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October 23, 2010

Teenreads Staffer Elizabeth Bruce on Teen Read Week

Posted by jordana
Every year, the Young Adult Library Services Association (otherwise known as YALSA) sets aside a week at the end of October to help inspire teens to drop what they’re doing and pick up a book. The theme of this year's Teen Read Week is “Books with Beat @ Your Local Library," and to help celebrate, decided to take a trip to the Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library to see what David Levithan (WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON), Matt de la Peña (I WILL SAVE YOU), Samantha Schutz (YOU ARE NOT HERE), Natalie Standiford (CONFESSIONS OF THE SULLIVAN SISTERS) and Robin Wasserman, (the Skin series) had to say about writing. And as it turns out, there isn’t necessarily a clear-cut path to becoming an author…  
Teen Read Week 2010: Beat(ing) the Stereotypes About What It Takes To Be a Writer

First of all, let me just start out by saying that the Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public library is EASILY the nicest library I’ve ever been in. As I walked out of the dark, gloomy subway and stepped into the staggering sunlight, I was literally baffled by what I saw --- sweeping marble steps, a gigantic doorway decorated with life-sized, golden figures…it felt more like a museum than a place where you go and look for books. Once I was inside, however, it became apparent that I had, in fact, stumbled into an actual library --- the sight of endless rows of books made that inescapably clear --- so I started to make my way downstairs to the Dweck Auditorium, where the BPL’s Teen Author Panel was being hosted.
At first, I could hardly contain my excitement: I’m an inconspicuous (and extremely short) recent college grad from a small-ish, suburban city in North Carolina that most people have probably never even heard of, and I’d suddenly found myself in an intimate lecture hall full of REALLY FAMOUS authors…could somebody please give me a reality check? But once I realized that I probably wasn’t going to win any cool-points by blatantly staring at the panel with an open mouth, I managed to calm myself down a bit, and the first thing that struck me was how incredibly normal these authors actually are. David Levithan, Matt de la Peña, Samantha Schutz, Natalie Standiford and Robin Wasserman look exactly like the average people you see every day when you’re walking down the street, and if it weren’t for the fact that I’d been stalkerishly Googling each of them the night before, I probably wouldn’t have recognized them. But what was even more surprising was how they all ended up on the path to becoming bestselling authors…
Out of everyone on the panel, only Natalie Standiford and Robin Wasserman could say for certain that they’d always harbored dreams of becoming writers, but Robin hadn’t even started to hone her craft until she attended a summer writing program several years later. Matt de la Peña was a poor student who made it to college on a basketball scholarship, where he spent the next four years of his life getting schooled by Steve Nash on the finer aspects of playing point guard, and Samantha Schutz got her start by writing in her journal as a teenager. As for David Levithan, he still spends half his time in an editor’s chair, and he first began approaching books from the other side of the table. Oh…and did I mention that Robin is a Pokémon enthusiast (which she also happens to write about) with a passion for physics?! But perhaps the most telling thing of all was that there wasn’t a single panel member who hadn’t questioned his or herself at some point along the long road to literary stardom. Everyone had experienced moments of doubt. And some had had moments when people told them they’d never make it…

But they all did, and if you really stop and think about it, these guys aren’t so different from you and me. I know everyone says that you have to be really good at English to become an author, or that you have to start cranking out stories from the moment you learn how to hold a pen if you plan on writing a bestselling book. But that just isn’t true, and the five authors I met yesterday morning are living proof of that. So the next time someone tells you that you don’t have what it takes to become a writer --- or to accomplish whatever it is you want to do in life --- just tell them that they’re full of baloney…Robin Wasserman is an author with a degree in The History of Science, and she was inspired to write the Skin series because she spends her spare time obsessing about robots.

-- Elizabeth Bruce