Friday, July 1, 2016

OK, ALA: Post One: The Odyssey

My siblings and their families are not coming to my annual Fourth of July soiree this year, and both were a little concerned I might not understand why. HA. Three days post-ALA (that's the American Library Association mid-summer conference, for you Muggles), and I've just started doing the laundry. Yesterday I didn't write, not even a blog post. I did ridiculous amounts of self-care--a trip to the dentist, yoga, a massage, a ride, lunch with my husband, and the pleasure of cooking chicken curry for dinner. I love eating chicken curry and inexplicably also love cooking it. Then my husband, daughter, and I watched three hours of Battlebots. It was brilliant. All this recharging and I don't even have preschool aged children anymore--and my brother and sister travel for work all the time. Yeah, sibs. You're good. You were never on the hook in the first place.

Anyway. I've got gobs to post about ALA. The biggest thing I got from my three days there--even bigger than the Newbery Honor--was the tremendous sense of community and responsibility among my fellow children's book lovers. I live in a small town in east Tennessee. I don't connect to the larger world of literature very often. But I am home there, and it's good to be reminded of it.

On Monday the audio of The War That Saved My Life was given the Odyssey Award for best children's audio book of the year. (The awards were all announced in January and physically given out now.) I have loved the audio of my book from the start, but didn't have any clear idea how it stacked up against the competition, so I was pleasantly surprised when it won. Then I met the committee on Monday, and was blown away.

The Odyssey committee listened to 500 audio books this year. Each. They listened to audio books to the tune of several hours per day, every day, all year. The amount of dedication this committee poured into this award stunned me. (By the way, guys--the poster you all signed and left on my place at the podium? I bought a cardboard mailing tube so I could bring it home without crushing it. Once I get it framed it's going up in my hall.) You can't skim an audio book; they listened to the whole of every single one. Amazing.

My book was narrated by the indomitable, extremely talented Jayne Entwistle. I've loved Jayne from the start. I would love her for Susan's voice alone. But then I met her, by chance in the convention hall, and loved her even more. Then we sat together at the podium for the Odyssey while the audio of Echo got the honor--the runner-up--it was so good--and then Jayne got up to talk about TWTSML, and then we both fell apart.

The first time I listened to the audio of my own book, I couldn't quit crying. I would be driving around Bristol running errands with tears pouring down my face. Couldn't help it. The voices Jayne gave my story were exactly the voices I always heard in my own head, writing. That never happens, particularly when the book is set in England where very subtle things differentiate, say, Susan's Oxbridge educated accent and Lady Thorton's upper-class one.

Turns out Jayne nailed it for two reasons. One, she's brilliant. I knew that. Two--I didn't know this part--the story filled her. By merest chance the Listening Library producer found a narrator who loved my book the way I love it, and who gave my characters her heart.

Jayne got up to the podium and gave a speech that included the words, "Do not cry," as an admonishment to herself. But she cried anyhow. She's not an especially leaky person. Nor am I. But then Jayne read chapter six of the book--read it from four feet away from me--and it was like I was hearing the story all over for the first time, perfectly told, the way I'd want to tell it and never could.

I was onstage in front of 200 people. I covered my face with my hands, pressing my fingertips over my eyes beneath my glasses. I held very still. I tried not to sob out loud. My editor said later that it looked like I was simply listening very very hard, but my family knew I was crying. They cried too. Jayne cried. We all cried. It was a very wet ceremony.

The producer responsible for the audio received the actual Odyssey medal. I left feeling like I'd won the real prize. Jayne, you found the soul of my book and made it sing. Love you.