LA Times Book Festival Recap: John Green, Laini Taylor, Veronica Roth, Laurie Halse Anderson & more!
By far the most crowded panel at the festival was John Green’s conversation with David Ulin on Saturday morning. John had a lot to say on books, storytelling, the online Nerdfighter community and The Fault in Our Stars movie. Here are a few of our favorite moments from the discussion:
On the internet:
“What drives me crazy about the internet is that a lot of places aren’t great at nuance. They’re not ‘Wait, let’s talk and have an extended conversation about that before we decide how we feel about Ben Affleck playing Superman.'”
After someone pointed out that Ben Affleck is playing Batman, not Superman, he continued. “We’re like ‘OMG, OH NO! Ben Affleck is going to be Spiderman. And we lose it. And then poor Ben Affleck, who just wants to be the Green Goblin, is sitting at home like ‘Why do all these people hate me?’ Because he’s a human being and he has the internet, so he knows.”
“We’re not good at hearing voices that are different from our own respectfully, and that’s problematic to me.”
On collaboration in storytelling:
“To try to individualize a novel seems very problematic to me; all of them, the good ones and the bad ones, were kind of in some way made by all of us. Everything we were doing artistically feeds into the work we’re doing now. I prefer to think of it that way, partly because it makes less pressure on me, it doesn’t mean I have to do something extraordinary. I just have to repackage stuff that other people have already made…basically. That’s my writing advice—STEAL. (Don’t steal, don’t steal).”
On innovation in storytelling:
“I think in general literature has remained astonishingly innovative in the 21st century, even when it’s not formally innovative. Books haven’t responded as dramatically to the disruption of the internet as maybe I expected. We haven’t seen as many hypertext novels and transmedia novels that I expected. Book are an incredibly good technology, which is why they’ve lasted quite awhile.”
On internalizing fiction:
“You live inside of someone else, which is as close to a miracle as anything I’ve ever directly observed. That idea that you can not be yourself for awhile is almost a supernatural idea, or maybe it is a supernatural idea, because of course you can’t not be yourself. You’re stuck inside the prison of your body, the prison of your consciousness. Your eyes are the only eyes you’ll ever see out of. But when you read a story and you’re living inside of another character, you don’t feel like yourself, you do feel like you have a kind of empathy that isn’t available to you on a regular basis.”
On editing and revision:
John says he and his editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel, typically delete 80% of his first drafts. “I’m not a slow writer, I can write a bunch of words in a day, I just can’t write good ones.”
On his favorite lines in his books:
He says one of his favorite lines from Looking for Alaska is “If people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.” Originally in the manuscript, it was precipitation, but a copyeditor changed it to rain.
His other favorite line is also from Alaska, and was inpsired by a conversation with his wife: “Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia.”
On love stories:
“I love romance novels. I am a totally unapologetic fan of Edwardian bodice rippers with Fabio on the cover. Everyone’s like ‘it’s the same book over again’ and I’m like ‘NO. It’s not the same book over again.’ I think I would be much more likely to become a romance novelist if I weren’t a guy. I like writing love stories. The Fault in Our Stars is very much a love story.”
“[The producers] said we really want to make this, and I talked to them about what’s really important to me. If you’re going to make a studio movie with a girl who is wearing a nasal cannula in every scene in the movie, then maybe. If you’re going to make a studio movie where sometimes her lungs feel better so we can get pretty pictures, then no. They cared a lot about the story.”
“They were really scared of the readers of the story. They were genuinely afraid of disappointing you guys. And I actually think that’s a really good place to make a movie from. I really think that it’s good. I might be wrong, I’ve been wrong before. Maybe it will come out and you’ll go ‘OH. MY. GOSH. It’s the WORST.’ I’m sure you’ll let me know.”
“It’s their movie, it’s not my movie, but I’m extremely proud of the work they did.”
Young Adult Fantasy: The Real & the Unreal
My absolute favorite panel on Saturday was the fantasy panel with Laini Taylor, John Corey Whaley, Soman Chainani, Cynthia Lietich Smith and Margaret Stohl. It was lively and fast paced, so my notes are a bit scattered, but here are a few highlights:
On writing process:
Cynthia Lietich Smith said she usually deletes her first draft (to which Laini replied, “that was you?! I knew I’d heard of someone doing that! I’ve had nightmares about this!”), so she can get it out of her system and know the world and then write the novel she’s supposed to write. She also uses Xanadu in the background when she’s stuck, because it’s so painful to listen to that her mind would rather do anything else, and that helps get it on track.
Laini said she uses Scrivener to keep herself organized, and she has two documents up, one where she can test sentences out, and the other is her working draft.
Margaret says she uses notecards and writes extensive outlines.When she’s stuck she will write the same sentence over and over again until her brain wanders and she can move on again.
Soman says he’s been known to walk downstairs and out onto the street without putting pants on when he’s drafting.
On building believable fantasy worlds:
Without fail each of the authors said they focus first on characters, and the world will follow.
