Festival of Books: Stiefvater and other YA masters talk inspiration
What happens when you gather four popular YA authors on a stage in front of an audience full of scores of fans and wannabes? Lots of laughs. A few obscenities. A fair bit of adoration. And collegiality in spades.
The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books panel titled Young Adult Fiction: The Wide Lens featured some of the hottest names of the genre: Jacqueline Woodson, Maggie Stiefvater, Lauren Myracle and Maureen Johnson.
Who knows what they're like in real life, but Sunday, onstage at USC's Ronald Tutor Campus Center, they seemed to be longtime friends -- or at the very least, members of a very tight-knit club -- discussing process, inspiration and the beginnings of their writing careers.
Woodson, whose most recent book is "Beneath a Meth Moon," told the crowd that the work was inspired by the methamphetamine epidemic in parts of the country and by Hurricane Katrina, which upends the life of "Moon's" young protagonist.
Myracle's latest work, "Shine," is set in rural western North Carolina and deals with a hate crime against a gay character, sounding somewhat reminiscent of the Matthew Shepard story.
And Johnson's latest, "The Name of the Star," is about a boarding school student traveling to London just as someone starts "imitating all the murders of Jack the Ripper. I spent a lot of time in England," Johnson said, "and I spent a lot of time reading about creepy things."
When asked by the panel's moderator, L.A. Times staff writer Susan Carpenter, at what point they knew they wanted to become authors, all four indicated they knew at an early age. "I started when I was really young," Johnson said. "I was a bit of an indoor kid. An easy bleeder.
"You know who we are," Johnson told the delighted audience. "I look around and see my people in this room.... It's the rise of the easy bleeder."
Each panelist acknowledged her critics, her hate mail and (for some of them) her place on banned book lists -- inspired primarily for scenes that focus on sexual things or obscenities. Said Stiefvater, "I thought when I put sex in 'Shiver' [the first volume of the "Mercy Falls" trilogy] that it would be the beginning of hate mail. But that's not true." Stiefvater said she received more complaints about the "insertion of the 'F-bomb.' "
Myracle, whose books continue to be challenged in school libraries (usually for scenes of sexuality, homosexuality or alcohol use) laughed when she related her hate mail experience: "The letters I get say things like: 'Lady, you are sick. Do you love making money off the youth of America? Are you a pedophile?' " They complain, she said, about things like thongs, tampons and breasts. "So it's sexual," she said.
But, Myracle added, some readers are grateful for the information imparted by her books. One fan wrote: " 'I never had a sister [to explain], so thank you.' "
-- Alice Short
Photo: Moderator Susan Carpenter, left, and panelists Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle, Maggie Stiefvater and Jacqueline Woodson. Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times