2011 LA Times Festival of Books

The LA Times Festival of Books is this weekend (April  30th – May 1st)! If you live in the Southern California area this is a wonderful FREE event filled with hundreds of authors, artists, and book lovers! There’s even a children’s book stage (bring your kids) and a YA Stage! Not to mention the plethora of panel discussions happening all around the USC campus! (That’s right a new location at USC this year).

Find General Information about the event here: LA Times Festival of Books

Learn about the panel discussions and schedule of events here: Schedule of Events

The YA Stage and Children’s Book Stage Schedule is here:  Saturday Schedule  and  Sunday Schedule

Also, if you’re interested in writing your own web-series check out the great new book Byte Size Television written by the wonderful teacher and screenwriter Ross Brown. He will be selling and signing his book from 3-4pm on Sunday at the Chapman University Booth #226.

Celebrate books, wear sunscreen, and have fun!

Teens in Turmoil

Not all teen novels are about popularity and dating, some novels delve into darker themes like death, suicide, and war. In fact, darker issues have become more an more popular in recently published books. Death was on the forefront of the Teens in Turmoil panel at the LA Times Festival of Books where three daring young adult authors Gayle Forman, Jandy Nelson, and Cynthia Kadohata all discussed how they handled such delicate subjects. The following anecdotes where shared:

  • It is a misconception that writing a difficult or heavy book will not be a pleasant experience. Even if a book revolves around a difficult theme the process of writing the book is often very joyous. Some even felt a sense of joy and transcendence in the process.
  • Writing is about re-writing. Jandy Nelson went through 10 drafts of her novel The Sky is Everywhere before she even submitted it to agents. Cynthia Kadohata has gone through at least 7 drafts on all of her novels except Kira Kira. Gayle Forman wrote 12 drafts of the current book she’s writing before showing it to her editor. Write! Write! Write!
  • “I don’t believe in writer’s block!” – Forman. Writing is about momentum. Writers block doesn’t exist. Just write something, the energy of writing will transfer. The more you write the more the momentum builds. Momentum breeds momentum. Inertia breeds inertia.
  • “This is the golden age of young adult editors right now!” - Nelson. Young adult novels are getting a lot of attention right now, and there are amazing editors in the field!
  • “I didn’t know how the book would end, or what decision she would make.” - Forman. Sometimes characters have to make gut-wrenching decisions in books that deal with death. In Forman’s, If I Stay, her protagonist must decide if she wants to live or die after she’s lost all of her family. Indeed, the author herself didn’t know how the story would end. Sometimes the characters have to make those decisions for the author.
  • When writing for teens be careful of your adult voice. Often times authors can’t make the jump from adult literature to young adult (or vice versa) because their voice for one genre is so strong. Some of the authors present felt like they actually couldn’t write an authentic adult voice.
  • The difference between an adult book and a young adult book (other than the age of the characters) is a sense of hope and redemption in the end of the novel. Young adult books often have that hopeful quality, where adult literature can have a dismal or dark outcome.

Gayle, Jandy, Cynthia

Gayle Forman is the author of the young adult novels If I Stay, and Sisters in Sanity.

Jandy Nelson has just published her debut novel The Sky is Everywhere.

Cynthia Kadohata is the Newberry Award winning author of Kira Kira, as well as other novels for young adults including A Million Shades of Grey, and Weedflower.

Girls Just Want to Have Fun

Young adult authors Lisi Harrison, Amy Goldman Koss, and Robin Palmer all spoke at the LA Times Festival of Books back in April. Each promoted their current books and shared some insight into writing, teen readers, and their process. The following are a few quick tid-bits from their half-hour panel:

  • Robin Palmer writes books that re-tell common fairy tales, and with this genre she’s discovered that her heroines need to be strong: “Your prince isn’t going to come out of the woodwork and save you. You have to save yourself. Be your own hero!”
  • A common theme in young adult literature is the struggle to be accepted and liked by your peers. We all do this. Even in our adult lives. It is a universal theme.
  • The more serious a book is the funnier the book can be. We often mix comedy with tragedy. Tragedy + Time = Comedy.
  • “I like to read books with a lot of sugar. It takes the edge off. It helps me to enjoy life more.” - Amy Goldman Koss
  • “I don’t like to work within the normal rules of science fiction.” - Lisi Harrison
  • When writing for younger teens it’s important to say away from S-E-X. This is because this audience doesn’t have it. It’s not something they worry about yet.
  • Be sure to self promote! Have a blog and post chapters on your blog.

