Stacking The Shelves, Vol. 19 & Field Trip: Boston Teen Author Festival 2015

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Stacking The Shelves is a weekly event hosted by Tynga’s Reviews that shares the books (both physical and virtual) that you recently purchased, borrowed from a fellow reader or the library, won from a giveaway, or received as gifts. Stacking The Shelves will post on Saturdays as new books are added to my shelves.

It’s time to report on the 2015 Boston Teen Author Festival! Since I wanted to tell you about the event, I’ve decided to make this post a combination of Stacking The Shelves (which I’ll link up at Tynga’s Reviews) and my Field Trip series. So, what you’re about to read is part photo diary, part written report with quotes and writing tips, and part BOOK SQUEE FEST. 😀

Um, as always, bear with me on the photo quality, especially the zoomed-in shots at BTAF. (I really, really need to get a new camera.) Otherwise, enjoy!

Harvard University Campus (On the Way to BTAF)

After riding the train into Boston, I took the Red Line subway to Harvard Square, the closest stop to Cambridge Public Library. This meant that I’d be walking past Harvard University on my way to the festival. Since the front gates were open to visitors, the late September weather was gorgeous and summery, and I had plenty of time, I treated myself to a stroll through Harvard Yard (a.k.a. Harvard’s main campus). Hey, it’s not every day that you can say you “went” to one of the most prestigious universities in the country for the day, right?  🙂

Here are some of the photos I took inside and outside Harvard Yard:

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Statue of William H. Sumner, a Harvard graduate who worked in state government and wrote The History of East Boston / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

A look back at Harvard's front gates, from inside campus / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

A look back at Harvard’s front gates, from inside campus / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

A tour stops at the statue of John Harvard, the benefactor after whom Harvard University was named / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

A tour stops at the statue of John Harvard, the benefactor after whom Harvard University was named / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

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Widener Library, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

Tercentenary Theatre, the courtyard-quadrangle outside the dorms and academic halls on campus / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

Tercentenary Theatre, the courtyard-quadrangle outside the dorms and academic halls on campus / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

Memorial Church, Appleton Chapel / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

Memorial Church, Appleton Chapel / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

Tercentenary Theatre and University Hall / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

Tercentenary Theatre and University Hall / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

Emerson Hall at Harvard University / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

Emerson Hall at Harvard University / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

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Robinson Hall at Harvard University / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

Memorial Hall, outside Harvard Yard / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

Memorial Hall, outside Harvard Yard / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

Cambridge Public Library

Cambridge Public Library, where BTAF was held, is about a 5-minute walk from Harvard Yard. Like other parts of Boston and Cambridge, the library is a stunning blend of historic with modern. The original, Richardson Romanesque-style building was constructed in 1888 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The addition, highlighted by its glass exterior, opened in November 2009 and more than tripled the library’s original square footage. The interior of both halves is gorgeous, too. The glass “curtain wall” of the addition lets in sheets of natural light, making the area bright, airy, and enticingly welcome to visitors.

Altogether, CPL offers several floors of meeting space, reading rooms for children and teens, and the Cambridge Room, which is dedicated specifically to historical research on the city of Cambridge. Oh, and lots of books, audiobooks, movies, etc., of course. 🙂 Outside, the library grounds are highlighted by a playground, walkways lined with benches, and spans of grassy areas for relaxing, reading, or picnic lunches.

Exterior shot of the original Cambridge Public Library / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

Exterior shot of the original Cambridge Public Library / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

Exterior shot of the Cambridge Public Library addition / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

Exterior shot of the Cambridge Public Library addition / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

BTAF Intro Panel

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Intro panel at the 2015 Boston Teen Author Festival / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

BTAF kicked off its day of events with an intro panel featuring all 28(!!) authors. The host posed several questions for all of the authors had to answer, including:

  • Describe your current book in three words.
  • What is one of your (embarrassing) quirks?
  • What’s your “guilty pleasure” TV show?
  • Which literary character outside of your story world would you pair your novel’s main character with?

