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Category: LA Times Festival of Books

Festival of Books: Stiefvater and other YA masters talk inspiration

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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.

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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.

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Festival of Books: Novels and the 'dream deferred'

Click to view photos from the Festival of BooksAll the authors on the Sunday panel “The Dream Deferred” have written novels in which the main characters are defined by the struggle to survive and thrive in America.

Their characters face various antagonists -– immigration and employment battles in Hector Tobar’s "The Barbarian Nurseries" and Mona Simpson’s "My Hollywood"; issues of religious and sexual identity in Ayad Akhtar’s "American Dervish"; and the force of Hurricane Katrina in Jesmyn Ward’s National Book Award-winning novel "Salvage the Bones" -– but while the dreams may be deferred, they do not die.

Each author read a brief excerpt from his or her book. Moderator Joy Press then asked panelists about the genesis of their ideas.

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Simpson described time she spent in parks with Filipina nannies after her baby was born, and the way she found herself extremely sensitive to the rhythm of their speech. In this manner, a narrative voice also was born.

Tobar said he finished the first draft of his novel the day his son was born, and it was published 15 years later. In contrast, Ward conceived of her novel about “a girl growing up in a world full of men” around the time Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, but she found she was too sad afterward to write about it for more than two years.

After a dismal start with a previous novel, Akhtar decided he wanted to explore a Muslim American boy’s burgeoning relationship with the Koran.

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Talking about children as narrators, Simpson characterized their speech as a mix of immediacy, slang and limited vantage, calling it “the New English.” Press identified a connection between the novels, describing how they all travel between multiple linguistic levels.

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Festival of Books fires up tales from the cannabis community

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Taking place, as it did, just one day after the unofficial pothead holiday of April 20, and scheduled to start just 10 minutes past the herb heads' magic moment of 4:20 p.m., the L.A. Times Festival of Books nonfiction panel "E Cannabis Unum" (we assume the misspelling "cannibis" in the program guide was a genuine typo and not because someone was ... well, never mind) had the potential to be nothing more than disjointed, rehashed riffs on stoner stereotypes.

But, by focusing on the theme of community -- the "unum" of the panel's title -- as a jumping off point, panel moderator Dean Kuipers managed to cover a fair amount of ground with panelists Mark Haskell Smith (author of "Heart of Dankness"), Heather Donahue ("GrowGirl") and counterculture icon, comedian and writer Paul Krassner (who is republishing his 1999 compilation of various authors' tales of toking titled "Pot Stores for the Soul").

Smith held forth on his experiences tagging along with the folks trying to find the world's best weed (an honor that earns one an award called the "Cannabis Cup") and Donahue (an actress who may be familiar to fans of "The Blair Witch Project") described her life as part of a medical marijuana community in Northern California community that she refers to as "Nugget Town." ("I learned more from the plants than I did from the people," Donahue said.)

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Festival of Books: Writers who shine a light on justice


The stories come from different settings and from different eras, but at their core their message is the same: trying to find justice.

Authors Christopher Goffard, Lisa Davis and Sarah Burns each took on instances of justice delayed or, perhaps, never served at all, in their books. They discussed their work and the challenges they faced during the Sunday afternoon panel "The Elbow of Justice." (The phrase comes from a Martin Luther King Jr. quote: "The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.")

These are stories of "justice gone awry in three different worlds," said journalist Donna Wares, who moderated the panel.

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Goffard, an L.A. Times staff writer, wrote about the death of a Catholic missionary from Minnesota in one of the most remote parts of Kenya. Her book is "You Will See Fire"; the reporting originally was published as a series in The L.A. Times.)

The missionary had been an outspoken critic of the corruption and crimes of the then-president of the African nation. The missionary was found dead; the police alleged it was a suicide, but those who knew the president said his men had committed the murder.

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Festival of Books: Trash talk with a consumerist message


Waste. It's not the most attractive subject matter, but about 250 people took an hour on Sunday at the L.A. Times Festival of Books to hear about it.
The panel, "Disposable Nation: Trash & Consequences," focused on trash, waste and consumerism as local and global issues spiraling out of control. "We're going to find out exactly where our waste goes," said panel moderator Madeleine Brand, host of a daily radio program on KPCC. "Perhaps it's not a pretty" subject. "But it's interesting."

