Three Panels, One Woman

So I was on three panels at LibertyCon… Wait, you’re saying, you did your AAR yesterday? Yes, I did. But the beauty of having two posts to do this in is that I can now talk about the nitty-gritty of writerly stuff that wasn’t the overall con. This is more about interactions with fellow panelist – ie writing professionals – and the audience, who are rarely if ever ‘simple readers.’ For one thing, the audience at a lit con (which LibertyCon is) is already self-selected to be interested in reading, and also in the process behind what they are reading, since they attended one of the most author-heavy events in fandom. So. Three panels, plus a bonus panel I literally was dragged onto. 

The first of my panels was “What’s new in Fantasy YA?” which I will admit, I was hesitant about being on. Yes, I wrote some YA a few years back. It’s been a while. And yes, I was a children’s librarian, and I have teens, and I do read for a specialized blog… ok, this wasn’t a bad panel for me to be on. The other panelists were Nan Monroe, Taylor Hoch, Lydia Sherrer, Dave D.J. Butler, and myself. It was an interesting conversation. There were at least three librarians in the audience jotting down titles that we tossed out (or were contributed by the audience). Taylor had prepared a list of books she was recommending, and would read from that at times to give out a blurb. The rest of us were a bit more organic in our suggestions, either things we’ve read recently, or in my case, the books I’ve been seeing recommended when I curate lists of books from crowd-sourcing. As I explained, I do still have the heart of a librarian… But the meat of the panel came when we veered away from discussing specific titles, into talking trends in YA fantasy. one panelist from her end of the table was talking about being happy to see second-world stories, which confused me for a minute until I realized she meant ‘other than first-world’ fantasy. I was a bit startled to hear this term, as I’d been told it was derogatory… Yes, it’s nice to see some of the more obscure fantasy tales brought to light and re-imagined, but I’m not sure I’d term them second best. I’m also not sure I’d want to be pushing all the ‘diversity’ books as another panelist was, seemingly based on their checkboxes rather than writing quality. There is, as always in the post-modern era, a paucity of books for boys. Dave, who publishes as DJ Butler, has a series about Clockwork Charlie that is suited for ages 8-12, but above that? It gets very difficult. And part of that, we think, is that YA fiction sells as much to adult women if not more than it does to teens – look at Twilight and the plethora of books that followed in it’s footsteps. Filtering out the books meant for adults becomes more difficult at this transition age. As we broke it to someone in the audience that no, YA does NOT mean no sex or violence, I was thinking of the conversations we’ve had here about the genre and age group.

My second panel was All the Shades of Noir, where I was seated between Larry Correia and Edward McKeown. Way to give a girl serious performance anxiety! Also not-on-the-panel but should have been was David Weber in the front row, and Kacey Ezell assisting with microphone. The reason I say should have been is that David spent a lot of time with the mike, talking to us up at the table, and Kacey has just written a femme fatale tale Larry was talking up… but I digress. We started out talking about our noir fiction, and why we chose to write it, along with some of the influences that got us in the mood to write noir. But the bulk of the panel was talking about what noir is, and isn’t, and how almost any genre can be noir. Shades of noir, like night falling over a story. Hard-boiled, which is often intermingled with noir, isn’t noir itself. One of the driving characteristics of noir is that the hero be bloody, bent, perhaps even broken. But it’s him between good and evil, and he’ll go down with his guns blazing, to paraphrase from a Raymond Chandler quote that Larry read (and used as a chapter header in Warbound). It was delightful to discover that my strong feelings on portraying human resilience resonate very strongly with how David Weber feels on the same topic.

Finally I was on the panel inspired by the blog I’m one of the writers for, Fantastic Schools and How to Find Them. L Jagi Lamplighter and I, two of the three writers (would have been lovely to have had Chris Nuttall there in person!), plus David Burkhead, Lydia Sherrer, and John Wright (who chose to stay in the audience) made up this panel. It was a fun conversation about the books we’ve written – although David was rather befuddled about why he was on the panel at first. After some discussion of the latest book he’d written, Alchemy of Secrets, we decided that a book about an unnatural alchemist going to highschool over and over definitely qualified for the panel. Because the blog itself was put together with a diverse background: Jagi is a product of ‘regular’ American education, Chris Nuttall came out of British boarding schools, and I was homeschooled. So the panel drifted from books, to educational methods, and a conversation about what’s wrong with schools and can we fix them through modeling better options in our fiction? Perhaps not, but we can give our young readers a glimpse of other options they might be able to pursue to deepen their own learning outside the traditional model.

