“When did I realize I love writing? Before I could write.”
– Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
It’s that time of year again, readers! The fourth annual Boston Teen Author Festival took place this past Saturday, with guest authors from around the country and more than 250 guests. If you weren’t able to attend the event, hopefully you will enjoy my live-tweets from the day (#BTAF2015), and today’s blog post!
This is my second year attending the BTAF (read my recap of the 2014 event here), founded by students from Emerson College’s Writing, Literature, and Publishing program in 2012. It’s exciting to see the event growing every year, from drawing more attendees to hosting authors from well outside of New England. The event took place at the Cambridge Public Library, and books were available for purchase from my favorite indie, Porter Square Books.
My first order of business was to pick out my books; as with last year, a number of titles had sold out by the event’s end, and I didn’t want to miss out on my top picks! PSB was set up across a few tables in the hallway, and the line’s leisurely pace allowed me to admire cover designs and read the flap copy to help guide my purchase. I planned to buy two or three titles as I did last year and walked away with five of these authors’ books. #Oops
The event kicked off in the larger auditorium with all of the authors seated on the stage while event coordinator Renee Combs asked questions. Authors were asked to pitch their books in three words (ranging from “weird, funny, and sad” to “memories can deceive”) and answer icebreaker questions like their guilty pleasure television shows and what YA character from another book would make the perfect boy/girlfriend for their protagonists.
Following the introduction, authors split up into different panels. In a second, smaller room, the “Inspired By…” panel discussed writing influences, while in the main auditorium—where I stayed—the “Author Friendships and Crit Groups” panel talked about their writing processes and the feedback that helps them reach the finish line. Adam Silvera admitted that his writing process was not having a process because each project is so different. Lori Goldstein shared her intense outline strategy (80 pages!) that helped her pen her novel in just a few short months. Co-authors Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton discussed their differing writing styles (computer versus handwritten, etc.) and coming together to create their book.
There were shout-outs to friends and family, though more than one author on the panel admitted that the glowing responses from their loved ones and lack of constructive criticism didn’t help much in terms of editing. Agents and editors got plenty of praise as well, and of course the panel boiled down to the writing community itself and the connections writers have with each other. Silvera, Becky Albertalli, and David Arnold joked around about their writing group/friendship and how seeing each other’s work helped motivate their own; Jen Brooks discussed being part of a group of debut authors who called themselves the Freshman Fifteen, and how having one another through the writing, publishing, and publicity stages was important to the success of their works.
Charaipotra and Clayton, who met as MFA students, recounted their experience as the only women of color in their classroom and their mission to integrate culture and language more seamlessly in YA literature. In particular, they expressed frustration at constantly being asked to explain what they were talking about when it came to cultural details, or to italicize and define foreign words. Their mission to normalize the POC experience in literature was clearly one that resonated with the audience and was met with thunderous applause.
All of the authors advised connecting with other writers and finding the ones who click best with you. Bigger groups may splinter into smaller teams once you get a feel for each other’s work. They discussed choosing writing friends who share in your excitement about your work but will also give you constructive feedback when you need it. It was clear from the panel that each author had his or her own system, giving aspiring writers options when penning their future works.
After about an hour, the event broke for lunch. The second panel of the afternoon was a choice between “Reality Bites,” which focused on overcoming genre-busting challenges in contemporary genre fiction, and “The Craft,” which analyzed world-building. I attended the latter.
Authors kicked it off by discussing character voice, how they speak (dialect, slang, etc.) and why, and what it means for those characters to be communicating. A number of authors agreed that in their first drafts, their characters weren’t always dynamic, but that once the plot was cemented in, future drafts could develop their personalities and quirks. Kendall Kulper credited the magic of edits and multiple drafts for her characters’ wit and wisdom. Some characters came easily to their authors, while others were a challenge; Kim Liggett pointed out that her secondary characters were always fun to write, but that her protagonists required more time to develop and explore. The panel agreed that they often outline details about their characters that never made it into the books but helped them to write their stories.
The discussion turned to the rules of magic. Panel host Sarah Horwitz asked the authors’ stance on “hard magic” (rules and logic laid out, certain protocol to casting spells, etc.) versus “soft magic” (it happened because magic). Many authors laughed about preferring the softer side of magic, but they all agreed that it was crucial for some rules to be laid out.
