Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tucson Festival of Books [Event Report]

It was a beautiful 73 degrees in Tucson on Saturday.  I got a late start, so I didn't get to attend the first two panels I was hoping to attend (Terry Brooks was there, and I was so totally going to get Monster's books autographed for him, but, I couldn't roll my butt outta bed), but I did get there in time for the YA Fantasy For Everyone Panel panel with Charles de Lint, Alice Hoffman, and Nina Kiriki Hoffman.  The auditorium was pretty full, but I was able to get a seat in the third row without too much hassle.

The panel started out pretty fun with Mark McLemore, the moderator, saying, "We know where all the smart people in Tucson are today" which got a good laugh from the audience.  The panel focused a lot on their craft of writing for teens.  It wasn't exactly what I was expecting to hear from these authors, but it was refreshing.  Their consensus the difference between YA literature and adult literature is that YA has more story, is shorter, and is more logical and more emotional.   If I wasn't an avid reader of YA, I might think that they were crazy, how can it be more emotional and more logical?  Well, it just is, don't you agree?  They all agreed that it's edgier than adult fic, and that if they want to address a social issue in their writing, it's easier to do that in YA than it is adult.  Of ultimate importance though is that you don't talk down to the reader.  You have a teen character set, and a lot more freedom to address things that you want to address.

When asked about specific influences, I believe that all three authors admitted that The Twilight Zone was a definite source of inspiration for a lot of their work.

What are the rules for writing for a YA genre?  Charles de Lint quoted someone, and I'm not sure who it was, but the quote was: "There are only three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."   Their advice on writing was pretty much to do it the way it works for you.  They all listen to music while they write, Nina Kiriki Hoffman listens to Bollywood soundtracks, so find something that inspires you and don't be shy.  A nice tip that was passed along in answer to an audience member's question was that if you get stuck while you're writing, and you know where your story is going (which it's okay if you don't), skip ahead and write the next part of the story.  Then go back and bridge the two parts together if you can.  I recorded what they talked about when they talked about where they write, so check out that video:

YA Fantasy For Everyone Panel from I Heart Monster on Vimeo.

After that panel, I headed straight for the room that Janette Rallison was doing her Staying In High School Forever: How To Write the Young Adult Novel Workshop. I was thrilled to see that twenty minutes before the session started there were still seats available in the front row.  I was off to the right side, and didn't get a great view, but hey, I was in the front row.  I took notes from her presentation, and I've embedded those below for you.  I tried to clean them up a little, but forgive me for typos in advance.    I think the most valuable exercise I took away from this workshop is one that will help me when writing reviews, the formula.  I stayed afterward and got a couple of my books signed.  Check out my notes from the session:
Janette Rallison Workshop                                                                                                                           

Then I walked around the festival for a while.  I saw a few booths that interested me, but honestly, it was 2pm and everyone was starting to pack up their stuff already.  That I found a little weird since the festival was supposed to go until 5:30.  I found a booth with some awesome t-shirts (that I was super tempted to buy, btw) that you should definitely check out.  The company's name is Literary Threads, you should definitely check them out.  They're totally affordable and only charge $5 shipping.  I got to eat a sandwich from Beyond Bread for lunch, and that put me in a heavenly mood since it's definitely my favorite sandwich shop in Tucson! Everyone was walking around with the cutest parasols, to block the sun, which were selling for five bucks at the festival merchandise tents. I thought they were adorable, but couldn't really justify buying one since I was spending most of my time indoors.

Then I headed back up to the Education Building where I waited for the Awakening the Heart: Adversity, Love and Loss in Writing for Teens Panel with Jillian Cantor, Sheri Sinykin, and Alice Hoffman.  This panel was definitely different from the morning YA panel that I attended.  It wasn't as enjoyable because the moderator was stiff and the conversation wasn't really allowed to flow.  The authors did a great job given the structure, but that structure was difficult and confusing, and really too formal in my opinion.

Anyway, it seeemed like there was a general consensus between the authors that they did not set out to write about love, loss, and adversity.  Jillian Cantor said that she thinks that everything that she writes will always touch on those themes, at least a little bit.  Alice Hoffman responded to a question about why there are so many instances of loss and adversity in literature by stating, "Life is complicated" and then going on to expound on that theme a little more.  In fact, in all three panels/workshops I attended some form of the question "Why is there so much adversity in YA novels?" arose.  All of the authors did a great job of explaining that it is a literary device from which the author can create conflict that the young character has to resolve without intervention and resolution stemming from an adult source.  That's why there are so many single, drunken moms, so many orphans, in the genre.

Back to the panel at hand though, these authors believe in love.  They believe in the stories that go on behind the love and that concrete that love into a stable place.  Testing that love, discovering that love, really, that's what their stories are about.  The reason they write is to discover what happens to love when it goes through loss and adversity.

When asked about how young is appropriate to go with stories themed with loss, Sheri Sinykin responded with anecdotes about her forthcoming picture book meant to deal with death for young Jewish children.  She doesn't believe that any age is too young to start to deal with the end of life.

Another question was asked about how the authors keep their stories unique in a genre where it would seem easy for all novels to come out cookie-cutter.  Jillian Cantor responded that voice and characters are what make the difference.  She feels like an actor sometimes when she writes, acting out the parts of her characters on paper.  Alice Hoffman recommended a book, The Artist's Way Julia Cameron, which teaches you not to second guess yourself and that your voice is unique.  Sheri Sinykin told us to not compare ourselves to others.  Own your own story.  Be unafraid to draw on your life experience.  Your wealth that you can bring to the world that no one else can.

After the panel was over, I headed down to have Alice Hoffman sign a copy of GREEN ANGEL, and to have Jillian Cantor sign copies of THE LIFE OF GLASS and THE SEPTEMBER SISTERS for my personal, permanent collection.  Then I headed to my car and drove myself the 2 hours it takes to get home, reflecting about the experiences I had and the knowledge I gained.  It was definitely worthwhile, and I'll attend again next year!

As a reminder, you can enter to win a signed copy of THE LIFE OF GLASS (which I wholly recommend) as part of our MONSTER Birthday Party! Oh, and if you actually read this post, email me and tell me which giveaway you'd like an extra five entries for. Just a little reward for those of you who read regularly! Email me by Tuesday, 3/23 at noon, Arizona time, which is EDT-3hours or the same as PDT right now


Shy said...

Wow, this certainly sounds like a very interesting event that one must attend. I especially love the note that you embedded re: YA writing workshop. Thank you so much for taking some time to type and share this with all of us =)

Brodie said...

Fantastic post! I'd never be able to go to one of this events myself, living in Australia (since nearly all of them are in the US) so it's excellent to be able to read such a detailed report and gain some advice along the way. Thanks so much for writing this up, it was very interesting, not to mention helpful!

Jo said...

What a great post! Sounds like you had a pretty cool time. I wish we had more things like this in the UK. As fair as I'm aware, we only have The London Book Fair. We should have more! Anyway, thanks for the post! :)