Poetry, Neil Gaiman, “Writers as Outsiders” and Cowboys in the State of Texas

Last month (April 2013), I headed off to the Texas Library Conference, held in Fort Worth, just outside Dallas. I was a guest on a few panels, speaking on poetry and children’s books. I was honoured to appear with fellow scribblers, Michael Salinger, Rebecca Dotlich, Jane Yolen, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Charles Waters, and Guadalupe Garcia McCall, seen here with the conference’s poetry guru, Sylvia Vardell:

A heap of poets at TXLA 2013. (L-R: Sylvia Vardell, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Charles Waters, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Jane Yolen, Michael Salinger, Rebecca Dotlich, and me)

A rosy pile of poets. (L-R: Sylvia Vardell, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, Charles Waters, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Jane Yolen, Michael Salinger, Rebecca Dotlich, and me)

I had been once before to the conference and, as always, if was great fun, especially seeing the wonderful people from Penguin USA—including one of my editors—whom I don’t get to see very often, not living in New York.

On the first night there, after a long flight from London, I drowned my jet lag in Sauvignon Blanc with a great group of librarians, Penguin folks, as well as more fellow scribblers: Gennifer Choldenko (Al Capone Does My Shirts) and the duo of Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz (Colin Fischer, X-Men: First Class)—which segues nicely into the next pic:

TXLA2013_02

Texas librarians; Penguin people (not actual chimeras); Zack Stentz (in the spotlight); Ashley Miller (beside him); Gennifer Choldenko (or rather one half of her face, at the back, far left).

Gennifer spoke with eloquence and humour about researching life on Alcatraz when the prison was still active, while Ashely and Zack recounted the unique trials and tribulations of being a pair of Hollywood screenwriters who decided to pen a novel—and in doing so created their favourite fictional character. After that, I said my bit, speaking about “writers as outsiders.”

I was inspired by a quote I heard a few years ago from the radio presenter, Eleanor Wachtel, whose career comprises more than 20 years of interviewing writers about their lives and work. At the time, she was speaking at a literary festival, where she was asked if she noticed anything all these scribblers had in common. Wachtel has the poised fluency you expect from a lifelong broadcaster, but the question gave her pause. She was silent for a moment, considering an answer. “Outsiders,” she said. “All writers are, or perceive themselves as, outsiders.” I spun this idea into about ten minutes of—hopefully interesting—patter.

And then…more Sauvignon.

Before heading home, I caught the tail end of Neil Gaiman’s keynote speech on “What Makes a Children’s Book?” and still had time to see some real live cowboys, albeit in a show designed largely for tourists. They herded their extremely well-behaved cattle through the streets of Fort Worth in a kind of nonchalant answer to the Running of the Bulls…

Neil Gaiman, on "What Makes a Children's Book?"

Neil Gaiman, on “What Makes a Children’s Book?”

Texas: It has actual cowboys.

Texas: Cowboys included.

Too many writers to name, in a crowd so big this picture had to be pasted together after the fact (hence the blurry left side and the seam down the middle).

Too many scribblers to name…in a crowd so big this picture had to be pasted together after the fact (hence the blurry left side and the seam down the middle).

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