The National Book Awards, before any more time passes! I just may not have time to do justice to the experience, but hopefully photos can help fill in the gaps.
First off, I want to say that I was astonished to be a finalist, and I never expected to win. I mean, I was up against books with Important Subject Matter! Of course, I would not have objected to winning, and there's always that moment before they announce the winner that you feel anything might happen . . . Also, the morning of the awards, I got up really early and went downstairs to breakfast alone in the hotel cafe so I could watch Sherman Alexie's and Judy Blundell's acceptance speeches on my iphone and concoct one of my own, just in case. That was the only time I felt attached to winning, when I actually wrote down my acceptance speech. I didn't have time to practice it, though, so I can't lie -- there was the tiniest feeling of relief at not winning so I wouldn't have to go up there! Of course, though, if I had to choose winning or not, I'd choose winning. Don't get me wrong. However, I remain thrilled with my medal and silver sticker and am so grateful for the extra attention all this has gotten for Lips Touch. Thank you again to the judges for the recognition (and for the most beautiful, amazing blurb for my book EVER) and to the wonderful Scholastic team for everything, especially to Arthur, for, among other things, dyeing his goatee pink (!), and to Jim, of course, for making the book extra-awesome with his gorgeous artwork. (And there's a micro version of my speech!)
Things kicked off on Monday night with a reading at Books of Wonder, the marvelous children's bookstore. All of my co-finalists except David Small were there. That's Rita Williams Garcia (Jumped), Phillip Hoose (Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice), me, and Deborah Heiligman (Charles & Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith):
It's nice, in the Young Person's category of the NBAs, there are extra events so we get to know each other a little. I don't think the "grownup" finalists do this -- and that kind of exemplifies what it's like writing for young readers. There really is a community -- a community of the kinds of people I want to be friends with. It rocks.
Clementine was on hand for the signing, as usual.
She's getting to know the writing life well. She is in my lap right now, in fact, helping me blog. Right now:
That is, when she allows me the use of my fingers:
This is an early a.m. photo, by the way. Hence the high glamour. I got up at 5 today to write. You know what? The "marimba" alarm on my iphone is the most pleasant alarm ever. It's kind of like this: "Tra-la-la, how about getting up now, just if you feel like it, no pressure, but I bet you'll feel good about yourself if you do. And by the way, you're pretty." Nice way to start the day. Thanks, iphone!
Anyway, aside from the Books of Wonder reading, there was the Youth Press Conference held at the New York City Public Library--yes, the one with the lions. What a gorgeous building. Man. The Youth Press Conference is an event where students from a number of local schools come to hear the 5 finalists read, then ask questions (they've read the books) and get their books signed. Jim filmed my reading, and you can watch it at youtube, and if you're wondering about the jiggling of the camera, doesn't it look exactly like a baby bounce? That's because it IS. Jim was holding Clementine at the time! John Scieszka (aka the Ambassador of Children's Literature and author of The Stinky Cheese Man) was the MC; we'd met him last spring in Seattle but it was super-cool to meet him again under these circumstances. He said such nice things about our book! Here he is:
Here's the audience, taken from the podium:
Future finalists who read and sign at this event, take heed: these students have the coolest bunch of names EVER. I will eternally kick myself for not keeping a list of names the entire time I was signing, for use in future stories. Seriously, each name was cooler than the last. Well, hopefully I will get to do school visits in NYC some time and have another crack at the amazing names those kids have.
Tuesday was one big long day, with the Medal Ceremony and full Finalists' Reading (all 20) at the New School in the evening. Jim and my mom and Clementine and I broke up the day with some shopping in the stalls at Bryant Park. It was a gorgeous day, blue sky, the ice skating rink with the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building in view. Of course we cut it too close and had to hustle back to our hotel to get ready for the evening:
It was fun getting dressed up, which is something we don't do very often. Writer's wardrobe? In my own world, it looks much more like that pic above of Clementine helping me blog!
Here I am getting my medal:
(Not that you can tell from the photo, but when he put the medal around my neck--it's heavy--it slipped straight down my [maternally enhanced] cleavage. Oops!)
Now would be a good time to print the gorgeous gorgeous blurb from my plaque, written by the judges (primarily by Nancy Werlin), who I didn't meet until the next night:
With three fantastical, richly layered tales about the terrible and wonderful power of yearning, master storyteller Laini Taylor steals the reader's breath as deftly as the most skilled lover. Lips Touch pulses with vivid imagery yet remains economical in its world-building, its unpredictable plot-spinning, and its compassionate characterization. Taylor draws from multiple literary and historical sources to spin a wholly original and unforgettable reading enchantment that is nothing short of a tour de force.
