ALA – the American Library Association Conference

I’m in DC this weekend for ALA – the American Library Association Conference.  But this time, I’m not even going to try to pretend that I might report back later today on how the day is going.   It’s a CONVENTION. 

Instead, for the moment, I’ll talk about my library conference experience last year, and about why these things should be on every author’s radar.

But first I must report, to set the scene, that the weather is SPECTACULAR.   A fantastic warm dry wind and explosions of flowers everywhere you look.   I of course will be in a convention hall for three straight days, but it’s theoretically gorgeous here.

I must also take a moment to express my complete fascination with how bizarre DC is.   I truly enjoy the capitol, except for the driving, which is psychotic (and please remember, I’m from LA) – and the unnavigable streets and incomprehensible road signs, which truly were designed by a young nation in deep and constant paranoia of imminent foreign invasion…

And this architectural mix of military industrial complex and esoteric Masonic edifices… it’s a little unnerving to think this place is the symbol of the entire US.   I don’t really even want to start to think about what all of that means for us as a people, not to mention the most powerful nation in the world…

Um, where was I?  Oh, yes, right.   I’m here for ALA, which I said – I think just last week – is in my opinion one of the two unmissable conferences of the year for new authors. 

Because, let’s face it.   As authors, and yes, as human beings, we’d be up that proverbial creek without a paddle without librarians, wouldn’t we?

My very first conference after I sold my book was the PLA (Public Library Association) conference, last May, in Boston.

I did it because I happened to be in Boston anyway, doing research for THE PRICE.   I was completely green at the time, but I just had done that magic thing – I’d joined Sisters In Crime and
Mystery Writers of America, and the very first newsletter I got from each organization had an announcement that Sisters in Crime and MWA would be sponsoring a booth at PLA where their authors could volunteer and meet librarians.

Well, this instantly caught my attention, because THE HARROWING is actually the book I was always looking for on the library shelves when I was a high school Goth girl reading Madeleine L’Engle and Stephen King, Shirley Jackson and F. Paul Wilson, Ira Levin and Lillian Hellman; Leonora Mattingly Weber and Poe and Shakespeare and Ramsey Campbell and Sheridan Le Fanu and Anne Rice and…

Bottom line – more than just about anything else, I wanted THE HARROWING in libraries, for Goth girls (and boys) like me to discover on rainy days. It’s an adult title but these age distinctions never stopped me from reading when I was — well, basically from the time I could read. So I thought, well, if I want to meet librarians…  and I volunteered.

Sisters in Crime library events are run by the SinC Library Liaison,  Doris Ann Norris, self-styled 2000-year old librarian (as she’s known on Dorothy L), revered by Sisters in Crime and MWA as "The Patron Saint of Mystery Writers" – and that’s no lie.

I stayed in that booth for pretty much the whole conference and Doris Ann took me under her wing and gave me a personalized crash course in publication, conferences, librarians, and life.

You know those moments when you feel like you just don’t have to do anything, because the Universe is in charge?

That PLA conference was one of those times.   It completely hooked me on the conference experience.

It was the greatest learning experience to watch Doris Ann in action, along with  Dan Hale (there to represent MWA, and now the MWA executive VP)  and the entire raucous chapter of the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime (who hosted the booth): the most fabulous Dana Cameron, Clea Simon, Linda Barnes, Donna Andrews, Kate Flora, Hallie Ephron, Roberta Isleib, Sarah Smith, Susan Oleksiw, Toni and Steven Kelner, and Julia Spencer Fleming.

This is networking at its most painless.  All you do is sit (or stand) there in the booth.   Librarians FLOCK to the Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America booths – they LOVE mysteries (and that’s an interesting question right there – just who are librarians so eager to see killed?  Enquiring minds want to know….)

I stopped counting how many times people ran up to the booth exclaiming:  “Sisters in Crime!!!  I’ve been looking for you!”

