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An Inspirational Young Adult Panel at WORD Bookstore

September 21, 2012

We’re happy to welcome our co-worker Bobbie back to the blog today with this look inside a fun young adult author panel event!

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to watch four RHCB Young Adult authors (Mariah Fredericks (The Girl in the Park), Adele Griffin (All You Never Wanted), Deborah Heiligman (Intentions), and David Levithan (Every Day))read from their latest books and speak as a panel at WORD Bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It was a fun night filled with laughs, fantastic energy, and a terrific Q&A on the writing process and the nature of YA fiction. As a professional in children’s book publishing, and a writer, I felt truly inspired after watching these four in discussion.

WORD Panel event_group shot

The authors discussed everything from plotting to their comfort zones as writers, and assured the audience members (many of whom were aspiring writers as much as they were readers) that there’s not one right way to go. Mariah, who has written multiple novels for teens said that she “always starts with an issue” when figuring out a plot, and “maybe a few bullet points”, but that how to get from point A to point B usually ends up being the tricky part. Adele explained that her goal isn’t so much plot or formulating ideas. The ideas come from everywhere. Her trouble, she admitted, was micro-focusing on a specific element and “shrinking a story to the smallest story possible.” Deborah, who before Intentions, had been primarily a nonfiction writer, always had a plot already built right into her writing. The way she saw all of her work, and how she approached this first novel, was by focusing on the book’s theme (In her Printz Honor-winning title, Charles and Emma, that theme is love, as she put it). David Levithan explained that when it comes to his day job as an editor he is all about plot and focusing on plot, but when it comes to his own writing, he is “incapable” of outlining a plot when starting a project. In fact, Every Day did not start with a plot, but rather two questions: “What would you be like if you had no gender, race, class or friends day to day and how then are you defined?” and “Could you be in love with a different person every day.” The rest of the writing process became an exploration of those questions and a plot ensued. I sat in the audience, encouraged that even these talented and accomplished writers struggled with something as fundamental as plot and happy that they pulled through (especially because I am a huge fan of their works).

Something else that was discussed was the idea of writing for teens: whether or not they ever felt the urge to “preach” in their writing, and how they felt about so many authors (many of whom historically write adult fiction) now writing for the YA marketplace. When it came to the preaching question, the panel felt that as long as they stuck to the story, and really got inside the character’s head there was no danger of moralizing their writing or lecturing to teen readers because they would be simply telling a story, just as they would be with adult fiction. The discussion regarding the increase in adult fiction writers broadening into the YA landscape raised some cheers amongst those in the room. Each writer touched on the evolution of the YA publishing sector, and characterized it as “energizing.” But they also felt that it was something that should be taken seriously. Adele Griffin, who’s written for both young adult and adult readers explained that her family is full of high school teachers (her brothers teach high school math and social studies, her mom, a principal). It is always very “YA at the dinner table,” and so much on her inspiration comes from that world. David took that comment and tactfully helped draw a very important conclusion:  “Most of the time, the stories that an author feels they need to tell are simply stories they needed to tell, and it is simply a publishing decision who it should be published for.” It was well put. After all, why is To Kill a Mockingbird considered an adult book? Any of the books by the authors on this panel could have been published as “adult books.”

After all, I read them 🙂

Here’s a bit about the new books from each of the authors on the panel:

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THE GIRL IN THE PARK:

If you’re addicted to shows like Gossip Girl and maybe even NCIS (what a combo!) then you’re going to LOVE, LOVE, Mariah Fredericks The Girl in the Park, which takes whodunits and the setting of an elite NYC private school, and combines them to create a suspenseful, literary murder mystery that will have you ripping through the pages to the very end. The story, based loosely on the 1986 murder in Central Park, centers around the murder of Wendy Geller, a teenage party girl, whose body is found in the park the morning after a rager. The story is narrated by Wendy’s former best friend, Rain, who knows that there was a lot more to Wendy than the “party girl,” as she takes on the task of weaving her way through  tangled headlines and vicious gossip in order to figure out who Wendy’s killer is. But for the introverted Rain, the task expands beyond the discovery of the killer, and discovery of the “true Wendy”, to a more substantial discovering of her own abilities. At once riveting, prolific, and delicately handled, The Girl in the Park is a fast-paced, hold-your-breath read with a huge twist, about an exclusive world and the characters that occupy it. I enjoyed it immensely.

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ALL YOU NEVER WANTED:

Alex has it all–brains, beauty, popularity, and a dangerously hot boyfriend. Her little sister Thea wants it all, and she’s stepped up her game to get it. Even if it means spinning the truth to win the attention she deserves. Even if it means uncovering a shocking secret her older sister never wanted to share. Even if it means crying wolf! Told in the alternating voices and alternating tenses between the two sisters Adele Griffin creates a mesmerizing and high-impact psychological thriller about secrets and sibling rivalry. It was so much fun to read and had me on the edge of my seat! 

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INTENTIONS:

Rachel thought she was grown up enough to accept that no one is perfect. Her parents argue, her grandmother has been acting strangely, and her best friend doesn’t want to talk to her. But none of that could have prepared her for what she overheard in her synagogue’s sanctuary. Now Rachel’s trust in the people she loves is shattered, and her newfound cynicism leads to reckless rebellion. Her friends and family hardly recognize her, and worse, she can hardly recognize herself. But how can the adults in her life lecture her about acting with kavanah, intention, when they are constantly making such horribly wrong decisions themselves? This is a witty, honest account of navigating the daunting line between losing innocence and entering adulthood–all while figuring out who you really want to be. I found the book to be incredibly original, often humorous, and most important, insightful!

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EVERY DAY:

“A” wakes up every day in a different body. Guy, girl, black, white, rich or thin. Every day it’s a different body. And A only gets one day to experience the life of that person so, as such, never  gets too involved or attached to that body. That is, until A wakes up in the body of Justin and falls in love with his girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A lives change forever, because A never wants to leave Rhiannon’s side. Not ever. But one day only lasts so long, and A will spend every day after trying to find a way to get back to Rhiannon. Every Day is a beautiful, lyrical and definitive exploration on the complexity of identity, and of love. I absolutely adored it.

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