And the half a panel? Well, I made sure I got to the Indie Publishing – Latest Trends in Self-Publishing and the State of the Market panel, which was supposed to be Dorothy and Peter Grant, LawDog, JL Curtis… and they had already pulled John van Stry up to the table. I was sitting in the front row, and when cover design versus art came up I raised my hand… and next thing I knew LawDog, all six-foot something of him, was taking my hand and pulling me gently but inexorably up to sit with them and push a microphone in my hand. So yes, a half a panel with some great minds, and me doing a little blather about covers and marketing from time to time. But that’s a different post. Or a whole bunch of them.

Whew! I’m tired just writing all this up, imagine three days of this! Your brain gets full. I highly recommend a notebook and don’t forget a pen!

The noir panel – with special guest Plushie Wendell, Speaker to Hooon (photo by Brena Brock)

43 thoughts on “Three Panels, One Woman

  1. I think a lot of men are reading YA books.


    They are fun, entertaining, and cheap. And we are adult enough that we don’t care if they are targeted toward girls or boys.

    It seems that much of the current crop of adult fiction is full of messages, cost more than they should, and are boring.

    Over simplification? Yep. But it’s my discretionary money.

    Just my $0.02 worth.

    1. When I was working in the library, I didn’t see this at all. I agree that much modern fiction wasn’t being checked out by grown men – we had faithful Clive Cussler readers who would pick up anything with his name on it, and authors like Clancy and Brad Thor were perennial favorites. But they didn’t go into the YA room really ever.

      1. I visit the library 2-3 times a month. I swing by the recommended books shelf and look at the YA material but most of it is message driven, selected by the librarians.

        On the other hand, my stash of ebooks is full of YA stuff.

        The majority of it has a female protagonist because I can’t find much good stuff for boys.

        So, two questions.

        How do you define YA?

        Where are today’s Robert Heinlein, Andrea Norton, and Zena Henderson?

        1. > Where are today’s Robert Heinlein, Andrea Norton,

          I’ve been reading Scott Westerfeld and Dan Wells.

          Hey, I’m all grown up, I can read anything I want…

        2. “Where are today’s Robert Heinlein, Andrea Norton, and Zena Henderson?”

          Good question. I’m beginning to wonder if I should try my hand at YA. All these dystopias and class warfare futures are depressing.

      2. I had some male friends recommending YA books to me (as well as romance, interestingly enough.) Part of the reason (the other being ‘this was fun, I think you’ll like it) was they enjoyed the character interactions as well as the story; this was quite a few years ago, but I don’t think those particular guys would have changed their reading habits, which were pretty diverse – ranged from Honorverse and a hodgepodge of fantasy, John Ringo (one of these guys is the ‘flaming liberal’ who recommended the ‘Oh John Ringo, no!’ books to me, saying I’d enjoy them) to bodice-ripper cover romances, which I blinked and had to ask them to explain to me what that meant back then, I was so ‘sheltered’ hahahaha! (Yes, it’s still possible to not have run into some things; yesterday my husband explained to me what a ‘glory hole’ was, then cheered a little about ‘having something perverse to finally explain to you.’)

      3. See other comments – I think they support my notion that watching library patrons is not the best way to tell what people are actually reading these days.

        When I visit the library, I don’t go into the “YA Room” – which, for some “manly” men, is bad advertising. My reason, though, is that there is far too much dreck to gem ratio there. Much easier to “Look Inside” on Amazon.

        Same habit as I have for the “Adults ONLY” room, for that matter. There are a very few good writers that are classified that way (such as Michael-Scott Earle), among an amazing amount of dreck. (Including one that wasn’t apparent until Chapter 3. Sigh, at least it was KU…)

    2. I like Shonen Jump, because stories marketed to ten year old Japanese boys tend to work for me.

      1. Since the English version of Weekly Shonen Jump is now online only, I note they’re now also showing the serials at the older teen to adult set…some good stuff there as well.

  2. “second-world stories”.

