Ad Astra 2015 day 2: Canadian young adult literature

Panellists: Amanda Sun, E.K. Johnston, Monica Pacheco, Jane Ann McLachlan

Canadian YA panel

MP: What makes a YA novel Canadian?

JAM: Weather. We have a unique obsession with seasons, weather, and winter.

MP: Setting. American cities are the default for most YA authors.

EKJ: The Story of Owen is set in my home town. When I go to read at local schools, the kids are always excited: “Hey! That’s my street!”

MP: There’s a trend for setting becoming a character in its own right.

AS: Can lit is starting to embrace the speculative.

EKJ: We have horror to thank for that.

MP: For me, it always comes down to the writing and the voice.

JAM: There’s a difference in dystopian, too. Americans don’t trust their government as much as we do. It’s a central theme. Canadians are different. Our dystopias are often ecological disasters.

EKJ: One review of The Story of Owen said, “This is a poorly written dystopia.” It’s not a dystopia!

JAM: Even people on the right are left-leaning in Canada. How do we sell to American readers?

EKJ: I actively don’t care. Readers are looking for interesting and different books.

AS: My editor is American. He’s the gatekeeper. What’s March Break? What’s icing sugar (it’s powdered sugar in the States)? You wrote “in hospital.” Did you mean in THE hospital? Are you done work, or done working?

EKJ: I reclaimed Canadian spelling in subsequent printings of my book. It was a victory.

AS: I write in Canadian English.

JAM: I edit to American spelling but I’m afraid we’re going to lose Canadian spelling if all our young people are reading American English. I feel like I’m contributing to the delinquency of our youth.

Q: What’s your opinion of the renaming of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Sorcerer’s Stone in the States?

[There was a brief discussion of how Scholastic made the decision to rename the book in America and how this translated into the movies. Was it a “dumbing down”? No, just a matter of wording, like icing sugar vs. powdered sugar.]

MP: Both authors and editors expect advocacy. There’s more acceptance of diversity now.

EKJ: Maureen Johnston is an American author, but she wrote an amazing book that is British in every way: setting, weather, politics, and language.

JAM: That’s another thing that distinguishes Canadian YA: our sense of humour and multiculturalism. Canada is a mosaic and America is a melting pot.

EKJ: I have friends in the leadership of the We Need Diverse Books movement. It’s a slow burn.

AS: We don’t understand how divisive race is in America (or other countries).

Q: What about the “white washing” of diverse characters (the character is one of colour, but the cover image shows a white character)?

EKJ: It happened to Beth Revis. In Across the Universe, the male love interest is black. The actor in the movie is white.

AS: I wanted my novel’s Asian love interest on the cover and was nervous, but the publisher agreed. Julie Kagawa’s Clockwork Prince features an Asian on the cover. The cover for Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring is culturally appropriate.

EKJ: YS Lee’s Agency series is another example.

MP: I have noticed some of this, but I’ve seen more graphic covers that don’t feature a person at all. I don’t know if I’m reading too much into it, though.

JAM: What about the humour aspect? Canadian humour is self-deprecating.

And that was time.

Next week: We’ll be cutting contracts 🙂

On deck (today): The next chapter June update and a Caturday quickie pupdate.

Ad Astra 2015 day 1: Science fiction for a young adult audience

Panelists: E.K. Johnston, Charlene Challenger, Leah Bobet, Jane Ann McLachlan

YA SF panel

Having just been in a session, Leah was a tad late . . .

JAM: Has fantasy done a better job reaching the YA audience? Who is the audience for YA SF?

LB: There’s the problem right there. Is YA about and geared to young adult readers, or do readers just find their ways to it? Adult authors will write YA SF to “convert” younger readers. That’s a bad reason to write YA SF.

EKJ: Girls are starting to look for science fiction in the YA section.

LB: It’s really YA novels that are paranormal at the core. Authors are starting to cater to YA readers bored with standard paranormal.

JAM: Who are the readers of YA? There are a lot of adults who are looking for, perhaps, a simpler plot or a more youthful protagonist.

LB: I wouldn’t trash readers.

Mel’s note: There was a bit of awkweird at that point. Leah confessed to a lack of sleep but continued to make her point. For the record, Jane Ann’s remark wasn’t intended as a slight to readers of YA of any age, nor was it intended as a slight to the authors of YA, of whom she is one.

EKJ: One of the things that YA does well is include something for readers of all ages.

CC: I remembered being intimidated by SF as a kid. Star Trek: The Next Generation made is accessible. [SF] elevates the human condition.

EKJ: It asks the important questions.

LB: SF is no longer about showing your geek pass card. It’s rooted in outsider culture.

JAM: Are there more female protagonists in YA SF? What does this say about the authors? The readers?

LB: Traditionally, SF has had a massive issue with sexism and misogyny.

Q: Would genre crossing novels find readers in YA?

EKJ: Maybe. That’s the charm of YA. It encompasses all genres. It would probably be an easier environment to break through with a cross-genre book.

Q: What makes for a good YA novel?

EKJ: The pacing is faster, length is a little shorter than the average novel in the adult category. The story doesn’t make them feel bad for being a teenager.

LB: In 2014, the biggest trend was adult readers, particularly women readers, reading YA. As a result, the YA market became huge. Advances were five times the advances in other categories. Publishers had the budget dollars for editing and promotion.

EKJ: Check out Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick.

JAM: Most YA share common themes: leaving home, dystopia, romance, authentication. Most are written in first person, present tense.

EKJ: Second person is rare, but it can be mind-blowing when done well. Fan fiction is a great way to learn the conventions and break them at the same time.

LB: Understand the conversation you’re entering.

JAM: What’s the difference between YA and adult fiction?

EKJ: Flexibility is the key. The main differences are the age of the protagonist and the age of the reader.

CC: The YA journey is outward. The adult journey is inward.

LB: It’s the reading culture. Adult SF is the classic authors like Asimov and Heinlein. It’s not accessible to new readers.

LAM: There is accessible adult SF. The Time Traveller’s Wife is an example, but is it really SF? Young adult is distinguished, in my opinion, by the intensity of emotion and its sense of optimism.

And our time was up.


I’m going to have to defer my next chapter post until tomorrow. I’ve had a couple of evenings out, I have full-tum syndrome (sleepy) and it’s late.

Until tomorrow, be well.