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Monday, July 3, 2017

A Writer's View of ALA Annual: A Guest Post by Author and Conference Presenter Brian Pinkerton

Prior to ALA Annual, I was put in contact with horror, thriller, and mystery writer Brian Pinkerton through our joint affiliations with the Horror Writers Association. Here's more about Brian and a link to all of his books:
Brian Pinkerton is a USA Today Bestselling Author of fiction in the suspense, thriller, mystery and horror genres. His novels include Abducted, Vengeance, Killer's Diary, Bender, Rough Cut, Anatomy of Evil and How I Started the Apocalypse. Select titles have also been released as audio books and in foreign languages.
Brian's short stories have appeared in anthologies including Chicago Blues, PULP!, The Horror Zine and Zombie Zoology. His screenplays have finished in the top 100 of Project Greenlight and top two percent of the Nicholl Fellowship of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Brian received his B.A. from the University of Iowa and Master's Degree from Northwestern University.
Although Brian and I had the bad luck to be speaking at the conference on the SAME DAY at the SAME TIME [seriously, what are the odds?], we met up during the conference to chat.

Brian was blown away by the exhibit hall and I asked him to share his experiences with the conference as a visitor from the world of the writer. Below he shares his day on the exhibit floor and some comments about the panel he was a part of.

You will be hearing more from Brian on the horror blog this Fall but for now, here is his guest post with a writer's view of ALA Annual. I have to say, I learned quite a bit about how to use what I saw in the exhibit hall from his different perspective. I hope you enjoy it too. 

Take it away Brian.

I really didn’t know what to expect at my first ALA Conference but I knew I’d be surrounded by people with a mutual affection for books. That was a welcoming feeling even before I arrived at the McCormick Place convention center. 
I was invited to speak on an author panel by United for Libraries, a division of ALA that brings together networks of library supporters. My introduction to the organization came through their partnership with the Horror Writers Association. 

My dusty, preconceived notions for a library conference drew up images of of towering bookshelves and stoic librarians shushing each other on the way to seminars about the Dewey Decimal system. Instead, I discovered a broad and boisterous group celebrating all forms of the community sharing of information and storytelling, embracing the latest technology and distribution channels while remaining faithful to the power of the printed word. The range of topics and activity was enormous. The program book alone was 300 pages. 

Each day at the conference was filled with presentations, panels, readings, signings and awards. Big name guest speakers included Hillary Clinton, Sarah Jessica Parker and Ron Chernow. 
My panel was scheduled for June 26, but I decided to check out the conference one day early since I lived a short drive away in the Chicago suburbs. I spent a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon exploring the exhibit hall. 

As expected, the aisles were packed with publishers showcasing their latest books. But there were also booths dedicated to cataloguing software, online lending, literacy programs, professional development, gaming, scanning equipment, audiobooks, illustrators, censorship, inclusive diversity, research tools, library furniture, archiving, academic libraries, information technology degrees and…well, I could go on and on. 

The wildest gizmo in the exhibit hall was a humongous vending machine for libraries to enable 24/7 book lending. It’s like Redbox for books. Just insert your library card and select a title. I had to take a photo of that. 

Like most everybody else, I was drawn to the generous spread of free books. When someone commented on my remarkably light tote bag, I didn’t have the courage to admit I had just returned from unloading a full bag of books into the trunk of my car. I felt somewhat guilty taking free books – they were meant to engage librarians, not writers. But the temptation was too great. 

picked up novels with compelling back cover copy. Many were prepublication editions for reviewers and proofing. I found books for my wife, kids, brother and dad. I grabbed an enormous, 1,000-page ACT prep book for my son. A representative for the publisher expressed relief that she wouldn’t have to lug that one back home. Several savvy publishers scanned the QR code on my nametag to retrieve my email address for their mailing lists in exchange for free books. A fair trade. 

In addition to books, I filled up on slick publisher catalogues listing new releases. For a writer, they served a dual purpose – sources for future reading material and potential publishers to pitch one day. 

Aside from books, the most popular freebies were posters and tote bags. In fact, I saw one person who filled a tote bag with tote bags. There was also food. If someone became hungry, they just needed to wander over to one of cooking demonstrations by popular cookbook authors. 