    Robin, Lissi, Amy

    Robin, Lissi, Amy

Lisi Harrison is the author of the Clique Series, Alpha Series, and Monster high.

Amy Goldman Koss is the author of The Girls, Side Effects, and The Not-So-Great Depression, among many other books for teens.

Robin Palmer is the author of Little Miss Red, Geek Charming, and Cindy Ella.

John Green and David Levithan: Co-Writing a Book

Young adult authors John Green (Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines) and David Levithan (Boy Meets Boy, Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist) spoke at the LA Times Festival of Books about their experience co-authoring their latest book Will Grayson Will Grayson. This story is about two young men with the same name who meet one cold night in the most unlikely corner of Chicago. From that moment on, their worlds collide and their lives intertwine, to be changed forever.

How long did you two work on this book?

About five years. But we did work on other projects as well during that time.

How did you go about co-writing a book?

We both wrote at the same time (parallel). We each wrote one character. John’s Will Grayson is the one in chapter one, and David’s is the one in chapter two. We both wrote our first chapter separate from the other, this way we had no idea what the other person was writing. We would call each other and read our pages out loud.

We worked in an “X” formation. We both started our Will Grayson story individually, with the goal that they would meet in the middle, and then from that point their lives would be changed.

Did you re-write each others work?

Not really. We had long discussions about what was happening, but we never changed the other author’s writing. The chapters are very much each authors work. The book did go through lots of revisions once we both had an idea of where the story was going.

Where did the idea of this book come from?

In college, David Levithan, kept getting the mail and phone calls of another student named of David Leventhal. Finally they met one another after a year or so, and actually became good friends. This inspired the concept for this book.

What are the themes you were trying to put into this book?

We are interested in reclaiming the word love – not the mythology in our society of true love, or love at first sight, but love of friends, love of family. You can get very misguided trying to follow the mythology of love, and we really wanted to speak about the love that is always around us, and to point out how that can be just as important and meaningful.

Where did some of the form choices of this book come from?

Green: Tiny Cooper is the narrator of my side of the story, not Will Grayson. I have always found it interesting to read books where the main character is not the narrator. A great book that does this is All the King’s Men.

Levithan: My Will Grayson writes entirely in lowercase letters. This is a reflection of his own self image, that he sees himself as a lower case person.

Where did the name Will Grayson come from?

We each got to pick one of the names. Levithan picked the name Will because the word will has a lot of different meanings – last will and testament, free will, to will something into being, or asking a question “will you go…” “will you…” Etc. Green picked the name Grayson, because if you break it in two you get: Grace in. Then if you put the two together:  Willing Grace In.

How has the internet changed the way you write or develop a teen voice?

Green: With my online community I am able to see language change very quickly. When you read through hundreds of responses to content you can see how teens speak through the internet and how it evolves. I’m not sure if that really translates into my work, but I find it fascinating and very interesting. If you can get the emotional truth of the slang then it will feel authentic.

Levithan: I am not a fan of the LOL world. But in Will Grayson his character doesn’t really see a difference between talking physically with a person or talking to someone via the internet. These lines have really become blurred with today’s teens.

