Cheltenham Literature Festival 2013: Sarah J. Maas, David Levithan & Maureen Johnson

On Sunday, as part of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, I attended a panel called ‘The American Dream’, featuring three American YA authors: Sarah J. Maas, David Levithan and Maureen Johnson. I was so excited for the event, having just read and absolutely loved Sarah’s Throne of Glass series. I somehow also managed to bag a front row seat, right in the middle…
As with yesterday’s event, each author briefly introduced themselves and their newest releases: Every Day by David Levithan, Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2) by Sarah J. Maas and Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson.

Maureen had laryngitis, but that didn’t stop her from making funny quips and comments! I’ve not actually read anything of hers, but may look into it now – she has a wonderful sense of humour and seems like a very warm person. She apparently has a big Twitter presence, which she often referred to (I’m now following her!) and one audience member asked her about her Coverflip project. 
The basic premise of the Coverflip project is to re-design a book cover, as if the author was the opposite gender. Maureen mentioned that she had noticed a certain ‘type’ of cover, depending on the gender of the author, and asked her Twitter followers to compile some opposites. She had a massive response, and Huffington Post have actually put together a gallery of the results. My particular favourites are A Game of Thrones (written by a ‘Georgette R. R. Martin’), Stardust (which really does not capture the book at all and I think works so well in the constraints of the experiment) and Heist Society (completely and utterly the opposite). Someone even did a grungy looking version of Throne of Glass, which Sarah said she absolutely loves!
Sarah signing away!
Sarah spoke about how she has been working on her series since the age of sixteen, so for eleven years now, professed a love for fanfiction and her gratitude for her fans that have been following her since she first posted on Fiction Press. She cites Garth Nix, author of Sabriel/the Abhorsen series as one of her influences, which was exciting as I absolutely love that series and have done ever since I first read it at the age of twelve. And just to top it off, Sarah is a self-professed geek who often felt alone in her interests until she found people with the same enthusiasm online – much like myself.
David spoke a little about how he has often had trouble with his books – banned, pulled off shelves, censored – often just because of the title (a previous novel of his is entitled Boy Meets Boy, and his newest release is called Two Boys Kissing). Which is shocking, as I believe he is a prominent author in LGBT literature, and people should not have that sort of support taken away. He said he’s been told by many people that the presence of the books alone, books about people like themselves, has made them feel represented. What I didn’t realise was that he has done a lot of editing – including for Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games.
Sneaky picture of David. Maureen was never quite in my sight!

We discussed social media – the host asked who in the audience had interacted with the authors some way online, and a lot of us raised our hands! As I said previously, Maureen is a frequent Twitter user, whereas David much prefers Facebook. In fact, he uses his Twitter so infrequently that his Book Lovers Dictionary project that was supposed to take four months has taken two and a half years, and he’s still only on the letter G! 
Sarah told us a funny story about her early experiences with social media and blogging platforms – when she was a teenager she started using Livejournal, blogging about her everyday life and writing down absolutely everything. This went on for a while, until a girl at her school told her to ