“So, serious question,” David Levithan asked the five authors who were on his panel on realistic YA fiction at WORD in Brooklyn last night. “How many of you have had sex for clothing?”
That question was inspired by our own Jessica Verdi who had just read from her debut novel, My Life After Now, about a girl who has HIV. (And, no, Jess’s character and Jess herself have not had sex for clothing either.) Jess’s book does not technically hit shelves until April 2nd, but patrons who were present last night got to buy the earliest signed copies.
Other highlights of the panel included Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Tricks, and so many more) giving us all a sneak peek (sneak listen?) of a project she’s working on for Spring 2014; Tim Decker (The Punk Ethic) discussing how his project went from graphic novel to standard form; Crissa-Jean Chappell (Narc) talking about writing across gender lines; and Amy McNamara’s (Lovely, Dark and Deep) story about standing up to genre-snobbery among her poetry friends.
In addition to a few pages of each of these saucy, clever and intriguing books (which included our own Jessica saying “sex” about 37 times—go Jess!) listeners like me were treated to a discussion on proces. And there’s nothing I love more than hearing how other writers manage to make the magic happen!
I especially liked David’s question about how a project starts. In response, it felt like each panel member had a recipe for what makes a story.
In fact, Tim said he pictures his work-in-progress like a petri dish: he puts a few things in there together and sees how they will react. Crissa-Jean defined author as “being evil all the time” because she takes a character she likes, then tries to make him uncomfortable for hundreds of pages. That’s, of course, the only way he’ll change. Amy said that, for her, a story becomes a story when she has a character and a place she can put together. And Jess said she started with the issue before she even knew the gender or race of her character.
I’m always amazed by how many different answers a question like that can produce!
Other pearls of wisdom I’m going to take away include Crissa-Jean addressing her self-censor. She said that sometimes when she’s drafting she hears an “inner voice” telling her she’s gone “too far”—but she calls that voice a “green light.” I love that idea. Push through that inner voice and go further than even you as the writer are comfortable with to get to the truth.
Jessica said focusing on her character and her character’s own individual experience helped her to avoid sounding preachy.
Ellen Hopkins told us not to read reviews of your own writing. (But it’s so hard, Ellen!) Apparently there are some silly people out there who think all of her characters are the same, which is just, you know, ridiculous.
And David Levithan, our moderator and the mastermind behind the Teen Author Festival (and one of our valued professors from The New School) said that when you find your comfort zone as a writer, you have to run in the other direction!
There are so many more awesome book events this week as part of the Teen Author Festival! Check out the full schedule here!
Also, you can see our own Mary G. Thompson on Friday at 4:40 where she’ll be part of a panel on Alternate World vs. Imaginary world.
And, you can see me, Caela Carter, on Friday at 3:00 on a panel discussing teens and bad choices.
Jess, Mary and Caela will all be signing books at Books of Wonder on Sunday along with about 90 other authors!