ALA Session: Not Another Boring Vampire Romance: Going Beyond the Norm in YA Paranormal Literature

This morning I hit up an author panel moderated by the lovely Angie of fatgirlreading.com. I didn’t get there on time (thus setting the trend for the day) and stayed for about an hour. On the panel were: Kenneth Oppel, Kendare Blake, Jackson Pearce, and Cindy Pon. I hadn’t read anything by any of these authors, but I’ll look for them now! Except I might need a buddy to read Kendare Blake, because it sounds like those books have a dark streak.

Allison, you might wonder, why go to a YA paranormal author panel if you hadn’t read any of the books by said authors? Because 1, my little sister works for a YA publisher, 2, my other little sister loves YA, and 3, YA books are often the subject of censorship and even though I’m firmly on the side of “teenagers don’t have completely developed brains and therefore, no, are not adults” debate, I believe strongly in the power of YA novels and their ability to fill a space in a community (and culture even) that is magnificently important.

It was a really interesting discussion about why paranormal has reemerged as a YA genre, whether or not the label of “YA paranormal” is correct or even applicable, the role of family and romance in YA paranormal fiction (wow that’s a mouthful), diversity in YA, and how much authors owe to the original fairy tale or whatever that’s (often) being retold.

Highlights!

On why YA paranormal has become a thing again:

Overall consensus was that the Twilight phenomenon was a huge push for an interest in “otherworldly” books. Buffy and  Supernatural were also pointed to as helping with that. Jackson Pearce thought that these kinds of books were filling in a gap that has existed for a bit of time.

On the “YA Paranormal Romance/Literature” label:

Both Kenneth Oppel and Kendare Blake mentioned the fact that genre was the least of their concerns while writing, and Cindy Pon said a lot of it has to do with marketing. Jackson Pearce pointed to the big boom of Sarah Dessen in 2003, 2004 as when YA really took off as it’s own genre (I wondered, did she mean a genre outside of children’s literature? I’m not really up on genre history). Overall, the label is just a label- Kenneth Opper said he tried to be a full service writer and make everyone happy- which wasn’t really possible.

On the role “the family” plays in YA paranormal:

There was quite a bit of discussion about how YA in general allows for more opportunity to feature the family and a protagonist’s relationship with them. YA is generally (clearly) about and features teenagers, and up until that point in someone’s life, self-definition is based on being someone else’s sibling or child, and now the quest is to achieve autonomy.  Kendare Blake said that familial ties ground paranormal- an absurd world needs aspects of realism, and families are a good way to do that. Cindy Pon’s books are based on Chinese mythology, so family figures very centrally to her books, since filial duty and responsibility are of utmost importance in China. Jackson Pearce pointed out, though, that it can be difficult to adventure with parents standing around. Kenneth Opper’s solution to this is to kill off the parents- it’s paranormal, bad stuff happens!

On how romance elements are worked in paranormal novels:

Jackson Pearce started by saying that she never locked eyes with someone across a chemistry classroom in high school and fell in love, and neither do her characters. Instead, relationships are developed over time, and after friendship, maybe romance will show up. Cindy Pon’s quote of the day on why there is so much romance in YA lit: “All those hormones- like whoa!” And Kenneth Opper made a really brilliant statement about how romance in these alternative worlds has to be credible. Those moments of romance “let light in” and show times of humanity while fighting off the monsters. Character reactions in those times are what makes them real, and that’s when an author “can get away with telling your readers anything if they believe in your characters.”

On the criticism that YA doesn’t feature a diversity of characters:

In general, diversity is good, but really hard. Jackson Pearce (very bravely, I thought) said that as a white author, writing ethnically diverse characters is scary, because if you mess it up or get it wrong,you’re in a heap big ton of trouble- to the dog house you go. Cindy Pon thought that she now writes the books she would have liked as a child, but any good author can create characters that anyone can relate to in at least some way. She also pointed out that even dystopian YA still features a largely white, largely straight future- even with all of the ways to be diverse, what will happen to those characters that don’t fit in there?

On owing the original stories:

Jackson Pearce wanted to know how many of us remembered, to the minute, where we first learned the story of Red Riding Hood or Cinderella, to make her point of those stories are just such a part of our collective consciousness that it’s easy to pick and choose the pieces that you want from all of the versions to make the kind of story an author wants to create. It’s harder to do with Hans Christian Anderson tales because there is only one way to do them- ’cause he wrote ’em that way. It’s also interesting to note that she had to take into account the fact that younger kids only know the Disney versions of stories like The Little Mermaid, which definitely does not have the original ending.

Kenneth Opper said they didn’t owe the original stories anything because they were in the public domain!

 

And that was my first session today!

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1 Comment

Filed under Conference considerations, Thoughts from Allison

One response to “ALA Session: Not Another Boring Vampire Romance: Going Beyond the Norm in YA Paranormal Literature

  1. Thanks Allison, that sounds like a great session.

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