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My Saturday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

LA Festival of Books group

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books was held over two days this past weekend, Saturday, April 30th and Sunday, May 1st. Although I was disappointed that the romance genre was not represented at the festival, I made plans to attend some interesting events and panels on Saturday, April 30th, along with my husband, my crit partner and friend Bettie Sharpe, Bettie’s husband, and Bettie’s mom.

LA Festival of Books tents

Saturday was a hot and sunny day with high temperatures in the upper eighties. My husband and I arrived at the USC campus and wended our way past booksellers’ stalls in search of the YA stage, where the first panel was held. While my husband trekked back to the car to return the portable chairs we’d brought and didn’t need, I sat down to wait for Bettie, her husband, and her mom to arrive and to watch the first panel.

Brave New Worlds: Writing the Unreal

That panel was titled “Brave New Worlds: Writing the Unreal” and it was moderated by Aaron Hartzler. The panelists were Andrew Smith, author of The Marbury Lens, Ally Condie, author of Matched, and Laura McNeal and Tom McNeal, co-authors of The Decoding of Lana Morris.

I had expected this panel to be among the most interesting I would attend but as it turned out, it was the least. The authors began by reading excerpts from their books, then answered questions from the moderator, and finally took questions from the audience.

In answer to a question on which came first, the story or the world, Condie said that she began with the story and then thought about what kind of world would best fit that story. This process, however, requires a lot of revision because she has to go back and change aspects of the world as it changes with the story. Laura McNeal said that since her book was set in the real world, albeit with a supernatural element, she and her husband don’t need to do as much worldbuilding.

All four authors said that they tried to weave the concerns of teenagers, such as in Condie’s case, teens’ need for control over their own circumstances, into their books. Condie’s memories of her teenage years were vivid, and she drew on them in writing her books.

In reply to a question about what research they did for their books, Andrew Smith said that he talked to physicists about what is and isn’t theoretically possible. Condie said the game theory she used in her books required a lot of conversations with her husband, an economist, and that she had to ask him to explain game theory in layman’s terms. She also looks up a lot of facts. Laura McNeal, whose book is about a girl placed in foster care with developmentally disabled kids, volunteered at a center for developmentally disabled adults.

Answering a question about which age group he targets in his writing, Smith said that he wrote books about teens without aiming for any specific age group reader. The others agreed with him.

Laura McNeal said she learned a lot about writing from the graduate writing program she attended in answer to a question about advice they would give to writers who aspire to be published. Smith’s answer to the same question was succinct: “Don’t suck.”

I was disappointed in these authors’ replies to a question about which authors they enjoy and would recommend, because none of them recommended other YA authors. Instead some of the names mentioned included Richard Ford, Saul Bellow, Alice McDermott, William Trevor, Cormac McCarthy, and J.D. Salinger (Franny and Zooey in particular). Agatha Christie, mentioned by Condie, was the only author of genre fiction whose name I caught.

Young Adult: Worlds Beyond Imagination

World Beyond Imagination

Having met up with our friends in the middle of the panel, we headed past the USC rose gardens and through streets crowded with festival goers to the next panel we had tickets for, “Young Adult: Worlds Beyond Imagination.”

Thankfully, this panel was held indoors, in an air conditioned space, but that wasn’t the only reason that it was a huge improvement over the previous one. Moderator and librarian Cindy Dobrez asked thoughtful questions and the panelists, authors Jonathan Stroud (The Bartimaeus series, most recently The Ring of Solomon), Megan Whalen Turner (The Thief series, most recently A Conspiracy of Kings), and Rick Yancey (The Monstrumologist series, most recently The Curse of the Wendigo) gave equally intelligent, frequently humorous answers.

The panel began with the moderator’s announcement that Megan Whalen Turner had just been awarded the Los Angeles Book Prize in the Young Adult category for A Conspiracy of Kings. Then Dobrez directed her first question at the panelists, which was on the subject of world building.

Megan Whalen Turner said that as a big fan of Tolkien who had read too many Tolkien clones, it was important to her not to emulate Tolkien in her YA fantasy series. She wanted a landscape that was equally familiar yet very different from the one Tolkien used as a backdrop for these books. It wasn’t until she visited Greece that she realized she had hit upon that landscape.

Rick Yancey talked about his love for history and for the nineteenth century and how this love fed his Monstrumologist series, which are Young Adult horror novels set in late nineteenth century New York that draw on nineteenth century books like Dracula and Dickens’ novels.

Jonathan Stroud lives in London (the moderator quipped that he had skipped out on the royal wedding to be with us), where the first three books in his series about Baritmaeus the genie are set. The latest book, though, is a prequel set in the Jerusalem of King Solomon’s times. Stroud said he had done a lot of research on ancient Jerusalem but then had to stop because too much research can interfere with his vision for the story.

The panel talked about humor and how important it was to have comic relief in books that sometimes got dark and scary. It was evident that they had read each other’s books as well as other YA authors. Yancey said he writes both for his adult self and for the teen reader he used to be. Turner said she likes to reread and deliberately tries to construct books that can be enjoyed in more than one reading, and that she writes for all ages. Stroud and Turner talked about their admiration for the late YA author Diana Wynne Jones (best known for Howl’s Moving Castle) and in Turner’s case, how Jones’ encouragement of her writing meant the world to her.

Fans of the Megan Whalen Turner series might be interested to hear that Turner said that she was more interested in the stories of reluctant leaders than of rulers who enjoy wielding power, and that for that reason, it was unlikely that she would ever make the queens of Eddis and Attolia main characters in her novels. Conflicted characters like Eugenides and Sophos, who are thrust into their leadership roles without desiring to be kings, are more interesting to her.

Turner also said that she chose the POV of her books by first envisioning the story she wanted to tell in each of all the possible POVs and then selecting the POV which would allow her to tell that story as completely as possible. After writing The Thief in first person, she switched to third person with The Queen of Attolia because she knew that her main character would be suffering in that book, and a suffering first person narrator might come across as a whiner.

Jonathan Stroud talked about how in writing the first book in his series about Bartimaeus the djinni, he realized that he had to switch back and forth between the third person story about his main character, a boy who releases the djinni and commands him, and the humorous first person voice of the djinni. He started out with the first person voice of Baritmaeus, but realized it needed to be alternated with the third person narrative.

Rick Yancey told a hilarious story about how when he was finishing up one of his Monstrumologist novels he missed his deadline and had to stay up late to finish writing the book. He went around his house late at night checking the windows and doors because he scared himself during the writing process.

The subject of series also came up and Jonathan Stroud said that he has to be very interested in a character in order to write more than one book about that character. The character has to be engaging enough to support the series, because if the author is bored, there is no way that readers will care.

Although my initial interest in the panel was due to Megan Whalen Turner’s presence, I left it interested in Stroud and Yancey’s books as well. All three authors were articulate, funny, and unabashed in their appreciation of YA books. What’s more, Turner said that she likes to write about love.

Publishing in the 21st Century

Publishing in the 21st Century

After a break for lunch we joined the standby line for a panel called “Publishing in the 21st Century.” Luckily there were enough seats left to enable us to escape the blazing sun and enter the blessedly cool, air-conditioned auditorium where this panel was held. The panel was being filmed for “Book TV” on CSPAN-2, and those of you who have cable may be able to catch in on television.

The moderator of the panel was Sara Nelson, formerly editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly and now book editor for O magazine. The panelists included Robert Weil (executive editor at W.W. Norton and Company), Johnny Temple (founder of Akashic Books, a Brooklyn based independent publisher which publishes urban literary fiction and political nonfiction), Kim Robinson (whose background included archiving work), and Cary Goldstein (publisher and editor-in-chief of Twelve Books).

The growth of ebook reading was one of the big topics on this panel. Sara Nelson began by admitting that at a similar panel last year and at other earlier events, she and other industry insiders made predictions that turned out to be totally inaccurate. For example, the Barnes and Noble Nook was expected to tank, but instead it has become a hit. It was thought that reference books would be the big sellers in the ebook market, but not fiction, and that turned out to be completely wrong.

Robert Weil, who was answered with applause when he said he still had a lot of love for the book as a physical object, stated that Nelson was right and that in the same period that they had seen 20% growth in genre fiction ebooks, there had been only 1% or 2% of growth in what he termed “serious books” (He used The Hemingses of Monticello as an example of the latter). For this reason, he said that he felt that print books would not entirely go away.

Kim Robinson said that paper archives better than anything else we have at the moment and that it is risky to archive library collections only electronically.