    I’m feeling old. I remember when the term was “third world” (as in nations). 😉

    1. I’m old enough to remember when the ‘N-World’ list ran:

      * First World = The Free World
      * Second World = The Communist Bloc
      * Third World = What P.J. O’Rourke called ‘the just plain f*cked part of the planet.”

      Not, I’m sure, what the panelist meant.

      1. in the sociology textbooks we had, it was broken down as:

        First world: industrialized nations with natural resources (USA, etc.)
        Second world: natural resources, but low industry (Mexico, etc.)
        Third world: no honey bucket, nor window to throw it out of (Panama, etc.)

        There was no category for “industrialized, but sparse resources” (Japan, etc.), which I found odd.

    2. I’m pretty sure it means “secondary world” as opposed to “fantasy in the real world.” The Harry Dresden stories are pretty much set in our world, but the Lord of the Rings is in a secondary world.

      I usually use “high fantasy” for any story set in a secondary world and “modern fantasy” or “historical fantasy” for fantasy in the real world.

      1. After I posted, a friend explained to me that ‘second-world fantasy’ is a modern publishing term, indicating a fantasy taking place in a world that is not ours. No relation to the old geopolitical terminology.

        1. So it used to be “fantasy” for not-our-world stories and “urban fantasy” for our-world stories, and now we have “second world” for not-our-world. Snail mail situation. Got it.

    1. Thanks for the lead. They sound like updated versions of the Rick Brant series.

  3. Call me biased, but the best YA boys books I’ve seen yet are Gary Paulson’s “Hatchet” stories and the 60 (yes, five-dozen) original-series Hardy Boys books, unless you want to rewind to Jules Verne, Walter Scott, R. L. Stevenson and Kipling. But I was reading all but Paulson in gradeschool.

    1. You can find a lot of classic adventure stories on Project Gutenberg Australia and such, e.g. King Solomon’s Mines. Another good classic (but not YA) adventure writer is John Buchanan; I’ve read The 39 Steps, Greenmantle, and Mr. Standfast.

  4. I read a lot of YA. What? You think I’m going to ignore a genre populated by the likes of Diana Wynne Jones, Elizabeth Marie Pope, and Pamela Dean just because somebody decided their books should be marketed to teenagers?

      1. I’ve got a post coming at my place about people who try to cram message YA at younger readers. I really shook my head at some of the new “YA” releases. And the way the reviewer described them. Lauding a book not because of its story but because it has social justice and gender fluidity… I don’t think I’m going to see my students all huddled around a table talking about that one the way they go gaga for Brandon Sanderson’s novels.

          1. Why I like Shonen Jump. When the market you relentlessly pursue is that young, you don’t get too fancy, too boring, or too unpleasant.

      2. I’ve seen and read good reverse harem ‘feminist’ fantasy fiction (watched more of it since it became an anime)

        Just not in Western story markets. The one that comes to mind is Saiunkoku Monogatari; but I’m pretty sure that it would never pass the purity tests of the Western feminists, like EVER.

        1. Trivia: Kipling’s Kim has a bit of “reverse harem” – the mountain women have multiple husband’s. But it’s a minor scene in a great (YA?) book

  5. ‘YA’ is a marketing category. A woman in my writing group was told multiple times that her novel must be YA, because the protagonist is a fourteen-year-old girl. Period.

    And ‘Huckleberry Finn’ is a children’s book.

    1. YA is, in large, centered around the age of the protagonist. So yes, she was writing YA. But it’s not a limiter, it’s simply a way to help teens find books about people their age. A teen who is a confident reader – as I was, and many of the kids who came to the library where I worked were – can easily be reading books labeled J, YA, and stuff from the adult collection.

      1. As a teen, I generally read adult fiction just because I found the books about kids my age to be so insipid. I’m glad to see that that’s changing enough for adults to enjoy slipping into the teen section as well as the other way around.

      2. To me, classifying books that way is doing the “You’ll enjoy this one because it has people like you!” Just as invalid for an age as it is for the ability to tan.

        Some classification I can put up with on the basis of “old enough to understand the concepts” – whatever those are, whether it be sex or politics (hmm, the two oldest professions there). But that is a mental age, not a measure of time since someone was born. (I was reading “Stranger” when I was around ten, and understood most of it. I also know people who, honestly, have problems with the concepts behind the Oz books.)

  6. I need to finish the edit or do a new transfer of ‘Gumshoe’ just so y’all can see it.

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