Immediately after Laura Seeger’s presentation ended, the Fantasy panel started across the hall. 6 authors participated: Jessica Day George, Brandon Mull, James Dashner, Shannon Hale, J. Scot Savage, and Brandon Sanderson, who was also the moderator. He asked the panel questions and gave each author time to answer. Unfortunately, they were rudely interrupted before question 4 because some child had pulled the fire alarm and it was impossible to hear anything until the fire department arrived 15 minutes later to turn it off. But it was still a very enjoyable discussion and so fun to see and hear these authors talk about my favorite kind of children’s fiction—fantasy.
Question 1: Why do you write fantasy?
James Dashner: Because chicks dig it. Seriously, fantasy is crazy, whacky stuff we can’t do in the real world.
Shannon Hale, James Dashner, Dean Hale in back
Brandon Sanderson: In 5th grade I read Dragonsbane. This book grabbed me as no book ever had. I love the added level of complexity in fantasy. Fantasy books can do anything from any other genre plus magic. Why not?
J. Scott Savage: Farworld forced itself on me. At 2 a.m. one night I decided to write one chapter of fantasy to prove to myself that I couldn’t do it. Next thing I knew, the sun was up and birds were singing.
Brandon Mull: I’ve always loved amusement parks and daydreaming. Fantasy lets me write [elements of] both.
Jessica Day George: I’m reading to have a good time. Fantasy is what I like to read. I like to escape and go somewhere else.
Shannon Hale: Because a little more is possible.
Question 2: What’s the most important element you include in your books?
Brandon Mull: The thing that intrigues me the most about fantasy is figuring out how to break the rules of reality—to make those new rules seem real and keep the novel held together.
Shannon Hale: The journey.
James Dashner: The basic storyline—really intriguing developments, plot twists, and interesting characters.
Brandon Sanderson: A sense of realness to the story. I write because I want to write make-believe, people read because they want it to be real.
Brandon Sanderson and James Dashner
Jessica Day George: The characters. The writer AND the reader has to believe/care about them or it doesn’t matter how cool the fantasy world is. I was first attracted to fantasy because of Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown. I loved the similarities between the heroine and me—a girl with red hair, etc. The character seemed so real that I believed everything she did. I would think “This could be real, she could be my friend.”
J. Scott Savage: I love, in fantasy, that the characters—good and bad and even minor ones—can be so much bigger than in other genres.
Question 3: Where do you think fantasy is going and/or what exciting things are happening in the genre right now?
Brandon Mull: I love that there’s a great space/need for middle grade and YA novels. There’s lots of room to grow.
Jessica Day George: I’m seeing lots of kids’ sub-genres, like historical. Patricia C. Wrede’s Sorcery and Cecilia or the recent historical fantasy Bewitching Season.
Shannon Hale: Paranormal romance is really big right now.
J. Scott Savage: I love that all ages are reading fantasy now. I get as many grandparents e-mailing me that they love my books as I do kids. I think this has to do with how books are being written and marketed.
Brandon Sanderson: I’m an armchair scholar. I really like to study and see what the genres are doing. I see fantasy moving toward Harry Potter for adults—lots of epic fantasies. I also see fantasy with mainstream cross-overs, like historical. Some people think YA will move toward science fiction, as with Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. Harry Potter and Twilight have opened many doors, and we have to thank the big superstars for that.
James Dashner: It’s exciting how the teen market has exploded. It’s selling really well; people want more. Maybe it’s all the young readers of Harry Potter grown up. You’re lucky if you are writing YA right now.
Question 4: Why specifically do you write children’s fantasy? Why do you think kids love fantasy? Kids tend to be so much more forgiving, even though so many adults are reading children’s fantasy now.
James Dashner: You can get away with more. You can be as crazy, weird, psycho as you want and no one cares.
Brandon Sanderson: Fantasy is about exploration. The woods behind your house, the country you haven’t been to. Kids want to know, what’s over there? What’s that? Why? Adults don’t care or take the time. Fantasy gives you the chance to explore.
Jessica Day George: Fantasy is timeless. The fashions never go out of style—tunics and robes will always be in. :) It’s never dated, and full of classic and enduring themes that everyone always cares about.
Jessica Day George and J. Scott Savage
J. Scott Savage: We grow up using our imaginations and when we get older, we’re told “You can’t do that anymore. You have to do real things and solve real problems.” I remember the first time I watched Indiana Jones. By the time you’ve gone in that cave with him and the rock is about to crush him and he’s running, the fantasy totally engulfs you and pulls you in. It’s not about the phone bill any more, it’s about an ogre attacking the castle. Also, kids give you no room for error—if they read 3 pages of boring, they’re done. A good YA/middle grade novel will pull you in and keep you on the edge of your seat.
Brandon Mull: I write books I would like and then try to make them accessible to kids. Adults are reading kids’ fantasy now because they want something light and fun—not big and imposing. Some premises don’t work in adult fantasy, like my new book The Candyshop Wars. But adults will enjoy reading a kids’ story about candy that gives kids superpowers.
Shannon Hale: When you read realistic fiction, the book is about whatever issue it faces—the new kid in school, or whatever. But fantasy possibilities are open and the reader can take away whatever they want from my stories—it’s not my job to decide.
Dean Hale added: Before Shannon “got into the biz,” as we say, I had some preconceptions about fantasy and writing. I wondered “What if she isn’t good enough?” Then I started reading the fantasy that’s out there now and I couldn’t believe how awesome and un-boring it was, and so well-written. And of course, now she’s my favorite writer. 🙂
Random cool Count Olaf fantasy look-alike. He even had the tattoo on his ankle!
Unfortunately I was a few rows back, and my cell phone doesn’t take the clearest pictures. But the panel was thoroughly enjoyable. It was so thrilling to see/hear these terrific authors talk about their books and interact with each other.
Tomorrow: Part 3: Shannon and Dean Hale’s Reading and Dance