NYC Teen Author Festival Event Recap – Saturday Symposium


March 30, 2013 by Heidi

NYC Teen Author FestivalLast Saturday I wrapped up my attendance of the NYC Teen Author Festival with the Saturday Symposium at the NYPL.  It ran for four hours with 3 panels, a debut author spotlight, and a fun ending.  Obviously because of time, these panels were much less in depth than the Imagination panel I attended on Wednesday night.  Feel free to skip around and read about whichever events most interest you!

The day started with what turned out to be my favorite event of the day, a panel entitled Defying Description: Tackling the Many Facets of Identity in YA.  The description went like this: As YA literature evolves, there is more of an acknowledgment of the many facets that go into a teenager’s identity, and even categories that once seemed absolute now have more nuance. Focusing particularly, but not exclusively, on LGBTQ characters and their depiction, we’ll discuss the complexities about writing about such a complex experience.

While the panel didn’t exclusively focus on LGBTQ, that was certainly the focus from the amazing panel which included: Marissa Calin (Between You and Me), Aaron Hartzler (Rapture Practice), A.S. King (Ask the Passengers), Jacqueline Woodson (Beneath a Meth Moon), and David Levithan (Every Day).  I was a bit bummed that Emily Danforth wasn’t able to make the panel, since I’m a HUGE Miseducation of Cameron Post fan, but this also meant that Levithan sat in as an official part of the panel, rather than just a moderator, which was excellent.

Defying Description Panel at NYCTAF

From left to right: A.S. King, Aaron Hartzler, Marissa Calin, Jacqueline Woodson,
and David Levithan

Some take-away:

  • Internet plays a huge roll in identity today (for everyone, though it’s been especially powerful in the gay community), as suddenly you are able to find a community of like-minded people online even if you are not surrounded by a like-minded community in real life.
  • A.S. King felt as if she “came out strait”, and expressed frustration with the inability of many people to understand that the process of defining oneself is a long one, but necessary–you can’t live your life on the fence.  There’s no eureka moment when you know you’re gay/strait.  She believes we make “sexuality” about sex because of the terminology, when really it is much more than that.
  • Jacqueline Woodson talked about writing toward the sense of assumption and exploring ambiguity in her books in a way that very much reminded me I need to read some.  When asked about how changes in culture over time has affected their writing, Woodson emphasized the fact that the essence of childhood doesn’t change with time, so it remains important to remember the childhood you had when writing.
  • David Levithan made me really excited for his upcoming Boys Kissing Boys by talking about the generational changes among the gay community in his lifetime–AIDS defined the generation before, and the Internet the generation after, he feels he’s in this weird generation in between.  He believes identity is related to community and not sex (agreeing with A.S. King).  He is happy that the current culture pushes authors to write as many different stories as possible–not all experiences are the same!  Your story will speak to someone.  He says he’s willing to pay the price if at some point society changes enough to make his books non-relevant.
  • Marissa Calin spoke to leading by example and making identity a non-issue (these tend to be the books I most appreciate personally).


Next up was the New Voices Spotlight which featured readings from debut authors: J.J. Howard (That Time I Joined the Circus), Kimberly Sabatine (Touching the Surface), Tiffany Schmidt (Send Me a Sign), and Greg Takoudes (When We Wuz Famous).  I enjoyed the later of these in particular, and it didn’t hurt that Takoudes’ adorable kids were in the audience and ran up to hug him as soon as he was done.

That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. HowardTouching the Surface by Kimberly Sabatini book coverSend Me a Sign by Tiffany SchmidtWhen We Wuz Famous by Greg Takoudes
The following two panels weren’t near as interesting or in depth to me as the first, but I think this was a result of the format rather than the content or participants.  Both moderators had great questions, but having seven panelists was just too many.  Instead of the panels turning into a conversation, they were more of a pass-the-mic Q&A where there was only time for a few questions to be asked.  I was pretty disappointed.  I’m excited that they found so many authors to participate, but I feel a smaller selection could have facilitated stronger panels.

The first of these panels was Under Many Influences: Shaping Identity When You’re a Teen Girl, where the official description went like: Being a teen girl is to be under many influences – friends, parents, siblings, teachers, favorite bands, favorite boys, favorite web sites. These authors will talk about the influences that each of their main characters tap into – and then talk about what influences them as writers when they shape these characters.

Panelists included Jen Calonita (Belles), Deborah Heiligman (Intentions), Hilary Weisman Graham (Reunited), Kody Keplinger (A Midsummer’s Nightmare), Amy Spalding (The Reese Malcolm List), Katie Sise (The Boyfriend App), Kathryn Williams (Pizza, Love, and Other Stuff That Made Me Famous), and the moderator was Terra Elan McVoy (upcoming Criminal, I’ve reviewed Being Friends With Boys).

Under Many Influences Panel at NYCTAF

From left to right: Katie Sise, Kathryn Williams, Jen Calonita, Hilary Weisman Graham, Deborah Heiligman, Amy Spalding, Kody Keplinger, and Terra Elan McVoy

Some take away:

  • The panel discussed at length the influence that parents (and also importantly, step-parents) have on kids/characters.  Hilary Weisman Graham and Deborah Heiligman both addressed that pivotal moment in all youth’s lives when the realize that those adults they idolize are not perfect.
  • The panel discussed friend breakups vs. romantic breakups, mostly agreeing that as a teen, the former tends to be much more painful, but less acknowledged.
  • When asked about the challenges of writing teens today panelists mentioned technology, bullying, gay culture, and the economy.
  • We learned that girls say they want Ducky, but they really want Jordan Catalano.


