World Fantasy 2008 – another panel from the convention.

The Resurgence of YA Fantasy Literature – Garth Nix, Kathryn Sullivan, Anne Hopper, Sharyn November.

The premise of the panel was “Harry Potter aside, YA literature has always been popular. Is YA fantasy riding a wave today? If so, why? And is fantasy literature more appealing to younger readers than other genres?”

The short answer was that the panel disagreed with most premises in the questions. They felt that a return to science fiction scenarios rather than fantasy was long overdue, and signs existed that this was already starting. The Potter look-alikes, the vampires, and the dragons had all outstayed their welcomes and new directions were needed to keep the readers coming.

In that vein, Garth Nix came up with a good aphorism, “A good story badly told can still succeed, but a bad story well told will likely fail”. The editors on the panel held forth at length what a crapshoot it was to try to predict the marketplace. They have to try to predict what readers will want next year, but admit the premise is basically a foolish one.

Many harsh things were said about weak and derivative novels that have done quite well in the marketplace, but I’d better not quote anyone or specific titles on this. For the writers out there beginning to settle on a story and a genre for new work it seems that it would be a good idea not to attempt to jump on any bandwagon. As always – write the story that has meaning for you.

This panel was one of the liveliest that I attended. Sharyn November’s sharp wit contrasted nicely with Anne Hopper’s quiet diplomacy and between them the two editors kept the audience alert with ears pricked. As I mentioned this was my first writing convention and I soon learned that the entertainment value of a panel can be equal to the informational content.

Another observation that might be interesting to others planning to attend their first convention is that there were four streams ongoing through most of the event – two different panels running each hour as well as two rooms where writers read from their own works, a half hour for each. This meant that one needed to plan one’s own participation in the program ahead and expect that a sometimes difficult choice had to be made between competing appearances.

There were name authors from the A-Teams of publishing holding forth or being interviewed most days, and sometimes a interesting panel might need to be weighed against the chance of hearing things from the horse’s mouth. Then again, most days the programs ran right through lunch hour and so one had to balance starving the mind with starving the belly. Every day, a couple of hours were set aside for dinner, so I guess writers are expected to munch a sandwich at the computer while creating, but to pay proper attention to good cuisine and drink at the dining hour.

Overall, it seemed as if the Harry Potter phenomenon has been classified as an exception rather than the rule – no one is expecting another series to come along soon and light up the cash registers in the same way. I must admit to be more cynical than that. I wonder how many copies of the saga were actually read from cover to cover by those lucky ‘young adults’ with such attentive grandparents. I liked Sharyn November’s comment, “If youngsters are not already reading adult books by the time they’re sixteen, there is likely something wrong with them.”

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