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October 16, 2018

Teenreads at the Morristown Festival of Books 2018


On October 13th, thousands of book nerds and casual readers alike flock to Morristown, New Jersey, for the Morristown Festival of Books. In the five years since its inception, the Morristown Festival has only grown, featuring authors of adult, teen and children’s fiction and nonfiction. The events all happen across a block or so of Morristown, filling up the local library and rooms in the nearby churches. This year, the festival hosted three separate YA panels, and though each had its own unique style, all were equally enjoyable!

The first panel --- Rebels, Romantics and Everything In Between --- featured Dhonielle Clayton (THE BELLES), Zoraida Cordova (BRUJA BORN) and Kass Morgan (LIGHT YEARS), moderated by’s very own Rebecca Munro. As the authors introduced their books, it quickly became clear that there were going to be plenty of shenanigans throughout the talk: Dhonielle Clayton and Zoraida Cordova are close friends, and everyone realized that quickly, especially when Zoraida said “she’s my friend, it’s not like she’s just mean,” which sparked lots of laughter. With jokes sprinkled in, the authors discussed world-building in partially defined spaces, romance and relationships as a part of a larger story, beauty standards and the experience of writing a series. There was plenty of fashion talk and references to frequent tears! Kass talked about how she builds her worlds as she writes, using conflict to help her define the universe, while Dhonielle opened up about her experience as a teenager and how she uses it to inform her writing and Zoraida described how she expanded her first book in Brooklyn Brujas into a trilogy of standalone novels. Kass Morgan also mentioned her work as an editor (yes, she works as an editor and writes books!)

In the next panel, Life As We Know It, Emily X.R. Pan (THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER), Ibi Zoboi (PRIDE) and Jennifer E. Smith (WINDFALL) covered grief, friendships and the experience of writing, again moderated by Rebecca. One of the most interesting facts to come of the discussion was that Ibi initially tried writing PRIDE in the 3rd person, but rewrote it from Zuri’s perspective when the she realized the narration lacked the sincerity and heart she wanted. Jennifer also elaborated on the writing process and moved the audience when she said that she aims to use the hope and heart in her stories to give readers a better perspective on the world. This common theme of creating change through writing resounded across the panels and gave the whole afternoon an inspiring and upbeat note. On the humorous side, Jennifer described all the research she needed to do on the college process for WINDFALL, so, seniors, if you need a shoulder to cry on, Jennifer will understand why! Meanwhile, Emily X.R. Pan conveyed her personal connection to her book and how her experiences in Taiwan often translated directly into her story --- a trip that she took specifically to fill in the “gaps” she saw in her story while drafting. On both panels Rebecca did a flawless job of drawing out the connections between the stories, allowing the discussion to flow naturally and giving the authors points to connect over, even when their stories drastically differed in content and tone.

Finally, the afternoon closed with a discussion between Emmy Laybourne (BERSERKER) and Laini Taylor (MUSE OF NIGHTMARES). Emmy started by reading Laini’s Wikipedia page, which set the tone for a friendly and humorous discussion that covered a myriad of topics. Laini’s answers were as creative as her stories and filled with analogies: at one point Laini mentioned how she sees her ideas as waiting in line, while Emmy sees them as planes waiting to land --- a much more dire scenario! After talking about the origins of her characters, Laini also touched on her writing process. With a basic outline at the start, she fills out the story as she writes, which she described like walking the beach each day and finding new things on the shore. For any aspiring writers, Laini shared some of her writing practices, such as brainstorming 15 things that could happen next when she’s stuck on a scene. While the discussion was mainly focused on THE MUSE OF NIGHTMARES and STRANGE THE DREAMER, Laini also occasionally mentioned her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, comparing the two series.

An entertaining, thought-provoking and inspiring afternoon, the Morristown Festival of Books brought together YA fans across genres to celebrate some well-known names in the YA world and the stories they’ve created. In just five years the festival has become something of a literary hub in New Jersey, a chance to connect with authors and fellow readers alike --- and who knows how it will grow in the next five years!