11th Annual Teen Book Fest at Nazareth College

Teen Book Fest, also known as TBF, took place on May 14 this year, but the real excitement began for me the day before. Well, very, very early the morning before. One of my best friends from childhood and I awoke at 4AM and somehow managed to put ourselves together in time to leave at 5AM in order to beat the infamous Long Island rush hour (I’ve gotten stuck in it on my way to work two days a week every week this semester, so I knew the early wakeup call would be worth avoiding what is quite literally the world’s largest parking lot). We made fantastic time and ended up at our hotel right around 11AM. 

Famished, having only eaten two waffles and a Clif bar since waking up, I drove us to downtown Rochester with all our luggage still in the trunk because check-in wasn’t until 3PM. The city was…interesting. It seems like it has the possibility to be a very beautiful place to wander, but there is a lot of construction and roadwork taking place at the moment, which made both driving and walking difficult in places. We managed to find free, one-hour roadside parking about a ten or fifteen minute walk from a vegan French bistro I wanted to try (Vive Bistro and Bakery–vegan or not, check them out; their tartines are to die for and the staff is wonderful). I got take-out from there, my friend got take-out from the Moe’s next door, and we scarfed it down in the car before going on a quest for used bookstores.

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A mural painted on the side of the building that Small World Books is housed in.

We found one called Small World Books and spent half an hour wandering the stacks. I found a book on library research meant for reference librarians from 1987. It was interesting to flip through the book and see what has changed and what has remained the same in such a relatively short period of time. There was a lot of focus on card catalogs, which still exist on the campus I work on, but no one makes use of them. I purchased a copy of The Little Prince and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which will fit themselves somewhere in my extremely long, overflowing TBR pile that I finally have some downtime to dig into. The gentleman working in the store was extremely friendly, as most people in Rochester were, and we had a great conversation about our respective studies in college, writing, and the bookstore’s second branch in another part of town.

Rather than head there, however, we decided to head back east a little bit to Corbett’s Glen. I, being the very classy person that I am, changed into my swimsuit behind my beloved red fuzzy blanket with the black outline of a stag on it that my friend was holding up for me and then off we went onto the trail that ran alongside a river. I had seen images on Google of folks swimming in the waterfalls of the river, but wasn’t sure which part of the river it was they were in since there are multiple falls along its path. So, we wandered part of the trail in a loop once and then edged along part of the path again so I could just hop in wherever seemed safest. It wasn’t a particularly deep river, the water came perhaps to the middle of my shins, but it felt nice to hop into the cool water and trudge around the algae-covered rocks for a while. My friend documented the whole adventure on my Snapchat story. You know, for posterity.

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The beginning of my trek into the river. It was scary getting close to the big falls because it was hard to tell how deep the water was, and it was so loud as it crashed onto the rocks, so I stuck to the small falls.

When I finally pulled myself out of the river and changed back into my regular clothes, we decided to drag our tired selves back to the hotel and hope the staff would take pity on us and let us check in early. Thankfully, 15 minutes didn’t seem to bother them and we were finally in our room with its two Queen beds, bathroom, and perhaps most importantly, an armchair for reading. We had both brought our current reads, as well as the books we wanted to have signed, so there was plenty of reading material to choose from. I tried to read more of my current read, THESE SHALLOW GRAVES, but running on as little sleep as I was, my brain wasn’t holding onto much of what I was reading. Still, I didn’t want to nap and risk not being able to sleep through the night, so I went for a dip in the hotel pool while my friend chilled poolside and read THE ROSE AND THE DAGGER.

Staying at the same hotel as many of the authors was really cool because we ran into a few of them in the lobby both Friday and Saturday morning. I actually saw Jeff Zentner, author of THE SERPENT KING, on my way back to my room from the pool but didn’t realize it was him because I was too busy appreciating his tattoos; my friend pointed it out later. Maybe this will be a lesson in paying attention to a person before their tattoos, but I doubt I’ll ever be able to bring myself to do that. Body art is just too interesting for me to take my eyes off of.

