Quotable Moments From NoVA Teen 2016


Okay, so this photo has nothing to do with anything that was said at the event. But somebody involved in planning OWNS this bad boy, and I want to know who!

Last Saturday, the third annual NoVA Teen Book Festival was held at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, VA. Thirty young adult authors were in attendance and engaged in a variety of speaking engagements and game panels, followed by Holly Black’s keynote and a book signing in the school cafeteria. It was a busy day of books and personal connections, and it would be impossible to write up an overview that would do it justice. So, instead, I’ve collected my favorite quotes, which I’ll be putting forward with little context (other than including who said them and which panel they were part of at the time).


Left to Right: Natalie C. Parker, Lisa Maxwell, Holly Black, Jon Skovron (moderator)


“I’m terrified of everything… I guess some of [my creepy writing] comes from that.” (Holly Black)

“How do you deal with a world that’s slightly off-kilter?” (Natalie C. Parker)

“I started out trying to write romance, but then people started dying.” (Lisa Maxwell)

“The fairies in my book will eat you.” (Lisa Maxwell)

“The story of a special person who becomes incrementally more special is not a compelling story.” (Holly Black on why we like an underdog)

“Heightens the sense of vulnerability.” (Natalie C. Parker on why we like underdogs)

“When people talk about having these muses that come and tell them what to write, I get really angry.” (Holly Black)

“Memory is what makes us human.” (Lisa Maxwell)

“Small towns are creepy to me.” (Jon Skovron)

“One of the things I love about the South and small towns is this sense of collective memory.” (Lisa Maxwell)

“They’re all kind of sociopaths because they don’t have memory, they don’t have empathy.” (Lisa Maxwell, on the characters in her Neverland)

“If [a story] is told wrong, it becomes dangerous.” (Lisa Maxwell on cultural memories and the romanticization of Peter Pan)

Coldtown was hugely a love letter to the vampire novels that I loved in the Eighties.” (Holly Black)

“If there was a walled city of vampires streaming video, would I watch it? Clearly I would. What does that say about me? That I’m a sociopath.” (Holly Black on The Coldest Girl in Coldtown)

“I do want to do some commentary in my books, but I want to do it fairly.” (Natalie C. Parker)

“Part of what I’m doing is resurrecting those stories that are lost or forgotten.” (Natalie C. Parker)

“The thing I come back to again and again are changeling stories.” (Holly Black)

“My first book came from one of our wedding photos. … The photographer said, ‘That smudge there is a ghost.'” (Lisa Maxwell)

“I grew up in a haunted house… but I never saw anything [strange or supernatural]. It’s the great tragedy of my life.” (Holly Black)

“I have been pursuing that kind of event.” (Natalie C. Parker on supernatural occurrences)

“I like the idea that the world is bigger for it.” (Holly Black on the supernatural)

“Sound is really important to me.” (Lisa Maxwell)

“I start with an image and then… intentional language.” (Natalie C. Parker)

“Blood isn’t scary.” (Lisa Maxwell)


Left to Right: Tommy Wallach, Maggie Thrash, Jason Reynolds, Brendan Kiely, April Tucholke

Rebel, Rebel

“The biggest challenge for me was the truth… having confidence in my memories.” (Maggie Thrash)

“I hate [writing] in the first person.” (Tommy Wallach)

“First person has a space of intimacy… being let in on a secret.” (Brendan Kiely)

“Young people are more emotionally present than adults.” (Maggie Thrash)

“Teenagers live in their own world.” (Jason Reynolds on writing in the first person)

“The art was not fun at all.” (Maggie Thrash on her graphic memoir, Honor Girl)

“Comics are, for telling your own story, very therapeutic.” (Maggie Thrash)

“There’s not a single zit in Honor Girl.” (Maggie Thrash)

“It was so smooth.” (Jason Reynolds on writing with Brendan Kiely)

“So much of writing together felt like Jason and I were on a fast break [in basketball].” (Brendan Kiely)

“Co-writing is so much fun. It’s inspiring.” (April Tucholke)

Breakfast Club really holds up in a way that Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles do not.” (Tommy Wallach)

“The book was more about giving [the issue of police brutality] more complexity.” (Jason Reynolds on All American Boys)

“People talk about books as windows and mirrors. … It’s also our hope that our book is a doorway.” (Brendan Kiely on All American Boys)

“My books don’t feel ‘weird’ to me.” (April Tucholke)

“Darkness, particularly in YA, is pretty easy [to write].” (Tommy Wallach)

“It’s easy to write a despairing story… as opposed to thoughtfully and not sentimentally writing about hope in the world.” (Brendan Kiely)

“I think we need to take the constraints off of what it means to be ‘a reader.’ … Books are not the only things that can be read. I used to read rap lyrics.” (Jason Reynolds)

“Give them the books that are going to be like, ‘This is insane!’ And they’ll be hooked.” (Jason Reynolds on getting boys to read)

“It’s a power trip.” (Maggie Thrash on knowing that people read her book in one sitting)

“It’s a huge compliment.” (April Tucholke on knowing that people read her book in one sitting)

“To all the fast readers: Don’t be afraid to read a book one more time.” (Jason Reynolds)


Left to Right: Randy Ribay, Jen Gangsei, Sandy Hall, Melissa Gorgelanczyk


“I’m really interested in paradoxes. … We are main characters, but we are not main characters.” (Randy Ribay)

