What in the world is YAKFest? It’s the Young Adult Keller Book Festival. This was my second year attending, and man how this event grew from a couple of years ago! It was so exciting to see a packed auditorium ready to take on a day of meeting authors and listening to them speak and finding new books to read! Below is a Twitter “Moment” I created of #YAK17. I attended with my wonderful mother-in-law!
Since this and other events I attend are often geared toward the actual “young adult” reader, I usually try to be respectful of that and allow others to ask questions and approach the authors before and after. This fits me just fine, I’m a quiet person with not much to say anyway. I have more pictures, but they are on an actual camera, and phone pictures are so much easier to access.
I took notes during the panels, and I’ll share some below, but mostly it’s an experience that if you get the chance to have, I suggest you do it. (Not only this festival, but book festivals in general. I love them.)
— Julia Gem ⚙ (@byersj09) January 29, 2017
After Krissi Dallas (author of Phantom Island series and local to the area) introduced the authors and they each gave a tweet-long summary of their books, it was off to the panels!
Questions about writing always make their way onto panels, and the answer is usually some variation of “There’s no one way to write a book.” Whether talking about whether they plot or pants, write chronologically, or start with characters or location.
The first panel we attended was called “Princess for Hire” and featured authors Lisa Schroeder, Kristin Rae, Elizabeth Eulberg, Charlotte Huang, and Valynne Maetani. One of the main questions the moderator asked was about how the authors went about doing research. The answers varied, some of the authors not needing to do more than look to their own experiences, some needing to get lost in online research, and others having to interview people they knew when the information they wanted was not readily available online. So, if you’re writing and the internet isn’t turning up what you need, try asking your contacts, traveling (if you’re able), and looking at pictures, or just make it up (within reason, of course).
When asked why they write, Maetani said that she wrote for her sister. She went on to explain that she wrote so that her sister could see Japanese-Americans as heroes in their own stories. This echoes so much of what I’ve seen/heard about writing diversity. People want to see themselves in books, own voices are important.
Because of my interest in and friendships with those in the indie-pubbed world, it was nice to hear all the authors on this panel acknowledge that indie authors have to do so much more work, and none of them treated it as though it was a lesser way of doing something.
After the lunch break was the keynote address. You. Guys. Oh my gosh. Really. I haven’t read The Serpent King (although I will when I can get my hands on it), but I knew many people had great things to say about it, so I was curious to hear Jeff Zentner speak. There are some snippets in my “moment” above. Not only was his message incredibly important, but man, Zentner can speak! I’m not surprised, though, after hearing what his “day job” is. Here’s his Instagram picture with a little about what he said. And here’s a link, for however long he keeps it up, of his actual keynote speech. Basically, he was on point about what’s going on in the political climate right now without actually being too political, if that even makes sense. And here’s my attempt to sum it up, based on my notes:
Things right now seem pretty dark. That happens in books too. And as an author, I believe in “mak[ing] you crawl through a sewer pipe of sadness to get to hope.”
“Book people are beacons of empathy,” and “empathy is the pipe to hope.”
“Book people will become our memories, our history, our protectors, our moral compass. … So keep filling yourself with words and ideas.” Find courage in those words and lend your courage to others who need it. “Seek the stories that make you feel strong” when you are out of courage, and find the strength to continue being a beacon of light, of empathy.
“History does not honor the names of people who build walls…. History honors the names of people who tear down walls. History honors the names of people who tell stories so powerful that walls crumble and fall before them.”
Ask yourself, “if not me, then who?” will be the beacons of light.
I don’t know if I’ve ever heard an auditorium so rapt. Until Zentner made a mention of romantic caveman grunts *insert eruption of laughter at well-placed comic relief.* I believe his address was well received, not only in the minds but in the hearts of those in attendance.
So, after that amazing speech, it was time for more panels!
This was the one time I wasn’t absolutely certain which panel I wanted to go to, and we were going to attend one about stories set in space, but it was super crowded and I just COULD NOT handle that. So instead we went to one called “Just Keep Swimming.” I was somewhat disappointed that the moderator didn’t seem to have any questions that really probed the authors for much, but it was still fun to go to. Authors there were e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, Melanie Crowder, Christian McKay Heidicker, K.A. Holt, Lindsay Lane, and Jeff Zentner.
The next panel we went to was “A Whole New World,” and despite the crowd, I wasn’t leaving. We had to stand for the entire thing. Authors were Katherine Catmull, Traci Chee, Roshani Chokshi, Kate Elliott, Lori Goldstein, and Lisa Maxwell. I thought I’d get a better idea of how to say Roshani’s name, but she was so quick about it I’m sure I still butcher it! The authors discussed their process for creating worlds, and guess what? The processes are never quite the same! “There’s no one way to write a book” includes building the world!
One of the audience members talked about writing a story, and wanting to include another culture but not wanting to get things wrong. The authors answered about doing a lot of research and having readers from that culture help you out, but Traci Chee said something that I’m sure will always stick with me. She said that sometimes you write a story and realize “It’s not my story to tell.”
The last panel of the day was called “Shredder’s Revenge.” Authors were Jonathan Maberry, Kiersten White, Samantha Mabry, Will Ritter, Carrie Ryan, and April Henry. Again conversation revolved around the authors’ processes, for the most part, and some tomfoolery up on the stage.
There were sessions we weren’t able to go to, of course (there’s only so much time in a day). These were mostly the workshops. There were workshops for writing, poetry, storytelling, and anime/manga.