Local Authors with Jennifer Ziegler, Varian Johnson, Shana Burg, and April Lurie
Perhaps the most interesting conversation in the Local Authors panel was that of appropriate content for young adult fiction, particularly that which will be read by middle graders and young adults. Varian Johnson believes it's important to avoid gratuity and only include what is true to the characters and the story. He found MY LIFE OF A RHOMBUS difficult to write, particularly because it involved pregnancy and abortion, dilemmas he will never face. He wanted to do it right, which I can respect.
With SAVING MADDIE, he's writing about a Christian boy both wanting to save a girl and lusting after her. Sex and religion can also be controversial, but he maintains that the way to do it well is to be true to the character.
The other authors agreed. But even remaining true to the characters, there might be some changes made. Shana Burg's historical A THOUSAND NEVER EVERS originally included a single use of the n-word.
However, her editor knew middle graders would read the book as well and asked her to remove it. Now the book is on the Lone Star list, which might not have happened due to a single perjorative. Likewise, April Lurie removed a single cuss word from BROTHERS, BOYFRIENDS, AND OTHER CRIMINAL MINDS in order for it to be sold through Scholastic. The authors don't do this lightly.
Jennifer Ziegler's HOW NOT TO BE POPULAR is also on the Lone Star list.
Her other published novel, ALPHA DOG, is also clean. So when she turned in an outline to her editor with a questionable scene, the editor asked her if she could change the scene while being true to the story, since there is a need in the YA market for clean books. Jennifer says she likes the new way the scene occurs better, but she would have kept, and fought for, the original if she thought it necessary to the story. Being honest to the characters always wins out.
April Lurie also had to be careful when writing the soon to be published THE LESS DEAD. It's about someone killing homosexual adopted boys, and the protagonist blaming his father for preaching hate. That's definitely something that could upset people, and April knew it wouldn't even be for her own parents. Still, she tried to do her best to tell the story she wanted to tell. Sometimes you can't avoid people being offended. She did have an odd situation with someone saying online that she should be killed for writing THE LATENT POWERS OF DYLAN FONTAINE.
Apparently this blogger thought she had plagiarized two of his favorite novels. April did respond classily: she told him she had never read the novels, but one his recommendation she would. She then followed up after she had finished the two books.
The authors also answered my question is this panel, which was what it was like to be a part of the Austin area YA writing community. They all answered that it was wonderful. Apparently none of them knew Austin was a children's writing mecca until they came here. (Shana was from Boston; April was from Brooklyn.) I know I like it, since it means events like this happen! I hope ya'll enjoyed the write-ups, and that they gave you a little taste of the Austin Teen Book Festival. Unfortunately, I was using a telephoto lens so Jennifer is cut out of this photo of the panel laughing.