MEETING JAY ASHER
THE FESTIVALLast weekend, I attended the 2013 Big Orange Book Festival, hosted by my alma mater, Chapman University. The conference surpassed my expectations; not only was it completely free, but the quality of the guest authors, the moderators, and the sessions themselves was as good or better than conferences I’ve paid $500 to attend. The range and depth of BOB’s speaker lineup was impressive. I met veterans like Raymond E. Feist (The Riftwar Cycle) and Michael Cassut (The Twilight Zone, The Star Country) as well as new writers like Maer Wilson (Relic) and S.M. Wheeler (Sea Change.) I was privileged to have a personal conversation with Hugo Award-nominated sci-fi great Bruce McAllister (The Village Sang to the Sea: A Memoir of Magic) whose advice was sharp but compassionate; he encouraged me to write what was in my heart and ignore the ever-changing winds of trend. Since I write Young Adult fiction, that was my focus at the conference, and the YA panel didn’t disappoint. In addition to veteran Bruce McAllister, I heard from a new novelist named David Iserson, who took a break from working on shows like Saturday Night Live and New Girl to pen his first novel, Firecracker. Iserson read a snarky, hilarious excerpt from his debut, which evoked fond memories of Heathers.
MEETING JAY ASHERThe highlight of my weekend was meeting Jay Asher, author of 13 Reasons Why, a contemporary YA novel about a high school senior who finds on his doorstep a box of cassette tapes containing his ex-crush’s audio suicide note. It’s one of my favorite YA reads so far, and I was eager to meet its author. Not only was Jay articulate about the business of publishing and the complications of tackling heavy issues in young adult literature, he was honest about the impact that unexpected success had on his own process; before writing 13 Reasons, Jay had focused on funny books for middle grade readers. When his heavy teen suicide YA novel became a bestseller, it shut him down in big way, and he had to rediscover his voice. (Which he has, by the way, as evidenced by The Future of Us.) His testimony validated some of my own fears and raised questions I hadn’t thought to ask. I admired his brilliant, approachable presence on the panel and at the signing afterward. I will definitely return to Big Orange Book Festival next year. In the meantime, I have an impressive stack of freshly signed YA books to dig into.
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Author of SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN. Vegan, Gryffindor, aspiring revolutionary.