Event Recap: Ontario Teen Bookfest 2019
What happens when 18 amazing authors gather with hundreds of teen and adult book enthusiasts? Ontario Teen Bookfest! For nine years and counting, Ontario (California!) has drawn a crowd to its hybrid library/high school campus (with the biggest teen section you’ve ever seen!). This was my first year but certainly not my last.
Attending authors: Carrie Arcos, Demetra Brodsky, Jennifer Brody, Jessica Brody, Julie Buxbaum, Kayla Cagan, Stephanie Garber, Nicole Maggi, Abdi Nazemian, Cindy Pon, Isabel Quintero, Robin Reul, Amy Spalding, Jeff Sweat, Mary Weber, Emily Wibberley, Austin Siegemund-Broka, Suzanne Young
Stephanie Garber opened to event with a call to adventure. Acknowledging there are many barriers, she spoke of her own journey to adventure – quitting her stressful job and moving back in with her parents to pursue writing. She wrote five books that didn’t sell. “I felt like the childhood dream I loved didn’t love me back.” This was four years into her journey. Given the choice to continue that dream or take a job in a stable career, she chose the adventure.
She chose bold and colorful and over the top. She wrote a book about a character named Legend. She wrote a book that questions what is real, and what is not. She wrote a book she was obsessively passionate about. She gambled on her future – and won.
Finale, the third and final book in the Caraval series, comes out May 7th.
“We never let people know our family isn’t as cohesive as it seems.” Isabel Quintero opens her keynote with some truth about how perfect families are an illusion. Her mom held things together, her father facing addiction, the family in silence about what was happening. Isabel escaped in books and later in stories in her diaries. Such a story is reflected in Gabi A Girl in Pieces, about a girl in a complex family who utilizes her diary (and later ‘zines) to talk about the complexity that is her life. Much like Isabel, Gabi uses writing to look at things different. To use their voice to understand the world. These stories need to be written down. Shown on the screens. Shared widely. Spoken loudly.
Gabi A Girl in Pieces is a loud voice, winner of the Morris Award for Debut YA Fiction in 2015, and is available now.
When Suzanne Young finished her creative writing degree, she didn’t think she’d be a writer and found her passion in teaching. “I never thought I’d be a writer. I didn’t come from a family of writers. I didn’t come from a family of readers. The only book my mother has read is my book.” Suzanne began her writing career as a storyteller, writing fan fiction murder-mystery about her friends in high school. When an older girl bullied her, she gave up her storytelling dream. She failed consistently, and kept going. Two canceled series into her career, she finally found her home at Simon & Schuster and later on the NYT Bestseller List.
Suzanne’s grandma was the main encourager of her writing process, which is why all 16 of her books are dedicated to her grandma. Her latest, Girls with Sharp Sticks, is out March 19th.
I Contain Multitudes Panel
With the keynotes inspiring writers and readers, we all split into panels – 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. I had the pleasure of moderating a panel on the multitudes contained in the main characters in Dive Smack, Gabi A Girl in Pieces, What They Don’t Know, Hope and Other Punchlines, The Summer of Jordi Perez, and Art Boss. Each of the authors chatted about how their characters defined themselves vs how the world defined them, what plot points were instrumental in moving their stories forward, what personal experiences they brought into their characters, and what books they would recommend to their characters.
In the afternoon, I attended a panel on co-authoring. There are co-authors, authors and illustrators, and shaping someone else’s ideas. Creating in a partnership is a multifaceted way to create art, with complexities due to relationships, creative control, and vision. For Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka, currently in the draft process, they’re oil and water on their way to salad dressing.
In partnership work, it’s important to remember the work is not 50/50; sometimes it’s 80/20 or 90/10. Writing is not one skill but a bunch of skills together and there are different ways to find media “good”. In Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell’s writing relationship, the pair is good at at different things. Jess will leave areas for Jo to describe landscapes and Jo will leave notes for Jess to add dialogue. Jess and Jo go back and forth between being the peanut butter that makes your mouth stick together and the milk to wash it down – Jess wouldn’t co-write with anyone else.
The panel agreed that collaboration is all about respect and co-authors Emily and Austin, who share a romantic relationship, don’t get to leave it at the end of the day. Don’t get to rant to each other. They remind themeless they are in a partnership for a reason. Jennifer Brody describes her partnership with illustrator Jules Rivera as salt and caramel – different but enhanced. Keep an eye on their upcoming 6 (!) graphic novels.
PS I am here for Isabel Quintero writing with Kelly Sue DeConnick. How do we make this a thing?
Up next was speed dating, a chance to meet in small groups with the authors. This was such a fun process because we got to see teens interacting with authors and that is honestly the best!
Signing & Photos
After a busy day, we got moments with the authors to get our books signed and spend a little time with them one-on-one. I am not going to lie…I had A STACK (many of which are giveaways! Check out the end of this post for the first of many!).
Look at all these authors I got to meet!
I Contain Multitudes Panel Giveaway – Signed Copies of Dive Smack, Tell Me Three Things, What to Say Next, The New Guy (and Other Senior Year Distractions), Piper Perish, and Art Boss (ARC).a Rafflecopter giveaway