April 12, 2016

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

At the Baltimore Book Festival with Middle Grade Author Elissa Brent Weissman

Fellow authors, how would we survive without our writerly friends? From helpful manuscript feedback, to hand holding when a rejection arrives, to bringing you octopus cupcakes on your birthday, we all rely on our author buddies.

Octopus cupcakes created by my writer
friend Barb Dell and her daughter.
That's why I love literary events. They are a chance to hang out with the writing community. At festivals like CityLit in Baltimore, or a local SCBWI conference, I love putting mom stuff aside for a few hours and focusing on WRITING with friends who share my love of all things word. Expanding my literary circle with new friends is pretty awesome too. Especially when it's people like novelist James McBride, who I had a lovely chat with at this weekend's Baltimore Book Festival.

One of my newest literary buddies is middle grade novelist Elissa Brent Weissman.

I think I picked her up (using that favorite pick-up line of writers everywhere, "So, what do you write?") in an elevator last April when we were both speaking at CityLit Festival. We agreed to stay in touch. Finally, over the summer, Elissa and I met for coffee. She has four books out. Right now, I'm reading Nerd Camp, which is so much fun.

Elissa is visiting Author Amok today with a post about the Baltimore Book Festival. The three-day festival was this past weekend.

One of the highlights for me is always the Children's Bookstore Stage. I've taken my children to see favorite authors Tom Angleberger, Libba Bray, and Michael Buckley in past years. But what's it like to be *on* the stage at a big book festival? Elissa reveals all...

On stage at the Baltimore Book Festival.
Elissa Brent Weissman is on the right.
One of my favorite things about writing for children is getting to interact with young readers. If you’ve been to a reading or talk by an author of adult books, with mostly grownups in the audience, you’re probably familiar with the awkward silence that ensues when it comes time for questions from the audience. (I, too, am an adult whose brain gets wiped clean when it comes time to ask questions of authors, even my favorite ones!) But asking a roomful of kids if they have questions makes almost every hand shoot up, and every question is better than the last.

Kids have a natural curiosity but also a naiveté about etiquette-required boundaries, which makes for some shocking, yet refreshingly honest, questions. I’ve been asked how much money I make, how much money I have, and even if I get driven around in a limousine. If adults were to ask me these things, I’d have no trouble being honest in my responses: I don’t make much money, but I have enough to keep writing books anyway, and apart from my senior prom, I drive myself in a station wagon. But with kids, I hesitate. I love that they think of authors as celebrities—not because I want to think of myself as a celebrity (though I’ll admit I once got a rockstar-worthy welcome when I entered a classroom, and it was quite the rush!) but because authors, on the whole, are better role models than a lot of the high-earning, high-spending, limousine-driven celebrities out there. I don’t want to give kids false expectations, but I do want them to consider writing books to be a glamorous and desirable profession.

The authors' limo to the Baltimore Book
Festival must have gotten lost in the woods of Patapsco Valley State Park.
That’s why I was so excited to get an email from a young reader recently with a fantastic question. “Do authors get to hang out with other authors?” she asked. “Published authors, I mean?” I was able to answer with a resounding, enthusiastic, and completely honest YES! In fact, I told her, in addition to interacting with young readers, hanging out with other authors is my other favorite thing about writing for children.

Elissa's first book was a
light look at school politics.
I’m writing this less than 24 hours since I presented on a panel at the Baltimore Book Festival, and I’m still riding high on how much fun it was. I love doing book festivals because the atmosphere is so vibrant. Yesterday, with its perfect weather and all-star lineup, was especially vibrant. There were people everywhere, eating and talking and carrying books. Authors and booksellers and readers were roaming and chatting and hanging out. The Children’s Bookstore tent, where I presented, was packed with kids, parents, and children’s book lovers. (It was nothing, however, compared to the night before, when over 300 people crammed in to see Tomie DaPaola!)

As an author, panel presentations are especially great because having multiple authors increases the odds of a bigger audience. My panel was called “Savvy Girls: 5 Middle Grade Novelists and their Savvy Female Heroines.” I discussed my newest book, The Short Seller—about a twelve-year-old girl who becomes a stock-trading whiz—alongside Elisabeth Dahl (Genie Wishes), Erica Perl (Aces Wild), Shawn K. Stout (Penelope Crumb), and Tracey West (a.k.a. Coco Simon, author of The Cupcake Diaries). 

