Wednesday, June 29, 2011

ALA! New Orleans! or Why I Love Facebook (sometimes)

Julie, Romy, and I just got back from what was both family vacation and business trip out to the annual ALA (American Library Association, to those not in the know) conference in one of my favorite cities, New Orleans, LA. And the whole thing was a rousing success.

Backing up a bit... The only other time we've been to New Orleans was right after Katrina, the first major event held in the city was an ALA conference that summer. The summer after the storm. It was, as you'd expect, pretty desolate. But still, just a beautiful place with beautiful people and a curious, fascinating mix of cultures and history unlike any other place I've ever known.

This many years later, a lot has changed and a lot has bounced back. Though, from what I gather, many neighborhoods still sit in ruins and abandoned, sadly. But it was inspiring to see this city thriving much more than the way we saw it all those years back. Plus... two seasons of HBO's Treme later, and we are completely head-over-heels in love with New Orleans.

I won't blab on too much, but a great time was had by the whole family. We enjoyed as much leisure as we could grab while juggling the conference and the many needs of a wonderfully sweet 2 1/2 year old (though at times, yes, a "terrible two".... groan).

Now, regarding ALA. This was the best time I've ever had at an ALA conference. For two reasons. In the past year or so, I've totally changed my outlook on the biz and, kind of, on life. I mean, I've always completely loved the business of children's books, but I never threw myself into it socially. Never really stuck my neck out and tried to connect with other artists so much. I've always stayed in my tiny little pocket of things, which, I'd grown to feel was holding me back. I'm in Chicago (burbs) and most of the publishing world is New York, so that's isolating enough.

Enter a highly unlikely adversary.... Facebook. (Here forth may sound like I'll be spewing some sick brainwashy testimonial on you, but stick with it and you'll see where I'm going.) I stayed off of all social networking sites for a real long time. I'd sorta peek in from the sidelines as Julie dabbled in and around myspace and later Facebook. Years after, finally, I bit the bullet and opened a Facebook profile. A personal one. It starts out just as you'd think. It was fun and sort of strange reconnecting with people you never knew you'd ever see again. But mostly it was pretty ok.

Then, it got a little ho hum. At which point, I began to realize I could use Facebook to reach out, as well, to people I don't know, but would like to know. Other illustrators who don't live near me (or do) and authors and art directors and editors, publishers, librarians, reviewers, etc. And I did this, and it has been phenomenal. So this is my main point of using Facebook now. To share my art, work-in-progress, updates, news, and so forth. And also to keep up on what other people like me are doing. And hopefully to get to know some people in the process. I've met a ton of other fine, friendly folk in the process. And yes, one does run into those who seem pretty disinterested in me (or maybe anyone else besides him/herself) but, of course, that's life.

Re-enter ALA-New Orleans. Knowing well in advance I was going to New Orleans, I found out by way of my publishers and by asking around on Facebook what other illustrators I'm Facebook friends with were going to be there. Before heading out, I tried to contact all editors and art directors I'd worked with to see who was going. In the process, Julie and I got hooked up with some sweet publisher party invitations, signings for our books, and I got an invitation to talk up a recent middle-grade title to a room full of distinguished ALA committee members. (Meanwhile, Julie was doing all of this, too, on her end... the reaching out to our peeps thing.)

Julie and Romy and I had a terrific time, meeting some incredibly talented, incredibly kind people. I won't disgust you all by dropping any names, or flashing any photos at you, but if you're reading this, and it's you, you know I'm talking about you. And thanks for humoring me with your kind conversation.

I never thought I'd be such an advocate of a social networking website. But it has really, really worked for me. Don't get me wrong. There are days when I despise Facebook for it's often narcissistic tendencies. There is a razor thin fine line between good-natured celebratory self-promo and, you know, bragging. Reading the news feed can make a boy incredibly jealous. Or incredibly nauseous. Or feel incredibly small or insignificant or untalented or insecure.

But, again, that's just life.

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