Winter Institute is amazing and what a joy it was to spend time with independent booksellers. I was invited by my wonderful publisher, Scholastic (book fairs! book clubs! Harry Potter! The Hunger Games!) to join the party in Denver CO and talk about my first YA novel, The Secret Language of Sisters. My fellow authors were Sharon Robinson (great writer, daughter of Jackie, my mother's idol) and Derek Anderson (amazing artist and writer of picture books) and we celebrated the fact that writing for children (in my case teenagers) is a very special calling. Their warmth and welcome into this new world for me made me feel so lucky. On top of that, we were taken care of, introduced, and nurtured by Scholastic's inimitable Bess Braswell and Jennifer Abbots.
We all gathered for the Scholastic Meet & Treat After Party at Kevin Taylor's at the Opera House. It was gorgeous, and there were stars on the ceiling! Constellations, twinkling overhead. There was an ice cream sundae extravaganza and a french fry station, and who could ask for more? Bess Braswell introduced all of us, and Sharon, Derek, and I gave talks, and the Caitlin Baker of University Books in Seattle spoke for author Goldy Moldavsky who was snowbound on the blizzardy East Coast.
I felt so grateful to be among book people. My heart literally swelled with love. When I spoke, I thanked the booksellers and told this story:
Here’s one reason I love booksellers…one February my event occurred on the same night as a big snowstorm. Hawley Cooke had advertised, there were posters of my book in the window, but…no one came. Well, actually one person did—a former employee of my literary agency who’d moved to Kentucky for grad school. I felt embarrassed and so bad for the bookstore, but Arlene Morse, the store manager, sat with me at the table piled high with my books, talking to me and making me feel as if I was the most important writer in the world. She had me sign stock, and the next day I was off to another city. But I’ll never forget her warmth and kindness, her reassurance that my book and I mattered, and her promise that she’d hand-sell it. And she did.
I mentioned other bookstores, all that have supported me from the beginning and along the way. Spending time with independent booksellers reminded me of what a collaborative effort it is. Writers write, we need publishers to believe in us and turn our work into books, and we are so lucky when the booksellers embrace us and put our books into the hands of readers.
The evening had so many high points. One was when I mentioned Connecticut bookstore RJ Julia (my home bookstore along with Bank Square Books and diesel: a bookstore) and the room applauded (Roxanne Coady and her store are innovators in and pillars of the independent bookseller world.) Another was running into Laura Cummings of White Birch Books. She reminded me of the first time we met, at a bookseller's dinner in the wonderful Bantam days, when Harlan Coben and I were the featured authors. She told me (and I blushed) that she felt we were rock stars. As a New Hampshire bookseller she knows Joe Monninger very well and told me she loved our book The Letters. (Joe has also written many YA novels, including the classic Whippoorwill, and is a true spirit guide as well as a great old friend.)
Perhaps most touching of all was seeing Mary Jane Reed, owner of GJ Ford on St. Simons Island GA. For many years my "other mother" Betty Anne Whitney (I babysat for her four children and hung around the house every day because I loved BA--and the kids--so) sold books there. At about age 75, having relocated from New Britain CT to the island, Betty Anne walked into the bookstore, introduced herself to Mary Jane, and in typical BA fashion said forcefully with no room for doubt, "You need me to work here." Mary Jane got her vibe perfectly, hired her, and loved her. Betty Anne worked at the store until four days before she died in September 2014.
Toward the evening's end I met two wonderful, lovely, and enthusiastic booksellers, Suzanne of Page 158 Books in Wake Forest NC and Kim of Between the Lines Bookstore in Baton Rouge LA. Our meeting was brief but intense and meaningful. They are both relatively new owners, and I wish them so much luck and happiness. Extra salutes to Kim, who is also a US Army officer.
I feel incredibly grateful to Scholastic, to bookseller friends old and new, and to the American Booksellers Association. The beauty of a long writing career is how many great friendships are made along the way, and I felt it so deeply at Winter Institute in Denver. I look forward to the publication of The Secret Language of Sisters.
Thank you and love, Luanne xx