This past weekend, I attended the James River Writers Conference (in its 10th year!) in Richmond, VA. I had a great time attending panels and learning so much from what literary agents look for in queries and first pages to how authors went from humble writers like me to published authors speaking to participants at a writing conference.

It truly was a privilege to get to listen to and meet two particular authors this weekend. Lana Krumwiede is the author of Freakling, a very cool middle-grade/young adult sci-fi and fantasy book. When talking to us during the panel “Young Adult Explosion”, she really inspired many of us to persevere to get our work out there. We got a little taste of what it was like for Krumwiede to build her world, how she took the book from idea to conception, and how she got it published. I bought her hardback book and managed to get her to sign it to me. Even though I was completely tired that night from a whole wonderful day of the conference, I thought I would check out her first page. That first page turned into the chapter, which turned into several. I’ll be reviewing it once I’ve finished the entire book, which should be soon since it’s a page turner!

The other author was Malinda Lo, author of Ash, Huntress, and her newest book Adaptation. Lo’s candor with the audience was infectious. When the topic of YA literature trends and how to write and publish books around those trends came up, Lo’s reply was to screw the trends and write what you love. While a part of me questioned that statement because I ultimately want to get a lit agent and publish my books, Lo’s brave statement sunk in overnight. The message that I received was that the way to write something worthy of publishing is to always write a good story and write what you love. If your love and passion go into the writing, there’s no way it won’t shine when it’s finished.

If your love and passion go into the writing, there’s no way it won’t shine when it’s finished.

I got a chance to talk to Lo the second day of the conference about writing diversity specifically in YA literature, which is something I’ve talked about when discussing the controversy with Race in Hunger Games. Her statement to me was to not hint at diverse races in my writing. If someone is meant to be a specific race, say it directly and move on. Sometimes as a writer, I tend to get too much inside my head. Lo’s direct and obvious answers freed a little of my obsession over getting things right. I am very thankful for her openness. That same night, I tried to do a first-page read of Ash and ended up chapters deep. Look for a review of Ash here when I’m finished reading it.

I should add that the other members of the panel included Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary Management (who enthusiastically supported Krumwiede) and Liz Bicknell as associate publisher at Candlewick Press, while being wonderfully moderated by Jenesse Evertson, co-owner of the independent children’s bookstore bbgb in Richmond, VA.