A.C. Gaughen talked about a writing critique partner who was very into “rules…and science…and things,” and how that helped her figure out the magic of her own story. Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, a self-professed science nerd, outlined her process of researching and constructing the biology behind her fantasy worlds. Leigh Bardugo highlighted the importance of addressing basic rules of magic with the question, “Why don’t we just shoot Voldemort?”
When it came time to discuss their love of writing, Sara Raasch and Melissa Grey shared childhood stories, Raasch of selling homemade books at a lemonade stand (“My mom bought them all, so I sold out!”), and Grey of pretending to have forgotten homework for the thrill of spinning an exciting story of why the assignments were absent. Kulper mused that writing her first novel taught her how to write a novel, and Atwater-Rhodes provided the quotation at the top of this post.
Gaughen hit the nail on the head answering a question from the audience about advice to authors looking to be published when she divided the writing and publishing industries. Writing is creative, she pointed out, while publishing is business. Yes, publishers care about the work they share with the world, but the business aspect of getting a book to print requires a different mindset from creating and editing. Grey added that authors must be sensitive to connect emotionally with their work and their readers, but also that they should have a thick skin because rejection happens. Work hard to get past that fear, she advised, and it will happen for you.
The second panel concluded, raffle winners were pulled, and authors took their places in the auditorium and hallway to meet attendees and sign books. At long last, my book haul!
More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
The cover caught my eye immediately, as did the flap copy. Bronx teen Aaron Soto struggles with family and friends in the wake of his father’s suicide and his own attempt, which left him with a smile-shaped scar. When a new friend who really gets him arrives on the scene, Aaron grapples with his self-worth and sexuality, and wonders if maybe the answer to his problems is a new scientific procedure to repress painful memories. Silvera’s energy and goofiness from the panels carried over to the book signing, where he chatted up every attendee who came by the table, even taking pictures with some. Delighted that my name is “Paige,” he asked if I ever watched Charmed and proceeded to make up an inside joke on the spot as he signed my copy.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
This book, a snarky-sweet narrative about a closeted gay teen being blackmailed by his classmate after e-mails with his pen pal/crush are discovered, had been on my pull list for a while—because, let’s be serious, that cover design—but when I heard Albertalli would be at BTAF this year, I decided to wait and purchase my copy through the event. Though the line for signing was long, it was worth the wait; Albertalli imparted words of wisdom along with her signature. “Simon Says: Make out with Oreo breath.” Oreos came up more than once in Albertalli’s answers throughout panels, as they do in Simon’s narrative. I respect this greatly.
Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton
Edgy ballerina narratives are a quiet trend on the rise in YA right now, so as soon as I caught the “ballerina” buzzword on the inside flap of this striking cover, I knew I had to have it. Charaipotra and Clayton’s mission to diversify YA lit and the creepy-wonderful premise pitched as “Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars” have me beyond hyped to dive into the book. Clayton unfortunately wasn’t feeling well and had to leave the event early, but I was thrilled to meet Charaipotra at the signing.
Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett
Alchemy, visions, and dead bodies? Yes, please! YA horror is another weakness of mine, so of course I had to jump at the creepiest title BTAF had to offer. The sophisticated cover and Liggett’s bubbly persona during panels (psychological horror written by lovely people is honestly my favorite thing) had me sold. At the signing, Liggett offered a black ribbon bookmark and a copy of the first draft of her first chapter. As an aspiring writer—which she asked me about and offered encouragement(!)—I consider it a cool giveaway to show how far a final draft has come.
This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzie Lee
Mackenzie Lee’s table was never empty during the signing period, with attendees eager to have their books signed. Her debut novel is a steampunk take on Frankenstein, and though I didn’t attend the “Inspired by…” panel, I enjoyed reading tweets quoting her insight into Mary Shelley. Modernizing what many consider the original science fiction novel—and one of the premier novels written by a woman, no less—requires a lot of guts. Lee, with her cyborg leggings and intellectual fascination with Shelley’s work, seems well-prepared for the task.
Because (a) these novels are all new, (b) I am still basking in BTAF excitement, and (c) I don’t want to get too backed up, I will be updating more frequently in the next few weeks with my reviews of these five novels. (I’ve actually already finished More Happy than Not, eek!) Stay tuned!
Also, if you are interested in purchasing these or any other books from the event, swing over to Porter Square Books for your copies!