LeakyCon! My Lit-Track Experience

This summer, I went to my first LeakyCon.  It’s ridiculous that this was my first one, for two reasons: 1) My friend and fellow crazy person Melissa Anelli runs the con; 2) I am a giant Harry Potter nerd.

So yes, I went to the con for friendship and fun.  But I was also there to do a little recon.  Next summer, GROUNDED will be published.  If I’m lucky, I might then get a chance to speak at some sort of conference, or take part in an author panel.  LeakyCon has an amazing Lit Track program, run by authors Maureen Johnson and Robin Wasserman, and I thought hey, why don’t I go to Leaky this year and watch and listen as they and all the other fabulous authors do their thing?  Maybe I’ll learn something about what to do when and if it’s my turn.

I have NO experience with conferences. Like, at all. So I went to some panels and observed how the authors responded to questions.

Here’s how my Lit Track experience went down:

The Lit Track/Fanfic Coffee Hour
I got off to a good start, drinking coffee and listening to authors read their fanfic.  Yeah, that’s right. Real Authors Write Fanfic.  I need that on a T-shirt.  Anyway, my favorite was the work of Amber Benson, who wrote a Portal-inspired fanfic from the POV of the companion cube.  Amazing.  Hilarious. Inappropriate.  I wish I had a copy to show my husband.  Hey, Amber, if you read this…

Diversity In YA
Here, I got to listen to Laurie Halse Anderson, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Varian Johnson, and Malinda Lo talk with editor Cheryl Klein about the importance of diversity in YA lit.  This is an issue I care deeply about, and I found all of these authors to be extremely bright and compelling. I wished my students could have been in the room with me. Laurie Halse Anderson spoke about the process of disillusionment she experienced when she finally started researching her American heroes and discovered how flawed and how racist they were. Malinda Lo talked about how she didn’t get to read fiction that represented her experience when she was a teen, because there just wasn’t any – and so, when she went to write her Cinderella story, she found herself writing a straight white girl’s story, and not her own. Only when she wrote her own, in a way that spoke to her, was that work (ASH) published. I also appreciated that there was some discussion about how frustrating it is that in a world of fiction that’s already very white and male, fantasy fiction has traditionally been even whiter and maler. The panel concluded with a call to action, as the authors encouraged the young people in the room to bring diverse books to the attention of their adult gatekeepers – parents, librarians, and teachers – and to ask for more literature of that kind to be represented around them.

I Made You. You’re Perfect.
Gayle Forman, Lev Grossman, Lauren Myracle, Stephanie Perkins, and Rainbow Rowell talked about writing romance.  One of the most interesting and informative moments came when a young woman stood up to challenge the speakers a bit.  She noted that the panel was “hyper-straight” and asked whether the authors planned to address a wider spectrum of romantic and sexual experiences. Especially having just come from the Diversity in YA panel, I was really excited that a young woman in a room full of star authors felt empowered to state her feelings and ask for what she wanted (the authors responded by talking about gay and bisexual characters they’ve written or are writing).

Toward the end, someone asked “How do you deal with writing teen romance when you know the characters are just going to grow out of it?”  The answers to this question were wonderful.  Rainbow Rowell talked about how, in ELEANOR & PARK, she was careful not to give her characters an “ending” – because they’re teenagers.  So instead of telling the audience what happens to them, or whether they break up eventually, etc., she allowed them to have that wide-open beginning.  Stephanie Perkins, who fell in love at 17 and ended up marrying that person, shared her own personal romantic history and talked about the depth of feeling – the real, adult depth of feeling – that teens are fully capable of, and that must be honored in their stories.  It was lovely.

I Love Trash
Amber Benson, Lev Grossman, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Lauren Myracle, Stephanie Perkins, and Rainbow Rowell showed up to discuss the concept of “trashy” novels.  What is trash? Why do we assign that label to certain things?  What I absolutely loved was that none of these authors was willing to assign the label “trashy” to anything at all.  When pressed to make an exception, I believe it was Lauren Myracle who said “I have personal exceptions, but I try not to force them on other people.”  I liked that.  It reminded me of one of my favorite monologues from one of my favorite films, All About Eve: “The theater’s for everybody – you included, but not exclusively – so don’t approve or disapprove. It may not be your theater, but it’s theater for somebody, somewhere.”

The panel became an exploration of how books labeled “trashy” are often called so because of marketing and placement, or cultural judgement of women and teenage girls and their interests.  Authors talked about how frustrating it is when books by women, often intended for an audience of girls and including some element of romance, are treated as though they are less important.  It reminded me a little of the discussion that went on during Maureen Johnson’s Coverflip experiment.

YA Jeopardy
The authors already mentioned above, along with John Green, put themselves at the mercy of several hundred fans who came to watch them compete in a Maureen Johnson-moderated game of YA Jeopardy. The categories spanned fandoms, genres, and mediums, and the authors were really good sports about not knowing a lot of the answers. They had to keep it light.  Be self deprecating.  Allow themselves to look silly and be wrong.  The fans didn’t love them any less for it – in fact, they adored it.  I howled with laughter through a whole lot of their answers myself.

I Was A Teenage Author
All the authors mentioned above, plus Holly Black, Kazu Kibuishi, and Scott Westerfeld, read aloud from their juvenilia. Like YA Jeopardy, this required courage and the willingness to self deprecate, but on a much more personal and exposed level – these authors dug out their teenage attempts at writerhood and read them out to the crowd, letting their fans hear how they once stumbled and proving that they haven’t always been the superstar writers they are today.  This was a wonderful event, rife with hilarity.  My absolute favorite was Holly Black, who read some of the best bad poetry I’ve ever heard.  She was in fits of laughter and tears reading it, and so were the rest of us. And you know what?  I bet a lot of young people in that room who want to be writers but think they’re not good enough got a whole lot of encouragement from hearing their heroes read their terrible early work out loud.  We all gotta start somewhere.

A Q&A With Kazu Kibuishi
This man, who writes and illustrates the AMULET graphic novel series and illustrated the new American Harry Potter covers and box set, is an incredible artist and a reflective thinker.  Particularly enlightening for me was hearing him talk about working in one layer – but I’m going to explore that idea in another blog post. Suffice it to say that he was very inspiring, and I’m glad I was in the room for this one.

Alas, there ends my Lit Track recap.  There were lots of other great panels I would have liked to visit, like Worldbuilding and The War Against YA.  Instead, I had an even cooler opportunity: the chance to sit down for three gorgeous hours of face-to-face conversation with my brilliant editor, Cheryl Klein (who, as it turns out, loves my second manuscript – you know, the one I was so worried about?) about what to address in the revision of book #2. Immediately afterward, I went to the Esther Earl Rockin’ Charity Ball (and for a fairy-tale writer like me, there’s pretty much no cooler way to end a conversation with your editor than to glance at the clock and say “We’d better get dressed, or we’ll be late to the ball!”)

Oh, and also!  I had the delightful opportunity to go full-on gamer geek when Melissa asked me to participate in the Opening Ceremonies as the voice of GLaDOS, of Portal fame.  Here’s the filk I wrote with my husband and recorded for the event.

So, will I go to LeakyCon next year?  Or GeekyCon, as it’s now called?

You bet I will.  It was well worth the investment, both from a personal and a professional perspective. Plus, I walked away with a pair of Golden Snitch earrings and this awesome shirt.

Anywhere you can learn so much and get geeky to that extent is a place worth going.

Long Live Leaky and Geeky.


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