“I plotted the book out on index cards, and each index card was a point of view.” (Sandy Hall on Signs Point To Yes)

“I tried to give each [point-of-view] character a plot point/turning point.” (Melissa Gorgelanczyk)

“I tried to imitate real life as much as possible.” (Randy Ribay on An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes)

“Each of my characters has a different playlist that reminds me of who they are. … I also use scent memory to remind me what I’m working on.” (Melissa Gorgelanczyk)

“I worked a lot off of a plot map.” (Jen Gangsei)

“I kind of imagined myself as a cameraperson.” (Jen Gangsei)

“I can tell a richer story by switching around and giving you other points of view.” (Sandy Hall)

“I kind of have a short attention span.” (Randy Ribay)

“The Excel spreadsheet has been my faithful friend.” (Randy Ribay)

“There’s more pressure.” (Randy Ribay on writing from a female point of view)

“One thing I like to do is free write for each character.” (Melissa Gorgelanczyk)

“Sometimes when I write with pen and paper I feel like I remember them more.” (Sandy Hall)

“I’m the worst chapter ender ever.” (Sandy Hall)

“Emotionally, characters in my book are like me.” (Melissa Gorgelanczyk)

“Every character you create takes a piece of you and expands on it. … It would be impossible to relate to them as you’re writing them without that little bit of you.” (Jen Gangsei)

“I like to tell people that I’m like Voldemort.” (Randy Ribay, likening his books to horcruxes)


Left to Right: Lelia Nebeker (moderator), Maggie Thrash, Josh Sundquist

Larger Than Life

“I don’t really have a problem baring myself to the world.” (Maggie Thrash)

“I had that fear, that if it wasn’t ‘true enough,’ I would get slammed litigiously.” (Maggie Thrash)

“It’s about first dates that I went on that never went anywhere.” (Josh Sundquist on We Should Hang Out Sometime)

“People in this book know who they are.” (Maggie Thrash)

“It was a very odd self-development project.” (Josh Sundquist on We Should Hang Out Sometime)

“‘You know that weird thing you did? That would be a good book.'” (Josh Sundquist)

“I warned the girls in the book seven days before publication.” (Josh Sundquist)

“This whole book is about my inability to express my love to this girl and it turns out I did.” (Maggie Thrash)

“You can do brave things, but if you don’t feel brave while you’re doing it… that’s not how you’re going to remember yourself.” (Maggie Thrash)

“What was wrong with me was thinking that there’s something wrong with me.” (Josh Sundquist)

“I start with words and do all the visualizations second.” (Maggie Thrash)

“When you’re writing a memoir about a specific thing, you have to be super organized.” (Maggie Thrash)

“It might be important to you, but that doesn’t mean it’s interesting in narrative form.” (Josh Sundquist)

“With memoir, the essential element of editing is cutting.” (Josh Sundquist)

“Literally there’s an infinite amount of things that can happen.” (Josh Sundquist on writing fiction)

“I just jump in and maybe there’s a wizard. I don’t plan anything.” (Maggie Thrash on writing fiction)

“As a memoirist you’re trying to choose what’s the dramatic thru-line of this moment.” (Josh Sundquist)

“I need art and writing. I have to have it all.” (Maggie Thrash)

“It’s hilarious to me, the concept of writing fiction after having written two memoirs. … ‘I will pay you to write lies.'” (Josh Sundquist)

“I got paid to violate everyone’s privacy.”

“Authors are all sociopaths.” (Maggie Thrash)

“I would never recommend reading memoir to learn to write memoir.” (Josh Sundquist)

“I always genuinely had a crush on Luke [Skywalker].” (Maggie Thrash)


Left to Right: Lisa Maxwell, Randy Ribay, Kelly Zekas, Patricia Riley (moderator)

I Write the Book

“You have to finish something. … Anything you can do to get it on the page–just do it.” (Lisa Maxwell)

“When you come across something [a story] you really love, find out why you love it.” (Randy Ribay)

“I don’t believe it’s ever sunk time because you learned from that failure.” (Lisa Maxwell, on unsold or scrapped writing projects)

“Every word you write makes you a stronger writer, regardless of whether you get published.” (Randy Ribay)

Write Something New is the mantra for dealing with anything

“You control the next words you put on the page. … That’s what keeps you sane.” (Lisa Maxwell)

“The real writing happens in revision.” (Randy Ribay)


Holly Black during the Keynote

Keynote – Holly Black

“I was scared all the time.”

“I had never planned on astral projecting but I spent a good amount of my childhood like, ‘Stay in your body! Stay in your body!'”

“In self-defense, I began reading folklore.”

“I wanted to explore the power of story–the ones we tell about other people, the ones we tell ourselves.”

“Fantasy is not necessarily a retreat from the world.”

“In realism we say ‘his heart is broken.’ In fantasy, a heart can literally break into a thousand pieces, and they [the character] can have to go on with shards as sharp as glass.”

“I think some part of the collective ‘us’ still believes in magic.”

“I write fantasy novels without being ashamed; I read fantasy novels without being ashamed.”


Me and Holly Black! This lovely lady took the time to talk to me about my current writing project, and said, “It will never be this hard again. Your first book is always the hardest.” I can’t express how much I appreciated her heartfelt encouragement.

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