So you think you can YALLWEST
(There were 2 days of YALLWEST, but I was so exhausted from Day 1 that I could not attend Day 2 for fear of death by books.)
Yesterday I woke up at 7am and stared at the ceiling for a full 45 minutes in an effort to keep myself from dive-bombing my roommate's bed like a 4-year-old at Christmas (you're welcome, roommate).
I got to Santa Monica High School at 9 am with a plan. I was freaking cool as a Canadian moose, with my tote and my schedule and my wristbands of many colors, and I was going to blend in with these high schoolers and youths and not be one of those creepster adults who shove their way to the front of lines.
Then I saw Beautiful Creatures co-author Margaret Stohl waving gold VIP wristbands over her head as the throng began to bum-rush her, and I kind of lost my shit a little bit.
So we passed through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then I walked through a balloon arch that definitely blew over and hit me in the face.
THE MORNING KEYNOTE...
The first event of the day was Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children author Ransom Riggs's opening keynote, which took place in the classiest high school auditorium known to man, complete with the Samohi Jazz Combo playing us in.
But first, the mayor of Santa Monica made a very articulate speech: "I hereby declare the weekend of April 11-12, 2015 YALLWEST weekend. Now I'm going to have to go do other mayor things."
He also named Margaret Stohl official mayor of YALLWEST. This is her, milking it:
Ransom Riggs took the stage to talk about FAQs he gets as a writer, mainly "How do you become a writer?" and "Where do you get your ideas?"
He said, "You don't become a writer until you figure out where you ideas come from," launching into the story of how he wrote fantasy as a 12-year-old in Florida, then became a filmmaker in his backyard and later at the USC School of Cinematic Arts (fight on), and then blogged at Mental Floss with fellow doer-of-all-things John Green.
He told us how he was looking for a new writing desk at the Rose Bowl Swap Meet in Pasadena, he stumbled upon a man selling a box of old photographs instead.
Long story short, OBSESSION. It led to Miss Peregrine.
"The mind is a fiction-making machine," he said. Sometimes you just have to get out of your own way.
(I also met up with fellow blogger and YA writer Aubrey Cann at this point, whom you should all read because she's brilliant and hilarious and has really cool glasses frames.)
PANEL: My Name is (writer) and I am a Basketcase*
*TRIGGER WARNING: if needed, skip to next section*
Probably one of the most inspiring panels I've ever attended, and this one, moderated by [Mayor] Margaret Stohl, really was hardly even about writing.
To a roomful of a hundred or more teenagers (and some adults), they went down the line and talked about the mental illnesses they struggle with. Some examples:
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist author Rachel Cohn: "I am what's called a high-functioning depressive."
Beautiful Creatures co-author Kami Garcia: "I worked with special ed students; little did I know I'm super special, too... I have ADHD with hyperfocus... meaning I worry that I suck all the time."
Going Bovine author Libba Bray: "I have OCD. I've also got a lot of handwipes."
Anna and the French Kiss author Stephanie Perkins: "ADHD, OCD, severe depression, panic and anxiety disorder..."
Delirium author Lauren Oliver: "Any sort of self-destructive thing you can think of, I have done it, often at the same time, because I'm also very productive."
They sat up there and were totally frank, saying that they wanted to see people who we thought were successful talk about the good and bad times. "Everybody is dealing with some kind of damage," Garcia said. "And that's okay."
"And I am not just a basketcase," Stohl added. They went on to speak about their coping mechanisms, finding help and healing, how depression is glamorized in pop culture and online, and learning compassion and empathy—especially for yourself.
"I was on the phone with my dear friend Gayle Forman [author of If I Stay]," Perkins said, "and as I was saying these horrible things about myself, she interrupted and said, 'Stephanie, stop being so mean to my friend Stephanie.'"
This panel was honestly one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. (But you know, I heard that YA writers don't deal with real, hard-hitting issues, so we should probably just all go home.)
SIGNING: Shannon Hale
Okay, so... you know how I have this thing for Shannon Hale?
As in, have read almost every book she's ever written and will gladly talk about her to you until either we both die of old age or I pass out from lack of oxygen, whichever comes first?
Yes. So. Yesterday was the first time I have EVER been in the same city at the same time with her. If I'm honest, this was probably mostly the reason why I was up so early. I was a wreck. So after the "Basketcase" panel I braved the lines...
...and I bought her new book...
...and I stood in another line for an hour...
...and then it happened.
You guys. I got to tell her how she was one of the reasons I became a writer. She was the kindest, most lovely person. And then she asked me about Privateer, and I swear to you, I had a series of mini heart attacks.
And you thought I was kidding when I said dreams would be realized.
All other Great Moments can suck it. It's probably all downhill from here.
