NoVA Teen Book Festival 2017

It’s that time of year again! The time when I get to cherry-pick my favorite quotes from authors at NoVa Teen Book Festival!

From left: Alwyn Hamilton, Renee Ahdieh, Wendy Higgins, Peternelle van Arsdale, Mary G. Thompson


“I’ve always been a character-driven reader and writer.” (Alwyn Hamilton)

“I definitely start with a belief system. … What are they afraid of?” (Peternelle van Arsdale on worldbuilding)

“So much of what we’re afraid of that’s big really begins with small things.” (Peternelle van Arsdale)

“There’s not a whole lot of romance in the Grimms’ fairytales.” (Wendy Higgins)

“Good and bad is really blurred in fairytales.” (Peternelle van Arsdale)

“Fairytales are considered to be the most fantastical form of fiction, but in many ways they’re the most realistic.” (Peternelle van Arsdale)

“You realize very young that fairytales are not real when you grow up near castles.” (Alwyn Hamilton)

“I try to stay away from using other fictional source material…” (Mary G. Thompson)

“Sometimes it’s easier for people to approach the real world through fantasy.” (Mary G. Thompson)

“Since fantasy is a world where anything can happen, it’s important to root yourself and root your reader in the real world.” (Renee Ahdieh)

“In order to learn to shoot an arrow from a moving horse, you have to demonstrate proficiency in both skills.” (Renee Ahdieh)

“Other people are researching weapons and demons, and I’m researching underwear.” (Peternelle van Arsdale)

“I wish we could tell you the we know boys as hot as the ones in our books.” (Alwyn Hamilton)

From left: Katie McGarry, Tiffany D. Jackson, Brendan Kiely, Peternelle van Arsdale

One Step at a Time

“I’m a recovering control freak. I like to plot everything out… and not a single [book] has ever been written to plot.” (Katie McGarry)

“I plot a lot of my books the same way I plot screenplays.” (Tiffany D. Jackson)

“I have huge spurts of writing. For Allegedly, I wrote the first draft in a week.” (Tiffany D. Jackson)

“Part of the process is claiming that I want to do that.” (Brendan Kiely)

For Brendan Kiely, writing is about “pursuing passion”; it’s “where art meets social justice.”

“If it’s personal, it will have emotional truth.” (Brendan Kiely)

“I come from a background of sports. I’d wake up in the morning and do my drills… It’s the same thing with writing.” (Brendan Kiely)

“Editing is a craft separate from writing. I never wanted to be a writer.” (Peternelle van Arsdale)

“It was a shock to me that… I, as an editor, needed an editor.” (Peternelle van Arsdale)

“We spend a lot of time worrying about getting published, when we really need to focus on the writing.” (Peternelle van Arsdale)

“I would warn [writers] about the grief process.” (Peternelle van Arsdale, on advice that she gives as an editor)

“I am your Ghost of Christmas Future, okay?” (Katie McGarry)

“Do not live to work. Work to live. … Make sure that you have a center and keep it there.” (Katie McGarry)

“You do need to have a life outside your writing.” (Tiffany D. Jackson)

“Writing is cheaper than therapy, for me. … Everything I write has something very personal.” (Katie McGarry)

“I give myself permission, when I tackle a difficult topic, to walk away for a little bit.” (Katie McGarry)

“The bravery wasn’t there as much as the search for connection with others.” (Brendan Kiely, on writing vulnerable things)

“These girls were brave enough to tell me what had happened to them, and I wanted to be brave enough to tell the world. … It’s hard telling raw stories, but it’s worth it.” (Tiffany D. Jackson, on researching Allegedly)

“It felt like I was drinking sunshine.” (Brendan Kiely, on seeing a former student reading his book for the first time)

Natalie Anderson, Leslie Livingston, Lindsay Smith, Ibi Zoboi

Stranger in a Strange Land

“Author Tip #1: Always make one of your characters as attractive as possible. Otherwise, what’s the point?” (Leslie Livingston)

“In other cultures, when you’re sixteen, you’re twelve. When you’re eighteen, you’re fourteen.” (Ibi Zoboi)

“Here in America, people seem to have everything… but there’s no sense of community” from a Haitian perspective. (Ibi Zoboi)

“I was kind of pulling on these Cinderella-esque themes to highlight those cultural differences.” (Ibi Zoboi)

“I have not been to ancient Rome… yet.” (Leslie Livingston)

“Who bathes triumphantly?” (Leslie Livingston, on the statue that inspired her to write about female gladiators)

“Drawing on my family’s fraught relationship with our Cherokee culture.” (Lindsay Smith)

Brendan Kiely, Zoraida Cordova, Nina LaCour, Lance Rubin

(Don’t Fear) The Reaper

“I think about legacy.” (Zoraida Cordova)

“Who do you want people to say you were?” (Brendan Kiely)

“I love that reflection on legacy and how that influences what you do with your life.” (Brendan Kiely, on The Last True Love Story)

“What if we all knew when we were going to die? … If we all knew our Death Date, death would be much more matter-of-fact.” (Lance Rubin, on the question that spawned Denton Little’s Death Date)

