It’s a festive time of year for book lovers in Boston! September’s Boston Teen Author Festival and October’s Boston Book Festival are events planned with authors, panels, and giveaways for attendees. Free to the public, BTAF and BBF enrich readers’ experiences with old favorites and new reads, as well as build a community of locals with a passion for the written word.
Here’s a recap of the 2014 Festivals!
Boston Teen Author Festival
BTAF was first organized by undergraduates in Emerson College’s Writing, Literature, and Publishing program in 2012. The event highlights New England authors, particularly Boston natives, of teen novels. For the third annual festival, held at the Cambridge Public Library, attendance more than doubled from 2013. Over one hundred preteens, teens, and adults arrived to partake in writing workshops, panels, and author signings.
Co-founder Renee Combs moderated opening ceremonies in a good-sized auditorium later used for panels. The two dozen attending authors sat in staggered rows up on the stage while Combs asked questions from the podium. Passing the microphone up and down their rows, the authors answered questions like “What are three adjectives that describe your book?” (“lasers” showed up more than once, accompanied by self-aware joking that it totally counts as an adjective) and “What would your characters dress up as for Halloween?”
In addition to cracking up each other and the audience with silly answers—and intriguing with others—the authors gave their “elevator pitches” to persuade attendees to purchase their books, on sale at the event courtesy of my favorite Massachusetts indie, Porter Square Books. For any aspiring writers, the “elevator pitch” is an important tool. The term “elevator pitch” comes from its own hypothetical situation: if you find yourself in an elevator with your dream editor from your dream publishing house, you’ve only got thirty seconds to tell that editor why your manuscript deserves to be a book before reaching your floor! In this case, authors had thirty seconds apiece to sway teen readers budgeting their book expenses.
Panel One was a choice between “Criminal Minds” and “A Whole New World,” each featuring about half a dozen authors. I attended the latter, a panel that focused on developing worlds across fantasy, science-fiction, and crossover genres. The authors discussed the balance of story and setting, researching surprisingly minute details, and forming the rules of their universes. When the forum opened up to the audience, more general questions were presented, such as the authors’ experiences of cover design. The panel authors confirmed the fact that newer authors often have little say in cover design, and sometimes even in title selection, but that they were pleased with the positive feedback from their readers.
After a lunch break, Panel Two was a choice between “Platonic Love” and “Choose Your Own Adventure,” now featuring the other half of the author guests. This time I attended the former panel, in which authors discussed the importance of characters having strong bonds with their families and friends, not just love interests. Some were inspired by their own lives (Francisco X. Stork, for example, said he always wanted a sister, and thus his novel focuses on a relationship between sisters), while others let the writing take them in new directions (Huntley Fitzpatrick joked that she didn’t realize who was the friend and who was the love interest until explaining her story to someone else). This panel was particularly fun for aspiring writers in that a lot of common experiences were confirmed: writers having to tell their moms that the cruel mothers in their books aren’t based on them, or sharing stories of how non-writer friends don’t get why we talk about our characters as if they’re not fictional (“How could she tell you what she wanted to do? She’s not real!”).
After the events wrapped up, signings took place in the two panel rooms and in the hallway outside where books were being sold. For those of you who are curious, I limited myself to three new books, which were partly selected based on the brilliance of their covers and titles, and partly on their pitches from the opening ceremonies.
Clare Legrand’s Winterspell is a magitech/clockpunk retelling of the Nutcracker ideal for YA/NA crossover readers. The front cover even boasts an endorsement from Lunar Chronicles author Marissa Meyer. Winterspell was easily The Book of the event, selling out before the signing even started. Meeting Legrand was a lovely experience—she jumped right in to talk about how it was her first trip to Boston and was excited to hear that I was familiar with the story of the Nutcracker already. “Find your power!” she wrote with a heart as she signed my copy.
Julie Berry’s The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place tells the tale of seven proper young ladies whose finishing school headmistress is poisoned; naturally, they decide to hide the body and run the school themselves so that they can stay together, but what if one of them is the poisoner? The author’s soft-spoken pitch of such a deliciously devious plot had me sold immediately, and I smile every time I open up my book to the title page: “For Scandalous Paige,” she personalized her signature.
Lastly, in Laurie Faria Stolarz’s Welcome to the Dark House, seven teens win an essay contest about their worst nightmare and meet a horror film director, but his latest project draws more than a little inspiration from their entries. I’m the kind of person who hates being scared in that way that I actually really enjoy it, so I had to snag a copy of BTAF’s creepiest offering. I ended up with a pre-autographed copy from the book table but jumped in line for personalization: “Thanks so much for coming to BTAF! 9.27.14”
Expect to see book reviews in the near future!
Overall, the event was a huge success. I look forward to the 2015 festival already, and can only dream that one day I might arrive as an author instead of an attendee.
Boston Book Festival
Right at the main branch of the Boston Public Library, the Copley Square location, Boston booklovers know that every October brings BBF. Hosting workshops, panels, local MFA writing programs, and author events, BBF is quite the festival. Events take place in the library, Churches in the surrounding area, and out in Copley Square itself. Attendees can buy books, listen to writers speak and read passages from their works, and even get the chance to meet publishing professionals.
It goes without saying that my top priority was the children’s keynote speaker, Rick Riordan. His speech was largely the same as it had been at the Blood of Olympus book launch, and just as much fun. Tents set up in Copley Square boasted local presses, literary journals, MFA programs, and indie bookstores with giveaways, pamphlets, and merchandise.
Many events throughout the day were full. Even with spacious venues, book lovers crowded in to hear local authors speak. Panels of interest to me personally included, of course, Middle Grade: Masters of Fantasy (featuring Holly Black, Soman Chainani, Cassandra Clare, and Gregory Maguire), YA: Tackling Tough Topics (featuring C. Desir, Sara Farizan, Brendan Kiely, and Stephanie Kuehn), and YA: Reality, Meet Fantasy (featuring A.S. King, Scott Westerfeld, and Meg Wolitzer).
YA: Reality, Meet Fantasy in particular focused on trends in YA books and how there is room on bookstore shelves for a wide range of genres. Cathryn Mercier, director of Simmons College’s Children’s Literature program, moderated the panel and asked the authors about the time and research that goes into developing the worlds of their books, as well as their experiences writing for the YA community. Questions from the audience followed, building on those topics and asking about NaNoWriMo, advice for readers and writers, and where on earth authors get their ideas.
The BBF offered an enjoyable day of book-loving, along with probably the best weather October could ask for. The panels and authors really validated what a literary city Boston is and the bookish community it fosters. Again, I can only dream of attending as an author guest, but for now, I enjoyed the surge of writing inspiration that came from the event!
Have you ever attended a book festival? What are your local celebrations like? Be sure to tell me in the comments!