PANEL: That Time I Sucked
I went back to the Cafeteria for this panel, and ran smack-dab into fellow Figment-er, writer, and instigator of #WatchMeWrite Emily Warren (also known as E.R. Warren). Her hands are pictured below. Aren't they lovely.
Reichs went on to ask us to boo after each panelist's introduction, in honor of the panel's title. At this point, I think I made a whimpering noise, to which Emily responded, "Are you too nice for this panel?"
PFF. I CAN BOO. I WAS BORN TO BOO. *IS AGGRESSIVELY NOT NICE TO PROVE A POINT*
After the intros, they read their favorite one-star review about their books (something I would never have been able to do, but wow okay). Reichs's killed me: "'This was my first and last book.'"
One of the best moments was when they talked about how to react to negative feedback. They all agreed that reviews are usually for the reviewer and not the author, but they also mentioned that sometimes, when you get a lot of not-so-good feedback about one specific part in your manuscript, people might be on to something.
"If a lot of people tell you something's not working, they're usually right," Ghetto Cowboy author Greg Neri said. "If they tell you how to fix it, they're usually wrong."
It was also established that all panelists universally suck at playing musical instruments.
PANEL: 'Strong Female Characters' Ugh
I'll be honest with y'all, I went to this panel with the sole intention of hearing female authors rant about all the things wrong with the trope of the 'Strong Female Character'.
Pleased to report that that is exactly what I got.
If allowed to talk about this, I would go on forever. So here are some soundbites:
Hale: "I've never been asked why I write strong male characters. This term 'strong women characters' comes from the understanding that strong males are the default."
Perkins: "I've actually never been asked why I write strong female characters, and that is because I write romance. I write contemporary romance, and there's a misconception that these women are not strong."
The Body Finder author Kimberly Derting: "I think we're drawn to 'warrior' women because they're women who can protect themselves and live without fear. That's real freedom."
Hale: "It kills me that we've created this society where we raise boys to be ashamed to like stories about girls. We're making boys afraid to empathize with girls. [...] We just want to recognize ourselves in stories. When we do, we think, 'Wait a minute, I'm like that character. If they're worthy of a story, maybe I'm worthy of a story, too."
LUNCH BREAK... AT 3PM.
At this point, I realized I hadn't eaten since 7:45am, and shamelessly consumed a grilled cheese sandwich with mac n' cheese, onions, and pulled pork while Emily dangled tater tots in front of my face.
It was all worth it until a Frito fell out of my sandwich and Emily decided that it was an omen.
AFTERNOON KEYNOTE: Tea with Marie & V
Yeah, so essentially, I paid $5 to watch Legend author Marie Lu and Veronica Roth sit on stage drinking Earl Grey and talk about Star Wars.
AND IT WAS GLORIOUS.
Roth talked vaguely about her upcoming space opera duology, which will be about a boy who teams up with an enemy to get revenge.
Lu talked about her obsession with fighter pilots and writing from the point of view of a character whose worldview is fundamentally different from yours (see: Adelina, the anti-hero from Lu's new book The Young Elites).
Roth then asked for questions from the audience, but not before begging us not to spoil anything in their books. Of course, who should yell out the first question but an adorable little girl who was wondering whether they plan to kill off their characters.
Roth: "You answer, [Marie], this question was clearly directed at you. [laugh-cries]"
Lu: "I don't think I've had a death that was actually planned. I'm like a director with no control over my actors."
Aren't we all.
PANEL: Dangerous YA
The last panel of the day for me was in a tiny Gallery that held approximately 30 people and felt somewhat like a mental institution. This was probably fitting, considering the topic.
They talked about survival stories, writing through fear, why it's important to have darkness in YA, and censorship and book-banning.
On learning empathy, Tyrell author Coe Booth said, "We see darkness and violence on TV all the time. The amazing thing about books is that we go inside it and experience it ourselves, rather than watch it go by."
When asked whether there's an age threshold to read certain books, Crank author Ellen Hopkins and Neri both pointed out that while of course they get nervous when they hear about very young readers reading their work, they also recognize that kids/teens will seek out books that they need at that point in their lives. "Sometimes reading about it can help them deal with it in their real lives," Neri said.
Not all of them were New York Times best-selling authors, as Rapture Practice author Aaron Hartzler pointed out, but he also noted, "The readers who need my story the most are finding it, one at a time."
New Life Goal: To write books that are the most stolen from libraries.
AT THE END OF THE DAY...
...we headed out to Urth Caffe in Santa Monica.
Emily bought a cup of coffee that was as big as her face. We talked about our current projects, our outlining processes, our go-to writing quirks (mine is dream sequences. Usually ones that make no sense. I'll let Emily tell you what hers is), and illustrated maps in the front of fantasy books.
It was the perfect end to a perfect day.
And that is the end of what I hope is a somewhat intelligible YALLWEST update! Until next year (I hope).