Going Local with Authors at TLA

The Texas Library Association convention was in my home town of Austin this year, and I was absolutely thrilled to attend as a speaker — and published author for the first time — speaking on topics that are dear to my heart: local authors and tough issues.

I had a blast moderating the What’s New With Texas MG & YA Authors panel at TLA 2019. Authors are (l. to r.) Sean Easley, Amy Bearce, Melanie Sumrow, Caroline Leech, Lucia DiStefano, David Bowles, Don Zolidis. Kathi Appelt arrived right after! Thank you to Gayleen Rabakukk for the photo.

Last year, I was on a panel for What’s New With Texas MG & YA Authors, promoting that THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST would be releasing a few months later. It was a fantastic panel, showcasing a lineup of authors who live in this state and had books coming out that year.

This year, I was excited to moderate that panel, introducing librarians to new books from Amy Bearce, Sean Easley, Kathi Appelt, Caroline Leech, Melanie Sumrow, Lucia DiStefano, David Bowles and Don Zolidis.

A large audience, excited about books by authors from our home state, listened as I quizzed these authors on writerly questions like how being in Texas has influenced their work, and important questions like their favorite Texas food and fashion.

My favorite question and answer during the panel was, Q: “What’s the funniest question a kid has asked you during a school visit?” A: Kathi Appelt leaned forward and told us that in a school visit a few years ago for one of her picture books, a boy put up his hand and when called upon, asked, “Is my tooth bleeding?” Kids. 🙂

While these fun tidbits of the author life make panels like this fun, what I love is the support this local authors get from the librarians in their home state.

This was just one of three events that showcased Texas authors. There was also a What’s New With Texas Authors & Illustrators panel, focusing on picture books through chapter books, and a Texas Authors & Illustrators Meet & Greet Speed Dating, where educators got to spend time with 24 Texas authors and illustrators.

Me with a bunch of Austin SCBWI authors and illustrators at our booth at TLA 2019. So much fun.

Me with a bunch of Austin SCBWI authors and illustrators at our booth at TLA 2019. So much fun. Thanks to Lauren Flake (in front) for the photo.

Plus, our local Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators hosted a booth in the TLA exhibit hall where our Texas members could meet librarians and sell and sign their books. The booth was kept busy.

Too often, people get the idea that far away is better. If an author or illustrator lives in New York or Los Angeles, or anywhere outside of our neighborhood, they somehow seem more shiny and bright. But when I do talk to book clubs or do events at schools near me, the children are always amazed to hear that I live in their town.

When I was growing up, I didn’t meet an author and didn’t think a career as a novelist was attainable for me. I thought the names on my favorite books were of magical people who lived in far away magical places, and I didn’t fit with them. This thinking didn’t change until I went to college in Tampa, where one of my journalism professors was also a published novelist.

Knowing that someone who lives down the road from you has accomplished their dream is truly inspiring. I tell kids that if I can do it, coming from a small town as I did growing up, they can too — whether their dream is writing or becoming President.

There are other benefits for educators to seek out local authors and illustrators:

  • School visit rates are less expensive when we don’t have to factor in travel time that takes us away from writing.
  • Tight budgets are eased because there are no travel or hotel expenses.
  • We give back to the communities we live in, but we can only do that if we have healthy careers.
  • For emergencies, it’s much easier to reschedule an author who lives close by because you don’t have to factor in flights.

I had a blast talking to librarians at the Austin SCBWI TLA 2019 booth. Here I was setting up. Thanks to Gayleen Rakakukk for the photo.

This is why I’m so grateful for TLA and its Texas Authors & Illustrators Round Table (TAIRT) committee for putting on these panels and the annual convention each year. TAIRT also co-sponsored our booth.

If you’re a conference organizer outside of Texas, or a librarian proposing events, I highly recommend that you build up programming that showcases your local authors and illustrators. Your community and your budget will benefit from it.

And whether you’re a Texas librarian or from elsewhere, check out the books the authors on my panel were talking about:

Amy Bearce: SHORTCUTS (CBAY Books)

Sean Easley: THE KEY OF LOST THINGS (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), sequel to his THE HOTEL BETWEEN

Kathi Appelt: ANGEL THIEVES (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/Simon & Schuster)

Caroline Leech: IN ANOTHER TIME (HarperTeen)

Melanie Sumrow: THE INSIDE BATTLE (Yellow Jacket)

Lucia DiStefano: BORROWED (Elephant Rock Productions)

David Bowles: THE CHUPACABRAS OF THE RIO GRANDE: THE UNICORN RESCUE SOCIETY #4 (Dutton Books for Young Readers, co-written with Adam Gidwitz with illustrations by Hatem Aly)

Don Zolidis: THE SEVEN TORMENTS OF AMY AND CRAIG (Disney/Hyperion)

Got a favorite way your area supports local authors and illustrators? Tell me in the comments.

What do you think?