We were lucky to have the 6th annual Teen Author Festival at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building in March again this year. Author David Levithan has been hosting this informative gathering of teen authors, teens, librarians and teachers alike in different locations in the NYC area, such as bookstores and libraries. It is a great place to become aware of the latest releases and upcoming books in teen literature and to have a lot of fun. The authors were funny, and they engaged the audience. For those who missed it, check it out next year!
Friday, March 21 Symposium
When I Was Young...
The juvenilia panel consisted of authors David Levithan, Coe Booth, Aaron Hartzler, Barry Lyga, Diana Peterfrund, Mindy Raf, Natalie Standiford and Melissa Walker. It included a chance for authors to read from their own high school creations, and be part of a panel discussion. I actually wrote and illustrated a picture book in my youth about a palomino horse named Butterscotch.
Levithan read from a thriller he created in high school entitled Looks That Kill. It consisted of his thoughts about a good-looking girl named Heather. He read from chapters 1 and 2.
The demonstration showed that everyone starts somewhere, and that these brilliant authors did not immediately spout terrific prose when they began writing. It gave teens encouragement to flex their literary muscles. Celebrity kid writers like Bindi Irwin and Miley Cyrus have published books that are currently on our shelves.
Aaron Hartzler did not know that he was going to be a writer, and he had no aspiration to become one. However, he belatedly discovered journal entries from his kindergarten years that surprised him with their volume. He also wrote free verse poetry. His message to teens was that aspiring writers should pay attention to what they write. He read some of his earlier poetry to the group.
Barry Lyga wrote his first novel about serial killers. He read a horror story that he penned while in high school.
Diana Peterfreund grew up in Tampa, FL. She attended a preparatory academy, and one of her greatest fears as a teen was not getting into college. She read a story about a girl who had a crush on a boy named Ryan.
Mindy Raf read some of her early poetry, which included the following: "To see is to open your eye... To speak is to be heard."
Melissa Walker started a lot of stories which she did not finish in her early years. She read from a story called The Mystery of the Limping Kangaroo. She also created a Brady Bunch Diary. In it, she chronicled information about the characters' outfits and the activities in each episode. I did something similar with MacGyver, a show that fascinated me because the star was so mechanically inclined and could construct elaborate machines from a bunch of scrap materials.
Sorry You're Lost: Writing About Grief and Loss
This panel consisted of authors Jon Skovron, Matt Blackstone, Jeri Smith-Ready, and Courtney Stevens, who read from their works. Blackstone mentioned that it is possible and desirable to include humor in books about sadness and loss. He is a teacher, and he is used to being watched by students. In his book, the protagonist becomes the class clown. In Stevens' book, Faking Normal, the girl protagonist is unable to hide her pain. In Smith-Ready's book, This Side of Salvation, she feels that the boy's parents failed him when he lost his brother.
The People Who Get You Through: Navigating Love and Friendship in HS
The panelists David Levithan, M. Molly Backes, Crissa-Jean Chappell, Heather Demetrios, Amanda Maciel, Julie Murphy, and Tiffany Schmidt introduced their novels about this topic. Three of the authors were on their first panel. Maciel is an editor for Scholastic. One of her works is about a reality TV show.
Levithan asked how relationships between teens are different from when the authors were in their youth. Some of the authors' friends in high school were very critical of them. They discussed their lives as teenagers and how they changed as they matured into adults.
Levithan asked the panelists how conscious they were of the point of view of the friends of the protagonists as they were writing their stories. They responded that kids attach many labels to each other. They discussed the relationships between the characters in their stories. It was easier for one author to find friends in college than in high school.
Levithan wanted to know if the relationships between characters in their stories turned out as they originally planned. Maciel kept waiting for the adults in her story to be more helpful to the kids, which unfortunately did not occur. One of the panelists is a teacher and books were her companions as she grew up. She does not approve of censorship since the books that are being censored could save someone's life. One author's book turned out very differently than she expected; however, she is very pleased with it.
Levithan mentioned that the likability of characters issue has been emerging more frequently nowadays, and he is not sure why. He was curious if the authors were aware of it and if it affected their writing. Maciel mentioned that bullying is rampant these days. Teens can be annoying, self-centered, and they see things in black-and-white; all of those things are not likeable. In terms of her book about a reality TV show, it was a challenge to make the "villains" likeable. She is not a fan of Kate Gosselin, and she does not believe that kids' daily lives should be explicated by television. It is a privacy issue that people could find documentation of how others behaved as three-year-olds.
Literary Matchmaking, Round One
Levithan thought that it would be fun to pair characters from authors' works to go out on a date together, and then the authors could write about the characters' experience. I thought that this was a wonderfully creative and intriguing writing exercise. I have never seen a panel like this; it gives the audience an idea of how much the authors understand how their characters feel, think and behave. The authors answered questions, such as "Have you contacted each other since your first date?"
The pairings included the following: Tara Altebrando and Alex London, Jennifer Castle and Laura Toffler, J. J. Howard and Jen Calonita, and Amelia Kahaney and Lindsay Ribar.
One author commented that Google has a variety of ways to finish the statement, "You know if a date went well if..." One result commented that if a date asks five questions, it proves that he or she wants to get to know you and is not completely self-absorbed. The author listed five questions that were asked to her character by the other character and how her character responded to the queries.
Saturday, March 22 Symposium
What's the Worst Thing That Could Happen?
Lucas Klauss, Jessica Brody, Frankie Brown, Sarah Beth Durst, T. M. Goeglein, Emmy Laybourne, Eliot Schrefer and Cristin Terrill wrote books about disaster. The authors read from their works.
Jessica Brody asked three audience members questions about their lives and how they knew the information to be true. Her book, Unremembered, concerns memory and the falsification of memories. She talked about how false memories can be implanted into the brain. It made me think about philosophy and consciousness.
Thanks to David Levithan for organizing this fun and informative Teen Author Festival in NYC and the panelists who added their wonderful ideas!