The Lytherus team was on hand to cover the What’s Hot in YA panel, featuring a great spread of popular YA authors set to discuss the biggest sub-genre in fantasy and scifi. Like all of SDCC’s other book-driven panels, What’s Hot in YA brought together many recognizable names in the fantasy and scifi book world.
The superstar panelists consisted of Leigh Bardugo (Shadow and Bone), Myra McEntire (Hourglass, Timepiece), Scott Westerfeld (Uglies, Leviathan), Melina Marchetta (Finnikin of the Rock, Jellicoe Road), Lish McBride (Hold me Closer Necromancer, Necromancing the Stone), Tahereh Mafi (Shatter Me, Unravel Me), Kami Garcia (Beautiful Creatures), and James Dashner (The Maze Runner trilogy).
The first question out of the gate was about superpowers and how they’ve permeated pop culture. Why are they so compelling and enduring? Kami Garcia mentioned that they’re appealing because it’s a safe way to explore taking control in our lives, and James Dashner talked about how it’s basically living out our fantasies as kids and bringing them into adulthood. Scott Westerfeld talked about superpower teams comparing to friend teams, and how we as people are stronger together, and Leigh Bardugo focused on how fantasy is metaphor to life, how we all struggle to find our “thing.” We all want to be changed some way.
Question two asked the authors what they embraced with nerd culture as a kid, and how they took it into adult life. Myra McEntire mentioned The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars influencing her life. Leigh Bardugo talked about how discovering things as a kid made the world more expansive. Scott Westerfeld made a funny reference to his dice and graph paper, but said that world building and source materials were what spoke to him as a kid. James Dashner mentioned having a surreal moment in the movies with his son, remembering back to going with his father. Tahereh Mafi and Kami Garcia talked about being fringe nerds, being weird, not cool (Tahereh used to break dance!). Kami mentioned trying to be yourself and fit in and how that’s always a struggle – how can I be me and not sacrifice that trying to belong. Melina Marchetta was on the opposite scale, talking about her completely normal upbringing, and how that made her want something unique in her stories.
The next question focused on why violence has become more mainstream (The Hunger Games was mentioned). Scott Westerfeld jumped right in, talking about how kids love random violence. They’re becoming aware of their mortality. Teens rebel, including against death, by obsessing with violence, like a type of exposure therapy. Melina Marchetta said she’s subconsciously writing about the here and now, life, with the darkness in her books. Lisha McBride made a valid point when she said that it isn’t really new, when you thing about things like Grimm’s Fairy Tales. There have always been dark, violent books. James Dashner mentioned something his mom once said to him, when he asked about seeing rated R movies when he was younger. She said she’d rather him have sex one day than kill someone, so was a bit stricter on watching violent films. But the darkness, he said, in the end shows the light. Tahereh Mafi talked about how it seems that people enjoy violence more than kisses, and wondered what that says about us as a culture. And she mentioned what the violence in The Hunger Games was really about: Katniss fighting for something bigger than herself. And Kami Garcia finished up the question by mentioning that she remembers bad things from her childhood; teens see and experience violence more than we think they do, and not to forget that.
There was a question about self-publishing, but the answers were pretty standard with the “if it’s good, I’ll read it” reply. And the last question before the floor was opened up to people in the audience was asking about the worst writing advice they’d ever been given. Leigh was told to follow trends and be aware of the market. Lish was asked by a teacher, “why are you doing this? Why are you throwing your talent away?” after she wrote a fantasy scifi zombie hybrid for a thesis.
The panelists were interesting, exciting people who were quick to talk and always had interesting things to say. As the book person for Lytherus who prefers to read YA, this was one of the highlights of Comic Con for me. That, and getting a signed Goliath from Scott Westerfeld!