Elissa's fourth middle grade novel came out this year.
Our panel was moderated by librarian extraordinaire Paula Willey. She was ready with a fun guess-the-quote contest for the kids in the audience (with prizes we’d all brought!), plus some “embarrassing questions” for us, which came as a surprise, but we were all game to answer. (Side note: It’s strange talking on stage at the festival. Even though you have a mic and can see that the audience seems to be listening, the speakers are beyond the stage, so it’s hard to hear yourself over the crowd outside the tent.)

After presenting, we made our way to the tables to sign books and chat one-on-one with the audience. One of the highlights for me was the arrival of a big group of people wearing matching Ins- π-red (“inspired” with the symbol for pi!) shirts and carrying copies of my book Nerd Camp. They were members of a mother-son book club who’d read Nerd Camp, and after I signed all their copies, we had a great discussion about that book.

It’s still hard for me to believe that I’m one of the people on stage; at heart, I’m one of the star-struck fans, giddy with excitement at seeing such talented people in the flesh. And to think that I get to spend time with them, goof around and talk shop, it’s… unbelievable. I’ve done a number of events with three of the “savvy girls” on my panel, so seeing them again was like seeing old friends. I’d never met Tracey West before, but she was lovely and engaging. 

I went to dinner Friday night with some other presenting authors and illustrators—imagine the opportunity to hang out with Natalie Standiford, draw cats with Kevin O’Malley, and chat with Adam Rex! After my panel, I ate a cookie and drank champagne in the beautiful author hospitality mansion (no joke—it’s in an old Mt. Vernon mansion) with good friend Elisabeth Dahl and new friend Jonathan Auxier. In other words, I spent the weekend floating on a cloud.

Writing books is a solitary, even lonely, pursuit. Sharing them at events like this—outside, on a sunny fall day, surrounded by readers and writers—makes all of the time you spend staring at a blank screen or a rejection letter worth it.

So, YES!, I told the young aspiring writer who emailed me. We may not make a ton of money, and we may not have a ton of money, but authors DO get to hang out with other authors, and it’s the most exhilarating, enjoyable, inspiring experience. Better, hands down, than a ride in any limousine.
Elissa (center) goofing with her writerly friends at BBF.
Elissa Brent Weissman is the author of multiple novels for middle grade readers. Nerd Camp won the 2011 Cybils Award for middle grade fiction and was a best summer novel for kids in The Washington Post. (Look for Nerd Camp 2.0 summer 2014!)  Her most recent book, The Short Seller, was a must-read in Girls' Life magazine and was featured on NPR's "Here and Now." Learn more at


Those Ins-π-red t-shirts inspired the nerd in me. In honor of Elissa's guest post, I am giving away a hand-knitted Pi Bookmark. Leave a comment by 12 AM on Friday, October 5. I will post the winner on Poetry Friday. Good luck and may the Pi be with you.


Our guest blogger, Elissa, is sweetening the giveaway pot with a nerdy gift of her own. A comment on this post might win you...(wait for it)... a NERD CAMP t-shirt of your very own.

Thanks, Elissa!

To whet your appetite, here is a totally adorable kid's review of NERD CAMP.


Tabatha said...

I enjoyed this post so much -- *yes* to all of it! (I'm off to look up The Short Seller...)

bqdell said...

PI? I like pi!
(And speaking of mathy/nerdy/knitty things I'm about to cast on a Moebius basket:

Cheryl said...

I love Elissa Brent Weissman, and highly recommend her Writing for the Young Reader class through JHU Odyssey.

Veronica Bartles said...

Love this! I have to agree that one of the absolute BEST things about being an author is hanging out with other authors. :D

Author Amok said...

Thanks, Tabatha. Elissa is a local treasure, both as an author and because she is super nice.

Barb, those baskets are adorable. I love the one with the detail on the front. Cyndee K made me a felted knitting basket for my birthday last year. It looks like a sunrise -- gorgeous.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

Sounds like you weren't the only one who had fun at the BBF, Laura. Heck, even the octopus cupcakes are smiling! It was fun meeting Elissa in this post-- I look forward to checking out her books! We, too, celebrate pi day and all things nerd in this household.

MoxieBee said...

My name is Maura and I am a secret YA reader! Now it can be told. Great post and can't wait to read the books mentioned.