Brooklyn Based contrib Leila Sales, editor with Viking Children’s Books and author of the forthcoming novel MOSTLY GOOD GIRLS, and Rebecca Serle, founder of Nurturing Narratives and literacy blogger for the Huffington Post checked out a few panels at the Brooklyn Book Festival. We asked them to discuss their highlights via gchat, and send us the transcript.
Leila: Okay, first of all, here is who was at the Brooklyn Book Fest:
Rebecca: Yea. And can we talk for a second about these things always happening when it’s raining? RE: bad for my hair.
Leila: It is true. Everybody was there, from the girl who does marketing at my publishing house, to our friend who works at Word bookstore, to Salman Rushdie. And they all saw us with frizzy hair.
Rebecca: I don’t think Rushdie was particularly offended, though. Also the rain meant I got there late, and missed going to Pop Life with you—enlighten me.
Leila: Pop Life: Music, Memory, and America’s Coming of Age, moderated by Julie Bernstein.
Joshua Clover, author of 1989, told us (go figure) what he thought was the most influential song of 1989.
Rebecca: What was it?
Leila: “Listen to Your Heart,” by Roxette.
He gave this complicated theory about how it was the first single ever to reach #1 without being released on vinyl, and how this kind of mirrored the fall of the Berlin Wall. How it had all these political connections while being a 100% apolitical song.
It was kind of wild, but Joshua’s obviously brilliant. He said something about, “There’s a way in which politics is a lot like pop music: You just want people to vote for you; you don’t care why.”
Rebecca: Wow. This man had vision because that was WAY before American Idol.
Leila: It’s hard to even imagine such a time.
Rebecca: So was everyone like, “Yea, totally, Josh. That WAS the most important song”? Or were people offended that he didn’t pick something by Poison?
Leila: Well, Ta-Nehisi Coates (author of THE BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE) said his top pick for 1989 was “Fight the Power,” by Public Enemy.
He talked about the hip-hop scene in Baltimore, where he grew up, and how it helped him develop into the writer that he is today.
Rebecca: Hairspray took place in Baltimore and it DEFINITELY helped me become the writer I am today. So I hear that.
Leila: Yeah, dude, those lyrics in Hairspray are unreal.
Ta-Nehisi talked about how lyrically intricate hip-hop is, so it’s like a subtle lesson on how to write well.
He said that when he writes books, he still thinks like an MC.
Rebecca: Rob Sheffield was there too, right? I loved LOVE IS A MIXTAPE. I cried through the whole thing.
Leila: Yeah, Rob’s new book is TALKING TO GIRLS ABOUT DURAN DURAN, so he and Ta-Nehisi both mentioned how talking about music is a great way to meet girls.
Rebecca: Remember that panel we went to in May about “how to write teen boys”? They told us that boys are way into music, too. And how it’s a great way to meet them.
Leila: Right. I remember that panel. It was with Matt de la Pena and David Levithan and stuff. But as far as I recall, it was about writing teen boys, not creepily befriending teen boys.
Regardless, the main take-home point that we have now heard from many authors is that both girls and boys like talking about music.
Rebecca: So then we went to the Youth Stoop for the Happily Ever After? panel featuring Jenny Han, Sara Shepard and Lauren Oliver (moderated by Kirsten Miller).
Leila: Fair disclosure: We LOVE Lauren Oliver.
Rebecca: I interviewed her for a Huffington Post article.
Leila: And she blurbed my book.
Rebecca: Plus BEFORE I FALL is one of my favorite books of 2010. I’m a total fan-girl for her.
Leila: This panel was about teen characters who are forced to confront their pasts after having committed terrible acts.
Rebecca: I liked the discussion they had on change, and whether we are the same people we were in high school.
Jenny and Sara were of the mind that we are essentially the same, but Lauren stressed that change is possible. A big part of her book is about redemption, and characters having the opportunity to evolve.
Leila: haha, and Lauren’s mom was in the audience. When Kristen asked, “So, what research did you do to write the steamy romance scenes in your books?” Lauren was like, “Uh, my mom is here, so… No research.”
Rebecca: Sara stepped it up, though. She confessed to shoplifting, which was awesome. (Not the shoplifting itself, just the confession. Mostly because it was a pair of socks from Urban Outfitters).
Leila: That kind of makes sense, considering that socks from Urban cost some exorbitant sum.
I was so into Sara’s Pretty Little Liars series when I read it. The books are chick lit, but good God the mystery sucks you in. I kept being like, “Who is ‘A’? WHO IS SHE?”
Rebecca: Amazing. I want to watch that show but I think it conflicts with The Real Housewives of somewhere, so you can see the dilemma.
It was a pretty quiet audience, but you asked a good question. You wanted to know how to make an intrinsically unlikable character someone who readers want to follow through a story.
Leila: Jenny answered that she thinks her unlikable characters are actually the most fun to read about.
Rebecca: I liked what Lauren said, too. About how she tries to make her characters recognizable, not necessarily likeable.
Leila: Then we went to Finding the Funny: The Humor of the Everyday, with John Hodgman, Sloane Crossley, Kristen Schaal, and Rich Blomquist.
Rebecca: John (author of THE AREAS OF MY EXPERTISE) talked about being a humorist versus a comedian, and how he feels like he isn’t as funny as the others when put on the spot. Most of his comedy is carefully crafted in an office.
Leila: He said that, now that he’s so identified with The Daily Show, he feels pressure to just be funny all the time.
Meanwhile, Kristen Schaal (co-author of THE SEXY BOOK OF SEXY SEX) is straight-up hilarious.
I once ran into her at Union Hall (this was a couple years ago), and I was too shy to go up to her and say what I really wanted, which was: “Just talk to me! Just be yourself and I’ll stand here!”
My favorite moment of this panel may have been when Kristen compared Michael Phelps to a salmon who swims thousands of miles just for a single pity fuck.
She also said, and here I quote, “I don’t write in public. Because I drink a lot of coffee. And I REFUSE to use a public bathroom.”
Rebecca: And then John followed it up with, “I don’t write in public because I avoid writing as much as possible,” which was equally poignant, I thought.
My favorite moment was when someone asked the panel how they decide when to tweet or blog about something, and when to save it for a legitimate published work. John answered that you shouldn’t hold anything in reserve because putting funny stuff out there always wins readers, no matter what the medium.
Leila: And then some other guy in the audience said he had been in a writing crit group that had told him a piece he wrote was “trying too hard to be funny,” and everyone on the panel was like, “Yeah, bro, they were probably right.”
Rebecca: Then we went back outside to wander for a bit and saw:
1) people lining up in the POURING rain to have Sarah Silverman sign their book.
Leila: 2) the booth for Coral Press, an NYC independent that does all music literature.
Rebecca: I dug them. Especially how when we went over they were all, “Do you like words? Do you like music?” and I was like YES. I LIKE BOTH OF THOSE THINGS!
3) Maria Gagliano and Celia Johnson of SLICE Magazine. My story was published in their first ever edition, mostly because I knew Maria and she was kind enough to give me my first publishing cred. But now they are a big deal.
Leila: 4) we DIDN’T see Tiger Beat, hands down my favorite all-teen-author band.
Rebecca: Because we had to go home.
Leila: Because our arms ached.
Rebecca: Because we were carrying too many books.