Ever have one of those wonderful days that feels like it all happened in about five minutes? That's what my today felt like. It was Montreal's fifth annual YAFest and there were over 40 YA authors taking part. Lucky me, I got to do the closing keynote. (That's what I'm doing in today's pic. The festival was virtual, which is why I'm at our dining room table.)
I took a TON OF NOTES!! So for today's blog entry, I'm going to share a little of what I learned. Gavriel Savit, author of Anna and the Swallow Man, did the opening keynote. He told us, "Honor the kid you were who picked up the book not because he had to." He also told us he took up writing when he was working answering the phone at a Mexican restaurant in New York. Savit said, "I made up stories to pass the time."
I taught a writing workshop with J.F. Dubeau, author of A God in the Shed. I showed participants in my workshop how to turn a memory into a story. Dubeau taught his particpants about world-building. I loved when he said, "World-building is anything we're trying to construct for our readers' minds." In other words, it isn't only fantasy writers who build worlds; we all do!
Editor and former librarian Talya Pardo talked, among other things, about self-publishing. She observed, "Self-publishing is not going away. But it's important that the standards of publishing are not sacrificed." She told us about the three C's of editing: clarity, consistency and completeness.
Rob Kinew read from his first YA book, Walking in the Woods, and how he dedicated it to students at Pelican Falls First Nations High School in northern Ontario. This school was built on the site of a former residential school. Kinew told us that, "Elders often tell us, 'Walk in two worlds'" and that that wisdom helped inspire his novel.
There were loads of panels, including one I went to on activism, and another on LGBTQ+ voices. Caroline Van Rooyen, author of Any Girl, the story of a rape survivor who fights back after she encounters another survivor, told us, "I wrote a book to encourage action." Kristen Lee, author of Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman, told us how her book grew out of the racism she experienced while attending a predominantly white university. Kekla Magoon, author of Revolution in Our Time, a non-fiction book about the Black Panther party, explained, "I want the reader to take away a sense of their own voice, their own power." YESSS!
Adib Khorram, the author of Kiss & Tell, pointed out something important, but obvious: "Queer people exist." Then he added, "I cannot conceive of not including queer characters in books. Why not write about being gay?" Julian Winters, author of Right Where I Left You, said something I plan never to forget: "No one story fits all of us."
I only wish I'd had a little more time to work with the teens who were in our writing workshop. Emma B stole my heart because her personal photo was of what I thought was a lizard -- only she told me in a message that the creature was a pangolin. Pangolins, as you may know, have been getting a lot of bad press lately! Grace's memory had to do with meeting a giant puppet on her tenth birthday. And Susan, one of the grown-up participants, also remembered her tenth birthday. Funny how that happens -- as if there can be surprising connections betweeen people's memories and stories -- even during a virtual writing workshop. And Caitlin needs to be a writer because she is from Australia and attends The School of Isolated and Distant Learning. If the name of her school isn't a book title, well I don't know what is!
Huge thanks to Barbara Whiston, children's librarian at the Jewish Public Library, for spearheading this year's YAFest. I know it was a ton of work, Barbara, but you have a way of making hard things seem easy!
Now I'm going to need to mull over the many things I learned and thought about today. Thanks to everyone for making seven hours feel like five minutes!
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The YA Fest was a blast! I took a lot of notes too. There was so much information to learn from everyone.
I went to Monique's writing workshop where she challenged us to write about a memory from when we were ten years old. I decided to write about my first day at intermediate school.
The sun was beaming down, and the breeze started to pick up as I scrambled my way out of the car, dragging my backpack with me. Once out of the car, I said goodbye to my mum and slung my bag onto my back. It felt like it weighed a ton. This was my first day at Intermediate school. I had no clue where I was going or what I needed to do, and I was nervous, butterflies swimming in my stomach, hands sweating. I saw a large group of kids walking in one direction, so I decided to follow the crowd. The throng was heading up this hill to a fenced-in field. The field was massive, the size of two football fields. Off to the side, there was a basketball court and a small playground. I started looking around to see if I could recognize any of the faces. One or two looked familiar but I didn’t know the individual, so I continued to amble around.
A loud siren blared, and everyone’s heads turned toward the sound. There was a tall man with brown shaggy hair with sunglasses resting on top of his head, with a megaphone in his hand. After a few seconds, he announced using the megaphone,
“Students, welcome to Flagview, I am your principal. Please find your teacher, if you cannot find them look for a sign with their name on it.”
Suddenly, movement erupted. Everyone was trying to find their teacher, including myself. After what seemed like forever, I finally found a sign with the name McCarrey on it. I knew I was in the right place even if everything around me was unfamiliar.
Caitlin, What can I say? -- except it's obvious to me that you're a writer! I love the description of the principal, I love that movement "erupted" and I love that butterflies were "swimming" in your stomach. Keep writing! This old memory might be a story that is calling to be told. So much fun to have met you yesterday. Thanks thanks for being such an amazing workshop participant!