Johnny Temple said that ebooks have advantages including being more environmental (after we left the panel, we discussed whether or not this latter statement was actually accurate), and (wisely IMO) that “Book publishing needs the ebook – we need to be relevant.” He also said that the biggest challenge of the electronic reading era was ebook piracy, but then contradicted himself when he added that although his company’s books had been pirated, sales of their books hadn’t suffered as a result.

Cary Goldstein said that they were seeing 30% and sometimes even 50% of sales in ebooks, but what they didn’t know yet was whether the sales that were now going to ebooks were from former readers of trade books or former readers of hardcover books.

Moderator Sara Nelson said that if she loves a book she wants it in print. It sounded like she felt that the reading experience was superior with print books, but she commented that ebooks were less expensive and for those books she didn’t love, or for people who had made the transition to owning an ebook reader, the lower price made ebooks preferable.

Robert Weil said he was worried for brick and mortar bookstores. Someone (I forget who) said that bookstores were important to the reading community as places to browse and find books. Sara Nelson said “I know in New York the bigger the bookstore, the faster it’s closing.”

Then the topic of social media was raised. Robert Weil said it was a challenge for authors and that since bookstores are ordering fewer copies the challenge is “how to get the word out.” Sara Nelson asked if social media really worked and Cary Goldstein replied that it depends on the writer. He said that “voices of authority” in traditional media that readers trust are still needed.

Johnny Temple then made what I thought was one of the better comments of the discussion when he said that “There has to be something creative and there has to be something organic” to the author’s social media presence for it to work. Cary Goldstein talked about Sebastian Junger’s website and how it has an amazing community of soldiers who talk about their personal experiences in the war.

Kim Robinson indicated that she believes it is still a good idea for authors to reach out to people who care about the subject matter of their books through in-person speaking engagements.

At this point our group had to duck out of the panel in order to make it to the next event on our schedule. As we walked to the Dan Savage venue we talked about the way the discussion at the “Publishing in the 21st Century” panel had struck us as short-sighted and out of touch with a portion of the reading public.

Dan Savage in Conversation with Douglas Sadnowick: It Gets Better

Dan Savage, It Gets Better
As it turned out, we had saved the best for last, and the best was Dan Savage’s conversation with Doug Sadnowick. Sadnowick, founder and director of the country’s first LGBT Specialization in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University, interviewed Dan Savage about the It Gets Better Project.

While we were waiting, “It Gets Better” buttons were handed out and we pinned them on. At my request, Bettie snapped a picture of hers which she pinned to her hat.

Dan Savage, It Gets Better

Doug Sandowick cracked us up when he began by saying “I spoke with Dan on the phone yesterday and he said that for this one hour, I could be the top in our relationship.” But things quickly got serious when Sadnowick asked Dan Savage how he got the idea to start the It Gets Better Project.

Savage replied by saying that the idea came to him after he read about a fifteen year old boy who had been bullied and committed suicide. It turned out that there had been five suicides at his school, three by LGBTQ kids, and that “so-called Christian parents” had opposed the anti-bullying program that school officials wanted to institute on the basis that it would infringe on their religious freedom. “And that pissed me the fuck off.”

Billy Lucas was bullied after death on his facebook page; his bullies went there to celebrate his death. On Dan Savage’s site, a commenter left a comment addressed to Billy Lucas, which said, “I wish I could have known you, Billy Lucas. If I’d known you, I could have told you that things get better.”

Savage talked about how he’d always wanted to talk to and mentor gay teens but couldn’t get permission, and when he saw the comment, “It struck me that in the era of You Tube, I was waiting for permission that I no longer needed.”

The ultimate accomplishment of It Gets Better is that it’s saved lives, but the penultimate accomplishment, Savage said, is that it broke the old deal society had with LGBTQ people, that “You’re ours to torture until you’re eighteen” and that if gay adults reached out to gay youth they would be accused of pedophilia. It Gets Better allowed them to reach out and make a difference.

He said he himself was bullied in middle school but was also able to fly under the radar a little bit because, as David Sedaris said in his contribution to the book It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living, in those days “there was no such thing as gay kids.”

Dan Savage also said that twenty years of the religious right gay hate campaign have made it really hard for gay kids to go to schools in areas where a lot of people are intolerant. Whatever is being preached in pulpits by anti-gay bigots, he said, “touches me not at all – it doesn’t pry one dick out of my hand.” Instead, it is gay kids who are the ones who are badly hurt.

He said that he likes to tell gay kids that “You are on your hero’s journey. It’s painful and unfair but it’s going to forge your character and you are going to discover who you are.” Gay pride, he added, is about having the strength to be who you are and to tell the truth about who you are to the people you love, even though it’s hard.

