Wednesday, 9 July 2014

YA Author Event: Books to Bond Over

In Santa Monica Public Library on July 8th 2014, I attended my very first Author Panel Event.

I had been invited to the event through internet blogging friends, and was incredibly excited about the prospect of attending, especially when I discovered which authors would be there!

Melissa De La Cruz, Margaret Stohl, Andrew Smith, Ava Dellaira, Holly Goldberg Sloan and John Corey Whaley were the 6 incredible authors who would take part in the panel, with signings to follow. 

I am ashamed to admit that before tonight I had never heard of Ava Dellaira, Holly Goldberg Sloan or John Corey Whaley, however after tonight I am so eager to read their books, post reviews and have 3 new authors to fangirl over! *squeal*!

I had however heard of Andrew Smith, Margaret Stohl and Melissa De La Cruz.

Andrew Smith has been raved about all over the world, especially in my part of the country in England. I have not read any of his works, however I am eager to read Grasshopper Jungle. It sounds like an incredibly CRAZY and whacky concept for a book - I'm not even sure I can describe it as a concept - and it just makes me all the more excited to read it. I have a copy at home, so as soon as I get back to England, which is July 22nd, I will be taking a long shower-bath (showers are too short, baths make me feel dirty) and reading the book in one glorious sitting. 

Margaret Stohl, co-author of Beautiful Creatures and author of Icons and Idols, is a beautiful person inside and out. With such a star-studded reputation under her belt, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from her on the panel, but she was definitely the life and soul of the party. I HAVE read Beautiful Creatures, and whilst it took me a little time to get into, the concept and writing was beautiful and I am determined to eventually finish the series (at some point haha!). I will however be reading Icons very shortly, because it's about aliens in a sort of post apocalyptic world (ohmygosh I love aliens and dystopian style books), and a review will shortly follow.

Melissa De La Cruz was the author I was most excited to meet and hear speak. I have followed her career ever since picking up Blue Bloods many years ago. I still feel such an emotional attachment to Schuyler, Jack, Mimi, Ollie, Kingsley, Bliss, and everyone else in the series. They evolved with me as characters, and so when I discovered I was able to meet one of the most perfectly genius authors to have ever existed - more genius than J K Rowling - I had to jump at the chance. I was not disappointed.

Holly and Ava

Andrew and John

I fangirled so hard over Melissa and Margaret's relationship. SO AWESOME.

Melissa De La Cruz is currently working on a book; the prequel to the upcoming Disney movie Descendants. It sounds like such an awesome concept, however she said she is already receiving some preeeetty crazy fan mail from hardcore Disney fanatics, with one demanding to know "what are you doing with Mulan? Mulan is MINE!". Not sure how i'd cope with that, but it sounds pretty funny.

John Corey Whaley is the author of Noggin and Where Things Come Back which won the 2012 Printz Award - the YA literature equivalent of the Oscar's! Such a prestigious honor, and he definitely deserves it.
The introduction of "Mad Scientist" Andrew Smith, author of Grasshopper Jungle included the opinion that Andrew also deserves a Printz award for the crazy writings that somehow came together in one book. Margaret Stohl swiftly pitted Whaley and Smith against each other, forwarding the question of which novel deserves the Printz award more. It must be said that if Margaret ever feels like a career change, she has a knack for Stand Up Comedy!

During the discussion, Margaret managed to squeeze in that her ambition used to be to be an Astronaut. When she accidentally moved to Las Vegas (as you do) she freaked out that she couldn't be anything she used to be - not a ballerina, or a violinist or an astronaut. She fixated her efforts on becoming an astronaut once and for all, and obsessively called NASA (totally normal right?).

SOMEHOW she got from that to being a successful author and an amazing writer, which I am pretty glad for. Her topic of discussion then settled into something slightly less crazy; her new book.
Aside from Beautiful Creatures - which is the book that I knew her for - she wrote Icons and the sequel Idols. Icons is a love-hate story, set in dystopian post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, and follows 4 teenagers during an alien occupation. Sounds awesome right? Discussing the second book was incredible. Idols is set in South East Asia, as part of the book contract states that Stohl will write each book of the trilogy in a different country. Most of Idols was written in a jungle in Thailand. Stohl is an avid traveler, and discussed her experiences, saying she learnt how to give elephants a bath, feed them bananas, and visited the places within her book. Stohl went through most of the experiences except the obvious alien invasion.
"I have never had the experience where the book just manifested itself. Everything is a smell and a taste and a color and a breeze. You don't have to work. It was incredible"
Growing up, Margaret was intrigued by the concept of what we worship, people constantly looking for hope, and the idea of false idols.

