Let's go to a YA book festival; feat. Samantha Chaffin and Spandana Myneni

Saturday morning, I rolled out of bed, and I went to YALLWEST. 

Let the feeding begin. 

Let the feeding begin. 

Yallwest is a weekend-long YA book festival with loads of panels and authors and lines of people trying to get to the authors. It was a little crazy. It was a little delicious. But while I wasn't at Coachella, I stumbled away from Yallwest in an overloaded manner all the same. 

I missed the opening ceremony, but I snuck in late to the panel: My Name is [Writer] and I am a Basketcase. Basically all the authors sat around and discussed their cocktails of disorders: ADHD, depression, anxiety, OCD, and another splash of depression. They assured me that the stress and anxiety and insecurity does not go away when one is published.

For some reason, this made me feel marginally better. 

Following this uplifting panel, I met up with the writer-Tibetan hermit, Spandana Myneni. Myneni spun out dark and strange short fiction on Figment. Now, she lives in a cave and is writing her second novel on mirages and islands and race-cars. There are characters too, I hear. I haven't read it yet. 

We hurried off to the panel So You Want to Be a Writer? Various editors, publishers, and agents spoke on this panel.  

They discussed the rise and fall of genres and tropes, and the most useful walk away wisdom was that agents and publishers are buying books for publication in almost two years. So, if you're writing to respond to trends, chances are, you're probably too late. Also, vampires are dead. 

After that learning that gay witches haven't had their day yet—thanks for that question, random panel-attendee!—we scurried off to the Santa Monica High School cafeteria to hear about sucking. We converged with the Samantha Chaffin, a writer of historical fictional pirates, as well as contemporary thrillers. 

We got to boo all the authors on the panel because we were celebrating sucking. We also got to boo Veronica Roth because she was late. Chaffin may write about pirates, but she was not mean enough to boo with proper enthusiasm. ARGH! BOOOO!

Authors basically read their worst Amazon and Goodreads reviews. 

Veronica Roth read aloud this review of Divergent

Reading this book feels like eating lousy fast food: The writing is just smooth enough that you keep reading, but the actual content sucks, so you don't actually enjoy it. The characters are irritating and unlikable (imagine an annoying high schooler who's constantly trying to ditch her nerdy friends to get with the popular kids and you've got the main character. The others are even shallower). The actual plot might be more interesting if they ever got to it, but the focus is all on the characters - which would be great if this book actually had interesting characters. I got this book because I felt like something simple and random, and it was on top of the kindle store list. Bad decision.

Veronica Roth read this with a twinkle in her eye. I think it's because she wrote a multi-million dollar book and film franchise and this guy is still eating Taco Bell. But what do I know? 

Also, we got a lightning round of Do You Suck at X, answer Yes or No. That was awesome. Almost everyone sucked at musical instruments though. They should work on that. 

Except for instruments that involve sucking. 

I fled the cafeteria to go solo at Realistically Fantastic and Fantastically Real, moderated by Lauren Oliver. Authors talked about inspiration... Frankly, I don't remember this panel. It was supposed to be about making realistic fantasy worlds and fantastic real worlds. I listened for a bit and then found myself reading a free box excerpt. Then writing. 

I think my attention span was fading fast. Fortunately after meeting up with Myneni and Chaffin again, we agreed to get food. We waited in long food truck lines, and I got tater tots and a jalapeño-covered hot dog. It was delicious. 

I actually had napkins in my purse, a Frito fell out of Chaffin's sandwich, and I declared it all fortuitous. It was an omen. 

We ate, and we talked about books, and as well as a creepy guy who tried to give his daughter to Chaffin. Also, I wanted a drink and Myneni laughed at me. (Getting a jalapeño hot dog and no drink is a terrible idea, no matter how cheap you're feeling.) 

Chaffin and Myneni ordered gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. Think cheese packed with pork and the sound of your heart playing a little pavane on the violin. 

Anyway, we ate and stared at the line going around the entire auditorium. That line was for Marie Lu and Veronica Roth's "Teanote," a discussion between the two mega-popular authors over tea. 

Now, I like tea very much. And I like listening to YA people chat. This panel and my name on it. However, I had spaced out and forgotten to buy tickets until they were all sold out. (So had Myneni) Chaffin had her act together and bought everything (including totes and books and everything) and we decided—with all the sophistication of people with college degrees from a fancy school (go Trojans!)—to just get in line and see if we could walk in. 