He also spoke about the controversy over the sex positive aspect of some of the You Tube videos. Dan and his husband, Terry Miller, got emails from people who wanted them to edit out the story of their exchange when they first met, when Dan said “You have a pretty mouth,” and Terry replied with “The better to eat you with.” Some people felt that that reference to oral sex should be edited out of the video but Dan said they will not edit it out because it is part of the gay experience and they want the video to be sex positive.

Dan Savage also cited some chilling statistics, for example, that 40% of homeless teenagers are LGBTQ kids who came out and were thrown out by their parents, which is why telling kids to come out of the closet is not always a good solution. Kids who are LGBT are also four times more likely to commit suicide than straight kids, and if their parents are hostile to gays, they are eight times more likely to commit suicide.

He said the book based on the It Gets Better Project allows schools to show support for those teens. They can say “We’re putting this book on the shelves for the queer kids in the student body because we don’t want them to die.” If you go to the ItGetsBetter.org website, you can make a contribution there that will enable them to donate a copy of the book to the library at the school of your choice.

I wish I had room to share even more of Dan’s stories (among other things he described seeing the Broadway musical based on The Kid, his memoir of how he and Terry adopted their son, as a surreal experience) but since this post is long enough I’ll wrap up my article on the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books by saying that although I remain disappointed by the exclusion of the romance genre from the festival, I still had a great time.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

42 Comments

  1. Abigail Strom
    May 04, 2011 @ 10:57:13

    Wonderfully detailed post…thank you!

    Megan Whalen Turner is one of my favorite YA authors. The love story in The Queen of Attolia remains my gold standard for romantic conflict.

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  2. Tamara Hogan
    May 04, 2011 @ 11:17:16

    During last night’s episode of “Glee”, a commercial for Google Chrome featuring Savage’s “It Gets Better” project brought tears to my eyes.

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  3. Janine
    May 04, 2011 @ 11:29:55

    @Abigail Strom You’re welcome. The love story in The Queen of Attolia (and The King of Attolia) is so memorable.

    @Tamara Hogan: I had to blink away tears a couple of times during the It Gets Better panel. And I laughed several times as well, because Dan Savage was really witty, as well as articulate and moving.

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  4. Michelle
    May 04, 2011 @ 11:30:42

    Thanks for the write up. Megan Whalen Turner is such a fantastic author. I don’t think many authors could have done what she did with Queen of Attolia, and pull it off. She really does a nice job with the romance whether it is passionate(Gen) or more subtle(Sounis).

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  5. Janine
    May 04, 2011 @ 11:43:50

    @Michelle: You’re welcome, Michelle. I do love her books. She said she wasn’t going to give away any information about the next book because since she has taken as many as six years to write a book, it would not be fair to her readers to torture them that way.

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  6. Carolyn Jewel
    May 04, 2011 @ 12:02:18

    This is why publishers need to learn about people who read. That is, primarily women. Anyone who spends any time interacting with genre fiction readers would have known that was wrong 10 years ago.

    Great summary! Thanks for the post.

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  7. Janine
    May 04, 2011 @ 12:15:58

    @Carolyn Jewel: You are so right! After we left the “Publishing in the 21st Century” panel, Bettie’s mom said she felt the panelists in that panel were myopic. I also didn’t understand the attitude that ebooks are inferior to print books. I wonder if any of them has a Kindle 3, because I actually prefer reading on my kindle to reading a hardcover. It seemed like they were so invested in certain outcomes that they couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

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  8. DS
    May 04, 2011 @ 12:25:36

    I ended up a fan of Yancy after reading the first Monstrumologist book as a Kindle freebie. Of all the people who were trying Victorian style books at the time– e.g. Dan Simmons’ Drood– this was the one that really worked for me. It also had a good Lovecraftian horror vibe.

    ItGetsBetter.org — I’m going to make my contribution. Adolescence wasn’t fun but I got by because I was probably what would have been called geeky a few years later. People weren’t sure how to pigeonhole me. I couldn’t imagine any circumstances under which my parents would have thrown me out, but I did know and/or heard about teen-aged contemporaries who were hospitalized in psychiatric facilities for problems ranging from truancy to doing drugs. (It seems odd now to think now common this was.)