Now, I had a medal to share around. With Jim:
Arthur Levine, fabulous publisher and editor, who made this all possible:
And Jane Putch, my agent, who brought pink champagne:
And here, a "clink" moment with Rita Williams Garcia:
So, from there, it was on to the anxious portion of the evening. The reading. The cool New School Auditorium:
Much more intimidating than the earlier reading, because obviously kids make the best audience (and after kids, librarians), plus here we were in the midst of the whole "literary" world with the grownup writers. What would they think of my kissing book?! I don't know what they thought, but some of them said some nice things afterward, and anyway, here's my reading, from "Goblin Fruit" (if you watch it at youtube, the art won't be cut off):
Thank you, Jim, for recording that and putting it up on youtube. Mwah!
The finalists were all seated in reading order in the first row, and I was 13th, which was excellent, since I hadn't had time to prepare a passage. (It's amazing how having a baby fills in all the nooks and crannies of the day, leaving very few little pockets for doing things like, say, writing acceptance speeches and practicing readings!) So I discreetly read over some passages in my head and made little Xs to edit out parts and make it shorter, all while sandwiched between the impressive personages of Daniyal Mueenuddin (fiction) and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon (poetry). What names, no?
That, plus a drink afterward with agent Jane and Sheila Marie, the most awesome publicist EVER . . .
. . . and then we were back to the hotel to see how my mom and Clementine were doing. (Thank you again, so much, mom, for being there! The event would have been very different with Clementine in tow. Possible, I suppose, as MC Josh Ferris had his baby along, the same age as Clementine.)
Wednesday's only scheduled event was the award ceremony in the evening, so we went down to Soho to visit the Scholastic offices and have lunch with Arthur, with a little shopping squeezed in around the edges. When we parted from Arthur, who was late to get to a business meeting (or so I thought), I heard him tell Jim he was nervous, and I thought: Arthur, nervous? I wonder what's up. Later, of course, I found out what was up! The "business meeting" was really a salon!
Oh my god. That was so, so awesome.
Another night of dressing up, this time really dressing up. Of course we were running late, which meant that the driver was waiting for us for a half hour and we didn't pause to take photos before leaving, expecting we'd do it at the event, but . . . we never really did. *Smacks forehead* So we don't have a good picture of ourselves all gussied up, dagnabbit. Here is the best one of my ensemble:
(Necklace, by the way, from Anthropologie, as was the fab glass bubbles one I wore the night before. The other two here are from a street artist in Soho):
And Jim, looking very handsome and suity :-)
Oh wait, here's a "paparazzi" picture:
Cipriani's on Wall Street was pretty spectacular:
And the tables were set with books. Now when I see other tables, I think, "They're missing something. Oh yeah, they're missing books!"
It was all fabulous and cocktaily (Cipriani's is famous for their Bellinis, which are deLISHous), and it was great to see all the Scholastic folk all dressed up. The art team:And publicity team:
. . . Seeing a few familiar faces, like the Readergirlz, Lorie Ann Grover and Dia Calhoun . . .
. . . and finally meeting the judges!
That's Coe Booth, Gene Luen Yang, and Nancy Werlin; not pictured are Carolyn Coman, and Kathi Appelt. There were all sooo lovely, and made me feel like such a WRITER. It was great. One of the best parts of the whole thing was talking to the judges. One of the other finalists told me later that as soon as she met them, she knew from the sad look in Nancy Werlin's eyes that she hadn't won. I didn't try to decipher anything; thinking back on it after, I can kind of see that. But at the time I wasn't trying to guess. Like I said, I never thought I'd win. I just wanted to enjoy everything and not have expectations. Still, I did steal away for a tiny moment to look over my speech in a bathroom stall. Just in case.
Speaking of speeches, I don't really have the energy to go into the speeches of the night. They weren't that memorable. Gore Vidal rambled, Dave Eggers wrung his hands adorably, and Flannery O'Connor was selected as the best of the National Book Award winners of all time, a choice I totally approve without having read any of the other finalists.
Phillip Hoose won in our category for his book Claudette Colman: Twice Toward History, and Claudette Colman was there with him to accept the award. Big huge kudos to them!
We didn't stay out late, and it was nice to get back to the hotel and cuddle Clementine. So, that was that.
I did a middle school visit right when we got home, and I told the students that the glamour moments for a writer are few and far between (though I'm guessing Neil Gaiman's life, for example, has a lot more opportunities for dressing up than mine does!), so it's a huge treat to get picked up at the airport in a stretch limo and to, you know, put on nylons and new shoes and go to a fancy place. Now, it's back down to Earth, to the business of figuring out a working schedule and progressing the novel-in-progress! Jim and I have a new strategy for getting work done, and it involves me getting up at 5 am. I hope it works! It WILL work. We'll make it work.
Whew. Long post. Thank you, National Book Foundation, for this magnificent opportunity to live a writer's dream. It was awesome!