So…after two months of worrying about me being on a panel (speaking about challenged books) in front of 500 people, and then two weeks of anxiety, and then a day of absolute fear right up to (and during) the panel…I “did good”! I knew I had a lot to say–Scars has been challenged at least once formally that I know of, and informally in Meghan cox Gurden’s op-ed. My abusers tried to silence me most of my life; I don’t want to be silenced any more. But actually speaking about it all in front of 500 people live felt pretty scary. I think I spoke well, though–honestly, emotionally, passionately, and intelligently. I still can’t believe I spoke well! It took a while for me to know it–but I started taking it in afterward from the many responses and from people telling me that in so many ways.
I know public speaking is hard for many people, at least at first. It is for me, too. But for me there’s also the added layers of all the abuse training–my abusers repeatedly telling me they’d kill me if I talked (and since they’d murdered other children in front of me I knew they could), and abuse that happened on raised stages (like child porn), and all the years I learned to be silent, quiet, and not speak out, except through my writing and my art. But yesterday I learned that I CAN speak publicly, even to a large group, and it can be okay and even a good experience.
Some of the time before my panel I felt alone and scared and insecure as the hours stretched on, so I took a breather, and sat in the hallway against the wall. But doing that I felt like I was socially awkward and sticking out, the way I had as a teen. And then who should come by but A.S. King (Everybody Sees the Ants, Please Ignore Vera Dietz)! She sat herself down beside me so easily, and we sat, backs against the wall, talking. Amy was reassuring and understanding, and so down-to-earth. I loved hearing about her own experiences, and just…spending time. Hearing Amy talk about ALAN so enthusiastically made me want to join.
I also got to meet C.J. Bott in person–she recognized me as I passed by, and we talked briefly, and then she sat down for a bit with A.S. King and me. C. J. Bott did a lovely review of Scars, and we’d talked back and forth via email a bit, so it was cool to meet her in person. She’ll be vice president of ALAN next year!
I also talked a bit with Professor Melanie Hundley, who was an incredibly friendly, bright spot in the day, introducing me to other authors and to teachers, pointing out my handouts to others, and just being lovely.
It helped to have such friendly, caring people around!
The whole experience was also made better by my wonderful book publicist Julie Schoerke, picking me up at the airport, taking me to dinner, and then coming the next day to be with me for my panel. I was getting more and more scared the closer it got to my panel, and thankfully Julie arrived about an hour before. She sat on the floor with me in the hall, we had a lovely chat, and she got me laughing.
I was actually so scared during the panel that I was shaking inside. But people listened to me–I could feel the listening silence–and they responded. And they clapped so loudly afterward–it felt good. Some great teachers also whooped when I mentioned Maureen Johnson starting the YA Saves movement on Twitter.
More highlights for me:
-Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak, Wintergirls)–someone I look up to so much–blew me a kiss as she walked past the stage on her way to throw donut holes to the audience at Lauren’s request. That was something to watch! But Laurie blowing me a kiss–that felt so good, coming from her. It was a real highlight for me.
-Lauren Myracle sat next to me on the panel, and she commiserated with me about the Meghan Cox Gurden article, and she joked with me in the panel a bit, and all that helped me be a bit calmer. Thank you, Lauren!
-After the panel, Paul Yee gave me a great hug and thanked me for being me and for what I said–and that felt so good and heartwarming.
-People came up to me after the panel, when I sat at a table with Paul Yee, who had a wonderful long line to sign his books. Alas, my publisher did not send any books for people to get, so I had no line–and yet people still came up to me to talk, or to get me to sign a postcard, and said kind, warm things, like how they or their students loved Scars and couldn’t keep it in their libraries or classrooms because it was so popular (and sometimes kids would steal it), or that Scars sounded like an important book and they’d buy it now, or that they found my speech moving or heartfelt or important, or that my book was important and made a real difference. Some of them had tears in their eyes, many of them hugged me or clasped my hands, all of them felt heartfelt and moved, and that was so lovely.
-A bunch of people wanted their photo taken with me. I hadn’t expected that, and didn’t really believe it was happening. I had a tiny bit of a hard time because having my photo taken (and cameras) trigger the child porn I endured as a child in the abuse–though I’m getting much better with cameras. But I know that I often have a forced smile with cameras and that’s why. It’s pretty cool people wanted their picture taken with me, and i know it’s a compliment.
-It was especially nice to meet teacher Claudia Swisher (below), who emailed me months ago letting me know that a student of hers loved Scars so much that she’d made a book trailer of it, and had introduced Scars to Claudia.
-I also loved that Jackie Morse Kessler (Hunger, Rage) and Heather Brewer (First Kill, Twelfth Grade Kills) both came up to me, hugged me, and told me that I was fantastic, that what I was doing was important, and that I was an amazing, beautiful person. Wow!
-I found out afterward (seeing the photos my publicist Julie took) that Scars was up on the screen for people to see when I was talking about banned and challenged books. Very cool!
-As I was leaving, I caught a taxi to the airport with three fantastic English teachers who really want to reach students with banned books and books that have issues that people need to look at. They said they were happy to ride with me; they’d just heard me speak. They asked me a ton of questions on the ride, starting with Scars and then moving on to my life, and they had such enthusiasm for books. And they said they’d buy Scars, too. 🙂
-I also really enjoyed meeting people I only knew from Twitter and FaceBook, such as childofthe80s (Sandi Walden) and Alybee930 (Alyson Beecher). I think there were more, but I have a hard time retaining things when I get really stressed or overwhelmed. And yet it was such a good day!
-And all the way home, for the first time that I can remember, I had parts of me knowing that I “did good” and feeling glad and grateful about it–instead of thinking about things I did “wrong” or not being able to take in the positives people told me. This time I was able to retain a lot of positives, and it was wonderful!
I am so glad I went to ALAN! I met so many friendly, caring people who truly love books and reaching students with books.