Monday, March 21, 2011

NYC Teen Author Festival: Part One

This weekend I went to a portion of the NYC Teen Author Festival. The Festival was all week long, starting on Monday and running through Sunday. I went for the Symposium on Friday and Saturday, which consisted of panels of YA authors speaking on different topics. The Symposium was held at the main branch of the NY Public Library. The one with the lions out front. Despite having gone to undergrad in New York, I had never been to the main branch of the library. I know. Shame on me. I'd been to other branches though. Just not the main one. The main branch is a purely research, none-circulating library. It is very pretty. And large.

I was expecting the Festival to be like the Boston Book Festival. Tons of people. Crazy long lines. Having to get there two hours early or you wouldn't be able to get a seat. It was NOT like that. Not at all. I got there an hour early and there was no one. I could have gotten there five minutes before with no problem. The auditorium wasn't even half full (it sits 177 people). What's up NYC Teen Author Festival? Where are all the people? Certainly since it's just YA authors that narrows down the field of interest, but still. It's New York. It's free. I think part of it was that it isn't publicized especially well. I wouldn't have know it existed if a friend hadn't mentioned it.

There were four panels on Friday, each lasting about an hour. The first one was "Telling the Truths - Hard Topics, Illuminating Fiction." On the panel was Eireann Corrigan, Donna Freitas, Sarah Darer Littman, Kimberly Marcus, and Micol Ostow. It was moderated by David Levithan. All the authors on the panel had a book coming out soon on a topic dealing with a serious topic: Internet predators, choosing between family and friends, cults and the pressure of standing out in the academic field. Each writer talked about why they decided to write about the topic they did. Sarah Darer Littman said she was wanted to write about an Internet predator after an experience with her own child. She was struck by how the child kept saying "But he was my friend," even when it became clear that he wasn't. Micol Ostow wanted to write about a cult because she was interested in exploring what kind of person would join a cult. What would have had to have happen in that persons past.

David asked if it was difficult to write about these topics. Micol found the process intense, while Eireanna Corrigan found it exciting. Donna Freitas found writing her book empowering, like she could live out things the way she wished they had gone in actual life. David than asked how much personal experience went into the stories, and how much was research. Most of the authors had touched on this already. Kimberly Marcus is a child therapist, so a lot of her story came from that experience. Sarah had already mentioned her personal experience, but also did lots of research, even working with the FBI to find out more.

Next up we had "Debut Author Showcase." On the panel were Jocelyn Davies, Margie Gelbwasser, Christopher Grant, Anne Heltzel, Kimberly Marcus and Arlaina Tibensky. It was moderated by Jack Martin, Assistant Director for Public Programs and Lifelong Learning at the NYPL, and Chris Shoemaker, Young Adult Programming Specialist at the NYPL. The authors on the Debut Author Showcase panel were VERY nervous. They each read a section from their books and then there were questions. I most enjoyed Christopher Grant and Arlaina Tibensky. Christopher's book, Teenie, is already out. The section he read was very funny. Arlaina was an excellent reader and the section she read was hysterical! I'm looking forward to picking up And Then Things Fall Apart when it comes out this summer. Jack noted that of the six writers on stage there was only one male, and all their books were in a female voice. He asked why they chose to write in the female voice. Most of the writers said they wrote from the female perspective because that what they know. Christopher said that while he was not a girl, he grew up in a house of strong female personalities.

Next up we had "I Think I Love You (But Maybe I Don't?) - Writing About Teens in Love." The panel was made up of E. Lockhart, Terra Elan McVoy, Sarah Mylnowski and Patrick Ryan. It was moderated by David Levithan. I was disappointed by this panel. This is a really interesting topic. Writing love for teenagers; some people do it well, some people don't. The authors each read a section from their books. One author read a section where her main character has sex for the first time. They go down to the basement, and then the next thing the characters are snuggling together all happy. So the actual scene is completely skipped over. I wasn't surprised when David asked what the writers find the most difficult, that the writer said she was uncomfortable writing sex scenes. Well then why put them in your book? I still think the most well done sex scene in a YA book is in Forever by Judy Blume. It's graphic but not in a Harlequin romance novel way. It's so truthful and realistic. It tells and describes all the awkward uncomfortableness of a first sexual encounter. It answers questions teen have about sex and what it's going to be like. None of the books that these authors read came anywhere close. I'm not saying every author needs a realistic sex scene in his or her books. I just think if you are going to write a sex scene for teenagers, it should be done well and thoughtfully and you shouldn't be embarrassed about it.

The last panel of the day was "Discussing Influences on YA Fiction" with Libba Bray, Susane Colasanti, Barry Lyga, Carolyn Mackler, Lena Roy, Adrienne Maria Vrettos and Maryrose Wood. Barry Lyga also moderated. Each author talked about the influences on their writing. Libba Bray talked about how she loved Gothic literature and Month Python, and you can see that absurdist point of the view in a lot of her writing. Maryrose Wood, the author of The Incorrigible Child of Aston Place (which I loved), talked about how her writing was a mash up of literary influences, in particular Victorian literature with the intrusive narrator. Lena Roy revealed that she was the granddaughter of Madeleine L'Engle. I do not exaggerate when I say a gasp went up from the crowed. How awesome do you have to be that the mere mention of your name solicits a gasp from people? Pretty awesome. Lena talked about how much her grandmother had influence her, but also the struggle of finding her own voice. This lead into the next question nicely which was about the anxiety of influence. Lena said this was something that was always with her. Maryrose said just to pack in so much influence no one will be able to tell. Libba said you can't worry about it too much; it just gets in the way.

Afterward, I went up to Maryrose to tell her that when I read her book I thought she was probably a hoot and was so glad that it turned out to be true. She laughed and said she was very glad I'd told her. Seriously, she's hysterical. The second Incorrigible Children book is out, I can't wait to read it.

We were then informed that armed guards were coming to kick us out of the room at 5:45 so we had to book it.

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