I went to the Printers Row Lit Fest yesterday to hear authors speak and buy good books and soak up the literature-loving atmosphere, but what ended up happening is that I got really, really hot. It was 80 degrees by 7 am. Everyone was melting. I was impressed that the panelists could talk coherently because I could barely focus much less string together words to make a useful sentence. So my day was cut short due to heat, but I managed to see some good stuff before dissolving into a puddle of sweat.
I ran into James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish) who was moderating a panel of YA authors, including Daniel Kraus (Rotters), Veronica Roth (Divergent), and Katie Crouch (The Magnolia League). They spent a while talking about tense, an important decision every author has to make and, from what I've observed on forums and chat room discussions, a decision sometimes met with great angst. Ms. Roth and Ms. Crouch have used 1st person present and discussed the benefit of immediacy of emotions while using this tense. They also mentioned how it can be jarring at first. The Hunger Games series is 1st person present, and I wonder if the success of Suzanne Collins' books might be influential. (Coming from a screenwriting background, where everything is present tense, I wanted to get away from it and try something new.) Mr. Kraus made an interesting point about 1st person present being overdone and how it can be a crutch. He preferred 3rd person past. I was most curious to meet Ms. Roth because I've been looking forward to reading her debut, which is set in dystopian Chicago. Pretty irresistible.
I also (briefly... still melting) listened to Blue Balliett speak with the wonderful Julia Keller of the Chicago Tribune. Ms. Balliett has written a highly successful middle grade series that could be described as place-based mysteries. But after hearing their discussion, I feel wrong calling it middle grade. They talked about labels and how quick we are to label books (eg, YA, middle grade) and perhaps this is to everyone's detriment. Ms. Balliett said she thinks of her books as being for 8 and older (kind of like a board game). Ms. Keller talked about Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) and how if her book were published now, it would be labeled YA, would sit in the YA section and wouldn't get as much press or as many readers and wouldn't be considered for the Pulitzer Prize. It's sad to think of, but probably true. For better or worse, we're stuck with this YA label now.