This year is my first time attending the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) Annual Conference, and it is a little bit overwhelming! I’ve known about this conference since my time as an undergrad, and since it was being held in Boston this year, I knew I had to go. I stayed late at the office Monday-Wednesday to get everything done, then took time off of work to scoot on over.
With the snow coming down sideways it was so hard to get out of bed, walk a mile to the T, then make it over to Hynes Convention Center. But despite a late start for me, day one was awesome. Read on for some highlights:
The first panel I went to was titled “The Changing Landscape of Young Adult Fiction” with Jane Yolen and Ricki Thompson. Both read from their works and followed with a discussion about their experiences leading to publication and how things have changed over the years. Both did a fantastic job — I met Ricki later in the day, and she was very nice.
Some quotable moments:
On a lifetime of work: “The reason I’ve had such a long career is because I’m constantly reinventing myself.” — Jane Yolen.
On getting an MFA: “Having people who know your work and can pull for you does matter.” — Ricki Thompson.
“The best thing about being a writer is that you’re finding something new to say, every day.” — Jane Yolen.
“Picturebook Writers in an eBook and App Era” explored five different perspectives on digital publishing for children. The panel included Rubin Pfeffer, Emilie Boon, Laurie A. Jacobs, Jean Heilprin Diehl, and Julie Hedlund sharing how their various works and projects came to be adapted (or originally conceived) as eBooks or apps.
What I found most interesting was the discussion of how the medium itself changes the structure of the story. For the last 100 years or so of publishing history, the picturebook (with exceptions of course) has been defined by a 32 page layout: after backmatter and peritextual material, you’re left with generally 12-14 spreads with which to tell a story. Your story arc must fit the physical parameters of the printed book. The “drama of the turning of the page” is paramount. But is that still the case in digital publishing and the user experience with a picturebook app?
Big questions, and ones that are still developing in the publishing world. Across the board though, the panelists seemed to agree that there is tremendous opportunity for writers, illustrators, app developers and others within the industry to break conventions and create new ones, based around the end experience of the audience.
Other questions and points of interest raised:
What is to be achieved by adding enhancements to an eBook like sound and interactive elements? Entertainment and gamification? Education? Novelty? New media art?
What are the expectations of the consumer? How can they know how much and what type of interactivity to expect within an eBook, enhanced eBook, or an app?
Some authors are using digital publishing, eBooks, and apps as a way of re-releasing their own works if they have gone out of print. As long as there are no residual legal complications from their contracts, why not experiment with a new format and provide a different or complimentary experience to an audience?
“A Mini Craft Workshop: Five Young Adult and Middle Grade Writers Talk About Craft” covered a lot of ground. Panelists included Michele Corriel discussing plot, Janet Fox discussing tension and pacing, Alexandra Diaz on character, Anna Staniszewski on humor, and Leah Cypess on description. It was very quick, but all did a great job.
Shout out to Anna, my professor from Simmons, who tackled what can be a really difficult topic — the how and what of funny! She gave an overview of four types of humor and how they work differently in writing for a middle grade audience versus young adults. Leah Cypess brought up some interesting points about the dynamics of writing YA fantasy: how do you handle a genre that thrives on description and rich worldbuilding, combined with an audience that generally demands a fast paced narrative? Where’s the balance?
I was very glad to see a panel on the craft and technical aspects of writing as it relates to children’s and young adult literature. Though they are growing in number, there are still not so many MFA programs with this specialization. It’s nice to see the inclusion at AWP and the recognition that writers choosing to specialize in this way are just as truly devoted to honing their craft as even the most literary of adult genres.
But even that said, one of the things I’ve noticed along this wild writing adventure is that writers of work for children and young adults aren’t concerned with pretense and being recognized. Their audience isn’t the academic, it’s the child. It’s important work, worthy of the same rigorous application of craft and labor as any artistic endeavor. And as Jane Yolen said earlier in the day, it is “the best job in the world.”
“Good writing is good writing, no matter what age it is for.”
— Anna Staniszewski.
I think that was the closest you could get to an Amen in the room.
One Day Down, Two More to Go
All in all, day one at AWP was a resounding success. I’ll be back at it again tomorrow…. hope to see you there!