Other fun annectdotes:

From John Green:

  • “I wasn’t really accepted in high school.” – Green
  • John Green said that he was a D student all through middle school and early high school. But his father said to him ” Son, you don’t have to be great at everything, but you have to be the best at what you choose to do.” This really effected him later in his education/life.
  • “Authorial intent is irrelevant. If it isn’t in the text it doesn’t matter.” – Green
  • Green usually deletes ninety percent of his first draft.
  • “I have no fancy pants literary answer for why Tiny Cooper has his name.” – Green

From David Levithan:

  • “It is important to write well rounded  any-characters.” (In response to a question about writing gay characters).
  • Levithan wrote his first book Boy Meets Boy because he felt that most books did not properly communicate life of gay teens. All the books he’d seen really paint a picture of misery, of being an outsider, and none of them reflect a world in which one could be happy and gay. The books always seemed to have a character’s dog die (or something equally tragic) when the character came out. He felt this was very narrow a point of view.
  • “Tiny Cooper was birthed by John, and raised by two dads.” – Levithan

John Green

John Green is the New York Times-bestselling author of Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns. He has recieved numerous awards, including both the Printz Metal and a Printz Honor. John is the co-creator (with his brother, Hank) of the popular video blog Brotherhood 2.0. Learn more about John Green at: www.sparksflyup.com and http://nerdfighters.com

David Levithan

David Levithan is an award winning and New York Times-bestselling author of many books for teens, including Boy Meets Boy, Wide Awake, Love is the Higher Law, and (with Rachel Cohn) Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. He also works as an editor. Learn more about David Leviathan at: www.davidlevithan.com


Boys Will Be Boys: Guys Talk YA

What makes a book for boys? How do we get boys to read more? These questions and more were discussed at the LA Times Festival of Books YA panel this past weekend. Authors Ben Esch (Sophomore Undercover), Blake Nelson (Paranoid Park, Gender Bender, Girl), Andrew  Smith (Ghost Medicine), and Allen Zadoff  (Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have) share their insight as to what makes boy books kick so much butt!

What determines a book as a boy book?

  • Attitude!
  • Boys are looking to get out into the world. They want to be aggressive.
  • Boys want to read book with realistic male protagonists. They want someone they can associate with on the day-to-day experience.
  • Usually boys like funny books.
  • Boys and girls want to read the same things. They want good stories.

Why don’t boys read more books?

  • Once a boy turns ten or eleven he begins to associate with things that are masculine. And in his world he sees people who read (teacher, librarians, etc.) as women. They begin to associate books with a feminine pursuit. This is why these four male authors did this panel to show young men that reading and writing can be masculine.

What issues do boys deal with and want to read about?

  • Boys are dealing with hormones, they want things like beer and porn. We need more books that address the real male experience.
  • For boys there is a lot of pressure to be macho, to be a dude who has adventures and isn’t sensitive. But in reality guys are sensitive, shy, and often make a fool out of themselves. They are often uncomfortable. We need more books that relate to these experiences.
  • Body issues are also as important to guys as they can be for girls. Guys are also very self-conscious.

Humor and the gross-out factor is often associated with boy books. How do you bring humor into your books?

  • Lots of penis jokes!
  • Find your voice. The voice and tone will be different for each writer. You don’t want the humor to be forced, you want it to come from the character. You want to write it authentically from your voice.
  • Humor has heart to it, and often boys are sensitive. Humor is often a socially acceptable way for boys to express themselves.

Do you think there is a lack of contemporary guy literature? There’s a lot of fantasy and comics for boys, but what about contemporary lit?

  • There is a lot of great contemporary guy literature out there. It will find its way into the hands of the guys who want to read it, from friends, sharing, etc. But it’s a hard market. You have a lot to compete with when trying to get a young man’s attention. He has computers, video games, sports, etc.
  • You’ve got to grab the guy’s attention right away, right out of the gate. They have a short attention span.
  • Guys are funny and if you can capture the coolness and the hilarity of being a teen boy and relate it back to them – then they will respond.
  • Cool is a mystique. It is not the clothes, it’s the dismissive attitude. There is a fundamental hierarchy that is always the same.

What advice do you have for women who are trying to write in a male point of view?

  • Write about yourself. Those feelings are authentic.
  • What does your hero want? This is what matters whether or not the protagonist is male or female.
  • Go for it, even if it feels weird you’ll learn how to wear it, and you will find it very rewarding.

