Last weekend, a group of ATXFYA Book Club members road-tripped to Dallas to attend the 2016 North Texas Teen Book Festival, a one-day event featuring 75 YA and MG authors. During the event, the authors discussed their books, talked about the writing process, and inspired a group of novel-loving teens (and many people who find themselves at the A end of the spectrum, including those of us from ATXFYA).
Kandis, Posh and I were among the attendees, and we wrote up some highlights of the event for your reading pleasure.
SCHOOL DAYS, SCHOOL DAZE | Libba Bray, Ally Carter, Soman Chainani, Janet Fox, and E. Lockhart
I'll be honest, moderating a 9am panel doesn't quite fit with my lifestyle, but it was worth waking up for this collection of writers. Some of them despised their high school experience (Soman Chainani) while others went from the bottom rung to the top (E. Lockhart and Libba Bray). But mainly, we talked about boarding school, even though only one author (Janet Fox) actually attended one. That's right, I GOT TO DISH ON BOARDING SCHOOL WITH E. LOCKHART. It turns out that I'm not the only Frankie Banks fangirl out there—Ally Carter told the crowd that it was her favorite YA book of all time. Another highlight was when E. Lockhart described the boarding school atmosphere of the Gemma Doyle trilogy and used phrases like "heaving bosoms" and "men and danger lurking around the corner." That woman has a way with words.
WHERE’S MY SUPER SUIT | Gwenda Bond, Faith Erin Hicks, Jeramey Kraatz, and Margaret Stohl
As a huge fan of superheroes, and the fact that the YA superhero genre is a growing one, I was super excited to moderate this panel with a fun mix of the genre’s authors (and even more excited that the majority of the panelists were women).
During the panel, the authors discussed why they were drawn to the genre. Faith Erin Hicks starting writing webcomics because there was a distinct lack of comics for girls. Jeramey Kraatz has always believed that villains were cooler than heroes, but they always had a lack of backstory that he felt called to explore. Gwenda Bond wanted to explore the life of Lois Lane, who she believes is “Superman’s Superman” (and was also the inspiration for Gwenda’s interest in journalism). And Margaret Stohl believes that in writing about heroes, she helps readers see that everyone is a hero.
BOARDING PASS | Ally Carter, Gayle Forman, Kristin Rae, Jessica Taylor, and Adi Alsaid
During the Boarding Pass panel, the authors talked about the fun and challenges of writing about globetrotting stories, and the importance of respecting time zones.
Ally Carter said she likes to include realistic things like jet lag, but will take creative license and fudge a train schedule if she has to. Gayle Forman said her background in journalism forces her to fact check herself, even when it’s just plane departures. Kristin Rae prefers writing about exotic locales, versus setting all of her scenes in a small town Texas cupcake shop. (Although, the author consensus on the panel was that there’s no such thing as too many scenes in cupcake shops.)
Adi Alsaid talked about the struggle of writing about places you’ve never been, and that once he visited a destination he’d written about it, he realized he’d gotten it completely wrong. And Carter offered the travel tip that, when in Scotland, she recommends renting a cheap castle versus staying in a hotel. Anybody up for an FYA field trip?
PARANORMAL TENDENCIES | Holly Black, Sarah Rees Brennan, and Jonathan Maberry
The authors on this panel are all well-known for their skills in crafting believable fantasy worlds with a wide variety of paranormal creatures in the mix. But have you ever wondered what they’d be if they could be a non-human? Holly Black would be a sneaky fairy, Sarah Rees Brennan would be a demon, and Jonathan Maberry would be a werewolf, but a good one.
The authors also discussed how important it is to make fantastical creatures seem like they could fit in the real world and give them solid backstories. Maberry said that when the characters feel like someone he knows in real life, they’re a good character. Black said that it often doesn’t happen in the first draft, or even in the second—characters develop as the story does.
And when asked about why they write in this genre, they all agreed that they write the kinds of books they like to read. “I shamelessly write for me,” said Black.
WE’RE YOUNG AND WE’RE RECKLESS, WE’LL TAKE THIS WAY TOO FAR | E. Lockhart, Jennifer Mathieu, Lance Rubin, Paul Rudnick, and Brenna Yovanoff
First of all, it's crazy that I got to meet Paul Rudnick. And second, Lance Rubin? Super cute. (Move over, Pierce Brown!)
While discussing books (banned or controversial) that opened their eyes as young readers, lots of hilarious gems were shared, including Paul's total ignorance when it came to a soft-core fantasy novel that kept mentioning "swords and caverns" (if anyone knows the title of this book, LET US KNOW) and E. Lockhart's expanded vocabulary thanks to the songbook for Hair. We also got a little serious by delving into the ways that books with dark themes can aid in a reader's development and even increase their empathy for the people around them.
I also enjoyed Jennifer Mathieu's description of her writing process: "I sit down and hope for the best." That's some Inkcouragement right there, y'all.
