My Happy Place: Highlights from TLA

The Texas Library Association Conference combines everything that I love--books, authors, libraries. It's a time for librarians from all over Texas (over 8000!) to convene, learn, and grow as professionals. I attend sessions and learn things that I can apply to my career as a high school librarian, but honestly, TLA is a time for me embrace my inner book nerd. It's a time for me to become an unashamed FANGIRL.

Authors are my rock stars (I even have a t-shirt that says this). As a reader, I relish a writer's ability to tell stories that keep me thinking, laughing, crying, and connecting to characters. As a writer myself, I marvel at a published writer's talent and perseverance to see a book through the publishing process. Now that I'm starting the publishing journey, I realize how HARD it is, and I admire anyone who has the tenacity to push a book to publication.

This year's conference was in Austin, one of my favorite cities. We were blessed with beautiful weather to walk across the Congress St. bridge to the convention center each day from our hotel.

God bless Texas. 
 I spent most of my TLA conference in the exhibit hall. It is my happy place. It is a sight to behold--a convention center floor filled with all things librarian. Most of the publishers and vendors pass out FREE books (yes, I said FREE). Trust me, you do not want to stand in the way of a librarian and a free book. Most of these books are called ARCs--Advanced Reader's Copy. These are usually paperbacks that publishers print to generate buzz before the actual hardcover edition comes out. ARCs might have type-os and some unfinished art, but the story does not change. Here are pics of my book "swag" that I picked up each day:

Day 1 Swag--Love that old school library card bag! 

Day 2 Swag--My sweet friend Marnie bought me the
"fanperson" t-shirt. 

Day 3 Swag--Love my ode to the card catalog shirt!
Swag from all the days! 
I brought home 63 books, and this is really a low number compared to the haul that some librarians have. Out of all of these books, I only paid for THREE of them. Yes, THREE. The tower on the left are signed copies, the books in the middle are newly released hardcovers, and the books on the right are ARCs. The two in the front are special ARCs that I am most excited about. STAND OFF is a bound manuscript that the publisher printed exclusively for TLA (think pre-ARC). This is a sequel to WINGER by Andrew Smith and will not be released until September! I have a student who adored WINGER, and I can't wait to give this to him! VIOLENT ENDS has generated tremendous buzz. It is written by 17 different YA authors and tells the story of a school shooting from 17 different perspectives (release date is September). I will give most of these books to excited students at school; I gave twelve of them to my daughters, and I will keep some of them for my TBR pile.

TLA can sometimes feel like a trip to Six Flags because I spend a lot of time standing in line to get author signatures. Getting to meet an author is the equivalent of the ride experience for me. I love meeting authors and getting to make a personal connection with them. Lois Ehlert, Jo Knowles, Laurie Halse Anderson (my YA inspiration), David Levithan, Jason Reynolds, and Andrew Smith are just some of the amazing authors that I met this year. I also got to meet David Arnold, a debut YA author who is friends with Courtney S. Stephens, who is doing an author visit at my school in May!



Jo Knowles was so sweet and encouraging when I
told her about my own book. 
One of the favorite parts of TLA was that I got books signed for three special students. Two of them have gone through some horrendously tough situations this year, and I am honored that they shared their struggles and hearts with me. Laurie Halse Anderson made me cry. I told her that she was signing the book for a special student, and she looked me in the eye and said, "Tell me about her." So I did, which made me get all chokey because Payton's story is hard to tell, and then LHA put her hand on mine, looked into my eyes and said, "Thank you for being there for her." It blew me away that this FAMOUS author took the time to make that connection with me and thank ME. I am laughing in the picture with Jason Reynolds because he is so tall and was actually bending down while I was on my tippy toes. Andrew Smith signed three books for Cody, a student who has started reading BECAUSE of Andrew's books. Andrew and I are "friends" on Facebook, and he sent me a really sweet comment when I posted a photo and thanked him for writing books that make kids readers: 

This morning,I overslept because I got home from the airport at midnight and had to rush to get to school, and then I was already wondering when I was ever going to sleep because I have to leave tomorrow morning for another book event AGAIN, and I was thinking how I just can't handle this anymore, and then I saw this post and it kind of made my life. Thank you so much, Amianne, for doing what you do for guys like Cody and me.

My book high was taken to a whole new level because of these experiences. Books are so much more than stories; they are connections to people and emotions that make us better at being human. 




TLA is one of my favorite times of the year, but it gives me anxiety. That old cliche "So many books, so little time" never feels more true than when I am hauling my book swag through the exhibit hall. (My shoulders still have hickeys from my book-heavy bags. War wounds--I like to call them.) I've often written that I am a sloooooow reader, but I'm going to have to up my game to get through these books that I am dying to read: 

Newly released hard covers in my TBR pile
ARCs in my TBR pile 
It is a tradition that all MISD librarians meet for dinner one night while at TLA. There were 25 of us in Austin, so we met at a restaurant on 6th street. While we were being seated, a man came over and asked who we were. We proudly proclaimed, "We are librarians!" He got so excited and started telling us about his own elementary school librarian, Mrs. Barnes (he remembered her name!), and how she had made an impact on his life. He then went on to tell us about how he went to West Point and Harvard and how the libraries at those institutions helped him get through school. At that point, we were all a little skeptical of his story, but then he said, "I just sold my company for a lot of money, and I don't think I'd be where I am today without librarians, so I am buying all of you a drink!" He handed his credit card to our waiter, thanked us again, and walked away. So we ordered 25 margaritas! We didn't know this generous man's name, but our waiter told us that he was attending a private party upstairs at the restaurant. One of our whip-smart crew noticed the name of the company on the placard, and so we put our librarian skills to work and googled the name of the company. After some searching, we discovered the man's picture, and yes, in fact he DID go to West Point and Harvard and DID sell his company for A LOT of money. We found out his name and plan on sending him a thank you note. It's nice to know that someone in Austin values public educators (yes, that's a direct shot at you, Texas Legislature.)  Cheers to Mrs. Barnes!

I did not get to attend a fancy author dinner this year (you can read about my night to remember here), but I did see one of the reps from Harper Collins who remembered me from last year's dinner. She said that I "asked very good questions." She gave me some of the hardcover display copies from the Harper booth, which was super-awesome. I told her about my writing progress, and she said that I'm doing everything I need to do in the right order. She said, "I hope we hear from you one day!"

TLA is not the place to network for my own book. Oh, I mentioned it and took advantage of my connections. I actually did my first pitch to an editor from Penguin who thought she knew me. I said, "Well, I am writing a book so you might know me one day." She was intrigued and asked me what it was about.  I told her my book was Friday Night Lights meets Sara Dessen, and her eyes lit up. She said "I hope I see your book cross my desk one day." I immediately wrote down her name and started following her on Twitter.

But that's not how the game is played. I know the first step is tightening up my manuscript, writing a kick-ass query letter, and then playing the Great Agent Search. But I'm more determined than ever to chase this dream. TLA stoked my writer flame. I want to press on and travel the HARD road before me. Maybe one day I'll have people waiting in line for my signature on my book, and I'll get to look into the eyes of a librarian and thank her for what she does.

Librarians put the right book into the hands of a kid. We are the bridge from book to reader. What we do matters.

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