Sarah Rees Brennan (sarahtales) wrote,
Sarah Rees Brennan

Writers In the Mirror May Be Closer Than They Appear

Originally published at Sarah Rees Brennan. You can comment here or there.

I have kept adding to two posts about writerly appearances, one srs bzness and one a list of my dreadful misadventures, and I decided to combine them. ;) Guess which post was longer. Guess how many dreadful misadventures I have had.

1) Travelling with Holly Black and Our Friend Plague Through England

So Holly Black and I decided, as we would both be at the WFC last winter, that we’d do a mini tour through England together.

At the World Fantasy Convention there were many fancy people, like Frances Hardinge and Garth Nix and Neil Gaiman and Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch and Joe Hill. Since Holly is fancy, she knew many of them. But even the fanciest of people can bear terrible disillusionment with them!

JOE HILL: Hi, Holly.
HOLLY: Hi, Joe.
SARAH: Nice to meet you.
SARAH: Oh you’re wearing a Watership Down T-shirt. I love Watership Down! Who is your favourite rabbit? Mine is Bigwig.
(I keep talking and slowly it becomes clear to me, as both shuffle their feet and look shifty, that NOBODY ELSE has actually read Watership Down.)
SARAH: … This is quite simply an outrage. I go to be alone with my rabbit feelings.
JOE HILL: I’ve read all the other books I have t-shirts for.
SARAH: Please, sir. You wear a t-shirt of lies.

I also moderated a panel in which I came up with titles for everyone on the panel (Frances Hardinge, or the Duchess of Darkness, seemed to like hers) and had dinner with Barry Goldblatt, Agent Extraordinaire, and Genevieve Valentine, whose fiction is even better than her funny reviews. (YOU’RE WELCOME IN ADVANCE!!)

Everything was lovely except–I fell ill. I had pneumonia and then bronchitis once in overly quick succession (long story short: I spent one Christmas a couple of years ago not sleeping in order to fulfill work obligations, and thus took a pickaxe to my health) and that means these days whenever I get a cold things get serious fast. (Moral of the story: do not skip sleep to work! The work ended up being scuppered anyway, so it was a whole goblet full of pointless. PS take vitamins, I guess? I should take vitamins… PPS If someone finds a whole bunch of vitamins but they’re really dusty, should they take them? I’m, uh, asking for a friend.)

I spent the last day of the Brighton WFC in bed. I did get up at one point to go to the pharmacy. It was shut. I leaned my face against the glass and waited for it to be open. The pharmacist was QUITE STARTLED to see me, but I think relieved that I was not one of the first zombies heralding the apocalypse.

Medicated up, Holly and I PROCEEDED on our tour! In London at the amazing Foyle’s bookshop (where you can always find all my books signed because… I come there and sign them by force!) we met up with some beautimous bloggers before the Main Event. They asked us many insightful questions.

SARAH: *at one point tries to answer but coughs too hard*
HOLLY: Are you okay?!
SARAH: go on… without me… save yourself… talk about… narrative tropes…
SARAH: Oh no, is there mascara all over my face?!
LOVELY BLOGGERS: No, there isn’t any mascara on your face.
SARAH: *feeble fistpump* Forgot to… put on mascara.. again, thank God for my… lackadaisical beauty regime!

My eyes were super watery, which meant add contact lenses and everything had a gentle suffusive glow. Holly had her hair dyed a beautimous blue for the tour, and I was so happy because it meant I could always see her.

I have problems with faces at the best of times, and never more so when there is a line of people whisking by.

SARAH: And who shall I make this out to?
SARAH: … *winning smile* And how do you spell that?
OFFENDED MOTHER: I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it by stabbing you through the eye with your autographing pen.)

So I shamed myself by not recognising several lovely people who came out to see me, and also… developed amnesia.

LOVELY BLOGGERS RECORDING THE EVENT: Sarah did a mime of running away from her critique partners as if she was a fugitive fleeing from justice.
SARAH: … I have no memory of that.
SARAH: This is very exciting! I wonder what I will do next.

Also Holly and I had decided it would be fun to train our way through England, which as we were both coming from Italy (where neither of us live) was tricky in that our cases were GIGLANORMOUS.

HAPLESS BRITISH COMMUTERS: Why would these madwomen bring giant boulders disguised as suitcases on the train?
HOLLY & SARAH: Sorry, so sorry, sorry. Caffeine in the name of God!

Even caffeine was sometimes denied us.

