This past weekend was the second annual BAY AREA BOOK FESTIVAL that was held in Berkeley. It was a magical place filled with books and book lovers from all ages and genres. I and a few awesome members of the FOREVER YA chapter of Oakland attended several panels on Sunday and we wanted to share a bit of those special moments with you.

The Many Faces of Fantasy with Marie Brennan, Richard Kadrey, V. E. Schwab, and Na'amen Tilahun, moderated by Nick Mamatas

I was very excited to attend this panel because I am a big fan of Victoria Schwab and I wanted to hear what her and her brethren panel of authors had to tell us about fantasy worlds and there like. 

Once the audience became acquainted with the authors and their novels then the moderator dove into more thought-provoking questions. One in particular addressed diversity in books. This I found to be one of the most interesting topics covered and each author had their own take on this subject but V.E. Schwab put it into prespective.

I loved hearing about where each of the authors derived their interest for the fantasy genre and was captivated by how passionate each author was about their craft. It was distinctly apparent they a good deal of research and time went went into their stories.

Hot & New. Short Readings to Tempt You Shaun David Hutchinson, Alyson Noel, Veronica Rossi, Wendy Spinale, and Nicola Yoon, moderated by Alex Green Today’s hottest YA authors gathered together to share snippets from their recent works and talk about everything about their stories and how the ended up telling them.

Alex Green: How long were these ideas sitting inside your head?

Nicola: Everything Everything came to me when I had my daughter. I was (am) a nervous mom and wondered what would happen if a teen needed the same protection as an infant. But the emotional piece was there much longer. 

Shaun: I have ADHD so ideas don't stay long. I’ve tried to tell this story since I was 19 and attempted suicide. I was focused on how I felt; it took many years to think about how my friends felt and that’s how I ended up with We are the Ants. 

AG: Any challenges in writing or dramatic scrapping through the process?

Alyson: I’m starting my 25th book and know I will get halfway and feel like I’ve written myself into a hole. Everyone will discover I’m a failure and I will be fired from the world. I’m a plotter so I know the twists and will refer back to my notes when stuck. 

Wendy: I am working on book two, got a glowing letter about it, and then discovered 12 pages of editing. I had to cut 70 pages and rewrote 1/3 of the book. I’ve rewritten the ending four times. I was sure there was never going to be a book two. Getting lost is part of the game so you just have to turn around. 

Veronica: I wrote a book where I rewrote the first third, then the last third, then the middle third. It almost put me off forever but now I think it's my best book. I know I’m getting lost if I’m not emotionally vested; I have to feel hungry. Slump wasn't an issue when writing was for fun. 

AG: Do you find yourself returning to the same themes?

AN: Out of 25 books, I find my theme is coming to terms with believing in yourself. Trust your inner voice. Believe in it enough to know what you want to do. I had a rough adolescence. I would cut all classes except AP English. I would turn in short stories instead of the assigned essays. My AP History teacher would tell me I would never amount to anything. In my first book, I thanked English teacher and went back to HS to see him, where I handed him the book. In revisiting that experience, I learned people talk to you from their own limitations. 

NY: Same themes but in different ways. I explore surviving loss, making yourself vulnerable to love when you might lose it. I want to ask the big questions - faith, destiny, meaning of life, is there a God? As an adult, it's not the asking but deciding how you want to live. The questions you choose matter. 

WS: How we face life when we are faced with situations we never expected. I grew up in a divorced family and decided I wasn't going to be that family. I have three boys with special needs, so I explore how you cope when life throws you a curve ball.

VR: I have 60,000 words written in new book and just in this moment figured out the reason I don’t like it is it doesn't match the themes I explore. I moved frequently as a kid. I had to figure out who I was because I was always the new kid. My protagonists have to define themselves in a shifting world.

AG: What kinds of comments from readers have moved you?

AN: I went through a period where I lost three people and almost lost my husband, so I wrote the Immortals series. I work my stuff out in a book. I hear from readers that my process helps them get through their grief and loss.

SDH: My favorite was when I visited a middle school where kids don't have a lot of opportunities. I told them you can still become a writer even if you don't go to college. One kid told me after that he hated my book but thanked my for helping him realize he could be a writer no matter what his background was. 

AG: Talk to us about writing outside of your comfort zone.

VR: I won't write a book if I can't get excited about it, which means constantly stepping out my comfort zone. I recently heard an Einstein quote, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” I firmly believe that.

SDH: *laughs* I like pushing boundaries and editor's boundaries and am waiting to be told, “Okay, color inside the lines.” It hasn’t happened yet! I am currently writing a book I’m terrified about because it has a female narrator and talks about subjects outside of my comfort zone. 

Find excerpts of their latest books: We are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson, Riders by Veronica Rossi, Everland by Wendy Spinale, and Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon. You can find our reviews at: Riders, Everland, and Unrivaled

Diverse Books Matter (to Kids and Everyone)

Featuring Julie Barton, Nina Lindsay, Mahesh Pathirathna, Jason Reynolds, and Ginee Seo. Moderated by Blood Orange Press.

