Festival of Books: YA authors and tweenage angst in the afterworld
The panel titled “In the Middle: Tweenage Fantasy” Sunday began lazily, in the best possible way: A massive crowd gathered to see John Stephens, Alyson Noel and Cornelia Funke at the YA stage, filling every seat and spilling onto the lawn.
The authors appearing at the L.A. Times Festival of Books each gave a short reading from a current work. Twelve- and 13-year-olds sat on the edge of their seats, others followed along in dog-eared copies they had brought along; adults and older couples stretched out on blankets, coffees in hand. If only there had been milk and cookies.
Soon the discussion developed into a lively romp through the world of fantasy writing for a tween and teen audience. According to New York Times bestselling author Noel, adolescence is no different for her Riley Bloom character, who lives in the afterworld. She still wrestles with issues of identity and body image. “Riley’s just a typical teen girl in fantastical circumstances,” Noel said.
Funke and Stephens touched on the universal struggle to create, regardless of genre. Stephens spent 10 years as a TV executive, during which time he worked on “Gossip Girl” and “Gilmore Girls” among other shows. But writing his debut novel, “The Emerald Atlas,” was far more difficult, even scary, he said. “When you write a TV script, you write with a staff,” he said. “If it’s not perfect, you think, ‘Oh, maybe the actors will be good; maybe there’ll be music.’ [Writing a novel] you’re solo; it’s more terrifying.”
Funke, an international bestselling author who’s named on Time magazine’s Time 100 list of most influential people, has a much different relationship with the writing process. “Writing, for me, is like chocolate,” she said. "When I’m doing rewrites and my editor sends notes, then it’s stressful. But otherwise, I’m addicted!”
Stephens said he writes first drafts on his computer, then writes “many subsequent drafts” by hand on legal pads. (“That’s why my right hand is much bigger,” he joked.) Funke, whose “Ghost Night” comes out in May, said she writes in her native German, not English, in a little cottage-like “writing house” in her backyard. “It’s the most wonderful place in the world,” she said. “It’s filled with things readers have sent me.”
In the comfort of that custom writing palace, Funke said, she often lets herself get carried away. The characters come to life, they speak to her and the story unfurls -- often taking on a pace and rhythm of its own. Her “Inkworld Trilogy,” for example, was never intended to be a series, she said. But momentum took over.
“I only finished it because I wanted to know how it played out!” she said. As it should be.
-- Deborah Vankin
Photo: John Stephens, left, Alyson Noel and Cornelia Funke at the YA panel Sunday. Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu / For the Los Angeles Times