On next books:
Soman promised the sequel to his first book, which challenged the concepts of good and evil as being black and white, would challenge the binary concepts of gender, and the third book would challenge old/young. Laini hinted that she might revisit the Daughter of Smoke and Bone world for a character who was introduced in Days of Blood and Starlight, and whose role expands in the final book. Cynthia said she was working on the next book in her Feral series. Margaret has Dangerous Creatures coming out with Kami Garcia, which is Ridley and Link’s story in the Beautiful Creatures universe, and also the sequel to her solo book Icons, Idols.
Veronica Roth & Leigh Bardugo
Ok, I already knew I loved Veronica Roth and Leigh Bardugo’s writing, but now I have a bit of a friend crush on these ladies (especially Leigh, who is downright hilarious).
Leigh on why YA literature resonates with people of all ages:
“That feeling never goes away of finding somewhere to belong.”
Veronica on why she chose to write about Tris:
“I tried writing from a guy’s perspective, and it didn’t feel right. Something about a young man leaving a repressing home and self-actualizing and taking risks and jumping off buildings into nets and stuff didn’t feel surprising. It’s a story that already exists a million times over—man leaves home and becomes more manly.”
On how Tris began:
“The voice came first. I had this quote I really liked from the play Agamemnon, ‘My will is mine. I will not make it soft for you.’ I wanted the kind of character that could deliver that line.”
Veronica, on writing Four:
“Four is a little more poetic, a little more stream-of-consciousness-ey. He doesn’t hold things back from you, and that’s something we might think of as being slightly more feminine.”
Veronica on Tris and Four’s relationship:
“I didn’t want one person’s strength to require the sacrifice of the other. I think there can be two strong people but they have to be complicated people. I think it’s important to show he’s a human being, not just man candy.”
Veronica discussing herself in high school:
“I was poser, actually. I was a major poser.” She dated the lead singer of a metal band, and that’s where a lot of the style for Dauntless, the black uniforms, piercings and tattoos came from. She talked about how surprisingly nice and chivalrous these people were, especially if you found yourself in a mosh pit without wanting to be there.
Veronica on reading:
When you get older you approach a book with skepticism. You’re like ‘prove to me that you are worth my time!’ When you’re younger I think you approach a book like ‘This is going to be worth my time and I can’t wait!’ All I want is to go back to that, because I think I would enjoy books more.” She said she read Animorphs, Harry Potter and Madeleine L’Engle growing up.
Veronica on Siege & Storm:
“I love Sturmhound! I just want him to kiss someone! Anyone, female, male.” (AGREED)
Ava Dellaira and Stephen Chbosky
Ava and Stephen worked together on the film adaptation for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Stephen encouraged Ava, who holds a poetry degree from the prestigious Iowa workshop, to write young adult fiction, which turned into Love Letters to the Dead. She read a passage, which was one of the letters to Kurt Cobain (one of my favorites from the book), then she and Stephen did a Q&A.
Books that influenced them growing up:
Stephen – To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, and a homemade book he saw during school when he was a kid that made him realize books can be written by anyone, they don’t just spring into existence.
Ava – The Babysitters Club, Little House on the Prairie
On drawing inspiration from their life experiences:
Ava used some of the fairy games she played with her sister and other shared experiences in the book, and for the most part, people have responded positively to the depictions.
On writing about darkness:
Stephen said you have to take breaks, and for him, it was therapeutic to film Charlie’s breakdown, and get it perfect on camera, and then let it go emotionally. That was his therapy.
Stephen recommends writing down all the ideas you have, registering them with the writer’s guild, then workshopping them with friends. Ava wrote down all the story ideas she had, and Love Letters to the Dead was one of many on her list, and it wasn’t he one she expected Stephen and her other colleagues to choose, but they all thought it sounded the most promising.
Laurie Halse Anderson
Laurie did a Q&A and reading of The Impossible Knife of Memory, and it was so emotional and haunting and intense, it brought me to tears (and I’m pretty sure many other people teared up as well). Here are a few favorite moments from the Q&A:
Laurie on who she might read next:
The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent (she asked if she should read it, and the audience shouted back yes, but only the first one, so she said she’d start with that and see how it went), and 13 Reasons Why (she admitted she hasn’t read this even though she thinks she may have pretended she did in person to Jay Asher).
For Wintergirls – she received letters from girls with eating disorders asking her to write about them.
For Catalyst – she read an article about an overachieving girl who got only four hours of sleep a night, and was inspired to write about a girl who seemed perfect from the outside, but was crumbling on the inside.
For The Impossible Knife of Memory – her father’s own PTSD and its effect on her family
On how she writes so well for teens:
She says she never really grew up, and her husband can attest to the fact that she is basically the most immature adult out there. She also spoke about how many of the insecurities and concerns you feel in a high school setting are just as strong as an adult in any social setting “did I remember to put on deodorant? do I have spinach in my teeth? everyone else has it so together, I’m such a mess!”
We were lucky enough to get one extra autographed copy of The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, and one autographed copy of Divergent by Veronica Roth to give away to two lucky readers. Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below!