Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In Case You Missed It: Literary Orange 2014, Part 4

What: Literary Orange
Where: Marriott, Irvine
When: Friday, April 5, 2014

Please Note: The quotes are approximate.

Panel #2
YA: The Awesome Age

People on the Panel
  • Maurene Goo, author, Since You Asked, www.maurenegoo.com
  • Jessica Brody, author, Unremembered, www.jessicabrody.com
  • Kendare Blake, author, Antigoddess, www.kendareblake.com
  • Alyson Beecher, moderator
"You don't have to like the character.  Just the story."

My first panel and second panel are in the same room, so I remain in my seat.  Why not?  I've got a good view of the stage.  As the panelists play musical chairs, I gaze through my notes.  Suddenly, I hear my name called.  I look up.

Two members of my party--Michelle Knowlden and Debra Young--sit down beside me.  They both took a "Save the Cat" workshop with one of the panelists, Jessica Brody, and they've come to show support for their former teacher.  As for me, I'm here because this is the only panel even closely related to my chosen genre of fantasy.  Mystery, literary fiction, poetry, and narrative non-fiction are all well-represented.  Speculative works are scarce.

The members on this panel seem young.  Two of the women are Asian--the only non-white speakers I will encounter the whole day.  On the far left is Maurene Goo, followed by Jessica Brody and then Kendare Blake.  Alyson Beecher, the moderator, occupies the far right.  I think about taking a picture of the room for reference, but I'm too lazy.

The moderator makes the obligatory introductions and we begin.

* * *

Moderator: Can you each tell us a little about your writing journey?

Maurene Goo
Maurene: Well, my writing journey was probably different from these ladies here.  I had no aspirations of being a writer.  I never thought it could be done.  I wrote a sample chapter for a grad school application.  I decided not to go into that program, but I kept writing.  I have a friend who's a graphic artist.  I sent the story to him.  It turns out his editor, who worked with graphic novels, wanted to tackle regular novels, and mybook was just what he was looking for. So the stars really aligned for me.

Since You Asked by Maurene Goo
Jessica: At the age 7, I wrote the riveting story of a puppy and kitty who--spoiler alert--get the chicken pox. I put my story on the shelf with all the other books and that was the first time I really saw myself as an author.  As I grew up, though, I thought, Writing isn't a real job.  I kept writing, but it was more of a hobby.  Then I got laid off.  The severance package was 18 months.  I stretched it and wrote novel my first novel.  Then I started to write YA.  I was thinking about trying SciFi when I saw a news article about a plane crash with a sole survivor.  I started thinking about that lone survivor. What if she had no memories?  What if she had superpowers?  That became the basis for Unremembered.

Kendare: I didn't think I could make a living from writing. I had a boring job.  One night I was on the barn roof with my brother.  We were drinking beers, talking about the need to leave the country. And the easiest way to do that was with a student visa.  I went to Middlesex University in England.  When I came back, I thought, Well, I can live with parents forever.  I wrote a contemporary novel, first.  But I decided blood and guts was the way for me and wrote Anna Dressed in Blood.

Moderator: Can you tell me about the element of world-building and research involved in your writing?

Jessica Brody
Maurene: I write contemporary stories, so I don't do a lot of world building.  My settings are realistic but more heightened and exaggerated.  It's a little more fun, a little more fantasy.

Jessica: Writing this trilogy has been a crash course in world-building.  It takes place in the real world--at first.  In the first book, I'd put in little hints about the world my character comes from.  Then, in the third book, I realized she had to return to her own world.  All those hints in first book needed to be explained. 

Unremembered by Jessica Brody
Kendare: Anna Dressed in Blood took place in the real world.  I set it in a city close to my house, so I could do fun research trips for local details.  I take a more minimalist approach to description, but I still need details.  The challenge in Antigoddess was building gods that work in the real world while honoring the original Greek myth.  So I did a lot of research.  It was intimidating, because there were all these different origin stories and some of them contradicted each other.  I ended up relying on Homer.

Moderator: You all create characters that feel very real.  Do you ever have trouble with characters going in different directions than you intended?  Is it hard being evil to the characters?

Kendare: Well, as far as characters misbehaving, I created a character named Carmel, who I thought was going to die. Turns out she didn't.  If I'd have known she was going to live I wouldn't have name her Carmel!  In Antigoddess, Hermes told me he was gay.  I was like, "Okay...  At least you told me early."

Kendare Blak
Jessica: I have argued that erasing all of your character's memories and planting new ones is the most evil thing you can do.  Because if you have no memories, how do you know who you are? As far as surprises, one of my characters turned out to be the brother of my heroine.  It was a very, "Luke, I am your father" moment.

Maurene: I think even normal characters can surprise you.  Friendships in my book turned out to be much deeper than I anticipated.  ...I guess, I don't really do evil things to my characters.  The worst thing I've put them through is Life--which is evil enough.

Antigoddess by Kendare Blake

Moderator: Recently, there was an article in Time discussing what is the ideal YA female protagonist.  Your thoughts?

Jessica: So I wrote a novel called 52 Reasons I Hate My Father about a rich girl who has to work 52 jobs before she can inherit her trust fund.  People have told she's unlikable in the beginning of the story.  I'm like, "Yeah...  And your point is?"  She's supposed to start off unlikable, but over the course of the story she changes and redeems herself.  You don't have to like the character.  Just the story.

Maurene: People have told me, "I hated the protagonist."  I feel deflated, because she's based on me.  There's lots of pressure to have this perfect character, but as a writer, it's not that interesting.  My heroine is honest about her flaws.  That's an attractive quality to me.

Kendare: There's this sense in society that females are judged more harshly than males.  Look at superhero movies.  When we meet the heroes at the start of the movie, they're dicks.  But we're told, "You just need to peel back the layers, like an onion, and you'll see that deep down, he's a good guy."  But we're not willing to do that with female characters.  We expect them to be perfect to begin with.

Maurene: Plus, we're dealing with teenagers.  Think of what you were like as a teenager.  You weren't your best self.

* * *

We open for questions.

I glare at my notes.  They don't quite capture how funny and witty these women really are.  But I have been listening too closely to write down more than a phrase or two. Oh well.  At least I had more fun at this panel than the last one.

After questions end, Michelle and Debra walk up to Jessica to say their hellos.  Networking, I think.  Here's my chance.  But I am not a master socializer.  I find myself standing awkwardly between the three ladies as they catch up.  By the time Jessica turns to me for an introduction, I barely manage to burble out my name.

Well, that went well, I think, as the authors all move to their signing tables.  A chance for networking has slipped through my fingers.

* * *

To Be Continued....

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