The brightest moments can arise out of the darkest hours. It’s something that author Stephanie Perkins learned firsthand while conceiving of and editing the YA short story collection, My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories (St. Martin’s Griffin, Oct.), which was celebrated in two Manhattan bookstores on December 4.
Perkins was first joined by her fellow authors, Holly Black, Ally Carter, Gayle Forman, Jenny Han, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Myra McEntire, and Kiersten White (contributors Rainbow Rowell, Laini Taylor, and Matt de la Peña were unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts), at Barnes & Noble Tribeca. Later that evening, the authors headed to another celebration and reading at McNally Jackson in Soho.
Perkins shared some poignant reflections on the origins of the book, which harkened back to that darker time. She explained that, around a year ago, she was suffering from severe clinical depression that was having a great impact on her work. “I wasn’t dealing with anything,” she said. It was in the midst of this darkness that the spark of an idea came to her – one that she didn’t take all that seriously at first. Perkins admitted to the crowd that she has always shamelessly loved Hallmark’s Christmas TV specials – the ones that inexplicably seem to always star Mario Lopez, she said. It was one of those fleeting thoughts that she might have ignored, but she began thinking, why aren’t there more YA holiday stories? And how about a no-holds-barred collection of YA stories that fully indulge in Christmas-time schlock, sentimentality, and kitsch, while expanding the notion of what a holiday story might be? Perkins tentatively began reaching out to authors and as they expressed their enthusiasm for the project, Perkins’s own confidence in the idea grew. It was while the book was taking shape that she regained her footing: “What got me healthy again was this project,” she said.
At the event, each author gave a taster reading of his or her story before answering some of Levithan’s questions about the individual works. And lest the seeds of first inspiration be overlooked, the Hallmark Channel came up more than once. McEntire noted that, while watching one of the first holiday specials of the season, she attempted to get her son to join her. He responded by saying: “Mom, I think that the Hallmark Channel is for older ladies who don’t have love.” Levithan also jokingly bemoaned that “gay Jews are underrepresented on the Hallmark Channel.”
Authors Gone Missing, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and a Bookstore Birthday
Later that evening, for McNally Jackson’s party, a large crowd filled the lower level of the store, and many came prepared to participate in the store’s ugly Christmas sweater contest. Children’s and YA book buyer Cristin Stickles informed guests that the night marked McNally Jackson’s 10th anniversary, evoking cheers from the crowd. To those who were attempting to casually browse, she added, “Sorry if you came here to read a book, there’s too much to celebrate for that.”
The start time for the event came and went, and Stickles took to the mic again. The authors had been delayed en route from Barnes & Noble by protestors in the wake of the recent court decision not to indict the NYPD officer involved in the death of civilian Eric Garner. With the authors still on their way, Stickles started the sweater contest early, and brought four of the best/worst holiday sweater-wearers to the front, for a vote-by-applause. From sequined Santa appliqués to a light-up singing holiday tie, the abundantly festive and garish couture made for a difficult choice. Ultimately, a young woman in a dinosaur sweater and Santa hat took the grand prize: a bag of goodies from McNally Jackson.
Eventually, the authors arrived. A lively discussion focused on how the book came to be, and in record time – “11 months from conception to publication,” Stephanie Perkins said – followed by each author discussing how his or her story came about. Kelly Link and Holly Black had e-mailed each other early on, and when Black described the Irish fairy tale she wanted to retell, Link responded that she was already writing that story. “So I decided to write about Krampus,” Black concluded, referring to the demon-like creature who torments naughty children around Christmas. For the event, Black wore her own thematic/ugly Krampus holiday sweater.
Following a Q & A with the audience, the authors were broken up into groups to sign books and meet readers. One audience member asked if the authors would team up for future holiday-themed books. “Like Valentine’s Day?” she asked. “How about Arbor Day?” Black responded.
An earlier version of this story listed Laini Taylor as one of the authors taking part in the Barnes & Noble reading and panel discussion. Taylor was a contributor to the collection, but was not able to attend the event.