Moderated by grassroots organization http://diversebooks.org/>We Need Diverse Books
, a publisher, author, public librarian / blogger, and two literacy nonprofit employees talked about the work they’re doing to increase diversity in children’s literature. 

Blood Orange Press: When was the first time you saw yourself in a children's book?

Jason: I was turned off from reading early because school books didn't reflect me. I turned to hip hop lyrics and music videos and didn't read until I was seventeen. I saw myself and writing in liner notes by rap artists. 

Gina: College, when I read https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30852.The_Woman_Warrior">The Woman Warrior
. I wanted to be a white girl; I was in denial about being Asian. 
BOP: What does “diverse” mean to you?

Mahesh: I would like to expand the definition but right now I just want more types of books available in other parts of the world.

JR: Means inclusivity. One book is not going to tell your story. Fifteen books will tell slivers of your story. We have to create many types of books so people can find their 15 books. 

Julie: A healthy ecosystem. You might not notice what's missing but the missing pieces contribute to the unhealthy ecosystem. 

BOP: Who are the kids that we want to get the books to and what are the barriers?

JR: Any kid that's reading. Whenever anything is excluded, all of us lose. We need to understand cultural coding to sell books, which is lacking. This is the slowest art form to move forward. Kids are engaging in diverse cultures in other forms of art so why not this one? 

GS: Publishing is money. They're holding the purse strings. What's important about diverse books is it’s changing the conversations. Don't just read about who you are. 

MP: It's a global issue. The U.S. is on the right track but we aren't safe until the whole world gets on board. 

Julie: It's not just about who's reading but growing readers. Families have to also embrace it. 

BOP: Are there solutions? 

JR: I don't know what the answer is. We need to look at this as the long game; this is institutional. Figure out how to explain to young people that literacy isn't just novels. There are options other than writing. People in the industry should help people who need through the gate keepers. 

Nina: Alternative publishing and social media. Grassroots movements. 

Guest Recap from Maude Lynne: From Bodice Rippers to Trailblazers: Feminism through Romance

From Bodice Rippers to Trailblazers: Feminism through Romance panel, featuring Gail Carriger, Aya de Leon, Alice Gaines, and Kristin Miller, moderated by Beth Barany, was a delightful and poignant examination on why romance and feminism are interlinked and vital to an equal society’s evolution.

Beth’s first question was “What does feminism mean to you?”, to make sure that the audience knew what kind of a panel they were in for, and also to make sure everyone was working with relatively the same delineated parameters. All the authors agreed that feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. “It really is as simple and complicated as that. It should not be complicated at all”, Miller stated. 

Aya de Leon went on to elaborate on the importance of romance for women, stating, “Romance is a place where women and particularly young women have looked for information, on love and sexuality. Romance also in places where sex education (insert shout-out to her high school sex-ed teacher in the audience here) is not available, becomes a place that young people can go to and get sexual and romantic information and know that the feelings of desires that they may be having, that they’re not the only person having these feelings, it’s a place of mirrors.” 

After letting that sink in for a hot second, Barany quotes an article from The Atlantic the panel read in preparation for the discussion, stating, “In a society that often wants to boil women’s sexual experiences into the polar opposites of purity or sluttiness, romance novels, even when we may as individuals judge their plots to be problematic, are the largest cultural space available for women to read about and imagine their own sexual fantasies.” Barany added that, “Romance novels really allow us as writers and readers to explore an experience and explore self-expression in a way that we may not have in our life.” 

Alice Gaines, a self-identified “dirty old lady who’s church loves her”, encouraged the audience to really examine and challenge what our ideas of a sexually free woman encompass. She gave a brief rundown of her novels which feature strong woman doing what they want, sleeping with whom they want, and not sacrificing the physical pleasures of life, simply because they do not oblige with the main stream image of an attractive or sexually active woman. 

Gail Carriger builds upon the idea of a strong woman by continuing, “my woman are never alone up again inexplicable all odds by themselves. My main characters always have friends, who do not backstab them, and are both men and women.” She continues on to point out that networking is how woman naturally come together to solve the world’s problems, and that through dialogue feminism can change the world.

The conversation continued, examining how the negative stigmas associated with romance reflect a lack of love and empathy in our current culture, and how the changing roles of women in society affect how women are portrayed in books, although these ladies have never shied away from writing about strong, intelligent women who are not shy about asking for help, but do not require it. 

Before opening up the panel to questions from the audience, we were treated to the following definition of romance from an article written by Catherine Roach, defining the genre as our cultures only source of “tales that end with a good woman getting what they want. Not dead or damaged or left behind, but winning, every time, with all their needs met.”

As you can see we all had a wonderful time with the many diverse panels that were available to us and we cannot wait to attend next year.  I hope that there will be a few more YA panels with some awesome authors.

A photo posted by ravenousreader (@ravenousreader) on


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