BEA attendees faithfully—and eagerly—flock to two panels that have become popular staples of the show’s programming. At today’s Young Adult Editors’ Buzz Panel, five editors share news of a forthcoming novel for which each has high hopes. At tomorrow’s companion panel, five editors of new middle-grade books will do the same.
The Young Adult Editors’ Buzz Panel takes place this morning, 10–10:50 a.m., in Room 1E4/1E15. In a discussion moderated by Valerie Koehler of Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Tex., the following editors will talk about these novels: Daniel Ehrenhaft, editorial director, Soho Teen (I’m Glad I Did by Cynthia Weil); Krista Marino, executive editor, Delacorte Press (Frank Portman’s King Dork Approximately); T.S. Ferguson, associate editor, Harlequin Teen (Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley); Karen Chaplin, editor, HarperTeen (Amy Ewing’s The Jewel); and Alvina Ling, executive editorial director, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (The Walled City by Ryan Graudin).
Ehrenhaft will share his enthusiasm for a debut novel by an author who has often been in a different spotlight. A member of both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and a multi-Grammy winner, Cynthia Weil has written (along with Barry Mann, her writing partner and husband) such classic songs as “On Broadway,” “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” Set in 1963 Manhattan, her novel, I’m Glad I Did, tells of a young songwriter who must untangle a sinister web of hidden identities and dark secrets surrounding a legendary former nightclub singer.
“Though the novel is set at the same time as when Cynthia got her songwriting start, it’s not strictly autobiographical, yet the voice is very authentic,” says Ehrenhaft. “Like her spare, lyrical songwriting style, she writes fiction very economically, which really appeals to me. I am so happy to talk about Cynthia on today’s panel—I could go on for hours. People throw around the phrase, ‘This author is a rock star’—but she really is!”
Alvina Ling will talk up Ryan Graudin’s The Walled City, a novel about three teens fighting for their lives in a lawless labyrinth run by crime lords and overrun by street gangs. This is the author’s second YA book, after All That Glows, which HarperTeen released in February. “This is a genre-bending book—not quite a thriller, not quite dystopian, not quite historical,” says Ling. “I remember thinking as I read it, ‘This is a perfect Editors’ Buzz book,’ because it is a novel of such substance, and there’s so much to say about it. It’s rare to be able to say, ‘This novel is unlike anything I’ve read before’—but in this case it’s true.”
The editor is grateful for the opportunity to give attendees of today’s panel an early preview of The Walled City. “I always say that publishing is a passion industry,” she observes. “It all starts with the author’s passion, and my job as editor is to spread my excitement about a book. This forum offers editors an opportunity we normally don’t get—it’s a perfect word-of-mouth way to convey our enthusiasm to booksellers, librarians, and bloggers.”
The Middle-Grade Editors’ Buzz Panel takes place tomorrow, 11–11:50 a.m., in Room 1E12/1E13. Moderated by Holly Weinkauf, owner of Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minn., the panel will feature the following editors and novels: Kate Harrison, senior editor, Dial Books for Young Readers (Rob Harrell’s Life of Zarf); Jen Besser, v-p and publisher, Putnam Books for Young Readers (Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson); Alvina Ling, executive editorial director, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (Kat Yeh’s The Truth About Twinkie Pie); Elise Howard, editor and publisher, Algonquin Young Readers (The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill); and Jordan Brown, senior editor, HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray (Eric Kahn Gale’s Zoo at the Edge of the World).
Panelist Jen Besser will pitch Pennyroyal Academy, set in a school where princesses and knights are trained to battle the two great menaces of the day: witches and dragons. At the center of the story is a girl who learns what it truly means to be a princess, and realizes surprising things about herself, her family, human compassion, and inhuman cruelty.
“When I first heard mention of ‘princess,’ I gave a tiny inward groan,” recalls Besser. “There have been so many princess stories, but as soon as I began reading, I was taken by this fun and clever novel, which manages to feel both fresh and classic. These are princesses who are brave, strong, and real—they’re characters you immediately want to spend time with.” Besser notes that film rights to the novel are under option to Lionsgate, with Reese Witherspoon attached and producing through her company, Pacific Standard.
The editor is a longtime fan of Editors’ Buzz Panels. “Even at the busiest BEA, these are must-attend panels for me,” she says. “It’s exciting to see what colleagues are up to, and it gives us editors the chance to gush about a book we feel passionate about. Of course it’s always hard to zero in on just one book, but with Pennyroyal Academy, everyone in-house thinks we have something special in middle grade—and something we’ve been waiting for, for a long time.”
Jordan Brown chose to spotlight Eric Kahn Gale’s Zoo at the Edge of the World, which stars a boy in the late 19th century whose father owns a resort where visitors can experience the last vestiges of the wild left in the world. The boy, who stutters, is faced with a difficult choice when a mysterious jaguar confers upon him a powerful gift.
“Eric previously wrote The Bully Book, a contemporary story about a boy dealing with being bullied, so his new book has a very different feel and bent,” says Brown. “Though Eric made what one might call a drastic leap in genre and worlds, what struck me immediately is the strong thematic connection between these novels, since each is about a boy trying to find his voice and learning that authority figures don’t always know everything.”
Praising Gale’s ability to “make this story set more than 100 years ago modern and fresh,” Brown welcomes the chance to acquaint booksellers with Zoo at the End of the World at this event. “Our business relies so much on a one-to-one sell, from author to agent, agent to editor, editor to others in-house, sales reps to bookseller, and bookseller to consumer. I love that one-on-one connection—it’s what makes books so vital. I’m looking forward to talking about this book, and helping people connect with it.”