Since there were way too many answers to share here, let’s just say that this was a fun way to open the festival! But one response that drew a HUGE round of laughs and applause was Renee Ahdieh’s for the “literary pair-up” question – she “shipped” Shahrzad of her debut novel The Wrath and the Dawn with The Darkling of fellow attendee Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy. Being familiar with both Renee’s story and Leigh’s books: Oh, do I smell t-r-o-u-b-l-e. (*lol*)

Morning Panel: “Inspired By…” 

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L to R: Mackenzi Lee (This Monstrous Thing), Zoraida Cordova (The Vicious Deep Trilogy), Cindy L. Rodriguez (When Reason Breaks), Kody Keplinger (Lying Out Loud), Renee Ahdieh (The Wrath and the Dawn), and Kekla Magoon (X) / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

BTAF then split up for morning panel discussions. Of the two, the one that captured my attention was “Inspired By…,” where authors talked about the people, places, and stories that influenced their stories. Here are some of my highlights:

  • Mackenzi Lee shared how Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein inspired her debut novel, This Monstrous Thing. Her love for this classic story sprung when she saw a theatrical production of Frankenstein in London; and from there, she read anything and everything she could about Shelley’s work. Mackenzi also talked about her concerns about historical anachronisms when working on This Monstrous Thing.
  • Zoraida Cordova grabbed my interest with her talk about her Vicious Deep trilogy, which blends urban fantasy with Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. She talked about using a young merman instead of a mermaid for her protagonist, the importance of “market research” in helping her set her story apart from other YA mermaid novels, and balancing the common YA theme of identity with an epic “save-the-world” premise.
  • Emily Dickinson was Cindy L. Rodriguez’s muse for When Reason Breaks, and not just because of her poetry. The novel explores the vastly different ways that depression (which Dickinson was believed to have suffered from) affects two current-day teenagers. Cindy also touched on diversity in When Reason Breaks, her introduction to Dickinson’s work, and her personal reasons for writing about depression.
  • If you’ve read or heard of Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn, you might already know that her novel is loosely based on Arabian Nights. This famous collection of Middle Eastern and Asian tales was the focus of Renee’s segments. She also shared how she learned (and sometimes failed!) to cook several Persian dishes while writing her book, and how her mixed-race background influenced her desire to bring a new world into the YA fantasy fold.
  • Diana Renn and her upcoming novel Blue Voyage wasn’t on my radar before BTAF. Then, at this panel, Renn spoke about how Blue Voyage was inspired by a trip to the Turkish Riviera and the history of a Turkish collection of ancient artifacts known as the Karun Treasure (a.k.a. Lydian Hoard), and called her novel a “YA travel mystery.” That was all I needed to hear to know that I should read her book!
  • Kekla Magoon recalled a fateful phone call from Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of Civil Rights activist Malcom X. That call led to the two women writing X, a fictional account of Malcolm’s teenage years. Kekla also talked about the challenges of writing with a collaborator, imagining a historical figure’s personality and reactions as accurately as possible, and using first-person present tense as a narrative style.
  • Memorable Quote: “Give [any group of writers] the same prompt, and every single one of us will write something different. Because when we write, we put ourselves on the page. That’s what makes each story different.” (Renee Ahdieh)
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L to R: Kody Keplinger (Lying Out Loud), Renee Ahdieh (The Wrath and the Dawn), Kekla Magoon (X), and Diana Renn (Blue Voyage) / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

Afternoon Panel: “The Craft”

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L to R: Sara Raasch (Ice Like Fire Trilogy), Melissa Grey (The Girl at Midnight), Kim Liggett (Blood and Salt), Kendall Kulper (Salt & Storm, Drift & Dagger), A.C. Gaughen (Scarlet Trilogy), Leigh Bardugo (Grisha Trilogy, Six of Crows), and Amelia Atwater-Rhodes (Maeve’ra Trilogy, Den of Shadows series) / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

After an hour’s lunch break, BTAF reconvened for two afternoon panels. “The Craft” was an easy choice for me solely because of its line-up. (Um, can you FEEL the YA fantasy oozing from the photo above??) Plus, I love listening to authors and other writers talking about how they approach their work, so the topic itself was a no-brainer.

Some of my favorite moments from The Craft include these:

  • The character and voice question was my favorite of the bunch, and each author had their own take on it:
    •  Amelia Atwater-Rhodes said she always considers the character’s viewpoint, asking herself what the character would see or notice during a scene.
    • Leigh Bardugo confessed that she doesn’t focus on voice until the second draft so she can focus on the story, and often listens to music that helps her step into a character’s skin.
    • A.C. Gaughen talked about writing her Scarlet trilogy entirely in dialect and letting her protagonist express herself through narrative voice.
    • Melissa Grey spoke about creating layered characters and the importance of asking questions about everything from idiosyncrasies to personal memories.
  • When asked if they preferred soft or hard magic:
    • Most everyone answered “hard magic,” or a magic system with specific rules. Kendall Kulper said she loves making rules for herself and creating a solid foundation for building the rest of the system. A.C. Gaugher also mentioned that creating rules and boundaries can lead to conflicts and other tensions that stories can be built on.
    • Melissa Grey was one of the few who said she prefers soft magic, saying that if a system she builds is too prescriptive, she feels it cages her in too much. However, she agreed that magic should still follow an internal logic. “As long as the system you create follows those rules,” she said, “it will make sense.”
  • All seven authors shared their struggles with finding the right balance when it comes to exposition:
    • Amelia Atwater-Rhodes said that, from past experience, beta-readers and editing have helped her cut down on the amount of exposition in her early drafts.
    • Leigh Bardugo uses what she calls the “screenwriting” method to help with exposition. In her own words, “What’s visually the most powerful way to show how it works?”
    • As Sara Raasch put it simply, “Trust the reader. They know what a building looks like.”