SARAH: I’ll have a flat white, please.
COFFEESHOP LADY: What is that?
SARAH: It’s a… type of coffee? I think?
COFFEESHOP LADY: What kind of coffee?
SARAH: I don’t know! I don’t… drink coffee?
COFFEESHOP LADY: But you want a coffee. And you don’t know what kind of coffee you want.
SARAH: Yes. No. Maybe.
COFFEESHOP LADY: Is this an American thing?
SARAH: Oh yes! It probably is! But I’m not American.
COFFEESHOP LADY: … I hate you.
(some time later)
SARAH: The lady didn’t know what a flat white was and I didn’t know either. Americanisms, man.
HOLLY: ‘Flat white’ isn’t an Americanism. I got one in Brighton because I saw one on the coffee menu and I wanted to try it.
SARAH: So NOBODY knows what it is? COFFEE MYSTERY! Here I got you two coffees.
HOLLY: These coffees are very large.
SARAH: I panicked…

(Months later in London, I saw exactly what a flat white is, and took a picture of it so I would know forever.)

photo (4)

(3 shots coffee, 2 shots milk. Holly’s UK drink!)

In Leeds, it was Bonfire Night.

Neither Holly or I were all that aware of Bonfire Night as a Thing. (Note for all those similarly unaware: a celebration involving fireworks and a bonfire, celebrating Guy Fawkes, a dude who tried to blow up part of the English parliament. Whatever, Americans do Thanksgiving, everyone’s got a weird holiday, St Patrick’s Day is basically St. Boozerick’s Day, let’s be real.) I had read a book in which a kid was murdered and dressed up as a Guy Fawkes doll and told Holly the entire plot in great detail, so she would be prepared for Bonfire Night and all it entailed!

… In unrelated news she was weirdly jumpy all that day. Probably scared of fireworks.

On my daily trip to the pharmacy, I discussed this issue with a kindly pharmacy lady.

PHARMACY LADY: So you’re from Ireland? I’ve heard they don’t have Bonfire Night there.
SARAH: It’s true. Can I have all the cough drops please. Like, all of them. Don’t hold back, baby.
PHARMACY LADY: A neighbour of mine moved to Ireland because there are no fireworks there for her little dog who was terrified of them.
SARAH: But we just… but we have fireworks on Halloween.
PHARMACY LADY AND SARAH: *stare pensively at the cough drops*
SARAH: Well, let that be a lesson to everybody not to move countries for a dog.

But here is the thing: I had a really great time on tour, despite my plague. Because of the people who came. Even though I had to refuse to take a picture with one of their babies because I was Typhoid Mary and their sweet tot could not be contaminated by my touch.

In London, I was given a Rubik’s cube necklace for a present. In Newcastle, Holly and I got to sit on a throne.

In Leeds, despite the fact it was Bonfire Night and there was mad traffic and fireworks and possible murder dolls, people came to see us! They may have regretted this.

HOLLY: We’re going to do a storytelling exercise, talking about how different stories are built! Like, if an alien abducted a field full of sheep–
SARAH: What are the aliens doing with the sheep? Wait, what do farmers usually do with sheep once it gets dark… oh wow, I heard the words come out of my mouth and I couldn’t stop them.
HOLLY: So this is a first draft of a story…
SARAH: Nobody tell your friends about this. It just went so wrong.

In Liverpool, my auntie and other awesome people came and I was so proud she saw me with them. ;)

At the end of the tour, I left Holly (crying softly to myself as I did) and went to Cambridge to give a talk to the most excellent Shirley Society, and I was thrilled to be asked. I did skits from A NUMBER of Gothic novels. I have to say, Jane Eyre always goes down well and I think it’s because I have my Mr Rochester impression down cold.

Then I toddled off home. When I got home from Cambridge to Dublin, I had got into a routine of putting on excessive amounts of tour make-up.

(my roommate comes home to find me on the sofa, with a tissue in hand but wearing fancy clothes and with my face made up)

ROOMIE: Sarah! You’re home! And you said you were sick! But you look great!

(next day, roommate comes home to find Sarah in her jammies, which she would be living in for the next two weeks. Hair is up in the Pufftail, an adroit combination of a ponytail and bun, with extra bits of hair sticking out all over everywhere. When wearing the Pufftail there always seems to be much more hair than the pufftail-wearer actually has.)

ROOMIE: … oh I see.

2. New Orleans to Wales In One Week

(This one just happened, but it TIES in with this winter! As follows…)

When on tour with Holly there were questions about writing LGBTQ characters–Holly, because she is a graceful soul, would answer gracefully. I would probably give everyone whiplash by switching from joking around to being super furiously serious (because I would never want a reader to be hurt by my kidding around).

In New Orleans at the Romantic Times convention, I moderated a panel on LGBTQ in YA: those on the panel were Malinda Lo, Scott Tracey, Jenna Black, Suzanne Brockmann and Melanie Brockmann, and it was an honour to moderate them.

