Apparently, if you want to attract dozens of best-selling authors to Charleston, you just need to bribe them. With pie. That's how Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia, authors of the Charleston-based Beautiful Creatures series, managed to lock in 26 writers for a young adult book festival, among them 11 New York Times and international bestselling authors, one with a book-to-film adaptation, and eight more with films in production or optioned. The working title of the event was Pie-Con, but they eventually settled on YALLFest.
Jonathan Sanchez, owner of Blue Bicycle Books, came up with the initial idea for YALLFest as an outgrowth of the broader-reaching Capital Bookfest. "I just wanted to have one theme, one group, and there wasn't a lot of YA last year at all," Sanchez says of Bookfest, which included everything from cookbooks to self-help books to poetry. He floated the idea to L.A.-based Stohl and Garcia, who were in town doing research for their books. Within a few months, they had a solid lineup thanks to the close-knit nature of the YA community.
Young adult horror writer Melissa de la Cruz is on the roster; she'll be speaking on the Fangs Among Friends panel and moderating the Undead Poets Society panel. "It's a great time to be a YA writer right now," she says. "The market has just exploded. There are so many readers out there, first with J.K. Rowling, then Stephenie Meyer, now Suzanne Collins. YA is now leading the culture. I think people are discovering what a pleasure it is to read these books, and it's great for us because we get to write them."
Like many of YALLFest's featured authors, de la Cruz's books tend toward supernatural themes. Her Blue Bloods series is based on an ancient group of vampires living among the echelons of New York society. She recently launched a Paranormal Adult series with Witches of East End, and she plans to unveil her Wolf Pact series in the fall of 2012. She's written a handful of books for adults as well, including The Fashionista Files — but she's definitely found her niche in YA fiction.
"I love writing for teens," she says. "I still feel like a teenager. It's a shock for me to realize I am actually old, that I'm 40 and not 14."
Pseudonymous Bosch is also scheduled to make an appearance, both at the Jr. YALLFest panel and at an event where he'll interview himself in the Blue Bike courtyard. However, the elusive author of The Secret Series tells us to be wary of imposters. "During my time at YALLFest, I intend to confiscate and destroy all copies of my books that I can find," he says. "I suppose that isn't much of a contribution to the festival, but trust me — I'm doing everybody a favor. If you see anybody claiming to be me doing such things as participating in a morning panel or presenting his books in the afternoon outside Blue Bicycle bookstore, you can rest assured that it won't be me, but my impostor who has a terrible habit of going to book festivals and signing books in my name."
Bosch has gained a rabid following of young readers — or, as he calls them, the "age challenged" — thanks to a top-secret stance that extends from his books to his public appearances. While keeping his identity under wraps is a big part of his shtick, he slipped up enough to admit that Margaret Stohl is a close friend. In fact, he wrote the first book of the series while working with Stohl's young daughter during a pen-pal writing program.
While YALLFest is targeted toward young readers, Sanchez hopes to attract a wide range of ages to the event. "It's just a big book festival," he says. "These are all writers who work very hard, so I think if you're into zombies and vampires, definitely be there, but if you're into novels at all, these are just great novelists.
"The novel's a recent thing, the last couple hundred years really," he adds. "People didn't have to go to the theater or go to the opera anymore ... You could kind of create your own little world in your head hiding away with a book. What this festival really is is celebrating that moment. Obviously, it's targeted toward the first time that happens for people."
Fiction fans will be treated to a day of panels split between Blue Bike and the American Theater. But don't expect any dry topics here: panels include Zombie Attack, featuring Dave Stohl (Margaret's brother and head of Worldwide Studios and Activision Video Games), Carrie Ryan (author of The Forest of Hands and Feet), and Isaac Marion (author of Warm Bodies, which is currently in development for film); and Reality Bites, featuring David Levithan (Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist), Holly Goldberg Sloan (I'll Be There), and Natalie Standiford (Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters). The HollYAwood panel will highlight books that are making their way to the silver screen with input from Garcia (Beautiful Creatures is in development), Mark Morgan (producer of the Twilight saga), Marion, and Levithan.
Additional participating authors include Sarah Rees Brennan, Caitlin Kittredge, Victoria Schwab, Kwame Alexander, Marjory Wentworth, Katie Crouch, and many others. "It's really just a lot of bright people who put their talents toward writing really rich, entertaining fiction," Sanchez says. "And they're really fun and inspiring to hear talk."
The event wraps up with the YA Smackdown, which gathers all 26 authors on stage for what's sure to be an unpredictable affair. At $5, it's YALLFest's only ticketed event. "A lot of them know each other," Sanchez says of the authors. "A lot of them have friendly rivalries, so it's a chance for them to flex their egos a little bit."