Monday, September 27, 2010

You know what they say....

....sometimes you actually should meet your heroes.

This past weekend, at the tenth annual National Book Festival (pretty much the only good thing to come out of the Bush presidency), my favorite author of the moment, Suzanne Collins, put in an appearance. For those of you who aren't familiar with her, she is the author of the book trilogy, The Hunger Games. These books have been blowing my mind for the last three years, and I was not about to pass up the chance to see her in the flesh.

This was actually the first time I had ever been to the festival; it first landed on my radar about 5 years ago when I returned to the DC area from school. And ever since then, I have been out of town every year during the last weekend of September. Every. Single. Year.

But this year would be a different story (see what I did there?). I was going to be in town, and I had plans to go into the office. Which worked out perfectly, since the book festival was taking place on the Mall, just a quick walk from work. Suzanne Collins was the second speaker in the Teen tent, so I figured I could get into work early, pop down there and here her speak, get a book signed, and then get back to the office. And while my plan ended up working out, I kind of underestimated the distance between my office and the spot on the Mall where the festival was being held. So basically it was 2 miles rather than 1 mile. It only took me about 20 minutes to get down there, but since it was so hot that day, let's just say I was a little....damp.

The good news is, I was able to snag a standing spot directly behind the last row of chairs, straight back from the stage, and only about 40 feet from the podium. The tent was packed with kids, teenagers, and adults all eager to hear what The Hunger Games author had to say. She started out with a 15 minute prepared presentation where she spoke about her background as a military brat and how she was raised in an environment where military strategy and history were basically dinner table talk. She spoke about being a kid when her father went to Vietnam and how she didn't really understand what that meant until she saw news footage depicting the graphic horror of the war. Her father came home and from her description, it seems pretty clear that he had some post-traumatic stress disorder going on.

From speaking about her childhood, Ms. Collins then moved on to describing how her first series, The Underland Chronicles, was meant to introduce young adults to all the different facets of war and its meaning and toll. With The Hunger Games, which was born of a night of channel surfing between reality television and Iraq war coverage, she stumbled upon the perfect vehicle to fuse her interest in war, media, Roman culture, and Greek mythology. She pointed out the many parallels between her stories and Greek myths (especially Theseus and the Minotaur) and how the worst punishment the Greeks could dole out was to kill your children. By killing your children, they were doing worse than killing you, they were killing your future.

After the fascinating talk/lecture, Ms. Collins took questions from the audience. From little kids to some elderly folk, everyone had a question. And the audience wasn't afraid to weigh in; there was a spoiler-free policy on the questions as not everyone had read Mockingjay, and when one tween tried to ask a question about the end of the book, she got heavily booed from the crowd (as not everyone had read it). Ms. Collins told her to come up to the stage afterwards and whisper the question. in her ear People asked about where the characters for The Hunger Games came from (Katniss just popped into her head, fully realized), the geography of Panem (she didn't reveal anymore than what's in the books), where her character names originated (Capitol names are Roman influenced, Katniss and Prim from edible flowers, and other characters name echo their Districts) and where the idea of 13 Districts came from (the 13 original American colonies). And of course, there was a question about Team Peta and Team Gale. Ms. Collins smoothly answers that she didn't like one over the other, in her mind, a love triangle is only successful if it presents an impossibly hard choice, a Casablanca style choice. To her both Peta and Gale were strong and worthy enough of Katniss, but life, as they say, can change a person.

By the end of the session, it was already 11 in the morning and the signing wasn't scheduled to start for another half hour. So I decided to skip it and head back to the office. After spending 20 minutes wandering around looking for the entrance to the L'Enfant Plaza metro (seriously, could it be harder to find??) it was back to the work grindstone. But at least I had come just a little close to greatness and been near one of the most brilliant modern literary minds.

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