    Homosexuality wasn’t removed from the DSM as a diagnosis until 1973 so probably some of them could have been sent off because of “sexual deviancy”.

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  9. Janine
    May 04, 2011 @ 12:38:50

    @DS: I’m glad to hear you like Yancey’s books. I was thinking of trying one, but I’m not entirely sure if I should because I don’t generally enjoy scary books. Are they a lot scary, or only a little?

    I think Yancey may have mentioned Lovecraft as an influence on his writing during the panel discussion.

    Re. ItGetsBetter.org, thank you for contributing! I tried to link to the donation page on their website where you can specify the school whose library you want to donate the book to, but for some reason my link didn’t take.

    It’s horrifying to think about teens coming out to their parents and then getting thrown out of the house for it. I cannot fathom how any parent could do that to their own child.

    One of the other things Dan Savage said was that it is “the best of times and the worst of times” for LGBT teens right now. The best of times because there are schools and communities that are supportive, and the worst of times because there are schools and communities that are very hostile to them, especially those communities gay adults have left because of bigotry, but gay kids cannot leave until they are older.

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  10. Kerry Allen
    May 04, 2011 @ 13:15:07

    @Janine: “I cannot fathom how any parent could do that to their own child.”

    We are increasingly becoming a society where parenthood is more of a status symbol than a responsibility.

    No need to let that little person cramp your style! That’s what school and television are for!

    When I worked with teens, the most rigid, disapproving parents were the ones who had nothing to do with their children for their entire lives and were then surprised and angry they “didn’t turn out right.”

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  11. Sandir
    May 04, 2011 @ 13:44:21

    It sounds like the publishers STILL don’t get it if they think their main challenge is ebook piracy. Their main challenge is getting us a quality product optimized for each device, without typos and formatting errors, with cover art, and frankly, they’re flunking the challenge.

    Also, I’m amazed that they still state ebooks are less expensive than paper books. I find most of my ebook purchases are similar in price to paper books and when I’m done I can’t lend them out or re-sell them which decreases their value in my eyes.

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  12. Janine
    May 04, 2011 @ 14:10:30

    @Kerry Allen: That’s really sad and must have been so frustrating to see up close.

    @Sandir: I wonder if they are focusing on hardcovers which are generally less expensive in e, and forgetting that mass market paperbacks aren’t any cheaper.

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  13. elaine mueller
    May 04, 2011 @ 15:34:10

    why why why why why why WHY was romance not represented?

    iirc there was a group of rwa authors who tried to get participation started in the LATBF back in the late 90s. ’97 maybe. what the heck happened? i’ve been outta the loop for a long time but i never expected romance NOT to be represented at this event.

    i agree w/sandir: publishers are missing the boat entirely. but what else is new????

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  14. Janine
    May 04, 2011 @ 15:54:11

    @elaine mueller:

    why why why why why why WHY was romance not represented?

    I really have no idea, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it has something to do with book snobbery. I did not see adult science fiction or fantasy represented either, but I believe there were some mystery authors there, so not all genre fiction was excluded. I also wonder if it might have something to do with the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, as they give awards in a number of categories but none for genre fiction except for Mystery/Thriller.

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  15. Angela
    May 04, 2011 @ 17:45:13

    What a great, detailed report! Thanks for this :)

    I love the Bartimaeus series by Stroud. Bartimaeus is a great character and so fun to read (with footnotes and everything!) Though I still have to read the latest book.

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  16. Lucy
    May 04, 2011 @ 17:49:05

    Dan Savage came to Dallas recently and I highly encourage everyone to go see him. Was an awesome evening followed by a book signing.

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  17. DS
    May 04, 2011 @ 17:55:18

    @Janine: Yancy’s books are not for the faint of heart. I don’t want to discourage any readers, but they are quite scary and pretty gross as well. His monsters are indeed monstrous.

    And oh, crap, Diane Wynn Jones is dead? I’m so depressed. This getting old sucks.

    I think every author who wants to write fantasy should pick up her Tough Guide to Fantasyland– which is thankfully currently in print for a reasonable $9.99. Why no ebook?

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  18. Janine
    May 04, 2011 @ 18:39:26

    @Angela: You’re welcome! I’ve been thinking of trying one of the Baritmaeus books so it’s good to hear that you like them.

    @Lucy: Yes, I encourage everyone with the opportunity to go see Dan Savage too. He was a wonderful speaker.

