It’s a Saturday afternoon and I’m volunteering at a teen literary conference. I’m sitting at the book sales table talking to my new BFF, who’s name I can’t remember. The night before, she had asked about my shoes, “Were they comfortable when you got them?”
In the midst of the very classy mixer, surrounded by very important people of all types, I delivered one of the most emphatic, “No”s of my life.
“Oh good. I just got a pair and…” We both looked to the over-priced ballet flats I wore.
“Knives on my feet for the first three months. They get better.” She’d nodded knowingly, and I knew we would forever be linked together with our shared pain in the name of colorful footwear.
Today we’re both wearing entirely sensible, non-knife shoes because we’re in for a long day at the Independence branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library. I’ve spent the morning surrounded by bookish teens and helping moderate panels. My poor introvert brain was about to hit overload when I spotted BFF at the sales table nestled at the bottom of a short flight of stairs.
She offers me refuge behind the table, and we report to each other on the morning’s success. I pause mid-word because an electric tension pings the book table. BFF and I keep chatting, but with every word the current of excitement grows stronger—it’s definitely not coming from BFF or me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpse a blonde urchin hopping from one foot to the other. She’s all spindly legs and golden hair, rosy cheeks and white teeth. An indeterminately young scrap of humanity that a fairytale witch would surely lure to some candy-covered snare. (OK, maybe she’s ten or eleven? But I’m officially a grownup because everyone under the age of twenty-five looks like a toddler.)
The tension intensifies as the ball of elfin giddiness slowly makes her way closer to the sacred stories spread before us. She bites her lip, furrows her porcelain brow and takes inventory of the table. There, amidst the Pulitzer Prize winning and New York Times best-selling books, is an anthology—the collected winners of the festival’s young artists and writers. My new BFF and I trade a glance. BFF smiles toward the nymph, “Do you have a story in there?”
The sprite’s cheeks flame crimson. Her whole body rises with a sharp intake of breath as she nods and breathes out the most sacred of words “Yes.”
“Is this the first time you’ve been published?” I ask.
She hovers a few inches off the ground. “Yes.”
“Show me. Which poem is yours? I have to read it!”
She solemnly opens the anthology. Points to her poem.
“This is amazing work.”
“Where do you get your subject matter?”
“You should sign some copies.” BFF unearths a sharpie from the table and extends it toward the pixie.
Her light-eyes widen to pools of wonder; berry lips stretch to an O as she takes the hallowed marker. Flipping through the anthology on top of the stack, she finds her poem and ceremoniously pens her name next to the by-line.
“Do you want to do some more?” BFF asks.
Tinker Bell trembles.
“We’ll do it like at the bookstore.” I say. “You sign. I’ll prep the books and hand them to you.”
We settle in side-by-side and get to the most important work of the day. Her name is written with care. She’s careful not to smudge the ink. Occasionally, she’ll dot the “i” in her name with a heart. But alas time flies, the stack of anthologies on the table are all signed. Tinker Bell holds the sharpie, looking at the empty spot on the table.
“Want to do some more?” I ask.
Her eyes linger on the empty space. BFF lugs a box of unsigned anthologies from underneath the table.
“Well, I mean… I don’t know if I’ll ever get to do this again,” Tink says.
“Of course you’ll get to do this again!” I open an unsigned copy and slide it to her. “One day you’re going to be the person talking on the stage, and have stacks of books on the table to sell, and people will be waiting in line for you to sign them.”
She signs every last anthology in the place.
Today the world is full of magic and there is no place in the galaxy better than the book sales booth.
Serious face, the LitUP fest was one of the most impressive things I have seen in all of my years of being a writer. If you have a tween or teen in your life who loves reading bookmark http://litupfestival.org/ and plan on taking them in 2019.