One of the most uplifting discoveries for me was the huge selection and popularity of books for younger readers. Who says kids don’t read anymore? Aisle after aisle displayed the latest wave of releases: children’s stories with gorgeous artwork, young adult novels exploring serious and lighthearted themes, and graphic novels telling autobiographical tales of everyday heroes (not just superheroes). 

One of my favorite stops was Drawn & Quarterly, a long-time Canadian publisher of alternative comics and graphic novels featuring unique writer-artists like Seth, Chester Brown, Peter Bagge and Lynda Barry. I stood in line for an autographed book by the French cartoonist Guy DeLisle. 

I also enjoyed visiting boutique publishers specializing in niche reference books sold primarily to libraries and not found in bookstores. From Rowman & Littlefield, I picked up a detailed tome devoted to one of Stephen Spielberg’s earliest films – a TV movie named Duel. My interest in the book wasn’t Spielberg, it was my favorite writer, Richard Matheson, who wrote Duel’s screenplay based on his own short story. The book included drafts of Matheson’s original script and insights into his writing process. 

One of the coolest areas was a display of zines – DIY mini-publications with seemingly random, spontaneous drawings and musings. These handmade editions – individually copied, folded and stapled – brought back memories of my own zine days with my childhood friend Kevin, working on Fantazine. One of the contributors to Fantazine was future Oscar nominee Dan ClowesFantazine also published my first short story, a crude effort that will never be anthologized. 

I stopped by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) booth and talked to author Barbara Barnett about genre crossing. Like me, she’s a member of multiple writing organizations. My own collection of acronyms includes MWA, HWA and ITW. 

also met up with Becky Spratford, the super-energetic Readers Advisory specialist who consults with librariesShe is a good friend of the horror community and author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Horror. She’s also the person who finally convinced me to go on Twitter 

Becky took me over to meet the team at Sisters in Crimea mystery genre organization founded by Sara Paretsky. I met SIC President Diane Vallere, who was scheduled to join me on Monday’s author panel. My final activity of the day was locating where I would be speaking the following morning. I didn’t want to risk getting lost at the last minute. 

Fortunately, I arrived Monday on time and at the right room. Our panel was titled “It’s a Mystery to Me: Crime Fighting Authors.” I was honored to be included with a stellar cast: Scott Turow (bestselling author of legal thrillers), Susanna Calkins (award-winning local mystery writer)Diane from SIC, and Kate White (former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine who now writes mysteries). 

The room was packed. People were standing in the back. The panel moderator was Barbara Hoffert from Library Journal, and she neatly set up each writer with a compelling summary of their latest book. I appreciated that because I struggle at summarizing my own books. 

For the panel, each writer was given 10 minutes to introduce themselves. I’m a writer, so the night before I wrote out what I planned to say. Then I boiled it down to a few key words on scrap paper to trigger the narrative flow. Ultimately I didn’t have to glance down at the trigger words when I spoke, but it was good to have a security blanket. 

told the audience how libraries were responsible for me being a writer. My mother was a high school English teacher who took me on regular outings to our local library in Northbrook, Illinois when I was very youngdiscussed my development as a writer and talked about my preference for crafting stories that place ordinary people in extraordinary situations – whether it be mystery, thriller or horror. 

I’m a writer because I’m an introvert and I don’t like public speaking, but it seemed to go okay. Later, when Scott Turow spoke, he twice referred back to something I said, and it reassured me I was at least partly coherent. 

After the five of us spokethere was a Q&A with the audience, followed by a book signing. Everyone in line wore a dangling nametag, which made it easier to accurately inscribe each book. Overall, I signed 70 paperback editions of Bender and sent them out into the wild. For no particular reason, doodled cartoons alongside my signature – smiley man, perky dog or, in rare occasions, Kurt the WormOne of the people in line was Clara, the fiancee of Mark Sieber from Virginia. Mark is the curator of the popular Horror Drive-In forum and all-around good guy.  I inscribed a Happy Birthday greeting for him. 

After the panel and signing, I was tired and ready to go home. But couldn’t resist the urge to return to the exhibit hall. 

There is always time for one more book.

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