Hartzler was the moderator
This was a panel on contemporary realistic fiction and the authors were some of the biggest names in the genre.
To start off there was a discussion about why people wanted to classify this category of teen lit as "sad books." Aaron Hartzler started by saying that their books are things that are happening to teens right now. You don't have to take a vampire to prom to have amazing stories happen to you.
Ellen Hopkins added that real life is scary. Book challenges are mostly made by parents who are concerned about their kids being exposed to things before their ready. But you can't protect your kids from the ugliness in life by challenging a book. Instead, hopefully books will inspire teens to actually change the ugliness that's in the world. You can't change the world by closing the books.
You Know Where to Find Me has been that teens have written her saying they didn't know that if you over dosed on pills that it wasn't a romantic and calm way to end your problems, (instead it's incredibly gruesome and terrible shutting down of the body) and that it had stopped them from trying to stop their problems this way. You don't set out to write a problem novel or something that teaches these sad stories, you just write what's in your heart.
Aaron asked Stephanie Perkins about why she likes writing about teens? The drama of everyday life is even greater as a teen. And everything is so huge, but she feels like that is still how at least she feels about so many of her decisions. And why does she like writing about romance? Love is the closest thing to magic in our real life. She met her husband at 17 and everyone tried to tell them that because they were young their love wasn't valid or real. But, after six days, they knew. She takes teenagers' feelings seriously. Writing is the most honest way for her to tell stories with big stakes over small things.
Stephanie Perkins, David Levithan and Ellen Hopkins
Two Boys Kissing (see our review). He talked about how this was his first time writing something based on a real story. Two of his readers really did kiss in NJ for over 33 hours and then they contacted him on Facebook to tell him that they were inspired to do this based on his book Boy meets Boy. It sounds like a cute and romantic thing, but then you look at the video of it and it's actually an endurance test. To stand up for 33 hours with your mouth on someone is extraordinarily painful. These boys were literally standing up for something they believed in. He didn't want to tell their story, but the story started with these two. His reader was a little confused with what Levithan was doing, but when he read the first draft, he really got it.
If I Stay (see our posts) also has its start in a true story. The characters are based on people Forman knew who were killed in an accident seven years before she started writing the book and when she was writing it, it was like having them in her kitchen, talking to her again. But, mostly when she writes, she's taking parts of herself or the life she's had.
Ellen Hopkins added that even when things start in real life, eventually the story takes a step out of reality, because these are characters. It's been interesting for her because Crank which was a story that started with the story of her and her daughter and then became a book is now becoming a play, which she's seen rehearsals of. She's now seeing the characters become these people on stage, a bit full circle.
Rainbow Rowell (see our posts) says that with her first book, Attachments she tried really hard not to include any Eleanor and Park, which she'd completely forgotten about.
She also gave Eleanor some of her actual problems, some of her very worst problems. She didn't know that it would actually give her some distance from her own problems, but writing about these real things meant that she could talk about Eleanor's family life without it feeling like her own at all.She basically gave the character some of her own little emotional knots and said, 'here you work on these for a while.'
There was a question from the audience about what is the hardest part of writing:
Ellen Hopkins said it was starting. You have to figure out your characters, the format, the tense, all the fiddly stuff. She wants to be in the groove with the story going.
Rachel Cohn said that the hardest thing was the inner critic who tells you that the book is never going to be what you want. Tell your inner critic to shut up. This is the same for Stephanie Perkins who sometimes calls up Gayle Forman when the inner voice is too much for her. Gayle says, "Stephanie, you're being really mean to Stephanie right now," which is really helpful. Perkins says that she actually finds the entire process hard, but finishing is the hardest part. On the other hand, Rowell thought that the first draft was the worst because she feels panicky the whole time and only thinks about all the words she hasn't written. David Levithan reports that he really only writes when he wants to and feels like the story is there, so he does tend to enjoy the process, but at the same time, he is not an outliner and doesn't know where he's going, so that can be the hardest part.
The Hunger Games was not referred to and dismissed as a "teen" movie.
Gayle Forman also talked about how having more adults read YA means that the genre will start to seem a lot less scary to parents. They will see, by reading along with their teens that these stories are not prescriptions for your kids on how to mess up their lives, instead they are a gateway to talk and have an open dialog about all sorts of issues.
The last question to the panel was about audio books, how much say did they have about the narrators? Rainbow Rowell's publisher was very collaborative. She got to hear the auditions for the various readers and they even got a very Jim Dale-ish person to read the Simon Snow parts of Fangirl (see our review). David Levithan auditioned to do his own audio book (he got it) and then worried the whole time that he was screwing up his own work.