March 30, 2013 by Heidi
Last 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.
- 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.
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).
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.
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).
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!