This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the YA Lit Conference (and YA Fandom Frenzy) hosted by Anderson’s Bookshop. The conference day was set up as more of an informational day, with keynote speakers and panels, and the second day (Fandom Frenzy) was closer to what its name suggests – a spirited event filled with games and author speed dating. My mom went to both events with me, and my 13-year-old son also went to the Fandom day because he was super excited to meet James Dashner (whose new series he is sitting at the table reading at this very moment – instead of starting his schoolwork. Hmmm … maybe I should do something about that … nah, let him read.)
Day 1: YA Lit Conference (Keynotes)
Since there’s a lot I want to say about the first day of the conference, I’m splitting it into two posts – this first one will cover breakfast and some interesting facts and quotes from the keynote speakers.
Breakfast: I knew that this was going to be a good day right from the very start when Adam Silvera sat down at our table and immediately had us laughing with his breathless relaying of his morning’s events (which involved him thinking he was late and had missed a shuttle only to realize that the conference was right down the hall). Adam has the sort of inviting, high octane personality that makes it impossible not to love him instantly. If you haven’t read his book yet, you definitely should. Meeting him has made me want to spread the word even more!!! (Click on the link to see my review.)
— Nicole Hewitt (@NicoleMHewitt) October 10, 2015
Gary D. Schmidt: The first speaker was Gary D. Schmidt. I hadn’t read any of his books, but I definitely want to now. He gave an impassioned speech about the kids out on the fringes of society and how he wants to touch their lives. His stories of meeting with kids in prisons were incredibly powerful – these are the types of kids who often get overlooked.
Marie Lu: Some fun bullet points from Lu’s keynote:
- Marie started writing when she came to the US at five and her mother made her learn five new English words per day and write them in sentences. She made them into stories.
- Before The Young Elites, Lu originally wrote a book about a bland hero with superpowers who meets other kids with superpowers and fights against a supervillain named Adelina. When she turned it in, her agent said, “When you gave this to me, did you actually think it was good?” (Wow, talk about honesty. I guess even big name authors can’t hit it out of the park every time!) The only thing her agent liked was the villain. And out of that, the idea for the series (which has a villain as its main character) was born!
- She’s asked a lot why her books are so dark and said she feels like our kids live in dark times, so she likes to show that darkness with a message of hope that you can come out of it. Plus, she said she’s always just sort of written that way. This example of one of her earliest writings will give you an idea of the direction her mind always headed –
David Baldacci: This is another author I hadn’t yet read. Thrillers just aren’t my genre and I honestly didn’t know Baldacci’s YA series existed. I was intrigued enough to pick it up at the conference, though! Baldacci was both funny and inspiring. He told one hilarious fan story:
A woman in a restaurant was eyeing Baldacci and finally came over, shoved onto his bench seat and gushed over him – “Are you who I think you are?”
He asked if she was a big reader of thrillers and she excitedly said yes, so he said he was who she thought he was.
The woman was overwhelmed with excitement, crying, “This is the best day of my life!!! I can’t believe I’m meeting you!!” She then proceeded to yell (in her loudest voice) across the restaurant to her husband, “I was right, Joe! It is John Grisham!”
Baldacci’s wife proceeded to spew tea out of her nose with laughter and then set her straight. “Right genre, wrong author.”
At which point the woman’s eyes widened and she said with a hint of horror in her voice, “Wait, are you Baldacci?” When they told her yes, she yelled again, just as loud, but with a hint of disappointment in her voice, “No, Joe, you were right. It’s that Italian guy.”
Way to make a guy feel loved!
And this tweet isn’t mine (it was written by the lovely Jackie Lea Sommers), but it was a quote that I loved, so I thought I’d include it:
— Jackie Lea Sommers (@jackieleawrites) October 10, 2015
James Dashner: It’s obvious why Dashner writes for kids. He’s just a big kid at heart! He started out with a hilarious list of Top Ten Things I Overheard at Breakfast This Morning (a funny list of completely untrue conversations that he “overheard” – all poking fun at his fellow authors). A couple other items of note:
- Dashner has a cameo in The Scorch Trials movie.
- He talked about how he sometimes didn’t feel that his books were “important” enough but then he gets messages from fans who tell him how they’ve changed their lives (or even saved them) and he realized that books are our escape and that escape plays an important role in people’s lives sometimes.
Ally Carter: Ally did a fantastic presentation geared toward people starting out in writing titled What I Would Tell Baby Author Me. She gave herself lots of great advice, including these things:
- You’re going to sell a book soon! (That no one will buy.)
- You’re going to waste time and money promoting. Don’t do it! The best thing you can do to promote your first book is write another one.
- Beware the “New Shinies” (the new ideas that distract you from finishing your new project). If and idea is truly great, it will still be in six months (or even years).
- Don’t obsess over the trends.
- Don’t judge your career based on the careers of other people. (Keep your eyes on your own paper.)
- There’s no one way to write a book or have a successful writing career.
David Levithan: David talked about how he’s glad his book is inspiring conversations about gender and he hopes that eventually issues of gender and sexuality will be accepted without a need for discussion. He also said that he believes that fiction is both the mirror and the window – you see yourself in it sometimes (the mirror) and you also see and understand others more clearly (the window). He said that he’s recently come to understand the that the mirror and the window are actually the same thing, though. I’ve paraphrased his thoughts on this below:
When we learn about ourselves we get insight into others. When we learn about others, we also learn something new about ourselves.
So, those were the keynote speakers for the conference. Come back tomorrow and read some fun facts that I learned during the panels (and see pictures!). And also make sure to check out my recap of the Fandom Frenzy day – I’ll be including a giveaway!!