As an author of a young adult novel and a huge fan of the young adult genre in general, I was super excited about attending YALLFest, the Young Adult Book Festival in Charleston, SC, about five hours from me. (I live in Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta, GA.) I was mainly excited about all of the panels, seeing Rainbow Rowell, Lauren Oliver, Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl, discovering new authors, and getting my copy of Fangirl signed. (I would have been excited to see Veronica Roth, but the keynote address she gave sold out before I could get a ticket.) My mom is also a huge book nerd so she and I rented a car and geared up for the drive. (The rental car came with two free audio books on audible so we got Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan and Twinmakers by Sean Williams. We listened to a little bit of both while driving!)
We started out with the morning panel, “All the Feels”, featuring Rainbow Rowell, Rachel Cohn, Gayle Forman, Ellen Hopkins, David Levithan, and Stephanie Perkins. The hilarious Aaron Hartzler was moderating. They discussed the contemporary realistic YA they all wrote. They talked about how their books were often perceived as “sad” but they all felt they were full of hope and redemption. It reminded me of how most people think Morrissey/The Smiths lyrics are really sad, but I often see hope and redemption in them. Or how I think T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” is actually a poem about connection as much as it is about isolation. I think this is why these types of books are often my favorites (i.e. The Perks of Being a Wallflower). It was a really cool panel.
My mom and I stayed in the Music Hall for the “After the End” panel about dystopian lit, featuring Lauren Oliver, Alexandra Bracken, Ally Condie, Marie Lu, Carrie Ryan, and Margaret Stohl with Mike Johnson moderating.They all joked about all of the cities they destroyed in their books and how destroying Los Angeles seemed to be the most popular choice for them. I really liked how Lauren Oliver talked about how she’s written something every day since she was 9 and how you are bound to get good at something if you do it every day for that long. But she was also very humble, talking about how she often deals with “writer’s block” by just writing anything, even if it’s bad. She was saying a lot of things I often say about writing, which made me smile.
When that panel ended, the sound guys played “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” by The Smiths. I just had to point that out because it was awesome. 🙂
Mom and I headed to what we discovered was the college hipster part of Charleston (I literally saw a really skinny dude in a hoodie, leaning outside of Urban Outfitters, listening to his iPhone…). We decided to get some cheap (but awesome!) Mexican food and a margarita at La Hacienda. Yum.
We then headed back to the American Theater (only after stopping for a DELICIOUS cupcake) for coffee talk with Stephanie Perkins and Rainbow Rowell only to discover it was completely full and we couldn’t get in. I was a little bummed about that, but we headed to the Music Hall and caught some of the “Brave New Dark” panel featuring Cinda Chima, Kami Garcia, Nancy Holder, Tahereh Mafi, Ransom Riggs, and Veronica Rossi with Lev Grossman moderating. I only saw about 10 or 15 minutes of that, though, before I decided to go get in the line for the Rainbow Rowell signing over at Blue Bicycle Books. And I’m glad I did!
The line was pretty long by the time I got there, and it got even longer. I ended up standing in line for over two hours to get my copy of Fangirl signed. (I took my mom’s copy to get signed so she could go enjoy the panel on Southern writers.) Waiting in line was actually really cool. It was incredible to see that many people so excited about books they were willing to stand in line for hours just to get them signed. I met some really nice people in line, and all of the volunteers and Blue Bicycle people were really nice about it, telling us not to worry and that we would definitely get our books signed. Margaret Stohl even came out and started signing things for people and taking pictures with them while we were waiting in line.
When I finally got to the front, Rainbow Rowell was super friendly. I told her how I was in the minority because I hadn’t read Eleanor & Park yet but that I really loved Fangirl. I told her how it reminded me of reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I asked her if people were writing Fangirl fan fiction yet and talked about how meta that would be. She laughed and said she had actually been writing about Simon Snow.
She signed my book with “You don’t DO magic. You ARE magic.” She signed my mom’s book with “The story doesn’t have to end just because someone says ‘The End.'” (I am paraphrasing.) Both quotes from Fangirl. My mom thought that was so cool and serendipitous because she had just been talking about how she didn’t want Fangirl to end.
By this point, the “YA-List in Hollywood 2013” panel was ending (Veronica Roth made a surprise appearance at that one, which my mom got to see) and people were lining up outside the music hall for the last event of the evening, the YA Smackdown. I met up with my mom and we got in line, luckily right at the spot where we could sit on the steps. We sat on the steps and my mom gave me the highlights of the two panels she saw while I was standing in line, saying they were both really cool, especially the Southern writer one where they had a dialect discussion, which my mom and I had just been talking about. When I saw Margaret Stohl coming around to literally high five everyone standing in line for the YA Smackdown, I decided she was totally awesome.
In the first half of the YA Smackdown, Tiger Beat, a band consisting of YA authors fronted by Libba Bray, performed. I thought this was amazing, especially because their first song was a cover of my FAVORITE Lou Reed/Velvet Underground song, “Sweet Jane,” which I had JUST been talking about and listening to with my mom that morning in the hotel. Not only was their cover an excellent version of the song, but the experience of seeing YA authors playing in a band was really meaningful to me, especially given my recent decision to take a step back from music to pursue writing. In that moment, I saw that just because I was pursuing writing didn’t mean that maybe one day I couldn’t be in a band again… maybe even playing at a book festival!
Their set was amazing, and they ended it with “Purple Rain,” one of my favorite songs and a song I have even covered in the past. (See above.) And when we were all holding up the glow sticks they gave us and waving them around, kind of like they all wave their hands in the air at the end of the movie, Purple Rain, I couldn’t help but laugh.
After Tiger Beat performed, they got most of the authors from the day onstage and played some hilarious improv games that ended with Adam Gidwitz and Gayle Forman getting a pie in the face. Haha.
The whole day was a blast. It really felt like a community of authors and book lovers and readers and literary enthusiasts. Everyone I met or interacted with was really nice. All of the volunteers and organizers of the festival were amazing. And it just made me feel really good to be around a bunch of writers and readers alike, celebrating young adult books, in a really great city like Charleston. I had a lot of fun with my mom, who definitely made me the book nerd I am today. I got to see a lot of my favorite YA authors, and I discovered a bunch of new authors and books that have made my “to read” list even longer. I will definitely be checking out books by Stephanie Perkins, Libba Bray, Carrie Ryan, David Levithan, Gayle Forman, Marie Lu, and Tahereh Mafi–to name a few–just as soon as I finish Twinmaker by Sean Williams (which I would call a “real page turner” except for the fact that I’m listening to it.)
I hope I get to attend in years to come, not only as a book enthusiast but as a YA author. I hope they expand the festival out to two or three days so that I can see more panels and get more books signed. (There was no way to see and do everything unfortunately.) And this festival was exactly what I needed to fuel the fire in my passion for storytelling, literature, and writing.
- The 8 Habits of Highly Successful Young-Adult Fiction Authors (theatlantic.com)
- YALLfest 2013 (ljvaughn.net)
- ‘Don’t be afraid to write a bad book’: David Levithan on Every Day (theguardian.com)