October 17, 2012

Southern Festival of Books

Random Blog Post

This past Sunday I had the chance to go to the 24th Annual Southern Festival of Books in Downtown Nashville. The weather wasn’t the best and was so windy the tents were almost blown away, so not many venders actually set their stuff up, which was disappointing.

The highlight of the day though was getting to go to the young adult panel called, Reconstructing Order- YA Dystopian Novels. The three authors that were there to talk were Julianna Baggott (JB) (Pure), Jeff Hirsch (JH) (The Eleventh Plague and Magisterium), and Kat Zhang (KZ) (What’s Left of Me).

I took notes as fast as I could, but everything is still paraphrased from what both the questions were and their answers. I also did not take down every question so I could take time to just listen to them and take it all in.

Q: When it comes to managing worldbuilding how much time spent on it’s exposition is too much?

JB: There needs to be a balance that’s organic to the flow of the book only mentioning things if relevant. There needs to be a focal point to which things are mentioned, not like a film starting screen starting big and panning in.

KZ: Always ask yourself if the reader really needs to know this. Readers do have patience, but if you push off mentioning something until too late it may contradict with what the reader concluded for themselves prior. I was told to keep a worldbuilding bible to keep track of everything.

JH: One way is to look at worldbuilding in a series of layers that get richer and more complex with each draft.

Q: Why are so many YA books coming out as series or trilogies now?

JH: There’s something very traditional about the beginning, middle and end.

JB: It’s financially advantageous and helps as an author to have the security of several upcoming books. It’s also good because you get the majority of worldbuilding done in the first book so the second two have more time to grow the plot.

KZ: Didn’t start with a trilogy in mind, but realized that more books would give more time to the characters.

Q: What do you think it is about dystopian that speaks so well to YA?

JH: Middle school and high school is a time in life that’s never repeated, you’re incredibly malleable. You can wake up one day and go to bed a completely different person with just one changing event. Nobody understands that change as well as young adults.

KZ: Higher stakes, life and death situations are more exciting problems that who you’ll ask to prom. In dystopian you’re always questioning and rebelling. That is the age when you first start rebelling to parents and teachers and making your own opinions and can realize maybe they don’t know everything there is to know. It also allows you to tackle everyday problems in a different light.

JB: There’s a sense of psychological realism along the lines that they’re twice banished first from childhood and second from adulthood. Dystopian has been around for a long time, but the push from publishing companies has really made the change.

Q: A common theme is that of otherness, how does it lend to YA and dystopian specifically?

JH: A lot of kids feel that otherness themselves when they’re surrounded by changes.

KZ: Everyone feels that no one really understands, which is why YA Saves.

JB: We read to feel less alone.

Q: Were you inspired by any other dystopian novels?

KZ: When we were writing dystopian wasn’t really a trend yet, so it wasn’t until later in the publishing process that it came up.

JH: One book that stood out was How I live Now by Meg Rosoff and a new one is Rootless by Chris Howard, which ignores all the current trends and sets new ones.

JB: There are always books that come before that give permission slips for future writers. The Hunger Games gave permission for violence and war and how it touches girls as much as boys and The Lottery gave permission to The Hunger Games for reaping day. We all owe someone for something that came before.

Q: Was there anything you investigated while writing to make sure you got across to the reader?

KZ: Writing is a very personal process, but it was important to be know about stereotypes to find the balance of breaking away without being too extreme.

JH: It was important to ask post-Hunger Games what comes next and to be conscious of the mold and try and avoid it.

Q: When writing it is very easy to get bottlenecked with research, what are some tips to get past?

JH: Don’t try to figure out everything at once especially in the first draft. Worry about it later.

JB: I’m always looking to take myself out of authority and let my characters lead and research is a great way to do that, but you have to know when to stop.

Q: What are some new trends that excite you?

KZ: The combination of science fiction and literary young adult. Genre blending is really easy to do in young adult, and books can be whatever they want to be.

JB: Genre blurring where things are right on the boundary.

Q: What inspired you to write dystopian?

JH: As a big news junkie, the personal frustration over the world and politics especially how completely polar opposite the two parties are now led to the two worlds in Magisterium.

KZ: For me, books come from the characters where my idea came from that inner monologue we have only what if that voice in your head was actually another person. Just set out to write that character and everything else just fell into place.

JB: Inspiration doesn’t get you 500 pages, You get lots of little inspiration that leads to more of it. “When there is no wind, you row.” There was a lot of rowing.

Q: What do you hope to have come out of the YA dystopian trend?

JB: Deciding what things endure whether it’s love, god, hope, etc.

JH: The idea of hope and that you can make it through whatever massive changes come at you.

KZ: Asking of the questions can almost be more important than giving answers. Provide the questions to get the reader to answer.

I didn’t get the chance afterwards to go to the signing, but I’m definitely moving these books higher up on my to read list.

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