The Wolf on YA And Doing What You Fear the Most

YA panel SFeraKon

It’s been nine years since I’ve first helped organize a sci-fi convention in Croatia, and in the meantime I’ve held over a dozen quizzes, ten+ random games and a lecture or two. I’ve never, though, held a panel – until this month’s SFeraKon 2014.

Organizing a panel turned out to be one of the toughest things I’ve ever wanted to do. Firstly, a panel on the same subject (young adult sci-fi/fantasy fiction) was proposed to the organizers by the very person who put me up to holding my own (long story). Secondly, I was dead set on bringing panelists from outside of the Croatian fandom – namely, genre book editors and teenage readers – which proved next to impossible. (Of the intended 5 guests I ended up with 2). Not to mention that the other YA panel had three esteemed panelists recognized in the fandom – and it was scheduled for the day before mine.

It didn’t take me long to really, really feel the urge to quit. A couple of things happened in the aftermath of my self-deprecation spiral on an otherwise random weekday. There was the co-alpha, talking sense into me, even though it took her a couple of hours on the phone to get me back to myself again. In the end, thanks to her, I wanted to fight, not retreat – because I was paramount that what I had to say about YA genre fiction was valuable enough to present it to people. (Thanks for ever!) Then there was an organizer friend of mine (one of the recognized panelists for the other panel) who helped me reach a couple of other editors of whom one was more than happy to attend, even though she wasn’t versed in genre fiction. The same friend also saw no harm in having two panels on YA at SFeraKon, as long as they presented a different approach to the audience – and thus it came to be.

It has been my desire for quite some time to talk to editors in front of a writer audience because I truly feel writers should listen to what editors have to say, too, not just fellow people of the craft. In the end, it’s the editors – mostly – who get to decide what gets published, and what doesn’t, and Croatian fandom is full of young (or new) writers. I ended up with one editor in charge and one editor who is also a translator (someone whose work I’ve actually appreciated for quite some time). Something like thirty listeners attended, which was awesome, and at the panel I had the time of my life.

The problem with YA is that not many adults read it, and even less understand it. It leads to ugly misconceptions and misinterpretations which usually end up in generalizations such as Twilight is shit, therefore, all YA genre fiction is shit. Ugh. Ever heard of How I Live Now or The Giver? I’ve been recommending How I Live Now to friends and librarian colleagues for ages – hopefully the movie will actually help in letting them know it’s a valuable piece of YA literature.

While moderating my guests (and trying not to digress too much into slash fanfiction or LGBT characters in YA – yeah, they were that awesome), I’ve learned that a ton of teens read Fifty Shades and that there are parents who call the publisher to complain about The Fault in Our Stars. I’ve heard that the editors disagree with my colleagues on wheter YA nowadays consists mostly of genre fiction. I’ve heard that there are no YA titles they’d recommend to aspiring authors of YA, but that, according to them, everyone needs to find their own way. It was too short of an hour (my mistake – which might turn out to be great, since some of the listeners left wanting more) packed with real people – real experts – spilling out their real-life experience regarding YA and genre YA. What more can a girl desire?

Looking back, there are things I would’ve done differently – but one thing not. I would again, and still, listen to my gut feeling. It was that feeling which told me editors were the ones to ask for the panel, not writers or literature theorists. It was that feeling which allowed me to include a panelist who, in her own words, had nothing to do with genre YA, but had a lot to say on the topic as a whole. Genre YA is just a tiny fraction of YA fiction in general, and one of my objectives was to compare the two facets. It was that feeling – with a little help from the co-alpha and a friend – which lead me to actually saying what I feel in front of an audience – that teens should and must read everything they can get their hands on, no matter what any sort of authority thinks. Teens are precious in a way children are not, at least not yet – they aren’t as afraid to express their opinions and are about to become full members of a society with a well developed critical mind – that is, if we do our jobs right. Holding this panel -and all I have planned for the future – is one of the ways try to do my job.

In the end, the panel left me wanting more. In the week after it, I’ve already read three YA genre novels I’ve missed and discovered I still had a long way to go in my own understanding of it. I still want the writers to hear from the teen readers themselves, something I didn’t manage to do this time, but plan for the next convention. I still want the world to hear how exciting and educational (at the same time!) YA fiction can be. I still feel there’s a lot of experience to be shared between fandom and non-fandom people – especially people who deal in genre literature, i. e. editors and librarians.  I’ve gotten tired of fandom people talking to fandom people about fandom stuff. Do we really need to be so isolated?

Plus, the more kids we bring into (awesome) genre literature now, the more friends we’ll have in the years to come, not to mention writers. And an editor or two – who will do their job well.

Photo by Irena Hartmann. (SFeraKon 2014)

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