This past Saturday was YALLWEST, a massive YA book festival held at Santa Monica High School. I went last year and had a great time seeing tons of authors I admire on panels. This year, Isabelle and I went together. I had two authors I wanted to get books signed by and a whole itinerary of panels planned out.
The first thing I did upon arriving at the festival was to buy Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz and The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. I had already read (and loved) both books, and both authors have more recent books, but those were the ones I wanted signed. From the Mysterious Galaxy bookselling tent, we went straight to the signing line for Benjamin Alire Sáenz. And after I got my book signed, we started the panel marathon.
Kingdoms & Quests: Epic Fantasy Roadtrips
S. Jae-Jones (moderator) [I’ve read her posts and podcast notes on PubCrawl–I think she’s into baby seals too!], Roshani Chokshi, Jessica Cluess, Heidi Heilig [a hapa author whom I saw at AWP and whose The Girl from Everywhere I’ve read], Linda Sue Park, and Erin Summerill
- Jessica Cluess introduced herself as a Gryffindor while acknowledging that “it’s more posh to be Slytherin these days” (judging by the audience’s relative enthusiasm for the four houses, we Ravenclaws were the most numerous).
- Erin Summerill said that after she creates a map of her world, she chooses the bleakest place on the map for the story’s setting.
- It sounds like Linda Sue Park has a new book in the works about a hapa dragon (my term)!
- Jessica Cluess told an anecdote that left me quite dismayed: Her fantasy novels have a Victorian setting, and so she once wrote in a manuscript that the characters danced a mazurka. She said her editor, who normally asks questions in the margins or makes gentle suggestions, simply crossed out “mazurka.” Later in a phone call, Jessica Cluess asked her editor offhand why she’d done that, and her editor said, “No one cares about the mazurka!” My jaw may have dropped, and Isabelle patted me consolingly on the shoulder. See, I learned the mazurka at bals folks in Grenoble and am rather fond of the dance. Plus the characters in my current project actually do dance the mazurka (under a different name). Now it’s my mission to make sure the mazurka makes it to the final draft!
Yallcraft: So You’re Thinking of Writing a Series?
Traci Chee (moderator) [I read her novel The Reader, which is also on the hapa book list!], Kasie West, Evelyn Skye, and Lindsay Cummings
- I didn’t take a lot of notes at this one, but I remember the authors discussing whether they knew in advance which characters would die in the series or whether they impulsively decided to kill characters along the way.
Writ Large: Myths, Folk Tales, and Modern Retellings
Zoraida Cordova (moderator), Megan Whalen Turner, Wendy Spinale, Cecil Castelluci, Natalie C. Parker, Tracey Baptiste, and F.C. Yee
- I may have been following Megan Whalen Turner throughout YALLFEST… This panel and the previous one were both in Santa Monica High School’s Gallery, and behind the panelists’ chairs were these two big boards covered with fan art for various books. Isabelle and I had already taken a look during the break between panels. One of the pieces was a portrait of the Queen of Eddis from Megan Whalen Turner’s books. As the authors began to arrive, I thought I recognized MWT, but I knew for sure when she went to examine the fan art and exclaimed, “This is from my book!”
- Megan Whalen Turner talked about how wonderful it is that we still read about friendships in stories written hundreds and even thousands of years ago. She mentioned the Epic of Gilgamesh, and at the time I thought she said “romance” (and I wondered what romance she was referring to), but Isabelle later told me she’d said “bromance.” Anyway, the enduring power of literary friendships is beautiful.
After this panel, it was Megan Whalen Turner’s hour in the signing area, so Isabelle and I went to get in line. The woman behind us engaged us in conversation for a bit; she was an MWT fan on another level. She seemed to know that there would be a sixth book in the series, another one after Thick As Thieves, which hasn’t quite come out yet! When it was my turn to have my book signed, I managed to tell Megan Whalen Turner how I’d come to read her books and that The Queen of Attolia had blown me away.
Writing the Resistance: World Building IRL
Daniel José Older (moderator) [I seem to go to a lot of his panels–witness AWP!] , Marie Marquardt, Victoria Aveyard, Angie Thomas [she burst onto the scene with The Hate U Give, which I hope to read very soon], Benjamin Alire Sáenz, and Sona Charaipotra
- Daniel José Older had apparently managed to get through his morning keynote with Cassandra Clare without swearing once, so he opened this panel with, “If you don’t like swearing, just leave now.”
- A lot of this panel was what you’d expect from the title. A lot of it was also Benjamin Alire Sáenz being jaw-droppingly eloquent about his ideals and what it is we do when we write. Also, when an audience member asked the panelists if they’d ever been criticized by their own communities for the way they’d written about them, he said, after acknowledging that he had received such criticism, “I’m not afraid to be criticized. I’m not afraid of anything.”
- The guy sitting next to me asked the panelists if they’d ever considered writing utopian fiction, as opposed to dystopian fiction, and their general reaction was: What would be the point? Where’s the conflict? But I kept thinking of Neal Shusterman’s Scythe (which, for the record, I have not read). Perhaps that’s an example of a utopia that has its dark side (after all, doesn’t The Giver start out utopian?). I also wondered about something else, though. Isn’t one of the great things about speculative fiction supposed to be that it can show us possible futures that are better than our present? There’s still conflict, of course, but set against an optimistic backdrop.
Fantasyish: The Role of Fantasy in the New Surreality of 2017
Alex London (moderator), Cassandra Clare, Danielle Paige, Daniel José Older, Megan Whalen Turner, and Zoraida Cordova
- By now you may be able to tell which authors I was stalking.
- Alex London opened the panel with a longish quote from Ursula K. LeGuin and then said, “Now be smarter than Ursula LeGuin.” Megan Whalen Turner joked that they could be done now.
- MWT remarked that “we don’t often talk about the roots of conflict [i.e. war] in our fantasy for children.” And she also said that none of the people in her world are happy to take on responsibilities, but, for instance, Sophos, in A Conspiracy of Kings, reaches a point where he realizes he can’t make the decision he wants to, and he steps up. I pondered this because I’ve been interested in writing characters who choose duty over other things. Such as love.
- Daniel José Older wondered aloud how fantasy writers can tell the truth while still giving people a happy place to go to.
- MWT talked about reading the Chronicles of Narnia when she was six and never having grown out of the desire to check the back of the wardrobe (I like to think I haven’t either).
Ask Me Anything: The LGBTQIA+ Edition
Sam Maggs (moderator), Jeramey Kraatz, John Corey Whaley [I loved his Where Things Come Back–I think I said so last year too], Adam Silvera [I read his More Happy Than Not, and during this panel I think I learned that we’re the same age], Natalie C. Parker, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, and CB Lee
- I’ll just sum this one up in one quote. Sam Maggs: “I’m from Canada, where everyone is 30% gay.” To which someone responded, “That’s why they’re so nice.”
After the last panel, Isabelle and I decided to visit Small World Books in Venice because in addition to being YALLWEST Saturday was Independent Bookstore Day. We walked along the beach to get there, skirting sand castles and watching adorable sandpipers chase the retreating waves. We even stumbled upon a bizarre, pulsing, pink, translucent creature that was sort of shaped like a shell but decidedly gelatinous. Later research suggested it might have been a burrowing sea cucumber. At Small World Books, the bookseller behind the counter indulged us by showing us the timid new bookstore cat. The shop is really lovely and has a nice selection; there was a display of Hugo and Nebula nominees, and I picked up Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit. We lingered until closing.