recap by Hadley, teen blogger
The YA Sci-Fi and Fantasy panel featured Jessica Brody, author of the Unremembered series, Romina Russell, author of Zodiac, and Kiersten White, author of Illusions of Fate. The moderator of the panel was Livia Blackburne, author of Midnight Thief.
What makes your story unique compared to other books of the genre?
White: “In Illusions of Fate—and I was talking to a friend about this recently—I feel like I understand exactly what a book would need in order to capture the largest possible audience and just really take off. I can’t do it, because I can’t write without feeling like I’m also being devious, so maybe my previous life was also as a thirteen-year-old, because I just have to feel like I’m getting away with something. You see a lot of funny, paranormal romance books, there are more now, Rachel Hawkins, but with that one, I was reading all these super serious books, and I’m going, ‘If your boyfriend is a 100-year-old vampire who sparkles in the sunlight, that is super funny.’ And so I wanted to write a paranormal romance that was a good paranormal romance but also poked fun at that, so I had to feel like I was getting away with something. And it was the same with Illusions of Fate; I wanted to write a really good fantasy novel, but I wanted to write also the chosen one arc. You see that arc, like, ‘Simply because of who you are, who you were born, the fact that you exist, you’re the most important person in the world.’ I wanted my main character to live in a world that said to her, ‘Simply because of who you are, and how you were born, you do not matter.’ And the challenge then was to write a book in which there were big stakes and there was magic, and she couldn’t do any of it but she was still determined and smart and confident and hadn’t let that break her. So that, to me, was the spark and the reason why I wrote Illusions of Fate.”
Russell: “Zodiac is a book about a girl who wants to save the universe, and I feel like we’ve seen that a lot, and it’s about a girl discovering herself and discovering her voice, and I feel like we see that a lot as well. I think some of the different things are… I hadn’t read a book where there were planets were based on each zodiac sign before, so I thought that was a lot of fun to develop, and I’m sure a lot of stuff in Zodiac has been done. I think the two things that kind of, for me, I wanted to be different about Rhoma [the female protagonist] was I didn’t want her to be a natural fighter, or someone who is naturally aggressive. This last time I said that she’s more Prim than Katniss. She is more gentle, and I wanted to explore what that person would turn into when thrust into a more violent world and role. And two, she can’t wield a weapon, just like I can’t. She’s not athletic, and she’s definitely not a fighter, and I was like, “Well, how would that person save the world? How do you save the world when your weapon is your voice, or your heart?” And so many of, I think, the scars that stay with us are actually emotional, and they’re not really physical, and so I thought it’d be really cool if the realm that this was fought on was actually psychological and more kind of your soul as opposed to a physical fight.”
Brody: “Let’s see, my series is unique because it has a girl who’s been genetically modified. No, that doesn’t work. My story is unique because it has an evil corporation. No, that doesn’t work. My series is unique because it has memory loss! Nope, not that one either… To be honest, there is something I think that makes it unique—I can’t tell you because it’s the spoiler—but what I want to tell you is what I tell all aspiring writers or writers alike: what makes it unique is because you wrote it. A lot of young writers are like, “I’m so scared of someone stealing the idea or someone writing the same thing.” No one can write the same thing. You can take the same plot line, the same plot, the same synopsis, the same chapter outline, and give it to all four of us, and we’d give you four different books because we are four different people. And that is what makes everyone’s book unique. You’ve heard the old adage, “There’s no such thing as an original idea.” It’s totally true. All you have is an original take, or an original voice. I urge you, any writers out there, I urge you not to look for an original idea but to look for your voice because that’s the only thing that can make a book truly original.”
Blackburne: “What I do like about Midnight Thief, and what I think is unique about it, is that I love playing with the complex moral dilemmas in the story, questions about how far do you go to fight for justice. If you harm some innocent people along the way, is it worth it if it will save more people in the long run? And that was a lot of fun to play with.”
A question from the audience: What are your next books or series about?
Brody: “I paid her to ask that.”
Blackburne: “Then I guess you should answer first.”
Brody: “I just finished my next book, which I’m so excited about! It’s called A Week of Mondays. I’m going back to my contemporary comedy roots, no more sci-fi for a while. It’s about a sixteen-year-old girl who lives through the worst Monday of her life, including her boyfriend breaking up with her, and then she wakes up the next day and it is the exact same Monday. And she has to go through this horrible day, including the awful breakup, over and over until she figures out how to fix it. So it’s a little bit of a Groundhog Day with a teen girl. It will be out in pretty much a year from today.”
Russell: “My next book is Wandering Star, which comes out in December, the sequel to Zodiac, and then book three comes out December 2016. And in the meantime, I returned to my ten-year-old work in progress, so just to show how the length of time it takes you to finish a book totally depends on that idea. Zodiac took a few months, I’m not kidding, and this other book that’s so much shorter and less involved is going on ten years. So I mean really, there’s no rhyme or reason. For writers out there, if something isn’t working, try something else.”
White: “My next book is called And I Darken. It’s coming out next summer, and it’s the one that I mentioned that’s a historical fantasy set in the Ottoman Empire. The main characters are brother and sister. One of those is Vlad the Impaler, if you know who he is. Super fun, cheery historical figure to write a book about.”
Blackburne: “And the sequel to Midnight Thief is probably at the printer right now, it should be coming out in August.”