Samantha Mabry is a writer of scary stories, represented by Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary. She's also a moderator of flash paranormal fiction, a retired bass player, a lover of cheap paperbacks, an inflexible yogi, and a pet hoarder.
Follow me: on an old episode of The Simpsons, Springfield Elementary gets a substitute gym teacher named Coach Krupt. The only game he lets the students play during gym class is a game he calls "Bombardment," which consists of him throwing red dodgeballs at confused and frightened children while yelling "Bombardment!" over and over again. The point of the game, obviously, is to try and not get pummelled by flying red balls while someone big and scary is screaming at you.
This last weekend at the Austin Teen Book Festival, I felt a little bit like one of those kids dodging flying red balls.
Follow me still: I am not a teen, and it has been over a decade since I was a teen. The Austin Teen Book Festival is unique in that it really is for teens, as opposed to being for published authors, aspiring authors, graduate students, industry types, or librarians. And the teens were everywhere, dressed up like characters from the Leviathan series and vampires from Heather Brewer's novels. Even before the morning keynote, a group of teens wearing ripped-up tie-dyed shirts and sporting heavy, smeary eye makeup danced along to "Thriller." They were very good zombies indeed, though they were dressed eerily similar to how I normally dressed in 1991. I also, sadly, didn't even know what a character from Leviathan would look like before that morning and spent a while wondering why these kids were all trying to look like Bert from Mary Poppins.
This conference was eye-opening for me, in that it consistently revealed my fears. If you read this blog regularly, you probably read other blogs as well. That means you are constantly bombarded by information - good, bad, unique, repetitive, whatever. That can be scary at first. If you're a writer, you try and find your writerly place in the world by navigating your way through all the information you come across; then perhaps you feel that you "understand" your place and what it is you're doing. You're good at wading through information, turning scary or intimidating aspects of writing and publishing in understandable ones, or so you think.
Well, after spending close to ten hours in the over-30 minority at the ATBF, having my potential young readers sitting next to, in front of, and all around me at panels and listening to the insightful and challenging questions they asked of various authors, I was feeling a bit on edge. They wanted tips from Maureen Johnson, Scott Westerfeld, David Levithan, and Alyson Noel about how to conquer their own writer's block and how to get over their own fears of rejection. They wanted to know about the challenges of building storyworlds. When I was a teen, I could never have mumbled two words to an author I loved, let alone ask them about the process of writing or how to craft a storyworld. I was sitting there realizing that my potential audience was freaking smart, and it scared me. Bombardment! What if I can't hack it? Bombardment! What if I book I wrote one day got into the hands of just some of these hundreds of freaking smart teens and they don't like it? Bombardment! Bombardment!
I did not, however, leave the Austin Teen Book Festival totally bruised and battered. I was, granted, a little sore but even more than that I was determined to come back to Dallas and continue trying to write good stories, craft good characters, and work very hard every day for something very important. I was reminded over the weekend that the teens who came to the festival, and by extenstion teens all over the place, LOVE good books. They want MORE good books. They want more authors writing more good stories that can change their lives. More than once I heard teens getting up to the microphone and telling authors that they're an inspiration, that their books made them love reading, and that they wanted to give them hugs. It was seriously amazing. But man, what a tall order.
I didn't go to the ATBF looking to get all jostled around, but that's what happened. And ultimately, it's what needed to happen. I'm a true believer in the idea that when people are scared and pushed out of their comfort zones they can do great things. Rainer Maria Rilke has a line at the end of one of his poems that is simply, beautifully: "You must change your life."
Is there a time (in your writing life or otherwise) when you somehow landed in a situation that started out scary/uncomfortable yet ended up being just what the doctor ordered?