In a room packed with eager and passionate young fans clamoring to hear some of their favorite writers, YA authors D.J. MacHale, Gordon Korman, and Pseudonymous Bosch were introduced to thunderous applause on Saturday, April 24 at the L.A Times Festival of Books panel called Young Adult Fiction: 'Tween the Lines.
Neal Shusterman, author of such novels as Unwind, Everlost, and Downsiders, moderated the panel. kicking off the conversation by asking the panelists to describe their latest books. Bosch, wearing his trademark-oversized sunglasses, first warned the kid-heavy audience, "Every word I say is secret!" Explaining that each of his books involves one of the five senses, he described This Isn't What It Looks Like (Little, Brown, Sept. 2010, fourth in his Secret series) as being about what happens when the protagonist Cass eats time-travel chocolate and falls into a coma in a strange land.
As the author of The Emperor's Code, eighth in the 39 Clues series, Korman expressed pleasure that the multi-platform series has spawned an interactive Web site, cards and books about the powerful Cahill family. The family includes four branches, and he told the audience with some misgivings that he and his 11-year old son now find themselves in opposing Cahill branches. Korman has written more than other books for kids, including the On the Run and Kidnapped series. "I didn't choose the 'tween audience," Korman said, "but I happened to write my first book in seventh grade!"
MacHale, who is also a director and screenwriter, is best known for his Pendragon series, which he completed in 2008. He launched his new Morpheus Road series this month with the publication of The Light (Aladdin), in which 16-year old Marshall finds himself trapped in an ethereal world between the living and the dead. "On the first week of his summer vacation Marshall begins to feel haunted," MacHale explained. "I grew up in a haunted house. Stories seem to find authors," he said, "and not the other way around. These things just come out. Ask our therapists if you don't believe us!"
When asked about the writing process itself, Korman joked, "It's so solitary that I developed a relationship with the little paper clip guy on my desk. And the 39 Clues books are written in such secrecy that we have to write on a password-encrypted server." MacHale has an office at home in which he normally writes from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. "But I'm really writing every waking moment. Even when I'm with my family, sometimes I'm not in the room."
Bosch said he is still in search of the perfect writing environment. "The best place seems to be wherever I'm not! If I'm sitting at my desk, I think I need to be outside. When I'm outside it occurs to me that I need to be in my car. It's a very erratic process." Bosch began writing in fourth grade when he was enrolled in a co-mentoring writing program at school. "In a way, you have to be a child to write for kids," he said. "I was lucky to have started at a young age."
Spending time with fans has led to some surprising and hilarious experiences for all three of the authors. Bosch's books include recipes. "I didn't test them," Bosch groaned, putting his head in his hands, "and now I've been served some of my own dishes by my fans." A tornado warning in Texas found MacHale herding 800 kids out of the school gym where he was speaking into the relative safety of the hallway. "No one seemed to be in charge. Everyone froze, so I took over."
Shusterman chimed in at that point. "Oh, yeah? That happened to me once during a tornado warning at a school, and I happened to have a short story I'd written about tornados with me. I read it to the kids. That calmed them down!" The audience roared.
Several young people in the audience had questions for the authors. "What's the best thing that's ever happened to you since you became an author?" one boy posed to the panel. For MacHale, every time someone says, "I loved your book" it brings more meaning to his work. Korman told the audience that he's aware of at least two weddings that took place among couples who met and fell in love while reading one of his books. For Bosch, it's the kids who tell him, "I'm not a reader, but your books made me read to the end. They make me want to start writing."
And a shy pre-teen girl walked to the microphone and asked MacHale, "How do I become a writer?" The author responded earnestly. "Write about the things that you know, so you'll write with authority."