ALA Midwinter: Book Fun in My Favorite City

by sarahenni on January 28, 2013

When I heard that the American Library Association was planning their midwinter conference for Seattle, I did a little dance. Not only is Seattle my favorite city, where all my family lives and where I met Dr H, but it’s also where fellow YA Highwayer Kristin Halbrook lives—and the meeting was just days before she celebrates the release of her debut, Nobody But Us (tomorrow!!!). And the books coming out in 2013 are, in a word, radtastic, so I was really excited for the meeting.

One missed connection, a planeful of 13-year-old gymnasts en route to a competition, and a demibottle of Chardonnay (Thanks for the voucher, VirginAmerica!) later, I stumbled into the party that YA Highway and Stacked threw Friday night at the Westin.


It was so fun! (Pictured above, YA Highwayer Kirsten Hubbard far left with a smattering of the rest of the crowd.) And apparently we had a celebrity cameo, though we were all too absorbed in YA chatter to notice…!

The next morning I wandered the exhibit hall. I heard this was a record-breaking year of attendance for the mid-winter conference, and I believe it! Still calmer than BEA, but this ALA was hopping. I wandered to all the booths, but snapped this one of the gorgeous shelf of 2013 releases at HarperTeen. (I also met Erica Sussman, who edited Erin Bowman‘s Taken [among many other books], and she was absolutely enchanting.)


Kirsten and I wandered the booths (over and over again, as you never knew when those clever staffers were going to reveal new stacks of shiny ARCs…) with the crazy-lovely Amy Tintera, who is also a debut author this year with Reboot! And quite possibly the most touching experience of the entire weekend was snapping the picture of Amy signing her first book (first author signing for her, ever!) for an adorable book blogger.

As the day segued into night, the YA Highway ALA contingent moseyed over to The Triple Door for Soho Press‘ awesome event.


Among many great Soho peeps, we met Margaux Froley, debut author with Escape Theory, who basically charmed our pants off. She was so hilarious I forgot to take any pictures of her! Similar: Gayle Forman was there for a bit (!!!) but I was too in awe to stun her with my camera flash. So great to be a fly on the wall, though.

Then, punchdrunk from booklove, we stumbled home with a fairly giant bag of ARCs1. What an awesome event!



Hammer admires my ALA stash

Were any of you at ALA? Did I somehow miss you?? Will you be going to any other book conferences this year? Let’s meet up!

  1. Kirsten would like you to know the bag might look small but it was mighty heavy


How NOT to Incorporate Setting, Courtesy of Top Chef

by sarahenni on September 24, 2012

I’ve been watching Top Chef for years, and for years I’ve been grumbling that they need to host a competition in Seattle. So I was super psyched when Bravo announced that the show’s 10th season will be set in the Emerald City!

But I started reading up on the local press coverage of filming. And was, let’s say, troubled by what I read. From Seattle Weekly’s Hanna Raskin:

[T]he show’s producers are notoriously uninterested in the true culinary character of the cities they feature, and even less interested in engaging the people who live in those places. Top Chef treats its shooting locales like motel rooms serviceable for a one-night stand.


Although Texas ponied up $400,000 for the privilege of serving as a Top Chef host, the state which viewers saw was a goofy caricature that was unlikely to lure anyone to the Lone Star State. The impression created by Top Chef was that Texans ride horses and eat beef in unbearable heat. … “No one in Houston really cared about the show,” Kathaine Shilcutt, my counterpart at the Houston Press, e-mails. “In fact, most people I know actively boycotted watching it because they were so furious at being overlooked.”

I remember thinking much the same about the episodes filmed in Texas. Though the show went to great lengths to film in several different cities (hitting Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas), the take-away from any on-the-spot filming was that Texans were rednecks with big hats who wouldn’t hesitate to scream, “Texas chili doesn’t have beans!

Dr H reminded me, too, of when Top Chef returned to New York for a previous season. For all the local dining or exploring the cast did, it might have been filmed in New Jersey.

Why would Top Chef bother traveling to film on location if it never intended to engage the local community, or branch out beyond stale stereotypes of whatever corner of the country bucks up the dough to host?

This reminded me of setting, and how important it is to get right. To use the city or region in which your story is set as more than a shabby, two-dimensional backdrop built with lazy preconceptions and a condescending lack of attention to detail. Have you ever watched a movie or read a book set in your hometown, and either delighted or cringed over how it was portrayed? If you set your novel in a real place, many readers will have that experience.

You really don’t want to get that wrong.

The good news? You don’t have to splurge on plane tickets to get the feel of a place.The answer is the same every time: research, research, research.

Have a Twitter account? I guarantee there are some people on there who live in your setting, and would love to chat about it! 1

If you want to get the exact point of view that your character has, walking their streets, try to find images in the Google Street View Gallery.

No matter how large or small the community, you can be there is some kind of newspaper, or community newsletter, or blog that focuses on the issues important to those citizens (Google is your friend!). Take a day or two to peruse and get an up-to-date refresher on what concerns that community.

The long and short of it is, if your characters exist in a world made of trite stereotypes and cliched tourist traps, they’re more likely to fall into similar tropes themselves. Don’t sell yourself, or your characters, short!

What about you?? Have you ever had a major gripe with how your hometown was portrayed? Where have you set your WiP? What kind of resources have you discovered to get a better sense of setting?

  1. I once asked a question about Texan homecoming traditions on a Sunday night… and got something like 5o responses!