How do you deal with romance in a novel for guys?

  • Put in as little as possible (joke).
  • Men are introspective, and they express themselves differently than girls.
  • Never kill a dog in a book!

Again, the authors of this panel were Ben Esch (Sophomore Undercover), Blake Nelson (Paranoid Park, Gender Bender, Girl), Andrew  Smith (Ghost Medicine), and Allen Zadoff (Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can’t Have).

Quote of the Week: Heather Brewer

“Vampires are people too. They’ve got their own problems, they just drink blood.”

“I don’t believe in happy endings…unless…they have blood.”  – Heather Brewer

Heather Brewer is the author of The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod vampire book series. She said the above quotes at the 2010 LA Times Festival of Books.

She’s All That: Writing for Contemporary Girls

Three YA authors came out the LA Times Festival of Books this past weekend to share their point of view on writing for teenage girls. Authors Robin Benway (Audrey Wait Series), Cherry Cheva (Duplikate, and She’s So Money), and Joanna Philbin (The Daughters) had the following to say:

How are teens different today than in the books you read as a teen?

Robin: The girls in the Sweet Valley High Books (that Robin read as a teen) were nothing like the teenager she was, and she couldn’t believe it. She’s realized that you have to write for the girl who isn’t from Sweet Valley High. You have to address what is inside the character, and articulate what teens feel they can’t say. This will cause them to identify with your voice/book. The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a book that really changed the game for Robin. It was a book that really talked about what is going on on the inside.

What type of issues do you think teens are dealing with?

All three authors address body issues and self image in their books. They all feel this is something that teens struggle with on a day to day basis. The Daughters really explores this with the relationship of one of the characters who is the daughter of a super model, so she has even higher expectations of being beautiful.  All three authors felt that finding self confidence, or testing your confidence is part of the game when it comes to beauty. The struggle to be beautiful is a test to find out who you are and the confidence to think you are worth while.

How do teens talk today? What issues have you had with using swear-words in your books?

Cherry: When she does public readings (like at the festival) she actually puts the swear words back into the text. You won’t actually read them in the text, but she feels it is part of the characters and part of how teens speak. She initially had around twenty instances of the F-word in her book She’s So Money, and if you read it now, there are none. The editors took them all out.

Joanna: She draws on how she speaks with her girlfriends. She doesn’t think that her voice and a teen voice are all that different.

Robin: She had to tone down her book in terms of swears as well. She actually had to change the term “cocaine skinny” because it implied drug use.

Cherry: You also want to consider what a 14 or 15 year old has at their access, as this can limit in some ways what you write about in regards to content.

How do you think writing for teens is different than writing for adults?

Robin: Teens are more fun to write! They have so much joy and enthusiasm for life. It can be really exciting.

Joanna: When writing for a YA audience you are dealing with issues of insecurity, body issues, etc. I don’t think those things go away as an adult. Those issues are still present. But as an adult you are not really allowed to talk about those issues, you are supposed to be past them. There is shame in talking about them as an adult. So I find writing for young adults very liberating. You have more freedom with these characters.

What ideals do you like to emphasize and share with young girls in your books?

All three authors agreed that they are trying to empower young girls to be strong and confident. Be yourself! It is important to find a support system, and surround yourself with good friends who will protect you and allow you to feel safe.

How do you deal with writers block?

Get out of your head for a while! Go watch television or movies. Give your work some space.

Also, carry around a notebook, just in case that great moment of inspiration comes when you are away from your work. Or, if you don’t have a notebook, call yourself on your cell phone and leave a voice message.

How do you avoid stereotypes in your books?

Read your work out loud. You will always hear when something feels fake or untrue.

Robin, Cherry, and Joanna

Again, the authors of this panel were Robin Benway who wrote the Audrey Wait series, Cherry Cheva author of Duplikate, and She’s So Money and a writer for the television show Family Guy, and Joanna Philbin author of the series The Daughters. This panel was moderated by Aaron Hartzler.