Today I attended the NoVa Teen Book Festival. This local YA book festival draws some fairly amazing writers to our Arlington, VA backyard. Jason Reynolds, Kwame Alexander, Julie Murphy, Shaun David Hutchison, L.M. Elliot, Matt de la Pena, Karen McManus and Dhonielle Clayton have shared their talents in recent years.
This morning I listened to a panel of fantasy writers talk about building new worlds and creating memorable characters. One of the authors, Tomi Adeyemi, is front of mind for the book world. This 24-year-old Harvard grad just inked one of the biggest book contracts in history. Her debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone, is set in West Africa and she likens it to Black Panther with magic. Fox Searchlight pictures paid seven figures for the right to make a movie. This is heady stuff for a young person. However, Adeyemi was charming, down-to-earth and eager to chat with other authors about fantasy writing.
My favorite tidbit from Adeyemi is that she found the idea for her fantasy tale after seeing a poster of fierce African warriors. She wanted to know them, write about them. The story idea actually came much later. I can’t wait for my students to read Children of Blood and Bone.
Another big takeaway from the discussion had to do with the rules of fantasy writing. All four authors on the panel talked about the importance of grounding fantasy worlds in clear rules. A reader will not trust you if you change the rules midstream, they noted. For example, A.C. Gaughen has a scientist friend read her drafts. If a character has the power to move air, the character must understand that a storm will soon follow.
YA writers are wonderfully generous people. I can’t wait to share my notes with my student writers.