    @DS: I believe Diana Wynne Jones passed away relatively recently. I remember hearing about it on Twitter not long ago. I’ve never read her books but Stroud and Turner were fans and Turner indicated that Jones was a major influence on her writing. She told a story about how, when she was still unpublished, she (after some nudging from her husband) sent Jones a couple of her short stories and Jones wrote back that Turner was (I’m quoting or paraphrasing from memory) a writer of great talent, competence and originality. Turner said that compliment kept her going many times when she was tempted to give up.

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  19. Sunita
    May 04, 2011 @ 20:03:23

    What a great post, it makes me feel like I was at some of these panels. I am so glad that MW Turner is as cool as her books.

    After watching that Chrome ad, I am reminded that even if Google is The Borg, it makes some really admirable choices. To embed that into a regular commercial is impressive.

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  20. Jill Sorenson
    May 04, 2011 @ 20:51:12

    Nice write-up, Janine. Tom and Laura McNeal live in the same town as me but I’ve never met them. Or read any of the books. I have to remedy that! I have seen the film “Tully” that was adapted from one of Tom McNeal’s stories. I highly recommend it and even mentioned it to Jayne recently. Gorgeous depiction of a quiet Nebraska town with a nice romance and a wounded bad boy hero. LOVE it!

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0212604/

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  21. Janine
    May 04, 2011 @ 21:08:54

    @Sunita: Glad you enjoyed the post. It’s also great to have that Google ad on network TV because it gets It Gets Better in front of gay kids who may not have internet access.

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  22. Janine
    May 04, 2011 @ 21:12:19

    @Jill Sorenson: Laura McNeal read from The Decoding of Lana Morris and it did get me somewhat interested in the book. I really wish some of the authors on that first panel had recommended other YA authors though, and not just books for adults.

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  23. Liza Lester
    May 05, 2011 @ 02:18:52

    Thanks for the postmortem Janine. I do love Megan Whalen Turner. I’d like to see a conflicted woman dominate one of her storylines! I’ve wondered if the predominance of the men has made her books more appealing to boy readers. She sneaks in a love story, one that I think is incredibly romantic, but it is understated compared to the YA fiction that is obviously marketed to girls.

    While I’m here, I want to tout Dan’s Savage Love podcast to the sex-positive, curious podcast addicts among us. In the most recent episode he talks about rape fantasies with a caller–a topic that’s been current at Dear Author.

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  24. Annabel
    May 05, 2011 @ 07:53:20

    Thanks for the report and the Dan Savage info too. Everytime I see one of those “It gets better” promos I get kind of choked up. I can’t imagine what it’s like to grow up feeling the way closeted or shamed GLBTQ kids must feel, and how it doesn’t completely break them. And for the parents to be part of the problem…that is the most heartbreaking thought of all.

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  25. bettie
    May 05, 2011 @ 09:38:46

    Great write-up! I felt like I was there all over again, except this time without the crowds or heat. ;)

    Dan Savage was definitely the best part of the Festival of Books for me, though I did leave the YA Fantasy panel wanting to read the authors who spoke. They were so thoughtful and engaging that I left the panel certain their writing is equally thoughtful and engaging.

    Bettie’s mom said she felt the panelists in that panel were myopic.
    And this is bad news for publishers because I’ve always thought of my mom as representative of many genre readers. She’s retired and reads several books a week. She prefers reading on her computer to physical books because it allows her to read without bowing her neck over a book (which can get painful), and she doesn’t have to hold a heavy book for hours at a time, and she can control the font size of books.

    I was surprised none of the panelists in “Publishing in the 21st Century” acknowledged the value and conveniences of ebooks to heavy readers, like, for instance, the type-size issue, or the fact that e-readers are lighter than most hardbacks. The omission was, I thought, indicative of their lack of insight into, and interest in, the non-content needs of readers (perhaps this is why they failed to anticipate the success of the Nook; it’s a very convenient device). Instead, they focused on “the feel” of paper books vs e-readers. IMHO, paper books may “feel” better than my e-reader, but I can’t carry 85 paper books with me everywhere I go, as I can with ebooks.

    Other topics I would have loved to see them discuss are ones that have already been covered here on DA — the Harper-Collins library e-book expiration scam, the efficacy (or lack thereof) of DRM, publishers’ relationships with Amazon, and publishers’ relationships with libraries.

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  26. Rossy
    May 05, 2011 @ 11:32:33

    Thanks for the report and the summary on what Dan Savage spoke discussed. I love his books, which i would have known about this sooner as i would have gone there just for him alone!

