Thursday, September 27, 2012

Learning to do teen events--A Day with Tonya Hurley, Author of The Blessed.

So we’ve picked up an enormous schedule of kids’ events this fall. In addition to our biggest fall slate of kids’ authors to date, we picked up a number of kids friendly events and school visits from Next Chapter when they closed.

I think we have the picture book, chapter book, and intermediate authors down cold. We do one to two school events with presales, and then host the evening event either at the store or at one of the many libraries in the area.

But this season, we picked up several teen authors. Even last year, we were shying away from teen events. There’s a different kind of outreach, and it’s harder to get presales in the schools. Plus we need to build up our high school contacts. Plus many of the teen authors who tour tend to be more female-focused, and some schools shy away from that. And also many schools have very tight high school structures, and they have lots of test periods and things that make scheduling an author more difficult. Our baptism by fire, so to speak, was with yesterday’s event with Tonya Hurley, best known for our ghostgirl series. Her new book, The Blessed, targets a slightly older crowd of 14+, and like Libba Bray (a pretty decent comparison, only for her more serious stuff—this is definitely not a satire), could carry into folks in their twenties.

Three very different women find themselves meeting at the emergency room of Perpetual Help Hospital. Lucy is a stylish wealth woman whose life depends on getting in the gossip rags. Cecelia (CeCe) is an underground rock guitarist who plays in dive clubs and is on the verge of being homeless. And Agnes is an everygirl who lives in a middle class neighborhood, who nonetheless is under the thumb of her domineering mom, particularly when it comes to boys.

At the hospital, the three women (one whose been admitted for a suicide attempt, another for a near drowning in a puddle of brackish water, the third for passing out in a club, probably from a drug/alcohol combination) meet the mysterious Sebastian, who is actually from the psychiatric ward. They also meet Dr. Alan Frey, who has taken a keen interest in all of them.

So not to give too much away, but there’s a long setup and I think you need to get to the point, Sebastian thinks he’s the reincarnation of St. Sebastian and has taken refuge in a church, the Precious Blood Church, to be exact, which has been deconsecrated and is slated to be torn down for condos. And yes, it was also on the site of a deadly subway mine accident, which plays into the story.

But more than that, the girls slowly come to realize that their lives are slowly unraveling, and they are being pulled towards both Sebastian and the church. And that is because they may or may not be the reincarnation (or perhaps modern avatars) of three saints, all of whom brutally died as teenagers. And yes, those saints were Lucy, Cecelia, and Agnes.

The story plays off a lot of themes of teen fiction, but instead of using vampires, zombies, and werewolves, the story plays off of Catholic imagery. I don’t know how religious people would feel about the book; it could go either way, as there is actually a reverence for the religion and faith that permeates the story. And the underlying themes of the story, of committing to what you believe in, of choosing goodness over evil, and even in the rewarding of works of charity that permeate the story, all have a sort of traditional.

The Blessed also has a wonderfully Brooklyny vibe about it. So I was really happy that we had put Hurley’s public event at the Bay View Library, which is probably the closest thing to Brooklyn that I can think of. I guess Riverwest would argue that out, but I feel like crossing the Menomonie Valley feels more like crossing the East River than does crossing the Milwaukee River. Riverwest can take the title of Lower East Side of Milwaukee, and that would mean that Brewers Hill would be Tribeca, and oh, I guess I’m digressing a bit.

I hoped that with a teen event, all the fans would be so wired and connected that they’d show up for an event if I put it in a private igloo, but alas, that was not the case, and we had a disappointing showing. I think getting into a new area means investigating new areas for promotion. The Journal Sentinel and the Shepherd Express skew too old and Metroparent was probably skewing young. We sent posters to all the libraries we were working with, but not everybody put them up. In addition, you’re always starting from scratch with a new series, even when the last series is popular.

We had a nice turnout at our school event (thanks, Amy!) and Tonya and her sister Tracy had a great time wandering around Milwaukee between events. We had a good Happy Days/Laverne and Shirley talk. But perhaps the best time I had was talking about their adventures in the music world. For many years, Hurleys were top music publicists, as well as writers, producers, film-makers, and so forth. Depeche Mode even contributed a song to one of Hurley’s trailers.

And then it hit me, this book has the vibe of so much British music of the 80s and 90s that had that death/faith vibe going on. I was playing the songs of Depeche Mode (yes, we have a copy of Just Can't Get Enough: The Making of Depeche Mode in stock) and several other bands in my head (Joy Division, Sisters of Mercy) the whole time I was reading The Blessed.

And just a warning, the last scenes of the book are pretty brutal. I sort of looked away as I was reading. But I don’t think it’s too much out of line of other teen fiction, certainly not the last volume of Suzanne Collins. And just another little great thing about The Blessed--the cover reverses to each character as their martyr. Several of us think this jacket is more eye-catching, but I can imagine that there are some retailers that might not carry it.

So this time around, a small event, but someday, perhaps an enormous one!

Next week’s event with Libba Bray should go better. Even though it’s also a new series, she’s futher along in her author development, and is big enough to get major press and word of mouth. Lots of customers in the bookstore have been buzzing about the appearance. The new book is The Diviners, it just came out, and our event is at Milwaukee Public Library’s Loos Hall at Centennial Hall (733 N. Eighth St. 53233), Thursday, October 4, 6:30 PM.

And by Michelle Hodkin (The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, The Evolution of Mara Dyer) on Tuesday, October 30, at the West Allis Public Library, 7421 W. National Ave. 53214), things should be going swimmingly.

Want to see Tonya Hurley in person? Here are her upcoming events.

No comments: