Heather Brewer and her husband were in front of us in Starbucks before her author talk at The Big Read.
"That's Heather Brewer!" I said as we waited for our lattes. "She writes the Vladimir Tod vampire series."
"Oh," said my husband. "Is that why she is dressed like a demented train conductor?"
My husband is not always the best judge of fashion. I thought she looked cute and hip in a goth sort of way. She had a purple streak in her hair, and she was wearing a backpack shaped like a stuffed bat. Very appropriate attire, given her subject matter and target audience.
I missed the first part of Brewer's presentation because I was participating in Pitch-a-Palooza. When that was over, I hurried over to catch the end. She's a compelling speaker (I had the opportunity to hear her speak once before), and it was clear that the audience was hanging on her every word. She spoke movingly of being bullied as a child and of having teachers turn a blind eye to it--an experience that has shaped her writing for young people. She is very outspoken on the subject of bullying. It is never okay, she said. It does not "build character". It is just very, very wrong.
Brewer shared an anecdote about how she chose her subject and genre. She had heard the advice to "write what you know", so she made a list of things she knew. She thought it would be a long list. But, she said, it turned out she only knew three things! First, she knew how it felt to be bullied. Second, she knew about teenagers--she feels she is a teenager at heart, and teens are often drawn to her. And, third, she knew about vampires, having been a long-time fan of Dracula and other vampire novels. BULLIED ... TEENAGE ... VAMPIRE. From this, Vladimir Todd was born. As soon as she envisioned him and knew his name, Brewer said, she instantly knew his whole story. Not just the first part--Eighth Grade Bites--but his whole story. She views the five books in the series as one story split into five parts.
Brewer took questions from the audience. An earnest young writer--probably eleven or twelve years old--was sitting next to me. He raised his hand and asked for writing advice. Brewer encouraged him to write, write, write. Butt in chair = writing. She assured all the aspiring young (and, uh ... older ...) writers in the audience that they CAN do whatever they want to do.
The boy raised his hand again. What should he do, he wanted to know, about the new ideas that keep occurring to him all the time? Brewer seemed to relate to that. She advised the boy to keep an idea notebook. She then acted out what happens when a new idea comes to her. "Heather!" the idea whispers. "Write me. Write me. I'm a really GOOD idea!"
"No, idea!" she yells. "You're going in the notebook. You have to wait until I finish this novel."
Heather Brewer then set about signing books for her adoring fans. Oh, and she gave us all "Vlad Bags"! Mine is pictured below.