The last full panel of the day was Born This Way: Nature, Nurture, and Paralmormalcy.  Official description:  Paranormal and supernatural fiction for teens constantly wrestles with issues of identity and the origin of identity. Whether their characters are born “different” or come into their powers over time, each of these authors uses the supernatural as a way to explore the nature of self.

I was especially excited for this panel as these are the types of books I tend to gravitate toward, though again, there were just too many panelists.  They included: Jessica Brody (Unremembered), Gina Damico (Croak), Maya Gold (Spellbinding), Alexandra Monir (Timeless), Lindsay Ribar (The Art of Wishing), Jeri Smith-Ready (Shade), and Jessica Spotswood (Born Wicked); the moderator was Adrienne Maria Vrettos (Burnout).

I have to say, I’ve seen Gina Damico in person twice now, and I completely love her.  I’m saving up reading her series until it’s final release in September so that I can binge, but I just know I’m going to love it given her wonderful presence and sense of humor.  She really seems like the type of person I’d hang out with casually in real life.  So Gina–call me. We’ll watch Dead Like Me and be morbid together.

Born This Way Panel at NYCTAF

From left to right: Lisdsay Ribar, Jeri Smith-Ready, Jessica Spotswood, Alexandra Monir, Maya Gold, Gina Damico, Jessica Brody and Adrienne Maria Vrettos

Some take away:

  • The panel talked a bit about the isolation of characters, and Jessica Brody pointed out how the paranormal genre allows them to examine this theme under an exaggerated bubble (though for Gina Damico, the paranormal elements in her books work to de-isolate her character).  Maya Gold pointed out that every teenager thinks they’re one of a kind, and so it works to have characters who really are.
  • Jeri Smith-Ready pointed out how the paranormal genre can take relationship questions and blow them up for us to look at.

This panel had some of my favorite questions, such as being born with vs. acquiring a power, and if the authors would want the powers of their characters as teens (most resoundingly no, with the exception of Lindsay Ribar who wouldn’t mind having a genie), unfortunately there wasn’t time to go too in depth into any of them.


The symposium ended when Levithan asked four authors–Emil Ostrovski (The Paradox of Vertical Flight), Leanna Renee Hieber (Darker Still which I reviewed here), Barry Lyga (I Hunt Killers which I reviewed here), and Maryrose Wood (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place)–to answer the classic author questions: What’s the next big thing in YA?…tongue in cheek.  (I have to point out this is the only event where I’d read more than one of the authors–I’ve read all but Ostrovski whose debut is upcoming).

The Next Big Thing NYCTAF

From left to right: Emil Ostrovski, Maryrose Wood, Barry Lyga, and Leanna Renee Hieber

What’s the “Next Big Thing” in YA?

  • Leanna Renee Hieber–Carrie Babies–a book mixing all the elements of Stephen King, Sex in the City, and the Muppets (Barry Lyga claims to be ghost writing).
  • Barry Lyga–Considered panda mermaids, vampire books, very normal romance, and more, but settled on adult.
  • Maryrose Wood–Bondage themed fiction for kids–kind of like new adult but with kinky bits.  Titles include Bully Me Softly.
  • Emil Ostrovski–Inisisted it was Unicorns, rainbow farts and all.

I really should have just recorded this short bit, as I’m afraid I was laughing too hard to really take down notes.  Needless to say this was both disturbing and hilarious.

That’s it for me and this year’s NYC Teen Author Festival!  A huge thanks to everyone who worked hard to put this event together, especially David Levithan.  Can’t wait to see what’s lined up next year!


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  1. Once again, AMAZING re-cap! I do think that first panel was the most interesting too and I love that authors are recognizing that sexuality doesn’t just stem from being straight/gay. I find that YA novels are still focusing either on coming-of-age stories (which I love, so I’m not complaining) or coming-out stories about gay teens. While both are fine, I kind of want to see something more.

    Another thing I loved that was brought up in these discussions? FRIENDSHIP BREAKUPS! YES PLEASE! Why is this not prevalent more often? I’d rather have something like Squaresville than something like Twilight. ANY DAY. I think that’s one of the HUGE reasons I loved Just One Day by Gayle Forman. While it never blew me away the way Forman’s previous duology did, the realistic friendships had me jumping for joy.

    Not to mention the active cause-and-effect method of seeing how parents affect the lives of their teens. Writing for teens is actually SO HARD because so many different elements need to be in a realistic balance with one another. I’m really glad that people like Amy Spalding were in this because her debut, The Reece Malcolm List, was a PERFECT blend of friendship and parenthood, all while exploring some modicum of sexuality in relationships. I was so impressed by it, so it doesn’t surprise me that she was present.

    Anyway, I’m going to stop rambling, but THANK YOU for these wonderful re-caps! I’m only an hour away from NYC, but actually hopping on a train to get there somehow never happens. I need to attend more book events…ASAP! :)

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Keertana! I totally know what you mean about wanting to see other types of stories about gay teens–personally I’d like to see stories where the main character just happens to be gay, but that doesn’t make the story, you know?

      I loved the friendship break up discussion! And Squaresville is SUCH a good call there. I think that’s really more relevant to a lot of teens’ lives. Yes! They also totally discussed how writing for teens was so hard because of all of the influences in their lives.

      I really hope you get to an event in the city sometime, and please let me know when you do!

  2. VeganYANerds says:

    This sounds like such an amazing day, particularly the first two panels, and even the latter two, despite there not being enough time for all of the authors to speak.

    We just do not get these big events here, we’re lucky if there’s one 30 minute YA panel at the writer’s festivals here!

    The ending sounds hilarious!

    • Heidi says:

      It was, Mandee! I’m so so lucky to be living near enough to NYC to have access to so many amazing events–these really don’t happen in most of the country.

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