If you’ve never been to the Opryland hotel, I’m not really sure how to explain it to you. In my opinion, it’s kind of like the biosphere: huge, enclosed, no fresh air, no escape. According to the author Paul Volponi, who I met this weekend at NCTE, it’s like an antfarm. The place is so huge you need a map to get around, and often times, faced with the long hike back to my room after an equally long day, I just wanted to sit down on one of the many benches and couches they have around—just for this purpose, I think—and weep. On the flip side, there’s always something interesting to look at, whether it’s the people walking around confused and weeping (I wasn’t the only one, let me just say) or the mobs of middle school kids there for a Beta convention (can someone, please, give me a definitive explanation of what Beta is?) or the Christmas decorations, which always managed to be both over the top and perplexing at the same time, such as this huge Christmas tree topped by…a woman holding a muff:
(Thanks to the fabulous David Levithan, who pointed this out to me as we were trying to find our way, together, out of the convention center. I was so busy being confused and weepy I probably wouldn’t have seen it otherwise.)
On the whole, though, NCTE was a GREAT conference. I got to meet so many teachers and librarians from all over the country, which is always so much fun. Again and again, I was told the nicest things about my books, how students really like them….how they are among the most stolen from classrooms and libraries. It was like the theme of the weekend: “I can’t keep them in the classroom! They justtake them!” I felt both flattered and guilty (an odd mix) but everyone was very cheerful about it. One woman said, “Well, if they’re taking things, I’m just glad it’s books. Those, I am more than happy to have to replace.” Still, I feel kind of bad, to the point that when one woman who told me this asked me to inscribe a bunch of paperbacks with SHARE THIS BOOK I wanted to write DON’T STEAL THIS BOOK! But I didn’t.
The other great things about NCTE, and conferences in general, is that you get to meet a lot of other writers. Down here in NC, there aren’t that many people writing for the younger market—although I was lucky to bump into Frances Dowell, who I’ve known forever, at the airport, and gab with her about US Weekly on the plane ride to Nashville. Still, it’s always great to go somewhere and have a few days to hang out and meet people who do what you do. So I got to catch up with people I knew, like John Green….
(I think we both look a little crazy in this picture. That’s what being inside the antfarm for four days with no fresh air will do to a person.)
…as well as E. Lockhart, Cecil Castellucci and M.T. Anderson (fresh off the National Book Award, hello!). Plus I got to meet new folks, like Justina Chen Headley (who gave me chocolates!) Lauren Myracle, Sara Zarr, Elisa Carbone, Brenda Woods, Tate Thompson, Coe Booth, and about a million others who of course I am now unable to remember due to the confusion that was being at Opryland. Suffice to say, I was a little starstruck all around.
It was a great time. Also great? Pulling up in my driveway last night and seeing my house, all lit up, waiting for me. No confusion, although I did kind of feel like weeping (what can I say, long day). I didn’t need a map to find the door, or my dogs, who were waiting for me, and every time I get up and go to the bathroom or kitchen with no question whatsoever on how to do so, I am just so VERY thankful. And this is a good week for that, right? Out of the antfarm, just in time for the holidays. Almost makes me want to put up a tree with a woman holding a muff on top. Almost, but not quite.