western Europe, she had originally hoped to tell the story from the point of view of all six members of the gang. She narrowed it to four. At twenty, it takes some pretty good writing chops to pull off four unique voices in one story. I am looking forward to hearing more from Myers. Review copies of her book are going out shortly and publication should be in early 2013 — something to keep an eye out for.

In the afternoon, I enjoyed the conversation in the seminar on Author as Blogger; it seemed right up my alley. Then it was back to hear Daniel Wilson talk about Amped, which Kathy Ceceri reviewed for our site. He was paired with Alex Adams who was reading from her book, White Horse. Unfortunately, my family arrived right as Adams was going to read from her book, so I missed that part of the presentation to eat my lunch and greet them. (I am sorry Alex!) However, I did make it back in time to ask a question and find out that Wilson is working on a sequel to Robopocalypse, which was reviewed by James Kelly on our site. I am looking forward to what Wilson has to say about the aftermath of an apocalypse based on technology. Wilson thinks that for human beings, technology has an inherent double-bind. We both need it to survive in nature, but we fear it at the same time. I think it will be interesting to compare his work with that of Cory Doctorow, who doesn’t always seem to see that double bind, but rather embraces technology as a means for humanity to become something better than it is now. (See my review of his book The Big Bright Beautiful Tomorrow.)

Kids make their own books at Wordstock.Kids make their own books at Wordstock.After this bit of heady conversation, it was time for some more time in the kids area with my family. Kids 13 and under get into Wordstock for free, and there is a whole stage devoted to children’s literature. Besides the readings and author’s presentations, there were a whole bunch of great activities for kids, as well.

It was actually here that I saw the most heart-felt and courageous presentation of the whole weekend. Trent Reedy talked about his book, Words in the Dust. The genesis of the book came from Reedy’s tour in Afghanistan where he was assigned to guard reconstruction projects. Reedy was incredibly honest about the hatred and fear he felt when he went to Afghanistan. He nearly cried when talking about it. He then described how it was the children of Afghanistan who changed him. Reedy’s book concerns one child in particular. This girl had a cleft palette. Reedy and his fellow soldiers used their own personal money to pay for the flight to a military hospital where she received the necessary surgery to repair her mouth. Although aimed at kids, Reedy’s book doesn’t shy away from showing the reality of the war.

Newberry winner Rebecca Stead followed Reedy. She read from her new book Liar and Spy which is about a boy who is between best-friends and is building a relationship with a kid named Safer, who wants him to spy on the man who lives in the apartment above his.

Dr. Cuthbert Soup followed Stead, talking about his final book in the Whole Nother Story series. No Other Story is currently under review by Jenny Williams on our staff. Soup stayed in character the whole time which was quite fun for those of us who were familiar with his work, but seemed to baffle much of the audience who didn’t appear to catch some of his jokes. Soup, known for his comedy, let the audience play the straight man. At one point, author Christopher Healy asked if he had ever considered personally using a false name like the Cheeseman family. Soup answered quickly, “never.”

Soup was followed by a panel discussion with Christopher Healy and Jackson Pearce, moderated by Sara Gundell, called Fractured Fairy Tales. It explored our current fascination with retelling fairytales in new ways. Healy discussed his humorous book, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, in which he takes the prince charmings of several fairy tales and gives them a back story, telling the fairy tale from their point of view. Pearce is also known for her more serious and adventurous re-tellings of fairytales, including Fathomless, her version of The Little Mermaid. Jackson said that her inspiration to begin writing new versions of fairy tales came from asking the question, what happened to Red Riding Hood after all the trauma was done? Did she heal? Answering that question led to her first book. When asked about the trend to rewrite fairy tales, Healy answered that he thought it was because we enjoyed being surprised by the familiar.

The final presentation of the day went to the husband and wife team of Decemberists front man Colin Meloy and his wife Carson Ellis. I was familiar with Ellis’ work as the illustrator on The Mysterious Benedict Society books. Meloy and Ellis talked about their collaboration on their books Wildwood and Under Wildwood. Both books have been well received. Meloy and Ellis are hometown heroes in Portland and their book re-imagines forest park as an enchanted kingdom with all sorts of fantastic creatures. The premise of Wildwood is that twelve-year-old Prue must go into the wild forest to rescue her baby brother who has been kidnapped by a murder of crows. It was fun to hear Meloy read from the book and see what Ellis created from his text. Ellis also mentioned that she is scheduled to illustrate an upcoming book by Mac Barnett, who I talked about in yesterday’s post. I am really looking forward to seeing that.

Well, that about covers my day at Wordstock. In case you missed my post on day one, you can find it here. Now I have the pleasant task of unburying myself from the mountain of work I just created. Good times indeed. (If you are an author, and I talked about reviewing your book, don’t forget to email me or get my information to your publicist.) I will look forward to seeing all of you next year.

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