Peter Lerangis, author of the Seven Wonders series, moderated a panel of novelists of forthcoming middle-grade titles, including Lauren Oliver, author of Curiosity House: Then Shrunken HeadCollins (Harper, Sept.); Kevin Sands, The Blackthorn Key (Simon & Schuster, Sept.); Corey Ann Haydu, Rules for Stealing Stars (HarperCollins/Tegen, Sep.); and Kenneth Oppel, The Nest, (Simon & Schuster, Oct.).
Lerangis began by asking pointed questions of each of the authors. For Oliver, he was taken with the setting of Curiosity House, which is a New York that is outside of a specific time. Oliver joked that “when traveling through the world I often don’t know what is real and what is not.” She knew she wanted the book to have a “perennial New York” feel, which she achieved through research in a relic museum, with a curator who showed her artifacts from the city’s history.
To Kevin Sands, Lerangis asked about the language in Blackthorn Key, the story of an apothecary’s apprentice in the 17th century. “I wanted it to be relatable,” he said, so he compromised with a classical, formal language, but made the speech patterns slightly modern.
Lerangis asked about Corey Ann Haydu’s book, Rules for Stealing Stars, the story of four sisters whose mother is an alcoholic, and who escape into a magical realm. The novel had a personal origin: Haydu’s mother battled alcoholism, and as the author originally drafted the novel, this struggle was in the background. When her agent suggested that the book lacked heart, Haydu knew what needed to change. “The heart is that I’m not writing what it’s like to be the child of someone struggling with addiction,” she said. “I’m glad I went there, though it was a harrowing process.”
Turning to Oppel, Lerangis said: “Your book, of the four, was the weirdest.” “Thank you,” Oppel replied. The novel follows Steven, whose baby brother is born with a lot of problems. He begins to hear voices of what he thinks may be angels, that promise to grow a healthy baby in a wasp’s nest to replace his ailing brother. “Where did you get the idea? What’s wrong with you?” Lerangis joked. “It’s an idea I’ve been working on for 10 years,” Oppel said. To Oppel, wasp nests looked somewhat womb-like, so he thought, why couldn’t it give birth to a baby?”
Three of the four authors on the panel have published YA novels previously. Lerangis asked how the transition worked moving from an older young adult audience to younger middle grade. “I don’t think much about the reader when I write the book. Books themselves have their own rhythms and exigencies, they lead you where they need to go,” said Oliver. For Haydu, choosing to write for a younger audience helped the novel flow freely, though she struggled finding “the curse word a 10-year-old says when he drops something on his foot.” Oppel feels there’s no “portcullis that drops down at age 12-13 or whatever, and then says: ‘you can read no further.’ The themes and subtext in this book could work for teens and adults, too.”
The authors also shared their road to publishing. Oliver, Haydu, and Oppel knew from a young age they wanted to write, though Sands came to it through trying other things, including teaching physics and trying to break into the film and TV business. But when he was advised to grow his platform by writing a novel, he discovered that writing is what he wanted to do. Oppel concluded by saying he had tried many jobs unsuccessfully. “I’m uniquely unemployable, so this has to work.”
Click here to see our writeup of the Young Adult Editors' Buzz Panel.