I don’t blog very often because, well, I tend to write books instead. That’s good news, right? Thing is, I kinda like blogging. I can be more free-form and talk about my opinions and dreams, or both.
Coincidently though, on Friday I delivered a manuscript and on Sunday I was a guest at the Montreal YA Festival. First of its kind here in Montreal, presented by the Jewish Public Library. I should be asleep, but I’m… huh… processing stuff. So I might as well re-ignite this passion for blogging for a short while and talk about my experience.
First off, let me remind you that I am not, or rather never planned to be a YA author. I’m one of those insufferable authors who writes what he wants and let others shoehorn my work into a category. So when received a positive blurb from Voice Of Young Adult magazine, it took me by surprise. Then at StokerCon I discovered that YA is an actual category for the Stoker Awards and the books nominated aren’t exactly wearing kids gloves. Yet, when I was invited to the Montreal YA Fest, it still didn’t feel right.
For starters, this is the first year of the Montreal YA Fest and I assumed they were starving for guests. I’m not one to turn down an opportunity go get visibility for my books but also it seemed like a good place to network with people who are intentionally in this industry. A good place to learn.
Then, as the guest list kept growing with ever more prestigious names, I decided that it was one of the key organizers, Nicole Beaudry, who was simply doing me a favour. Fine, I’m also not above taking advantage of charity if it helps with my writing career.
So, you can understand that there were parts of the experience that were difficult for me. This is a slice of the industry where people know each other and have built a community. Especially with so many authors from Canada, I knew to expect to be an outsider. And I very much was, but at this point, while I don’t enjoy the experience all that much, I’ve become pretty old hat at going to strange places where there are none of my people.
The welcome diner was, well, a lot of conversations I wasn’t a part of, but on the other hand; free food. I’m a sucker for a free meal. The way to my heart is totally through my tastebuds. The meal was sponsored by Babar Books who were very generous in sponsoring the event, setting up a book store on site that stocked all the guests’ books and helping moderate panels. They were nothing short of awesome. I did luck out and ended up sitting next to Jo Treggiari with whom I was able to discuss serial killers, Nova Scotia, convention attendance, and other sundry topics.
So while not exactly a bad time, it remains the kind of social event that exhausts me to no end. Having to wade through Saturday night Crescent Street immediately after, AKA: the worst of downtown, was no picnic either.
Still, I sorta made a buddy, so we’ll call that one a win.
That’s pretty much where the negatives end.
No point doing a play-by-play, but let get you through a few of the more salient points of the event, as seen through my eyes.
I was on three panels:
- New On The Scene, which I guess I’ll only get to do once. It was interesting to talk about my very unique path to publication. While everyone on the dais had their own twist to the story, it’s alway weird to start with ‘I won a contest’ and then keep explaining how I essentially Mr. Magooed my way through my publishing deals. If nothing else, this panel allowed me to get to know the other guests better. As much as I wear a pretty thick facade when talking in public, I find that a lot of people are never more themselves than when faced with an audience.
- Are You Afraid of the Dark was a panel about writing horror and thrillers. While this was the only one of my panels which I would describe as having ‘low attendance’ it was also one where we got to dig deeper into the subject, why we write the horrible things we write and how we go about it. I was ‘reunited’ with Jo Treggiari and also joined by Teresa Toten. I had recently finished one of Teresa’s books (Beware That Girl) so I had something to reference when listening to her answers. I can’t be bothered to remember who won what awards and I’m told Teresa has won some prestigious ones, but more important was that she’s as delightful as Jo and the panel was fascinating. For me. Don’t know about the attendees. Maybe I should have asked…
- An Illustration is Worth 1000 Words was our panel on comic books, graphic novels, web-comics, etc. in my humble opinion, this was mostly a place to showcase the work of the very cool Karl Kershl and I’ve got no problem with that. My claim to fame that landed me on that panel? I once had a web-comic. Kinda. Didn’t keep me from talking though. Probably a little much? I don’t know. No one was mad, but for the guy who’s credentials could be summed up as ‘having failed at the thing we’re discussing’ I sure had a lot of opinions.
While doing panels is always a lot of fun for me, it’s my interactions between the panels that were the most enriching. Because I tend to gravitate towards other types of industry conventions, I don’t often talk to the actual young adults who read my books. So I never exactly got the feel for how it is received by that demographic. After each of my panels I had at least one or two people with questions about something I had said on the dais. It’s still intimidating to try and give advice and opinions, and Ceiling Cat knows I can dole out wisdom in a tone that makes it sound like I know what I’m talking, but each of these interactions were positive and I tend to learn as much as I ‘teach’.
Amongst the highlights was recording a short intro for myself and my book as well as writing a tidbit of ‘advice’ out for some young bloggers who were attending as well as having an awesome and insightful conversation with a young reader who enjoyed A God in the Shed. Anyone who says the next generation is doomed is a moron. Between these teens and the daughters of my friend January and James Ford (who were awesome enough to sacrifice their weekend and come hang out <>) I met more intelligent and cool teens than I usually meet tolerable adults in a week.
Speacking of my young reader. She first told me that she read A God in the Shed as I was walking out of a panel. I made what I think could be called ‘a face’ because the kid looked twelve to me. Not that I’m very good at judging ages in general, but ‘too young for my book’ was definitely the category I would have put her in. When she came to get her book signed the first thing she told me was how she was older than she appeared and proceeded to engage me in probably one of the coolest discussion about my book, writing and reading I’ve had in a long time. And I hang out with voracious readers, some of which read over 100 books a year, often more.
In the end, I don’t know if YA authors are ever going to be ‘my people’. I think I’ll always be a little bit of an outsider to that particular tribe, but that’s fine. Everyone I met that was a guest was still welcoming, smart and delightful. In the end though, it’s the horror people who still make me feel most welcome, but I can add the horror YA writers to that category. That being said, I’ll never back down from hanging out with YA authors and I look forward to the next opportunity.
The core lesson I’m walking away from however, is that I think I am a YA horror writer after all. If I’d known that kids could grow up to be that cool, maybe I’d been more open to having some of my own (apparently you can’t get any at Ikea, so that option’s not going to pan out). I realize I might have lucked out and interacted with some very rare individuals, but I’m willing to gamble and have a conversation about books with teens any day now.
A huge thanks goes out to the Jewish Public Library and Nicole for extending the invitation. The event was an huge success with attendance far larger than I anticipated. In fact, I fully expect that next year they’ll be too big to bother having me as a guest, but I’ll always have that experience of being at the inaugural event.
Special thanks go to James and January Ford again (Both of them are ‘the other J.F.s). It was a delight to have you there. <>
And to all the other guests for making the event the success it was and, despite my own anxieties and antisocial tendencies, being a fantastic motley crew of creative geniuses I am honored to have shared the event with. Finally, to Talya, Nicole, Tim and all the other organizer and volunteers, as well as sponsors for having knocked it out of the park. I’ve organized this kind of event in the past. I don’t think you realize how much you nailed it.