In Hay on Wye in Wales, otherwise known as the Town of Books which I may have mentioned a time or two before… I had the privilege of interviewing Cassandra Clare and we took readers’ questions, some of which were to do with that very subject.

This article shows Cassie saying there should be more LGBTQ fiction in YA: the article itself is great, but the comments to this piece are truly gross.

It reminded me of this quote I saw on tumblr – ‘me most of the time: people are okay, I guess. like no one is 100% bad.
me after reading the comments section in any article, ever: this world can only be cleansed with fire.’ It is absolutely horrendous that the lovely excited readers at that event, who loved those characters and those pairings, one of whom said she’d been helped come out by these books, have to live in the world that produced these comments.

I was there to emcee for Cassie, and there to moderate the LGBTQ panel (and I was very happy to a. be asked to be on it but also very happy to be b. the one moderating–since I’d much rather see Malinda Lo or Scott Tracey talk on this subject than me… though I’d also like to see, say, Malinda to be asked to talk about other subjects too.) So in both cases I was mainly there to ask questions and facilitate discussion. (And make some jokes. I made… some jokes. I did a skit, but it was about the gay love story in Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series. I am dedicated to moderation, but I am also a Woman Who Loves Skits Too Much.)

The subject is a wide, wide one: we could barely scratch the surface in New Orleans, though we were able to discuss how several on the panel had moved LGBTQ characters from minor to major over the course of a series, that Malinda Lo’s Ash and Huntress are set in a world without homophobia and how refreshing that is, that we have almost all received hatemail about said content but far more lovemail, that we wanted to see more girls who liked girls.

Scott Tracey said that he knew editors and agents who had turned books down explicitly because of LGBTQ content–editors and agents who went on to say they wanted diverse books in public. Malinda Lo said, very truly, that the numbers for LGBTQ YA books were not really on the rise. Cassandra Clare, miles and days later, said there were publishers who turned down her books explicitly because of the LGBTQ content too. I rolled my eyes and said I was sure they were sorry now, and that it had worked out great for her. And it has, and for her readers, but wow there are a lot of roadblocks toward getting this out there. Writers have to want to write it and promote it, publishers have to want to publish and promote it, bookshops have to want to buy in and promote it, readers have to want to buy it and talk it up.

We live in the world of those comments, so it is hard and there are no diversity points or ‘sales because you’re shocking and daring’ or whatever to be had. But the people who attended those events, readers and writers and everyone, really are trying to change that world. And I think they are all GREAT. (My humble self excepted but I try to be okay.) (And I think lots of people should be excited for Scott Tracey’s next book, which he told me about after the panel during what we called LGBTQ in YA Drinks with several panelists and several attendees.)

At Romantic Times, I met so many lovely people. I was recognised on the street in New Orleans (very exciting, made me feel famous, wish to go back to Bourbon Street, also: there are many dress shops in New Orleans, people don’t tell you about the dress shops.) I had dinner in a restaurant where they keep a special table for the ghost.

I also may have visited the World War II museum with Beth Revis and Carrie Ryan, and played dress up.

At Hay on Wye, I was super excited because there were celebrities. Maybe too excited. People were worried.

SARAH: If I see Judi Dench I’m going to divebomb her.
PUBLICIST: No but Sarah… you mustn’t…
SARAH: I’m kidding, you all know I’m kidding…
CASSIE: Who was the last person you tackled? When was it?
SARAH: It was FIVE DAYS AGO, quit living in the past because I have CHANGED!

I was super, super excited to meet Henry Winkler, famous for Arrested Development, Hank Zipzer and Happy Days. ;) But I didn’t divebomb him! Are you guys proud? I hope so.

photo (5)
(Cassie’s spotted the hat on her shoulder!)

He was the nicest guy in the world, and we talked about events, about dyslexia, about his dad not wanting him to be an actor, about where to buy the best food in New York. He was great. But then I always meet the greatest people at book events.

The late great Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I’ve always tried to remember it, for events–people came here all this way, entertain them, think of them!

But it’s true not just for the people appearing but for everybody. Seeing and meeting readers makes me feel great. I don’t, and I won’t, forget how you all make me feel. And I thank you very much for it!

I’m looking forward to seeing and feeling some more at the events next week in the UK and Ireland, and later in the year in Texas and Vegas!

(Seeing and feeling some more…? I wrote it, I realised how it sounded, and I’m just going to leave it here, because this is EXACTLY THE KIND OF STUFF I will say when I meet you in person!)

I’m sorry in advance…

Tags: stumbling through publication

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