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  27. Janine
    May 05, 2011 @ 11:37:40

    @Liza Lester: I would love to see a female main character in one of Megan Whalen Turner’s books, since she writes such interesting women.

    Thanks for the info on the podcast!

    @bettie: The “Publishing in the 21st Century” panelists struck me as heavily in favor of print books over ebooks, which is ironic given the name of the panel!

    It’s possible that they might have brought up some of those other topics after we left though, since we had to leave their panel halfway through in order to make it to the Dan Savage event.

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  28. Janine
    May 05, 2011 @ 11:40:10

    @Rossy: The festival is held every year but the speakers change so I don’t know if Dan Savage will be there next year. I wonder if he lists his speaking engagements on his website.

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  29. Gail S.
    May 05, 2011 @ 12:19:55

    I meant to ask whether other genres were snubbed, and not just romance, and you answered before I could. A little mystery, no speculative fiction, no romance–and obviously no Westerns.

    I’ve been to the Texas Book Festival in Austin, and I don’t believe any genre author has been invited to any panel. Strictly “literary” types. But romance authors have participated in a booth outside the main thing. The Texas festival is in October, I think. Yeah–October. When it finally cools down enough not to pass out from heat stroke. It’s Oct. 22-23 this year.

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  30. Moriah Jovan
    May 05, 2011 @ 12:44:39

    @bettie:

    The omission was, I thought, indicative of their lack of insight into, and interest in, the non-content needs of readers[...]

    Bettie, you and I may have talked about this before, but it’s even worse than a lack of insight. It’s complete ignorance.

    I’ve had a while now to study the people who come to me for digital formatting and I have come to the conclusion that the people who know the least about digital books are the publishing people who’ve been in publishing since before God was born. They’re wary of it. They have every detail and device explained (several times). They don’t really understand it once I’ve explained (and I spend a lot of time explaining and teaching).

    Those who are ignorant but NOT WARY know they absolutely want their books to be in digital, but aren’t sure WHY they want their books to be in digital.

    The thing about 90% of my clients have in common is that they have never read an ebook, don’t know anybody who reads ebooks, have never seen anybody reading an ebook (or if they have, they didn’t know what they were looking at), don’t know how it works, and so have no real frame of reference for ebooks at all.

    So IMO it’s not myopia so much as complete blindness. At this point, I’m not even sure it’s WILLFUL blindness.

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  31. Janine
    May 05, 2011 @ 13:06:48

    @Gail S.:

    I meant to ask whether other genres were snubbed, and not just romance, and you answered before I could. A little mystery, no speculative fiction, no romance–and obviously no Westerns.

    No adult horror either. You can take a look at first link in my post and see the entire program there. There were some big names present. The first photo I have posted is of Jamie Lee Curtis at the children’s stage — I guess she has a children’s book out. R.L Stine was also at the children’s stage. Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan (the author who ticked off a lot of readers by looking down on chick lit) was there, as was Danica McKellar, talking about her book on math. There was a panel called “Obama: Two Years In” that looked interesting, too. Even without genre fiction being sufficiently represented, there were enough interesting choices available that I wished I could have seen more. But I really wish there had been more events geared toward genre readers. It’s disappointing that the types of books that are most popular with readers get so little representation at events like this one.

    @Moriah Jovan: Wow, that is incredibly disheartening and does not bode well for the future of the publishing industry.

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  32. Moriah Jovan
    May 05, 2011 @ 13:24:16

    @Janine:

    Wow, that is incredibly disheartening and does not bode well for the future of the publishing industry.

    Not as we know it, no. But you know, Nature abhors a vacuum and once the moribund forest has been burnt to the ground, the new growth will come up stronger and better.

    That’s my roundabout way of saying I (for one) am not worried about it.

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  33. bettie
    May 06, 2011 @ 09:24:05

    @Janine: Yes, they could have discussed a lot of things after we left. As disappointing as the first half was, I would have liked to hear the second half, but I don’t regret leaving in favor of Dan Savage. His panel was interesting, amusing and heart-wrenching. And the eight-year-old who got up and asked how he could help gay kids in his class made me so hopeful for the future (though it also made me wonder where the kid’s parents were, the language seemed a little salty for kids).