Librarians love to hear about new books and they are fantastically supportive of new authors.   At the time THE HARROWING was five months away from publication but I talked to literally hundreds of librarians about the book that weekend and put myself squarely on the library radar (Doris Ann kindly reported my growing library orders back to me in subsequent months.)   I got requests for library appearances, got featured in the Brodart book catalogue, and did a podcast for a university library – that day – and all I did was sit there.

That weekend I was also privileged to attend a book club meeting at Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge with the great Margaret Maron, queen of Southern mysteries and one of the most gracious and wickedly entertaining people on the planet.

If all that weren’t enough, the whole weekend culminated in an absolutely stupendous party at the BPL (that’s the Boston Public Library, to non-Bostonians). Now, I have to say I’ve been to some pretty amazing parties in my life – from seven-day Irish weddings in decrepit Irish castles where the roof literally collapsed on the dancers, to special-effects artists’ otherworldly extravaganzas, to of course Mardi Gras, to the most ridiculously decadent Hollywood premieres (not to mention any given Halloween in San Francisco’s Castro District – if you’re ever looking for a really WILD party…)

But that party at BPL was in a class of its own. A salsa band in one wing, a jazz pianist in a marble hall, a costumed fife and drum ensemble on the front steps, a live gilded Statue of Liberty at the top of a sweeping staircase, a dozen different islands of spectacular food and drink, the fantastic exhibitions (1000 Jeanne d’ Arcs)… the courtyard of the library just all on its own under a nearly full moon… and that building, that building, that building….

I’m here to tell you – librarians could teach authors a thing or two about how to party.   Librarians get out there and DANCE, people.

So get thee to a library conference.

You won’t believe what you’ve been missing.

(And if you’re at ALA, too, I’m signing at the MWA/Sisters in Crime booth at 3 pm today, Saturday, and at the St. Martin’s (Holtzbrinck) booth tomorrow, Sunday.   Come by and join the party!)

6 thoughts on “ALA – the American Library Association Conference

  1. JT Ellison

    Thanks for sharing this, Alex. Networking is so much more important that people think. Hope you’re enjoying my former hometown. The mudpie at Chadwick’s in Georgetown is to die for!

  2. Louise Ure

    The ALA conference in Chicago kicked off the same week my first book, FORCING AMARYLLIS, came out, and Warner’s Mysterious Press was kind enough to send me there with Marcia Muller to speak to a luncheon group.

    The conference itself was one of the highlights of my book launch. But it paled by comparison to the friendship with Marcia Muller that began that day. We traveled together from San Francisco, got bumped from flights together, got our hotel reservations lost together, ate our way through a seven hour delay at O’Hare on the way home, and giggled through every meal in between.

    It was the beginning of a wonderful relationship we’ve kept up to this day. (Although most of our get togethers are still centered around food.)

  3. Naomi

    Yay, Pari! You’ll see me there. Thanks for the great writeups, Alex. Really appreciate it.

    Hope you are having a great time in DC.

  4. Mike MacLean

    “…that’s an interesting question right there – just who are librarians so eager to see killed? Enquiring minds want to know…”

    Having worked at a library during my college years, I have three candidates.

    #1 Patrons who ignore their screaming children as they run amok among the shelves, pulling out stacks of books for the pages to reshelf.

    #2 Patrons who berate the desk clerks over $1.25 in over-due fines.

    #3 Hobos who stink of cheap booze and leave puddles of human grease stains on the reading tables. I sympathized with the homeless taking refuge in the library, especially when it was 110 degrees out. But if you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you want to freshen up in the bathroom?

    Uh…Thanks for the advice Alex. Sorry, I got sidetracked. Flashbacks.

  5. Laura Benedict

    Some of my favorite people are librarians! I wish I’d been on the ball–as you were, Alex–and had hied myself to D.C. for a pre-pub ALA. But I bet Anaheim will be lovely next June….Have a great time! L.


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