Ava, a debut author, is the writer of Love Letters To The Dead. When describing the book and what it was all about, it dawned on me how original and incredible the concept was. I have never read nor heard of anything like it. A big theme of the night was "elements" within the story. Ava explained that she has an avid interest in pop culture, and how it can be a safe place for people who feel alone or isolated or have had difficult experiences. In sharing something you are able to connect with people around the world, despite your obvious differences. Another important concept to Ava was how you can go on living without the person who matters the most to you. She described this element as being a personal journey, as she wrote the book a couple of years after losing her Mum. Within the book, Laurel - the main character - writes letters to deceased artists and musicians of pop culture, such as Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, and feels a strong emotional connection to each of them and discovers that everyone has some sort of lesson to teach. Laurel is able to recover from her loss in the book, the same way writing the book helped Ava to move on from her loss.

From the concepts revealed in Ava's explanation sparked a discussion about Taylor Swift and her recent article in the Wall Street Journal, with this paragraph drawing a comparison to Ava's conceptual book and what Taylor is writing about:

"The way I see it, fans view music the way they view their relationships. Some music is just for fun, a passing fling (the ones they dance to at clubs and parties for a month while the song is a huge radio hit, that they will soon forget they ever danced to). Some songs and albums represent seasons of our lives, like relationships that we hold dear in our memories but had their time and place in the past." - Taylor Swift, Wall Street Journal

Margaret then suggested that we send a copy of Ava's incredible book to Taylor Swift, however the conclusion was drawn that Taylor would probably take it as a threat: 

Love Letters To The Almost Dead

Seriously, I can not put in to words how hilarious this group of authors were.

Holly's explanation of her book was brief but touching. She discussed how hers was a book about California, and it was a metaphor for a time and a place and a change in American culture. Her book contains serious themes, however she was hoping that it comes across as a comedy. I have never before read Holly's books, however I won an ARC of her newest release last night, titled Just Call My Name, and I will definitely be reading and reviewing this incredibly soon!

Melissa De La Cruz, one of my top three authors of all time, spoke about her book and I just wanted to run to the nearest store and buy it, despite having no money!
Her new book, Ring and The Crown, came about when she was reading the Ambassadors (i think that was the name), which is a book all about rich girls wanting to marry British Lords. Melissa wanted to write about how being a Princess isn't all it's cracked up to be, and had the original setting in an alternate history of the war of Independence, however she decided against it, and created a Franco-British Empire. This book contains magic, wonder and all round amazing literature, and is currently top of my TBR shelf! She continued the discussion by saying the book follows 4 girls, all eager to win the ring and the crown in the Court of St James. Melissa apparently gets her kicks and giggles from torturing and tormenting her characters, which is her element and spark. Sounds creepy, but with the way she writes, who cares!

John Corey Whaley discussed his newest book Noggin, which is all about a dying teenager who volunteers to have his head frozen, and then have his head reattached to a different body in 5 years. The punch line is that this teenager doesn't believe it will happen in 5 short years, however it does. The world is not much different from the one we live in today, however to someone who goes to sleep in one year and wakes up in another, the small changes are shocking. The book came about from Whaley's combination of complete desperation and needing something to write after the first book. His first book won several prestigious awards, thus Whaley felt the need to write something worthy of capturing his audiences attention a second time round. This book sounds absurd but wonderfully written, and the concept is so crazy it just might work.

Andrew Smith's book on the other hand is just a collaboration of one insane idea after the other. When asked what his book, Grasshopper Jungle, is all about and the concepts behind his idea, he said with complete sincerity and seriousness that he honestly had no idea what his book is about. Smith lives in a very rural remote area, where he can't even get mail, and he admitted that he goes running every day (probably because there is not much else to do!). The title is, I am assuming, in reference to all the grasshoppers that he hears when he runs; Grasshopper Jungle. According to Andrew Smith, the title of his book has drawn people to the conclusion that he loves bugs, when in reality he hates them! I can't blame him, bugs are gross, however I can see the reasons why people would make that assumptions. Fun fact: Grasshopper Jungle was never intended to be published. Smith quit writing and fired his agent, planning to never publish another work, and thus created Grasshopper Jungle for himself. I believe that this is truly the best way to do anything - because you love your own work, not because you want the money or attention. If that is what you want from writing, or any other job, in the end it's not worth it.

At the end of the discussion, there was the option to ask questions, and I put forward something I was honestly curious about.
I am 19, I write a YA book blog and I'm an avid reader of YA books, more so than any other genre. From this, I have received a fair bit of backlash, with people assuming that I am dumb or stupid or just downright ridiculous for reading books intended for teenagers. I was curious to see whether authors have received similar treatment in their writing of YA.

Their responses were incredible, and I will be dedicating an entire blog post to that subject, as I feel it is something that shouldn't just be thrown on the end of a post.
Stay tuned for that post to follow.

Ultimately, this event was one of the best nights of my life. I have never before experienced such an honest, open and in depth panel of authors who wanted to be there and truly loved their work.

Hats off to all of you, and I wish you luck in your future works,


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