The Silver Lining | NYC Teen Author Festival recap

First, thanks so much for weighing in about my last post. It seems there’s a lot of interest for tutorials on creating successful book trailers, so I’ll put together the next post in the series for next week. I’m going on vacation at the end of this week and won’t have Internet access most of the week. (Not anywhere exciting, unless you count the non-stop thrills of my grandmother’s retirement community).

So last night I went to the NYC Teen Author Festival event "Juvenilia Smackdown." This is the info for the event: Join Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Alaya Johnson, Justine Larbalestier, David Levithan, Diana Peterfreund, Scott Westerfeld as they read some of their (ahem) less accomplished work from their middle school and high school years. Hosted by Libba Bray.

The pictures on the side are courtesy of my friend Michelle, who I attended the event with. I am way too shy to take photos myself!  Also, apologies, I’m having trouble with the formatting so the pictures are in a random order.

I seriously have not laughed that hard in my entire life. The authors read from writings they wrote in high school. The goal of the night was to suck the worst. You can see by Scott Westerfeld’s crown that he is King of Suck. Holly Black came in close.

Libba Bray hosted the event, and wow, can I just say she has some serious public speaking skills? She must have been an actress in a previous life, and I guess her skills translate well into her writing because I remember one of her characters had a talent for captivating audiences. Libba opened the panel by pulling out an extra strength box of tylenol, antacids, or earplugs if any of the audience members truly became sick from the terrible pre-published writing of the panel members. She introduced each author, stating she was too lazy to research what they were actually like in high school, so she made all the info up. Let’s just say from that point on, I didn’t stand a chance of keeping a straight face. My mouth still hurts from laughing so much!

Bear with me because I’m trying to recall all this from memory. Apologies if I get details wrong or remember some things better than others.

First up, David Levithan read two poems plus some of his high school journalism.
The first poem he read contained such a predictable rhyme scheme, he made his reading interactive by reading one line and letting the audience provide the next. Then he read a non-rhyming poem called "After the phone call"–a phone call he can no longer recall the purpose of or even who he wrote it about. This poem included a metaphor about a wave that he ran with…and ran with…and ran with.

Then it was Justine Larbalestier’s turn and she read two fairy tales she wrote when she was between the ages 8-10. These were adorable, but also disturbing. The prince gets executed in one of them. There was another where dragons supposedly murdered the main character’s dragon, but then the dragons revealed he died of natural causes to the protagonist forgave them and lived with them forever. She also read from something she wrote in high school where she was obsessed with Errol Flynn. So clearly he became a character in her story.
After that Alaya Johnson read from a story she wrote in high school. She said her teachers loved this one so much, they made her read it in church. She also said her friends told her the "thugs" were cliche. It was called Crimson Rose, and included a character who sheds a single tear when her best friend is murdered. That doesn’t sound funny, but trust me, it was!

Diana Peterfreund read from a short story called Poetry Princess about a girl and her friend who are rival poetry writers. The story included a poem about a picnic table with two legs and a predictable rhyme scheme as well. I remember the last word was "lunch."

Holly Black read from a fantasy opus kind of Lord of the Rings with a vampire race involved and the quest was to free the vampires and defeat the dragon named Venthromax (sp?). She read two passages from this. The first she prefaced by saying the premise she just described would not be visible in this passage at all. It involved a girl in a hall of doors who just could not seem to choose one. Over and over and over.

Her second passage was the best though. It was about a guy named Beth (I think, it was hard to hear for sure) who goes into a bar and meets a girl named Lucifer. Wait, it gets better. And at one point the guy surveys the room and sees Lucifer and thinks about how most of the people in the bar were Men or Whores. Lucifer was neither. I had a hard time hearing the rest because I was laughing so hard.

Cassandra Clare demonstrated her Mary Sue skills by reading a historical romance she wrote as a teen in which the protagonist was named…you guessed it…Cassandra and she was the most beautiful girl in all the land. I know this because it said so every other paragraph. Except, when the handsome fellow (who just might be dangerous, of course) first sees her, he’s not sure if she’s a woman or not.

Last up, Scott Westerfeld created his own genre by reading about a demon crime detective in space. That was it, he had the audience in the palm of his hands by the genre alone. I can’t quite recall the details of this one, but it included a lot of phrases that just didn’t make sense. Very funny!

Afterward, Libba wrote an on-the-spot poem using pieces from the various stories. Then the panelists too questions and gave away some Love Is Hell books.

All in all a great event! Thanks so much for hosting it. One of the panelists, I think maybe David, mentioned you could sort of hear inklings of all the authors’ voices seeping through even at such a young age. The voices are clearly more pronounced and perfected now, but even back then it was still a part of them. I really could see that as well.

I particularly loved hearing all the writing from high school. It’s a nice reminder that writers have to start somewhere. It made me reminisce the terrible novel I wrote when I was 17 that had 75k of no plot, no character names, and no conflict. But it did have a premise (a girl struggling with her impending graduation and the fact that everything she’s ever known will change. You will be SHOCKED to hear I wrote it while I was about to graduate. How coincidental?!) But I remember I diligently wrote 1500 words a day and felt so damn proud to have a finished book. I printed it out and carried it around like it actually mattered. I displayed the manilla folder with the print out on my book shelf in college. I even once revised it, if by revise I mean lightly copy-edited it. And then a year later, while I was in college, I realized this book belonged in a drawer never to be seen again. Luckily for agents and the publishing industry in general, I never bothered to query this one. But the thing is…that project taught me I could do it. I could write something novel-length. I only improved from there.

What was your writing from high school like?

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6 Responses

  1. Sounds absolutely riveting and hilarious.

    My writing from high school, most of which exists only in memory, was either terribly, terribly earnest or hilariously funny, because I either wrote psychobabble claptrap or soap opera-like parodies based on actual events. I, however, destroyed pretty much all of it. Alas.

  2. You know I can’t remember how was my writing in high school. Which is odd because I can remember a lot of stuff about my school days. I do know that almost all of them ended up in the trash, because I never occur to me that keep them. In fact I’m positive that writing where I took school wasn’t even consider a profession. :/

  3. “What was your writing from high school like?”

    Let’s just say that Scott W. would probably not have had to wear that crown if I’d been there.

    Actually, I wrote a few good short stories in high school. But it took me a long time to write well consistently.

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