I'm dispensing with my standard newsletter format for this edition.
And no…it's not because I've done no work and read no books
over the last few weeks and therefore have nothing to talk about.
It's because A Northern Light won the L.A. Times Book Prize
on April 24, and it was such an exciting event that I just have
to tell you about it.
First, a bit of background. The L.A. Times Book Prizes are awarded
during the L.A. Times Festival of Books, which takes place annually
on the UCLA campus. This was my first time at the festival and I
was blown away. It is absolutely amazing. Publishers present
new books there, and booksellers set up tents and have author signings.
Writers come from all over to sign and speak. Here are a few names:
Sherman Alexie, Russell Banks, T.C. Boyle, Ray Bradbury, Pete Dexter,
Dave Eggers, Carl Hiaasen, Dean Koontz, Chang-rae Lee, Elmore Leonard,
Nuala O'Faolain, Anna Quindlen, Carolyn See, Nicholas Sparks, Gay
Talese, Donald Westlake, Simon Winchester. And that's just a sampling.
There were nearly 400 writers in attendance.
Plenty of writers represented the children's fiction world as well.
I had the honor of appearing on Readers on the Verge, a
panel with Francesca Lia Block, Martha Brooks, Davida Wills Hurwin
and Richard Peck, that addressed issues peculiar to young adult
fiction. I was definitely the rookie in that lineup and it was a
bit intimidating to be in such esteemed company, but it was a lot
of fun to read my work for an audience.
In addition, I did a surprise interview with Kitty Felde, host of
Book of the Air on KPCC-FM (89.3). Kitty and a panel of middle schoolers
discussed the book in front of an audience. I was sitting in the
audience listening and the kids weren't supposed to know I was there.
Halfway through, Kitty told them I had come to talk about the book
with them, and I got to sit with them and answer their questions.
I can't tell you what amazing kids these were – smart, genuine,
funny, direct and discerning. It was both a pleasure and an honor
to meet them and hear their thoughts and opinions on A Northern
Light. Jennifer, Bethany, Jason, Alejandra and Sunny –
if you're reading this, guys, thank you.
After a busy day of signing and speaking, it was time for the awards
ceremony. The L.A. Times Book Prizes were instituted in 1980 and
are awarded in ten categories: Biography, Poetry, Science and Technology,
History, First Fiction, Current Interest, Mystery/Thriller, the
Robert Kirsh Award (for body-of-work achievement), Young Adult Fiction,
and Fiction. My fellow finalists were Martha Brooks for True
Confessions of a Heartless Girl, Kevin Henkes for Olive's
Ocean, Richard Peck for The River Between Us, and
Francine Prose for After.
The ceremony took place in Royce Hall and felt like a mini Oscars.
There was a stage set, giant screens, music, lights, a camera, and
lots of action. The Master of Ceremonies was Michael York. Finalists
were told that the there would be no advance notice given to the
winners and to therefore have an acceptance speech prepared. I didn't
think my book was going to win so I didn't prepare a speech. As
one accomplished winner took the stage after another, all with intelligent
things to say, I thought, Well, what if you do win? What the
hell are you going to do? Sing karaoke?
Luckily, there was a video segment halfway through titled California:
A Place Inspired by Books. I hear it was very interesting.
I couldn't verify that though, as I used the cover of darkness to
whip out a pen and scribble some ideas down on my programme –
just in case. My editor, who was sitting behind me, later told me
that he saw me hunched over and thought I was having a panic attack.
Finally, it was time for the Young Adult Fiction category. R.L.
Stine of Goosebumps fame was the presenter. As he gave a synopsis
of each book, photos of the author and the book cover were put on
the giant screens. It's an odd and unsettling feeling to see your
own big mug looming so large above you. When he was finished talking
about the books, he said "And the winner is…A Northern
Now I know how Charlize Theron feels. Only she was a lot more poised
delivering her acceptance speech than I was. Of course, when I finished,
I went the wrong way and had to be herded off the stage by an escort.
I was hyperventilating by this point – I don't get out much
– and R.L. Stine gallantly helped me locate a glass of water.
I made it back to my seat in time to see Pete Dexter win the fiction
award for Train. I haven't read Train, but I bought
it the next day because I have never, ever heard such a funny acceptance
speech. He winged it – or pretended to – telling us
all about his wife's birthday, librarians and barbarians, and how
bad an idea it is not to prepare an acceptance speech. A lovely
reception followed, under a starry California sky. It was a magical
night, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have had my work honored
in this way.
If you find yourself in California during the Festival of Books
next year – by all means, go! You'll be surrounded by books
and book lovers, and come away with your faith restored. I plan
to return to the festival next year as a civilian and attend every
panel and lecture that I can.
Until then, happy reading!