This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend the Austin Teen Book Festival (ATBF) 2013 with some of the fine ladies of the Austin FYA Book Club. This was my first year in attendance—I know, right? What have I been doing with my life?—and I had an absolute blast listening to YA authors whose works I’ve read (or want to read) talk about their craft, their books and their lives.
This, the fifth year of the festival, was held in downtown Austin at the Austin Convention Center. (In previous years, the event’s been held at the Palmer Events Center on the other side of town. I heard quite a few people say that the setting was better this year, but we’ll have to take their word for it since I’ve only attended this once.) The event is free and open to all ages, and I was impressed at the variety of ages (And genders! Yay for boys who read!) in attendance; I saw at least a couple different groups of high school age (or younger?) kids that must have been bussed in from other places around the state. Kids from the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district totally represented in these awesome neon yellow T-shirts that said “Book Nerd” on the front of them.
More than 40 authors—including many FYA favorites—attended the event to sit on moderated Q&A panels and sign their books. I attended three panels and the main opening, lunch and closing events, too. I took some pictures—which I will include below, but not without prefacing that I am a terribly boring (and just plain terrible) photographer. (Sorry!)
Maggie Stiefvater—author of The Wolves of Mercy Falls series, The Scorpio Races, and a series you might have heard of, The Raven Cycle—opened the festival with a few stories about her life, her car and her reputation for being fearless. She also spoke about how it’s vital that creative people have an equal amount of imagination and fear.
I then headed to the Truth and Consequences panel, which featured authors Bill Konigsberg, Jenny Han, Siobhan Vivian, Sean Beaudoin, Jo Knowles and Rob Thomas (a.k.a., the creator of Veronica Mars) and was moderated by E. Kristen Anderson.
The group discussed how they deal with their books being labeled “issue books.” They all agreed that regardless of whether a book has issues in it, that shouldn’t drive the plot or be the most apparent thing about the story, and that all of the issues in their books were taken from real life situations. Jenny and Siobhan told a great story about their research trip to Martha’s Vineyard (for their co-authored Burn for Burn series) during which they infiltrated a high school and tried to get a high school boy to invite them to a party. Things were going great until, Jenny asked if there were any “teen clubs” in the area. (Awkward!) Rob also revealed a bit of V. Mars trivia: In the first drafts of the story—which was initially an idea for a book series, not a TV series—Veronica was a guy named Keith, and the setting was Austin instead of Neptune. (I’m now envisioning a prequel series starring a young Enrico Colantoni snooping around the streets of ATX. Let's get it made!)
In the time between that panel and the lunch speakers, a group of us FYA ladies wandered the exhibit area and bought books (some more than others … you know who you are). The exhibit area featured booths from various publishers, the Austin Public Library and The Writing Barn, among others. The Writing Barn table was my favorite; writers sitting at the table were writing free poems (on the spot!) on old school typewriters. Here’s my haiku, on my suggested theme of “space”:
The lunch panel featured Rob Thomas and the Dessentastic Sarah Dessen answering questions moderated by Lauren Myracle. They discussed a variety of things, including how to deal with fan expectations for their characters. Rob discussed how it would have gone against everything that made Veronica "Veronica" to make her sweet and likeable at the end of the series. Sarah talked about how the flaws of her characters are what make them interesting. (Rob also added: "The person I feel sorry for most is Chris Lowell, who plays Piz.” As a LoVe girl, I say: GTFO PIZ. But Chris can totally hang out with us anytime.)
They discussed how YA has changed since 1996, when both of them had their first books published. Sarah related an anecdote about telling someone that she had written a YA book. Their respose? “Is that about girls getting their periods?”
Before they said their goodbyes, the two also gave some advice to aspiring authors: read as much as you can (Sarah) and sit down and write, no matter whether you’re inspired or not (Rob).
During this panel, the authors discussed whether they were a “plotter” or a “pantser”—a writer who plotted everything beforehand or one who wrote by the seat of their pants; most agreed that the process changes with each book. Jon paraphrased an awesome though by Neil Gaiman (which made me like Jon immediately) saying that you learn how to write a book not books. Each one is different, and with each book you must learn how to write it all over again. (Smart dude, that Neil Gaiman.)
The group also gave short teasers for their in-progress or upcoming projects. Mari said “wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey”, which got cheers from the Whovians in the crowd; April said “the scarecrow”; Jon said “kung-fu pilot revenge swashbuckling romance” (I think? I was writing as fast as I could!); Robin said “satan”; Holly said “the boy in a glass coffin”; and Victoria said “prostitution and bloodshed.” We can look forward to some interesting new works to come from this crowd in the future, obviously.
The panel, many of whom are known for their science fiction-themed novels, talked about what they wish the future would bring—hoverboards, more literature in schools, Star Trek technology, equality for all and jetpacks—and how important they feel setting is to their stories. Malinda talked about how she pays particular attention to “place,” or how a character experiences and feels about a setting, and how it’s vital to do research (when you can) to make “place” authentic. P.J. agreed and said that when setting is well done, it can become another character in the book. Brian, the member of the panel who’s written the most traditional sci-fi and fantasy books, asserted that setting is only a part of a story, however, and that characters and plot need to be just as good (or better) than the setting in order to create a great, whole story.
They also talked about writing series or sequels. Brandon said that he feels like the second book is always the hardest to write (hello, Bridge Book Blues), but Suzanne talked about how, often, second books have more action because the background of the story has been developed in the first. P.J. mentioned that she thinks people like series because they get connected to the characters in the first book and often want to see what happens to them after the last page.
The festival’s closing speaker, Holly Black, spoke about how she got to where she is today and how she turned childhood fears into adult loves. “There's something kind of fun about being at least a little bit scared,” she said.
During her childhood, she was in a love/hate relationship with vampires, but this relationship was build on a solid foundation of fascination. This eventually led her to read a variety of books by various authors, which helped her see the wide variety of writing styles and realize that she, one day, wanted to be one of them.
Side note: Not only did the festival have an awesome array of authors speaking, but someone on the staff created great signage, too:
After the event, some of us Austin FYAers met up with a couple of the Dallas book club members (and—pardon my fangirling—author Leila Sales!!) for happy hour at Handlebar (a moustache-themed bar just a few blocks away from the convention center; Austin, you so cray). Amidst partaking in Charlie Chaplins and Magnum P.I.s, we talked about how awesome our clubs are, how both clubs felt about recent books and the fact that pie parties exist (Best. Idea. Ever.).
(Thanks to Dallas FYABC member Mandy A.'s husband for taking the photo!)
All in all, my first experience at ATBF was a resounding success. I can’t wait to go again next year!
Were you there? If so, what were your favorite moments? Let’s chat in the comments.