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Panelist Edward Humes, whose latest book is "Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash," said he found that waste is a core problem to numerous issues and that no one is keeping very good track of our trash.

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Festival of Books: Authors Keret and Gray keep the whimsy coming

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Leave it to a panel dubbed "Whimsical Visions" to feature multiple references to cephalopods.

Even though moderator L.A. Times staff writer Carolyn Kellogg apologized for the panel's name, there was no stopping the title from creeping into a lively and witty discussion among writers whose recent works play with reality.

The mollusk-in-question first came up as the panel was asked about the effect of the Internet on its writing and whether its stranger-than-fiction qualities served as an inspiration. "Every Wikipedia entry I read inevitably leads me back to squid," said short story writer Ben Loory.

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Etgar Keret, writer of the acclaimed recent collection "Suddenly, a Knock on the Door," jumped right in with what could've been another reality-bending future story. "I think that the squid write the Wikipedia," he said.

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Festival of Books: DIYers, it's time to rise up!

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Let’s say you want to start a revolution, a home-based, do-it-yourself revolution.

In the panel titled “DIY Revolution” on Sunday, moderator Alissa Walker (named a USC/Annenberg Journalism fellow in 2010) spoke with authors Erik Knutzen, Mark Frauenfelder and David Rees about conquering home projects.

The authors, who have tackled everything from urban homesteading to exploring the under-appreciated art of pencil-sharpening, mused on subjects such as the personality traits found in do-it-yourselfers, the meaning of the in-vogue term “artisanal” and what it means to actually do for yourself.

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Knutzen, co-author of “The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City" and “Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World,” spoke about the need for DIY-ers to not be afraid to go out and try something: If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning. “This is the Freedom to Fail Panel,” he joked.

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Festival of Books: On the Los Angeles riots, 20 years later

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In a lot of ways, Sunday's Festival of Books panel "Los Angeles, 20 Years After the Verdict," was a sequel to Saturday's interview by Patt Morrison with Rodney King, whose beating by L.A. police officers 21 years ago was the first in a series of steps that culminated in the 1992 riots.

And in another sense, the panel was a reunion for some of the players in that tragic moment in Los Angeles history.

Moderator Warren Olney, now a KCRW radio host, was a Los Angeles TV reporter at the time. He was joined by Jim Newton, L.A. Times columnist and editor at large, who was covering the Los Angeles Police Department for the L.A. Times when the riots began. 

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Connie Rice was a civil rights activist and lawyer, and later a co-founder of The Advancement Project, and the recent author of "Power Concedes Nothing: One Woman's Quest for Social Justice in America, From the Kill Zones to the Courts." The fourth panelist was Gil Garcetti, who at the time was mounting a campaign for Los Angeles County district attorney.

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Festival of Books: YA authors and tweenage angst in the afterworld

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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.

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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!”

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Festival of Books: 'Write your brain barf' and other WriteGirl tips

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The Etc. Stage at the L.A. Times Festival of Books kicked off its Sunday festivities with a presentation by WriteGirl, a Los Angeles-based organization founded by Keren Taylor to pair mentors with young girl writers and to encourage them to find empowerment through self-expression.

Undaunted by the cool, hazy weather, 10 girls ranging in age from 14 to 18 took the stage to read excerpts from their original writings or works written by others. Camille Crisostomo, 17, was the first brave emerging writer to take the microphone. Confidence building through her performance, she broke the ice for the other girls to follow. Subjects of the original teen works ranged from poetry inspired by a breakup to part of a chapter from a “modern epic” in progress.

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Kirsten Giles, WriteGirl’s workshop coordinator, said the organization's goal is to “encourage girls to be confident and not be afraid of the microphone.”

Some were first-time readers, but confidence, clarity and humor woven into their readings in some ways made them indistinguishable from seasoned veterans. Their words and performances were convincing evidence of their potential success. Taylor later explained that every high school senior who has participated in the program successfully graduated from high school and went on to college.

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