What I learned as a writer networking at Capclave 2014.
|Last day of Capclave and I want to focus on learning more about Young Adult. There are two sessions in particular I want to go to, which, of course, are at the beginning and the end of the time I have at Capclave. So, I arrive early and attend “Writing Realistic Teen and Child Characters,” with Holly Black (author of Spiderwick), who moderated, Annette Klause, Sarah Pinsker, Benjamin Rosenbaum, and Jon Skovron.
The panelists discuss what makes believable and relatable teen characters, need to be seen as having poor impulse control, taking risks that no adult would (knowing the risks better). Kids “absorb” everything, while adults are more rigid and don’t learn as quickly. Jon Skovron said that there’s a tone to Young Adult fiction that can be elusive for adult writers to get just right. Sarah Pinsker added, there are important tropes like a teen needing to prove themselves on their own.
“YA is so new and so transforming,” Holly Black shared, so she doesn’t worry about the genre being in flux. It’s open to possibilities. As moderator, Holly posed the question, “So, what’s the baseline sin?”
Sarah replied, “Dialog that doesn’t match the kid’s character.” Ben Rosenbaum answered, “Characters that are too much of any one thing like being a bully or super noble.” Kids aren’t all one thing. “The hubris of throwing out the slang,” Jon Skovron offered, being considered that kids and teens don’t like being pandered too.
“Do you make choices that limit the story’s life?” Holly asked. The use of clothing can turn a story that is contemporary into historical fiction fast, making wearing blue jeans which may be appropriate forever stay contemporary. Jon Skoron added that what he always liked about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is that the writers chose slang they had invented themselves or was what folks were saying in Sunnydale. That kept the language true and extended that “life” for the audience.
Honestly, the discussion grew real interesting for a while, which I feel best to consider in private about what else may limit the appeal of a YA book, or not.
There was an interesting concluding exchange about teens forms “packs” and issues of family relationships that also create more relatable YA stories.
Okay, now what to do that the first session’s over? I really am only interested in that last session before I have to leave, “Young, Adult, or Both?” which Holly Black will again be moderating, with panelists of Paolo Bacigalupi, Will McIntosh, Annette Krause, and Diana Peterfreund.
I go the Dealer’s Room and buy those books I told myself I was not going to buy. I go to the Con Suite and network, okay, there goes ten minutes. I visit the aisle pushing upcoming Cons and introduce myself to the Chessiecon folks, who are happy to put a name to a face since I’m one of their guests this year, introducing me to that Con’s chair a few minutes later. I walk back toward the Con Suite and there is Holly Black seated at what had been the Koffeeklatch Table in years’ past, smoozing with just a couple of people. Now I’ve really wanted to meet Holly after hearing her on panels, but there hasn’t been an opportunity. That the young ladies at the table are talking hair dying isn’t exactly opportune. As I pause by the table, they talk about Holly’s blue hair, when I can’t help saying to Holly, “I thought your hair was aquamarine.” Holly agrees, but likes calling her new hair color blue. I’m then invited to join in Holly’s Klatch that Capclave apparently forgot to promote. Well, you’ve got to seize opportunity to learn from other authors any chance you can get… without being a pest. She apparently feels the same way, mentioning shortly thereafter while on a book tour she was in a book store and passing the long line of people, praise Charlene Harris’ work, when Charlene Harris turns around in the line and thanks her. Holly shared it could have been worse, happier she was praising Charlene’s work.
The discussion’s pretty great from that point and I ask about how Holly first got published. “I don’t recommend this…” she starts, explaining that she shared her first book with a friend, who had several books published, and they were trying to figure out whether her book was Young Adult or not. So, her author friend passed her book to his editor and asked the editor for their opinion. “Definitely YA,” and then sends her a contract. No agent, no submission process, “boom” sold. “I’d definitely get an agent first before signing that contract now, which I was delighted to get,” she says.
Following up on her comment from Friday’s “Abusing the Authors” panel, I mention I’m a “pantser” versus a “plotter.” She explains that she finds the writing process painful and asks me how many books I’ve sold. I tell her (yesterday was my best sales day ever). Her eyes light up and I guess that particular number didn’t just look good to me. She asks me how the writing process is for me, and I admit I like writing first drafts and the editing process, enjoying it, which seems may be a rarity.
Time flies and I go to that last session, “Adult, Teen, or Both?” which Holly Black moderates, with Paolo Bacigalupi, Annette Klause, Will McIntosh, and Diana Peterfreud. The session focused on how YA differs from Middle Grade and Adult books. What I found particularly enlightening is how easily you can get a book banned in libraries, or certain parts of the country, not for using bad language or having issues of sex, but inferring teens may be doing things they do – without your characters being involved. Writers need to consider their choices carefully. The fact that terrific amounts of violence seem to be considered not traumatizing to young readers while “other things” might be perhaps should be questioned more. European readers seem to feel violence is really traumatizing and “other things” are natural.
That books can be moved in libraries from Children’s to Young Adult as the subject matter moves into other areas is something I hadn’t considered, but based on the discussion that day, certainly made sense. Interesting world we live in where categorizing a book as adult or teen can grow blurred – for both writers and readers.
So, that ended my day. Being a fan at Capclave worked out pretty well. I’ve learned about a possible anthology opportunity, cut my cost for my book booth at Chessiecon, networked well over three days, had a wonderful time at a Koffeeklatch with Holly Black, and learned a lot about writing and the business of writing Young Adult these days, among a lot more.
Perhaps next year, I will finally be an invited guest at my local con. Ah, the bench marks in the life of a writer.
Author of the Highmage's Plight Series