Oh, where do I even begin?! If you didn’t attend this year’s YALLFest, you missed one heck of a party! The weather was perfect, the crowds weren’t terribly overwhelming (unless you happened to be in line to get autographs), the panels were both informative an highly entertaining, and the lineup of authors was stellar! (Be warned. I’ll be using a lot of exclamation points in this post. I had that good a time!)
My friends and I drove to Charleston from Greenville (about a 3-hour trip) Friday evening so that we would be bright-eyed when things got started on Saturday morning. (Didn’t quite work out as two of the three of us didn’t get a great night’s sleep. Oh well.) After breakfast–and a fair amount of coffee–we headed downtown to join the throngs already in line to get into the first event.
YALLFest kicked off at 10am with the sold out keynote with Veronica Roth and Rae Carson. These two best-selling authors spoke at length about what it really means to be a strong female character and how the word “strong” can often be misinterpreted or used to belittle characters–both male and female–who have different types of strengths. Strong doesn’t always mean physically capable. It can mean that someone has overcome some type of burden or pushed through a perceived weakness. “Strong,” then, should be redefined or perhaps substituted with other words that more accurately portray what a character–or a person–is going through. (Deep stuff, I know, but definitely an interesting conversation.)
Most of the remainder of the day was spent making tough decisions. Do I wait in line to get my books signed? Do I attend this panel or that one? What’s a bibliophile to do?! Well, I opted to attend panels that interested me. (I actually only got one autograph–Ally Condie–and my friend got that one for me. Waiting in line is not my thing. I’d much rather actually hear the authors speak!)
The first panel I chose was All the Feels, and it featured authors who write contemporary realistic fiction. The authors were Rachel Cohn, Gayle Forman, Ellen Hopkins, David Levithan, Stephanie Perkins, Rainbow Rowell, and the panel was moderated by Aaron Hartzler. Given the author lineup, I probably don’t need to tell you why I chose this panel. These authors spoke about how young people–and even older readers–can often read their own stories in books and how, oftentimes, books are challenged or banned outright because parents and authority figures want to protect their children from the harsh realities of life. (Most don’t seem to realize that books help many young people see how to escape or cope with these difficult situations…and somehow discover some hope that things will get better.)
The next panel I attended was After the End, featuring Alexandra Bracken, Ally Condie, Marie Lu, Carrie Ryan, Lauren Oliver, and Margaret Stohl. The panel was moderated by Mike Johnston, and it focused on dystopian and post-apocalyptic YA fiction. This discussion got heavy pretty quickly. (Not surprising considering the what these books are about.) The authors spoke about how these novels often mirror what is currently going on in the world. Do we, in fact, live in a dystopia right now? (Most of the authors think that we do.) Are we constantly rebuilding from world-ending catastrophes? (Think about the aftermath of World War II or even September 11th.) On a lighter note, it’s also kind of fun to ask the question “What would I do if ?” These novels allow us to pose those questions to ourselves in a relatively safe way. (I say “relatively” because these types of novels often illicit very strong reactions, and emotional trauma is not uncommon!) What would I do if there was a zombie apocalypse? If love were considered a disease? If the government controlled what I could eat, where I lived, who I married? It’s definitely interesting to think about.
During the 1:00 hour, I took a break. One of my friends got her copy of Allegiant signed, and my other friend and I did a bit of people watching while enjoying lunch at Joe Pasta. (I would have gotten a bookplate signed by Ms. Roth, but I was informed that she was only signing books. I left mine at home. That might be something the powers-that-be should consider changing next year. Not all of us can or want to haul around bags–or wagons–full of books all day.) We considered getting some autographs, but the lines were outrageously long, and I doubt my bad knee would have been happy with all of that standing.
