YALLFest Notes: Angie Thomas

This is the second installment in my reflections on YALLFest, this time feat. Angie Thomas, who I got to hear speak twice–once in a panel called “The Here and Now”, focused on bringing contemporary issues into ya fiction, and again in the closing keynote with Cassandra Clare. Angie Thomas is not just a hell of a writer, but brilliant and insightful. She said a lot about what writing can do that really resonated with me and made me consider why I write.

The Here and Now Panel consisted of Angie Thomas, Nic Stone, Patrick ness, Zac Brewer, and Kekla Magoon moderating, a frankly astounding array of people. That much awesomeness in one room is practically revolutionary.

“Through fiction we build empathy.” Thomas said this early on during the panel, and it turned into the theme for the hour. Reading a book makes alterity personal. It’s probably the closest you can come to actually living someone else’s life. You have no choice but to walk away from a book with some understanding of the perspective you were immersed in for the duration. This is something that I have long believed to be the prime directive of reading, and why diverse reading is so important, especially for young children.

Thomas also spoke about hope: how hope is not always found in happy endings. Hope can be found in the narrative itself, hope in the fact that change will happen because of this book, hope in someone seeing themselves where they didn’t before. Personally, unhappy endings make me feel like a pillbug caught in the sunlight. But I take her point.

Near the end of the panel, the question was posed: if writing is creating change, then are you [the authors] activists?” The answers that everyone gave were poignant and resonated with me, as this is exactly what I have been struggling with: bridging the gap between activist and author to author as activist.

The response of Nic Stone, author of Dear Martin, was incredible. Activism, she said, is about agitation: it has always been incendiary. Her writing is deliberately inflammatory–she wants people to be uncomfortable reading it. That’s activism: change through uncomfortable confrontation with reality. The discomfort is necessary. Had it been appropriate, I would have been applauding in the theater.

As I was trying to focus and scribble down as many notes as possible, I was also critically examining my own writing. ] What is its purpose? If someone asked me if I was an activist, I would say “I’m trying to be.” If someone asked whether my writing was activism, I honestly don’t know what I’d say. I would want nothing more than to say “yes: I wrote this book to provoke change in the minds of those who read it”. But I don’t know if I’ve earned that through my narrative. And I want to earn it.

*This is the second post in a series reflecting on what I learned at YALLFest, author by author. Stay tuned for next week.*


YALLFest Notes: Patrick Ness

Whooboy. Seven hour drive down on Friday, 8 am to 8 pm on the ground on Saturday, and a seven hour drive back today. Am I exhausted? Yes. Subhuman? Also yes. Was it worth it? YES.

YALLFest was perhaps more incredible this year than last year, which is hard to believe! I saw so many author panels, took so many notes, and managed to have composed conversations with two separate authors, which is frankly a miracle. Perhaps one of the best moments of the day was when my friends and I, who had been standing in line for an hour and a half to have donuts with some authors, found out that we had actually been standing in line for that as well as THREE FREE BOOKS and a tote bag. That was when the adrenaline hit, and it never really wore off throughout the day.

I think the person who impacted me the most was Patrick Ness, which is surprising. I went in as a casual fan of his books, and left with the profundity of his wisdom echoing around my body. I didn’t expect to be so impacted by what he had to say, but every other sentence out of his mouth was a pearl. One of the things he stressed was how he doesn’t see a real divide between “fantasy” and “realistic fiction”. Every story is fantastical, with its contrivances, coincidences, and destiny that work to make the story happen. And truth occurs in every story, regardless of genre. “Truth anywhere.”

During the opening keynote Ness said “if you don’t see yourself in a book, you are implicitly harmed”, because the intrinsic message is one of exclusion. He spoke at length about his newest book, Release, and his words really hit home, especially when he spoke about hoping that the book would undo shame in the people who read it, shame that is generated through each instance of exclusion, literary and societal.

Listening to what he had to say really shone a light on what I need to work on in my own practice, and that is honesty. Honesty with my narrative and with myself. I think I have attempted to sanitize my writing too much and distance it from raw, emotional, human experience, and I need to bring that back. I know I had it before–I tend to edit it out a bit more with each draft. I need to focus on being honest with myself about who I am, and honest with my writing about what it is and what I want it to do.

*This is the first post in a series reflecting on what I learned at YALLFest, author by author. Stay tuned for next week.*




NaNoWriMo Progress

Four days into my truncated version of NaNoWriMo (500 words a day) and I’m feeling the urge to say to hell with that and go for the full 1,667/day. I have to talk myself down by smacking myself with the absurd stack of books waiting to be read for my thesis.

That said, this novella is practically writing itself. Maybe because it’s been marinating in my head for a good year or so, maybe because I actually managed a full outline before starting, or maybe the writing gods are just smiling on me (looking at you, Seshat, Nabu, Itzamna). I am getting a crash course in Japanese language structure, which is much more complicated than I had initially thought. Luckily I have a friend studying Japanese who can walk me through the basics or I’d be struggling.

For some reason, however, I’ve slipped into a mode of narration that feels very distant from my main character. I’m trying to bring it in closer, but we’ll see what happens. Maybe it’s because I accidentally didn’t have any dialogue for the first thousand words? (oops.)

In other news, YALLFest is next week! I’m driving down to Charleston Friday morning with two friends. We’re staying in two different hostels over the weekend, which is bound to be an adventure. Who am I most looking forward to seeing, you ask? Well, everyone, but especially Alex London, Maggie Steifvater, Angie Thomas, and Patrick Ness. Stay tuned for next week’s report on all the sweet writing knowledge I’ll be accumulating.