I was feeling really restless, so my friend and I drove randomly through town and stopped along the Erie Canal, which has a lovely walking and biking trail that runs along it. When we got back to the room it was time for dinner (leftovers from lunch, yum) and lights out so we could be ready to tackle TBF in the morning!

We got to Nazareth College around 8:15 and scarfed down the bagels we stopped for along the way while receiving free TBF bags (woo! One can *never* have too many totes–the more bags, the more books you can carry!) and checking out the various tables set up in the gym. There were teen authors, advertisements for writing workshops, books for sale from Barnes & Noble, and T-shirts and jewelry sales as well. I tried to be good and resisted spending too much money, but we couldn’t help ourselves at the raffle table. I didn’t have any luck, but my friend won an ARC of WHEN WE COLLIDED! (I purchased WWC a week or two ago and am very excited to read it soon!)

It was time for the author parade at about 8:45 and I was extremely surprised to see a drum line precede the writers! It was really cool to see such fanfare over artists as they passed through the gym and into another part of the college to (according to some of their Twitters) munch on breakfast pizza for an hour before the opening ceremony. A step team performed in the meantime, and they were incredible! Finally, around 10AM, it was time for Truth or Talent featuring all the authors. There were some hilarious stories told, and Scott Westerfeld showed his incredible talent of harmonizing with himself in a Daffy Duck voice. I’m still blown away by that performance! It was a really fun hour, but it was over quickly as everyone split into groups headed to various author discussions spread around campus.

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The drum line entering ahead of the parade of authors.

There were four sessions from 11AM to 3PM, and while it was difficult having to choose which authors to see during those sessions, I made it work. My friend and I stuck together for the first two, Jennifer Donnelly and a combined session with Tim Federle and Jeff Zentner. It was really inspiring to hear Jennifer speak about her writing process; her talk got me very interested in the idea of trying my own hand at historical fiction, if only for a short story as opposed to an entire novel. Jeff and Tim were very funny, and spoke of their respective backgrounds that got them to the points they are at today. Tim apparently co-wrote TUCK EVERLASTING, which is currently showing on Broadway–how awesome! I haven’t seen it, but it’s right across the street from SOMETHING ROTTEN, which I did see, and caught my eye since the book was one of my favorites when I was younger. Jeff sang a song for us to complement his guitar-playing during Truth or Talent and both of them answered questions on their writing process.

After the second session, my friend went to see Scott Westerfeld while I attended a publishing workshop. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting, which was something to do with book publishing and querying agents; rather, it focused on publishing opportunities in literary magazines for children and young adults. I stuck around anyway, since there is still a possibility that I will end up as a Youth Services or school librarian, and am glad I did because the few other people who were at the session were lovely. After that I headed to the extremely crowded Jesse Andrews session. He’s a great presenter for teens and was able to speak about very real topics in a jovial, jocular manner that had me in stitches. The story of how he got to where he is today is a fascinating one, and hilarious the way he tells it, though if I were to write it here it probably wouldn’t seem like it.

I headed out of that session a little early to avoid getting caught in the mad rush of teenagers all trying to force their way through a tiny door all at once and met my friend on the Jennifer Donnelly signing line in the gym. A little over two hours later, I had gotten all five books I brought with me signed and pictures taken with four of the five authors (those pics can be found on my Twitter), and we were so ready to stuff our faces with food. It turns out a pumpernickel bagel with tomato slices and a PB Clif bar are not sufficient amounts of food for a span of 9 hours. Oops. Definitely worth it, though. After another delicious excursion to Vive Bistro, it was back to the hotel to cry over THESE SHALLOW GRAVES and get our things ready for a morning departure.

Overall, it was a FANTASTIC weekend filled with many firsts for me (I’m pretty sure that was the longest amount of time I’ve driven at once and also my first time seeing the Erie Canal, though my dad tells me otherwise). All of the authors at TBF were funny, inspirational, and unafraid to be real with their fans. It’s always a wonderful treat to be surrounded by likeminded people who are stirred by the same books and people, and I am counting down the months and days until we get to do it all again next year!

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