I went to Kennesaw’s Annual Conference on Literature for Children and Young Adults back in March and got the chance to meet Jay Asher and Lisa McMann. They were so cool! So the conference was geared more for teachers than writers, but I still walked away with some great tips, good reads, and brimming with inspiration.
Let me start with Jay, or since I’m not his buddy or anything, Mr. Jay Asher. I snuck into the workshop he was conducting even though it was just for Kennesaw students (sorry Kennesaw) and wow, I’m glad I’m such a rebel. The inside story of how Thirteen Reasons Why came into fruition was pretty awesome—especially when Jay (okay, I just can’t be that formal) told us that when he first acquired an agent the ending was totally different! In the original version…oh wait, I think I’m not supposed to tell, but it has to do with Hannah and let’s just say…she didn’t do that major thing that she did! Pretty interesting, huh?
Jay also told us how he’s had to deal with the controversy of the book, but how if he wrote it any other way it would just not sound authentic. I completely agree. If there is one thing you have to do as a YA writer it is BE AUTHENTIC! I mean, Holden Caulfield isn’t epitomized as one of the great American teenagers of all time for nothing. Nobody, ESPECIALLY a teenager, likes a phony! So even though writing about the life of a modern teenager when you’re so not a modern teenager may be tricky, be sure, be sure, be sure it’s anything but phony. It has to sound real, be real, for a YA audience to follow it. Trust me, I taught eleventh grade English and if there’s anything my students taught me, it’s how incredibly unforgiving they are of phonies!
Enough with the preaching, let’s move on…
I gushed like an idiot when I met Lisa McMann—even though when I met her I hadn’t yet read any of the books in her WAKE trilogy (I rushed out and bought WAKE and read it soon afterward, though).
Can I just ask, does every writer decide he’s going to be writer in the fourth grade? I have heard or read so many authors reference the fourth grade as the year they knew writing was their calling. Maybe it just strikes a chord with me because that’s when I knew, too (which might have to do with me winning a writing contest that year. I’ll share a bit of that little story on a later blog). Anyway, when Lisa gave her speech about writing and where she gets her ideas and specifically, what inspires her to write for a YA audience, it was like she was reading the story of my life (sans the whole actually getting published part and having dinner once with Madeleine L’Engle). She is a great speaker and got me super motivated. Of course, I lingered afterward and came right up to her and gushed, and gushed, and gushed about what a great speech she gave. It was pretty embarrassing and I’m guessing she must have considered traveling with a bodyguard after our encounter, but…yeah, it was cool!
So, if you have a chance to go to a conference on literature, even if it’s not specifically for writers, GO! I came back home incredibly inspired and cranked out the rest of my YA novel, GOODBYE, CHARLIE, still on the high that becoming a published writer is actually possible. Yes, we all know about the rejection side of things, but…hey, just walk into a bookstore. Look at all those books… it’s happened, lots of times, to lots of people. Maybe, someday, even…
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