NOW THAT I’M WITHOUT YOUR KISSES, I’LL BE NEEDING STITCHES | Adi Alsaid, Andrea Cremer, Claudia Gray, Samantha Mabry, and Marie Rutkoski
On this panel, the authors discussed romance—and how it’s important to show readers that love isn’t always easy. When asked if a book can have a happy ending when a romance doesn’t work out, Andrea Cremer said that she prefers her endings to be complicated, because life is complicated. Marie Rutkoski said that she believes that some girls don’t need romance to have a happy ending.
The fantasy authors on the panel talked about how, even when they’re writing about people in fantastical situations, the relationships still need to feel real. “It still has to feel like a real relationship, even if aspects are fantastical,” Claudia Gray said. Samantha Mabry agreed, and spoke about how she takes real feelings and works them into a fantastical setting.
The authors also spoke about how real sometimes means heartache. “I don’t feel the need to go easy on my characters,” Rutkoski said. “If there’s no conflict, there’s no story,” Adi Alsaid added. “You need to make the characters suffer a bit.”
PASS THE POPCORN | Holly Black, James Dashner, Sarah Dessen, Gayle Forman, Ruta Sepetys, and Margaret Stohl
With so many big name writers, you know this panel was off the chain. We shared a lot of the best quotes via Twitter, but one of my favorite exchanges occurred when James Dashner was talking about Catherine Hardwick's (the first director selected for The Maze Runner) take on the title:
"It was like Twilight in a maze. There was a lot of romance added that wasn't in the book." - James
"Was it with the Grievers?" - Margaret
"Sexy Grievers!" - James
Holly Black shared a story about the day she found out that The Spiderwick Chronicles film was moving forward. She went to a liquor store, asked for the dusty bottle of Cristal on the top shelf and brought it home. But as soon as she had poured a glass, she got a call that the deal was off. WAH-wah. (At least the movie did eventually get made!) She also mentioned that she refuses to watch Bates Motel because she can't handle Freddie Highmore doing terrible things.
Ruta Sepetys' experience was vastly different than the rest of the writers because it's an independent film, which means she got to be super involved in things like casting these hotties. Lucky duck!
ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE | Julie Murphy, Paul Rudnick, Amy Spalding, Kristin Rae, and Caragh M. O’Brien
During All The World’s a Stage—moderated by Dallas/Fort Worth FYA Book Club leader Mandy Aguilar—authors discussed writing about characters in the spotlight. “Dolly Parton, beauty pageants, and drag queens” is how Julie Murphy likes to describe her novel, Dumplin’ (the June FYA Book Club pick!), and spent time talking about the unifying force that is Dolly Parton.
Caragh M. O’Brien talked about how a combination of being a teacher, and The Truman Show, inspired her Vault of Dreamers series, which is set at a performing arts high school that doubles as a reality show. Amy Spalding said she likes writing about a performing arts school, because the characters are always performing, even when they’re not on stage.
The authors also talked about how they themselves react to attention. Murphy believes a lot of authors have a background in theater, which helps to create the extrovert persona that they need for things like book tours. And Paul Rudnick once admitted to a Hershey addiction in an interview and was surprised and overjoyed when they thanked him with a ton of chocolate.
BOOKS THAT ROCK | Sarah Dessen, Gayle Forman, Gordon Korman, Amy Spalding, and Brenna Yovanoff
When asked about their most memorable concert, here's what these authors said:
- Gordon Korman: Queen (!!!!!!!)
- Gayle Forman: The Water Boys
- Amy Spalding: Sleater Kinney
- Brenna Yovanoff: Mindless Self Indulgence (during which she got engaged!)
- Sarah Dessen: Barry Manilow (Megan McCafferty would be proud.)
Brilliant moderator Mandy Aguilar asked Sarah Dessen if Spinnerbait is based on a real band, and while she said it's not (because she's way too nice of a person for that), she did reveal that they probably play music "like Phish cover songs." As a person who can't stand Phish (and is married to a person who loves them), it now makes SO MUCH SENSE to me why people hate Spinnerbait.
YOUNG ADULT KEYNOTE | Libba Bray and Gayle Forman
This fantastic festival came to an appropriately fabulous close with two dynamite writers talking about their writing partnership, which has blossomed into bestiehood. They even made a video which charted the development of their relationship from polite conversation in a Brooklyn coffee shop to Libba talking via a Dobby doll to a bathroom where Gayle was trying to decide if she should kill Tony on page 57 or 64. Ending with a scene of them in pajamas, sitting on a bed and eating junk food (Libba called Cheetos "cheese covered Jesus"), it was a charming lead-in to their rap battle (yep, you read that right) for which Margaret Stohl (unsuccessfully) beat-boxed. I love Gayle Forman like whoa, but Libba was the clear winner in that department.
My main takeaway from the keynote was that I really, really need to get myself invited to a Gayle and Libba sleepover.
I also had the opportunity (and honor) of being on a panel during the festival. I joined Katie Bartow of Mundie Moms and Rachel Paxton, a freelance writer, on Writing About Writing, where we discussed the ins and outs of writing book reviews and book-related posts. It was fun being on the other side of the questions and getting to talk about how much I love reading and how much of a passion project FYA truly is.
All in all, the festival was an excellent way to spend a Saturday.
Did you attend NTTBF16? What was your favorite part or panel?