The Book Signing

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Back row, L to R: Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’ “Bloodwitch,” Mackezi Lee’s “This Monstrous Thing,” Zoraida Cordova’s “The Vicious Deep,” and Sara Raasch’s “Snow Like Ashes.” Front row, L to R: Diana Renn’s “Blue Voyage,” Renee Ahdieh’s “The Wrath and The Dawn,” A.C. Gaughen’s “Scarlet,” and Leigh Bardugo’s “Ruin and Rising.” / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

BTAF ended with a 90-minute book-signing with all of the represented authors. Somehow I was able to squeeze in eight authors (seven new books, and one I bought earlier this year) and amass the treasure trove shown above.

I was also able to speak to some of these authors briefly, too. And when a couple of them asked if I was a writer as well and I said “Yes,” they were immensely encouraging. (Thank you, Renee, Zoraida, and Diana!) Also, when it went to Mackenzi Lee’s “booth,” she said she recognized me from our Twitter conversations. 😮 (I guess it helps to have a Twitter photo that looks like you, right?) She also thanked me again for having her recently for a blog interview.

… And Finally, The BTAF 2015 Haul (Stacking The Shelves)

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Book haul from the 2015 Boston Teen Author Festival / Photo taken by Sara Letourneau

I think the previous sections have sort of explained why I purchased the following books at BTAF. 😉

  • Back row, from left to right:
  • Front row, from left to right:
    • Snow Like Ashes (Snow Like Ashes Trilogy, Book #1) by Sara Raasch (YA Fantasy)
    • Scarlet (Scarlet Trilogy, Book #1) by A.C. Gaughen (YA Historical Fantasy)
    • The Vicious Deep (The Vicious Deep Trilogy, Book #1) by Zoraida Cordova (YA Urban Fantasy)

Six of Crows collage

Finally, courtesy of Porter Square Books, readers were able to pre-order a signed copy of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows during BTAF. I’d given the ARC I read in August to a friend and intended on buying Six of Crows once it was out. So, I was thrilled to have a chance to not only buy one of my favorite books of 2015, but to have it signed by Leigh herself. And what a beeee-auty of a hardcover it is! Can you see the black staining on the page edges if you look at the photo on the right? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before!

Have you been to any literary events recently? Are there any coming up in your local area that you’re looking forward to? Also, what books did you recently acquire (purchase, borrow, receive for review, etc.) that you’re itching to read?

32 thoughts on “Stacking The Shelves, Vol. 19 & Field Trip: Boston Teen Author Festival 2015

  1. I loved the photo tour around Harvard Yard – it’s clearly a beautiful place. And the Con looked fab – some really interesting, stimulating discussions going on there. Glad you had such a great time and came back with some book booty:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Sarah! Yes, Harvard Yard was gorgeous. It sort of reminded me of my alma mater Curry College (located outside of Boston), with the trees and the brick and stone buildings. And even though Harvard Yard is set in downtown Cambridge, the campus is stunningly quiet. You can’t really hear the traffic or city “busyness” after a while, and I liked that as well. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ellie! I’m still disappointed with the quality of the “zoom-ins” / close-ups from the panels, but the long-range photos of Harvard and Cambridge Public Library came out better than I’d expected.

      Like

  2. Wow it sounds like you had a great time! Lots of knowledge! I’m probably not going to any literary events for a while unfortunately, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled for ones in my area. ^ ^

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Tori! Yes, it was an awesome time. 🙂

      I still have one more (free) literary event to attend before the end of the month (Boston Book Festival). After that, I probably won’t attend any until the spring – especially if we have another nasty winter here in MA.

      Like

  3. Nice photos, Sara, I’m glad you shared them! The last time I visited Harvard as a tourist was back when me and my family had just moved to New England. It looks so beautiful.
    What a great book haul you have there! 🙂 That festival sounds like it was a fun time and good learning experience. I especially liked this quote of advice: “What’s visually the most powerful way to show how it works?” Important to keep in mind while writing exposition.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Really? Thanks! 😀

      I also loved the questions they asked the authors, especially during the panel on craft. Learning how other writers / authors do their magic fascinates me – because everyone’s answers can be so different!

      Like

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