“Really thinking about death is a nod toward life.” (Lance Rubin)

“As soon as I had a child, that sense of peace [with my own mortality] just completely left.” (Nina LaCour)

“When I was in junior high school, I was convinced that I was going to become a vampire and become immortal.” (Zoraida Cordova)

“I actually think that life is like a revolution. It’s a rebellion against the tyranny of death.” (Brendan Kiely)

“I was looking at experiences that were really transformative, where who you were is not who you are.” (Nina LaCour, on We Are Okay)

“You can be more than the things that happen to you.” (Zoraida Cordova)

“Every stage of adulthood is a coming of age.” (Zoraida Cordova)

“A lot of this book is me writing about the death of me-and-acting, in a weird way.” (Lance Rubin)

“It’s perfectly okay to have ‘yes’ be part of the dialogue in any sexual interaction. That is important to me.” (Brendan Kiely)

Mary G. Thompson, Zoraida Cordova, Julie Buxbaum, Ibi Zoboi

Paperback Writer

“It was based on a Linkin Park song, because I was that person.” (Zoraida Cordova, on her first printed poem)

“I always like to add something strange to my stories; I don’t know what to do if something strange isn’t happening.” (Ibi Zoboi)

“We’re never done asking that ‘who am I’ question.” (Zoraida Cordova)

“I would love to be able to write beautiful poetry.” (Julie Buxbaum)

“I hated being a lawyer because I didn’t get to make stuff up.” (Julie Buxbaum)

“I don’t really like writing emotions. I write around emotions.” (Zoraida Cordova)

“My spoken word pieces turned into epic poems turned into short stories, and the short stories turned into novels.” (Ibi Zoboi)

“Sometimes things are not okay, but you’ll be okay.” (Julie Buxbaum)

“The other kids are just as insecure as you.” (Ibi Zoboi, on advice for teenagers)

“”Work harder.” (Mary G. Thompson, on advice for teenagers)

Caleb Roehrig, Rafi Mittlefehldt, Julie Buxbaum, Katie McGarry

Love on the Rocks

“I write love stories, but I don’t believe in happily ever after.” (Katie McGarry)

“How do I subvert what everyone’s expecting while still having them walk away full?” (Julie Buxbaum)

“I’m a fan of happy-for-now endings.” (Caleb Roehrig)


“Writing it was this intensely nostalgic feeling.” (Rafi Mittlefehldt)

“I am a romcom fiend.” (Julie Buxbaum)

“I love writing swoony scenes. … You get to rescript your first kiss.” (Julie Buxbaum)

“I could write that stuff all day long!” (Katie McGarry)

“For me, writing the romantic stuff is difficult because it’s personal.” (Caleb Roehrig)

“I rarely read something romantic unless someone gets killed.” (Caleb Roehrig)

“[The Outsiders] singlehandedly kept me from being dead in a dumpster at sixteen.” (Katie McGarry)

“I’m fourteen and I’m going back and forth between Stephen King and Danielle Steele.” (Katie McGarry)

“I wrote them for my daughter.” (Katie McGarry)

“We as females want to kiss people, and we have our bodies and shouldn’t be ashamed of them.” (Katie McGarry)

“When you put more of yourself into a story, you get more out.” (Caleb Roehrig)

“My various failures have made it into my writing.” (Caleb Roehrig)

“I feel like, if I wrote all my embarrassing moments, my editor would be like, ‘That’s too much. That would never happen.'” (Julie Buxbaum)

Jaye Robin Brown, Will Walton, M-E Girard, Tiffany D. Jackson, Danielle Ellison (moderator)


“I can’t tell you what my book’s about because I’m not quite sure.” (M-E Girard)

“I think a lot of girls that seem like insiders feel like outsiders.” (M-E Girard)

“Middle grade is a window into the world. YA is a window into the interior.” (Will Walton)

“I talk a lot about the double standards in the media [in Allegedly].” (Tiffany D. Jackson)

“I like writing the fullness of a person.” (Jaye Robin Brown)

“Your boyfriend really should be your friend at the end of the day. They’re not just boo–they’re not just bae.” (Tiffany D. Jackson)

“Friendship is important when you’re a teenager because it’s practice for dealing with an actual relationship.” (M-E Girard)

“When you write a queer story, there’s the fear that your book won’t mean the right thing to everyone.” (M-E Girard)

“When something gets flat… invite something in from the outside.” (Will Walton)

“I want girls who like girls and their faith to come away from this story with some hope that there’s a place where they can have them both.” (Jaye Robin Brown, on Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit)

Keynote speaker Nina LaCour

Keynote: Nina LaCour

“There are worse things in life than feeling like you don’t quite fit in in the town where you grew up.”

“No matter how thorough your education, it’s different to learn about racism through the eyes of a character.”

“It is a time for us to share our stories.”

“What I want for you is to be sure of your inherent worth, to be sure that You Are Okay.”

Emcees Amanda Quain and Rebecca Speas as Olive The Flying Girl from the Miss Peregrine books

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