    @Moriah Jovan: That is disheartening. I guess I was just surprised to see that level of ignorance about the myriad reasons (other than book price and purchasing convenience) that people might choose to read digital books from people whose profession was so heavily influenced by ebooks. It was really telling that the panel admitted it had, in earlier years, predicted ebooks for non-fiction and paper books for fiction, when the break-down is exactly the opposite. Having used my ebook reader for both research and pleasure reading, I’ve found that a paper book with a good index and a nice pile of sticky notes is still faster than running a search on the piddly little processor in my e-reader. I’ve heard that many students have discovered the same thing, as university programs to use the Kindle for textbooks were not so well received (Ive read some articles that suggest iPad programs are doing a bit better). The first rule for successfully selling something is to know your market. If the current publishing industry doesn’t make an attempt to understand what their customers want, another one will surely rise to take its place.

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  34. Janine
    May 06, 2011 @ 13:04:47

    @bettie: Yeah, Dan Savage was by far the best of all the events we attended, so I have no regrets whatsoever about leaving “Publishing in the 21st Century” to catch his conversation with Doug Sadnowick.

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  35. Cliff EMrkell
    May 06, 2011 @ 14:20:37

    The LATIMES festival of books was one of the great times my family had over the past 7 years. I think this is the last one we will attend together… I will attend myself for now on. Most of the staples of the past (Borders Book signing, the food court at UCLA, the Barnes and Nobles stage, the Kids stage, etc.) are gone. Certainly the festival is not what it used to be… but I am still grateful for it!

    I wonder if the E book revolution is killing book fairs in general.

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  36. Cliff Merkell
    May 06, 2011 @ 14:22:20

    The LATIMES festival of books was one of the great times my family had over the past 7 years. I think this is the last one we will attend together… I will attend myself for now on. Most of the staples of the past (Borders Book signing, the food court at UCLA, the Barnes and Nobles stage, the Kids stage, etc.) are gone. Certainly the festival is not what it used to be… but I am still grateful for it!

    I wonder if the E book revolution is killing book fairs in general.

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  37. Moriah Jovan
    May 06, 2011 @ 14:34:18

    @bettie:

    Having used my ebook reader for both research and pleasure reading, I’ve found that a paper book with a good index and a nice pile of sticky notes is still faster than running a search on the piddly little processor in my e-reader.

    Agree. Absolutely.

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  38. Moriah Jovan
    May 06, 2011 @ 14:39:22

    @Cliff Merkell:

    I wonder if the E book revolution is killing book fairs in general.

    If it does, then there would have been no reason for it. Two and a half years ago I was thinking about getting a booth for my book (only one then) at the KC Arts Show on the Plaza in September and had all sorts of ways to sell an ebook alongside the print book, which at that time involved CDs and/or thumb drives. Now, with QR codes and the software to sign ebooks, it’d be even easier. The possibilities for displaying and selling books (p and e) at book fairs are endless.

    And…aren’t book fairs about the readers, anyway?

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  39. Janine
    May 06, 2011 @ 20:18:45

    @Cliff Merkell: This was my first time attending the festival, so I can’t compare it to previous years. The change of venue (from the UCLA campus to the USC campus) is sure to make for some differences. There was still a children’s stage this year — and you can see it in the first picture I posted. There were some decent food choices inside some of the USC buildings, too.

    I thought there were a lot of people there, but since I haven’t previously attended I can’t compare the turnout. It’s also possible that since it’s new to it’s current neighborhood, more people will come with each year that it’s held at the new location. I had an excellent time, for what it’s worth.

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  40. filkferengi
    May 09, 2011 @ 14:23:50

    Great post! Thanks for all the details, especially the YA author panel; it’s great to see Megan Whalen Turner getting so much love in the comments!

    Have you considered the Tucson Festival of Books? Romance seemed very well represented, with Susan Wiggs & Mary Jo Putney, among several others. They also had young adult, western, science fiction, fantasy, and mystery authors. In fact, J. A. Jance was a keynote speaker. Genre fiction is certainly well-represented! There were also excellent storytelling panels and concerts.

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  41. Janine
    May 09, 2011 @ 19:17:21

    @filkferengi: Great to hear that about the Tuscon festival. It sounds wonderful but I’m not sure I’d be willing or able to undertake that drive.

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  42. What Janine is Reading, Late Summer/Early Fall 2011 - Dear Author
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 12:00:45

    [...] reviewed all four of the books in this series in the past, but after seeing Turner on the YA panel at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, my husband and I decided to read the series together. [...]

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