I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at the St Edward’s campus for the Texas Teen Book Festival (TTBF). There was all this conflicting information that suggested the event could be amazing or a big dull dud (Friends quote!!). First, the exhibition area – where we were located – was smaller than I thought it would be. Admittedly, I pictured something from Comic Con, with hundreds of vendors. While that can be a negative (soooo much competition) it implies a lot of visitors. The 10-12 tables insinuated the event would be relatively small.
Then I looked outside and my opinion started changing. At 7:00AM (an hour before the event even started), a line of teens already wrapped around the building! Seeing so many youths THAT excited about reading surprised me. Then the doors opened I was utterly blown away. We were bombarded ALL DAY by wonderful book nerd teenagers. As it turns out, I was the only LGBTQ author present. Now, while that puts me in a smaller niche market, I felt like THE go-to author for all the LGBTQ kids there. And every second was incredible. I talked to so many people, my voice was aching by the end of the day. But it was 100000000000000 percent worth it (Side Note: I just typed lots of zeros, but what number is that? One hundred trillion? A bazamillion?). Anyway, here were some of the most memorable moments:
1. Of Struggles and Successes
As I just mentioned, the LGBTQ market isn’t as large as others. Therefore, I know I likely won’t get as many visitors/fans as other authors. However, the people I did talk with had real stories to tell. And that’s why I’m so proud of my book. Instead of chatting exclusively about my novel, I got to talk with teenagers about their coming out experiences. Some were great! For example, one girl told me right off the bat that she was straight. She went on to say that her school was trying to start an LGBTQ group. When the school announced it, a group of parents threw a fit and tried to get the group banned. In response, a bunch of straight students started a protest. They stood up and protested against those parents in favor of the group. Consequently, the group was approved and will be starting up. The best part is the girl couldn’t have been more than twelve. So these were middle schoolers standing up for their gay brethren.
On a sadder note, I also met a girl who had been through an insanely difficult time. She said she’d recently come out to her parents. Unfortunately, her mother disowned her and forced her to move out. Simply because she was gay. And she couldn’t have been more than sixteen. Her father ended up taking her in (her parents are divorced), but he doesn’t agree with her lifestyle either: she’s not allowed to talk about her sexuality. So she’s essentially living with the lesser of two evils and experiencing a very tough time. Luckily, I was able to give her a free copy of my book. It’s not the solution to her problems, but we have to do what we can to support. And that’s why I wrote an LGBTQ book: to provide a little escape for people experiencing a difficult time.
2. Bring on the St. Edward’s PRIDE!
I’d wondered if a Catholic university like St. Edward’s would allow for a LGBTQ group. I honestly didn’t think so. And suddenly a council member from the St. Edward’s PRIDE group came by and talked to me for a long time. She said the group is fully sanctioned by the school, and that made me SO happy. They also have a lot of upcoming events and expressed interest in my helping in some way.
After we chatted, I went with her to a booth the PRIDE group had set up. There, I talked to the members, took some fun pics, and made new friends.
3. Teachers and Librarians Are People, Too!
This makes me sound like an idiot, but I didn’t even think about teachers showing up for the event. DERP! There were entire school groups that showed up to the festival – complete with teachers AND librarians. Before I get into anything regarding my personal experience, can I just say how cool it is to see giant school reading groups? There was a group called the “Page Turners” who all showed up wearing t-shirts. Actually, several groups wore nerdy reading t-shirts, which was so cool. And it was clear they loved to read. By the end of the day, their backpacks were FULL of books. One girl – maybe twelve – showed us how her backpack had broken because she’d bought so many books. Greatness!
Anyway, in addition to students, I got to talk with a lot of teachers. It turns out many of the schools are trying to start LGBTQ groups. So the timing was absolutely perfect. I was able to donate some books and chat with teachers about doing Skype calls with the groups. One teacher was gay herself and we talked for a long time about the struggles of schools and teachers in certain Texas areas.
4. Authors Are a Pretty Cool Bunch, Eh?
Several months ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to join a group called the Young Adult Author Rendezvous (YAAR). The group is comprised of young adult authors from around the country. We have groups online where we share stories, successes, failures, etc… Additionally, they attend festivals around the country. They’re the reason I was able to be a part of the TTBF. And I was able to meet some of the members at the festival. Three of us stayed the entire time and a few others stopped by throughout the day.
Every single one of them was so cool!
One author had a lot more experience than me (seeing as I’ve had one book out less than a year) and she shared so many tips. Another was newer, like me. And we chatted about some of our experiences.
Then there was my straight wifey I met Jacqueline Smith years ago on stage. She and I did Barefoot in the Park together and, in the play, we were married. At one point, she even jumped into my arms and we pretty much made out. It’s the most action I’ve ever gotten from a woman, LOL! Here’s a pic from the play where I’m being totally mean to her:
Well, she’s since become an amazing author and had her own table at the event. We totally got to reconnect and laugh and joke around all day.
5. For One Day, I Knew What It Was Like to be an LGBTQ Celebrity
OK this is last and certainly least, but it was still really fun! Because I was the lone LGBT author there, I felt like a philanthropic celebrity. The LGBTQ teens kept stopping by to talk to me. I took SOOOO many selfies with them. Some even came by and made me autograph posters. Two girls visited like ten times to talk with me.
A guy from the journalism group even selected me for a school paper pic:
Part of me wanted to say, “I’m a nobody! Go get Mindy Kaling’s autograph!” But I totally ignored that voice and enjoyed my little brief moment of fame Now that it’s gone, I’m doing everything I can to bring it back. OK That was totally a joke, but it gives me a new fun blog post idea! Stay tuned!!!!