This past weekend was the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at USC (go Trojans!). This year, like the past couple years, I prepared. I purchased tickets. I poured over the (frankly ridiculous) complex schedule full of panels, talks, music, dances, cooking things on stages, reading on stages. Like in previous years, I overbooked my schedule. Like in previous years, I attempted to coordinate meeting with too many people. Let's review my two favorite book-smelling days of the year.
It all started on...
Saturday. Specifically in the morning. I forgot to set my alarm and flurried around my apartment throwing things into my bag and ran down the street like a crazy person, bag flailing. I stumbled into an elevator, caught a train. Missed a connection.
As the train bounced along the tracks, I assured my morning friends — Privateer Chaffin and Tibetan Hermit Myneni — that I would arrive at our first panel soon. That I was on my way. This was true. It was also a lie.
I leapt off the train and did a breakneck run through campus, convinced that I knew exactly where the panel was. This was also a lie, one that I told myself.
Fortunately I was only ten minutes late, and Myneni and I collided at the door. Chaffin, as usual, had her stuff together. We got to slip in the back of a panel on graphic novels. Several comic artists spoke, but I was excited to be there for the author of Nimona, Noelle Steveson.
"How did you get into comics?" asks the moderator.
"I had this class, and I just started doing it," says Stevenson, the first to dive in, despite being a morning panel. "We started doing one page comics, then two page comics, then four page comics, and then we made zines." She pauses. "Like, the only way to learn to do comics is to do comics. So, Nimona was my way of teaching myself comics. It is very clear that I am teaching myself things, both in the storytelling and the art. So, if I had waited, I might have never started. If you want to do this, just start. Even if it’s terrible."
As a writer, that's something I can relate to. The vast majority of my written work is certified barely readable. Some of it was of so poor quality that no one on the Internet would read it. That's saying something.
But as a young writer (oh God I'm not young anymore help maybe I still am what's twenty-five?) I just kept writing. Maybe because I didn't know how bad it was. But maybe it was perseverance!
The panel starts talking about the industry as a whole, and some of the panelists jab at DC and Marvel, the superhero-publishing powerhouses. Stevenson leans towards the microphone a little.
"I’m working for DC," she says. "They’re hiring women. They’re realizing that they have to change and grow. You can’t just keep the same audience and never evolve. Because, that audience isn’t going to be alive forever. They’re realizing that there’s this growing crowd that’s interested in web comics, and studios are hiring web comic artists. There’s a long way to go, but support the books you want to see."
But my favorite moment caused my fangirl heart to blossom. I love authors who love their work, but treat it with a delightful irreverence. That's family level love.
"I drew a tricerops going into battle dodging laser blasts," says Stevenson. "That’s what my work is."
The second the panel finished, I rushed down the steps of the auditorium to introduce myself. Stevenson was friendly (she probably thought I was insane) and told me that there'd be a signing. You know, like there are at book festivals.
My so-called friends tell me to go to the Harper Collins booth across campus to get a copy of Nimona, which I had been hoping to buy at the festival. I take off. Just I'm reaching the center of USC, I get a call.
There are books for sale in the signing area, says Chaffin. Amazement. Of course.
I manage to make my way through a properly regulated author encounter with Stevenson. She signs my book. We take a photo. She's really sweet. My so-called friends sneak around to photobomb my photo before volunteers shout them off.
This is why they are my morning friends.
The next panel was titled From Page to Screen. It was a little slow, mostly about authors having their books adapted to film. The moderator clearly had a huge crush on author Don Winslow. He clearly couldn't have cared less about the other two panelists, from his adoring three minute introduction of Don Winslow, to his confusion over Ransom Riggs's existence.
Some other things happened. Janet Fitch compared adapting a novel like turning a cow into a bullion cube. In the same vein, Ransom Riggs wondered aloud, "Do surgeons ever do surgery on the people they love?"
Because of the moderator Richard's clear adoration, I wrote down one of Winslow's responses to where stories come from:
"Sometimes you wake up in the morning angry. And one of those mornings, I wrote that word." He gestures vaguely. We laugh. "Then the word that tends to follow that. I was just pissed off, looking at the empty screen. Blah, blah. And then I thought, who's thinking this? Who's writing this? Then, all of a sudden, the voice and point of view were of an Orange county woman. Which I'm not."
You can be anything you want, I imagine Richard saying.
"I don't have an intelligent answer for you, Richard," continues Winslow. "It's a little scary."
Like my love for you, I imagine Richard replying.
"A lot of times it's from the news," says Winslow, thoughtful.
You want to know what's also news? I think. His love for you.
We all broke up and got lost about some time after that. It's all a blur to be honest. I think I wandered into a panel where a former mayor of Los Angeles was talking. I ran into my afternoon friends, Jillian Barndt and Cassie, both graduate students in history. We made our way through YA and comic book booths towards the center of campus.
I bought books on Japan at the Kinokuniya booth and listened to the husky, whimsical tunes of Bellorage. I laid down on the grass and started to read about the art of cleaning up.
Really, the end of the day is a blur. I met a photojournalist who did a book on people at hot springs. At some point Chaffin and I posed as robot and cavewoman, and Myneni emerged from a talk on science.
At some point I went home, forgot to set my alarm, fell asleep and woke up for...
... Sunday, when I took full advantage of the shopping. My boss and I attended the keynote presentation with Malcolm Gladwell, author of David and Goliath, among many other bestselling nonfiction books. Gladwell touched upon episodes from his book, which analyzes how we often view advantageous things as disadvantages (and vice-versa).
He talked about the gangly Silicon valley team of blonde girls that managed to go to the Junior basketball championship. He talked about curing leukemia and how hard rich parents can have it.
Afterwards we waited in line to get our signed copies of the book, and we sipped on ginger peach lemonades as we meandered about.
I purchased a pile of books from the friendly staff of the Korean Foundation, including a book on Korean history, tea, and cooking. I bought from more stuff I don't need from Kinokuniya. All the books deserve their own post, if I have the energy.
I finished off the day with some Korean dancing at the USC stage. I didn't smell any books.
If you click the circle heart, it makes hearts blossom.