It might have been the jalapeños reaching my brain, but this seemed like a good idea and not a way to get us kicked out. 

"Get behind me," whispered Chaffin as we approached the front of the line. I ducked behind her as she flashed her "teanote" bracelet. 

I darted behind Myneni, who was just strolling through the entrance to the first floor seating.

An usher looks at her. "Can I see your bracelet?" 

Myneni, I kid you not, pulls up her sleeve and flash her big, black, Tibetan rosary, and then drops her arm. "Oh, is this the VIP seating? Where's the normal seating?"

The woman points to the staircase where Chaffin has been directed, and is watching us, and we hurry up the stairs after her. 

We made it. The Frito was a good omen. 

Veronica Roth and Marie Lu sipped their tea and talked about Star Wars, space operas—Roth is writing a space opera duology—and death. 

"How do you choose characters that die?" asked a young audience member. 

"Characters kills themselves," answered Marie Lu. 

We all laughed hysterically. 

Samantha Chaffin goes wild for the teanote. Spandana Myneni determinedly keeps a low-profile. 

Samantha Chaffin goes wild for the teanote. Spandana Myneni determinedly keeps a low-profile. 

Um, yeah, like, I feel like my characters take on a life of their own," Marie Lu continued. "Sometimes, I actually don't know a lot of what's happening in the books. Until it's already happened." She paused and glanced at her tea. "And then it's like, oh no. And they've died." We laugh. "This is why I can't follow outlines. It ruins the rest of my outline. I don't think I've ever had a death that was actually planned..."


"I feel like, I'm a director with no power over my actors."

"It's weird," said Roth." Sometimes you hit a place in the manuscript, and you're like, I've been setting up a character death for fifty pages. I had no idea. You reach the point, and you're like... Oh. I know what needs to happen here. Oh, no."

They both adopt British accents and clutch their tea cups. 

"Oh, no."

"Curses!" Roth exclaimed. "I feel like the longer I've had a character, the more their death is planned. For me. Because it has to be for a very good reason." The audience laughs, nervously. "I have planned several character demises in advance from the very beginning. The ones you are thinking of, yes, those were planned. Since the first act."

"And now tea," declared Marie Lu. They sip. 

"Next question!" 

Death done with, our final panel was on "Dangerous YA." Authors on this panel talked about sex, drugs, and getting lost in the mountains. Dangerous stuff. Also, times when novels and topics were censored, particularly those addressing sexuality. 

Afterwards, we agreed that we needed some rest and we wandered south to Urth Cafe. I ordered a Spanish latte the size of my face. I also ordered a Tre Latti something because I had no idea what it was. It was milk-soaked cake with a candied petal on top. It was delicious. 

We sat on the patio and drank and "talked shop." I admitted that while writing The Princess and the Fox Demon, one of my favorite scenes was when Asuka and Chirikai visit a hot spring in the mountains and how there is sexual tension and humor. But I discovered a go-to writing quirk. When I was writing the sequel, The Hiwau and the Moon Consort, I once again had two characters in the mountains. And I decided that they really ought to kept naked and visit a hot spring. When I started to type the first word, I realized, with horror, that I was literally recycling a scene.

I also said "naked sexy times" very loudly in a crowded cafe. This is why Myneni will not leave her cave to associate with me. 

Chaffin admitted her writing quirk. 

Sipping her own latte, Myneni described writing her first full novel over the course of one month, over 4000 words a day. "I think I lost ten pounds." She wrote so fast, she felt like her characters had to be fast and running through action... But no time for feelings or introspection. 

Over the course of a couple hours, we also mapped tension for her use of four act structure, I said I didn't want to do a map for my fantasy world, and Chaffin has done five drafts of her pirate novel, which blows my mind. Editing second and third drafts makes me want to sob, sing to birds, and wait for a prince to come. 

Someday when spring is here, we'll find our loved ones near, and the birds will SING~🎶 

Food and cafe pictures shamelessly stolen. 

But in all seriousness, it was a great day. The Yallwest folks did a wonderful job putting this first book festival together, and I'll be coming next year, ready to shove teens aside. I will be more responsible with my tickets. 

I will go with writer friends. 

I will not order a jalapeño hot dog. 


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