At 2:00, I went to the panel titled Brave New Dark. (I was a little late because our lunch service was a bit slow.) This panel featured authors whose books aren’t exactly sunshine and unicorns. The authors were Cinda Williams Chima, Kami Garcia, Nancy Holder, Tahereh Mafi, Ransom Riggs, Veronica Rossi, and moderator Lev Grossman. This talk touched a little on how we can’t have light without a bit of darkness. The authors talked about their worst fears. (FYI, Tahereh Mafi is terrified of spiders. Who knew?!) They also discussed how they get in the mood to write such darkness. Some watch horror movies, others create spooky playlists. Some view these books as a kind of therapy. They face their worst fears in a safe, nonthreatening, controlled environment…and they allow us to join them.
Next, I attended the Grand Ole YA’Opry. If the title didn’t clue you in, this panel featured mostly Southern authors. (I’m still not sure what one of the authors was doing there. She kept directing the discussion to Pennsylvania…which is decidedly NOT South!) The authors featured on this panel were Michelle Hodkin, David Macinnis Gill, C.J. Lyons, Myra McEntire, Stephanie Perkins, Carrie Ryan, Victoria Schwab, J.E. Thompson, and moderator Brendan Reichs. Some of the authors are true Southerners (born and raised in the South and have the good sense to stay here). Others set their books in the South, were born here, or relocated here later. They discussed their favorite Southern foods, phrases, and places in Charleston to visit. They also talked about what makes the South so special. One topic I thought was particularly interesting was how Southerners are viewed in the rest of the country…and even in other YA novels. To quote the movie Sweet Home Alabama, “Just because I talk slow doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”
The final panel I went to was probably the most exciting: YA-List in Hollywood 2013. The authors featured were Rachel Cohn, David Levithan, Melissa de la Cruz, Gayle Forman, and the surprise guest, Veronica Roth. The panel was moderated by the hilarious Margaret Stohl, and the authors talked about the upcoming (or current) adaptations of their novels on the big and small screens. Cohn and Levithan spoke about Naomi & Ely’s No Kiss List. Melissa de la Cruz talked about the Lifetime series based on her Witches of East End series. Gayle Forman spoke about the upcoming adaptation of If I Stay (a book I absolutely loved). And, of course, Veronica Roth talked about Divergent…which hits theaters in March! Each author spoke about how they have to give up some control of their “babies” when these movies are made. They have little to no say in what someone else does with their stories (which would drive me crazy).
For the next hour or so after this final panel, I waited in a line. Glamorous, no? The music hall had to be cleared for the sold-out Smackdown, so I claimed a spot in line for myself and my friends. We finally got in at around 6:00, and we were treated to quite the party! Tiger Beat, a rock band made up of Libba Bray, Daniel Ehrenhaft, Natalie Standiford, and Barnabas Miller, took the stage first. I wasn’t totally prepared for how awesome this would be! I’ve always said that authors are my rock stars, but these actually are!!! I felt like I was watching a professional rock band. (Seriously, guys, if you cut a CD, I WILL BUY IT!) Bray and Miller have amazing vocals, and Ehrenhaft absolutely shredded on guitar. Thankfully, people were videoing this performance for posterity. (My phone was about to die, so I didn’t get any vids.) The band did covers of several popular songs like Purple Rain, Tainted Love, and several others. Their most popular song, though, was a tribute to the man who does it all, David Levithan. Check it out here!
After Tiger Beat performed, it was time for the YA Smackdown. This pitted authors against each other in a weird improv competition. Some of this was painful to watch–improv is not for everyone–but I did enjoy the Lord of the Rings story set to the tune of Beyonce’s Halo. Again, a lovely person recorded it for all to see! Mad props to Barnabas Miller on vocals!
If you can’t tell, I had an awesome time at YALLFest this weekend! Coming back to my real life after such an event was a bit of a letdown. My to-read list grew by a lot, I got to see some friends, and, best of all, I got to spend the day with my own personal rock stars–the authors who write the stories that let me escape from the world for a while.
Before next year’s YALLFest, I really need to invest in a better camera. My phone just didn’t cut it. I took a few decent pictures, though, and I put them all together on this Animoto video for your viewing pleasure. Join me at YALLFest next year, won’t you?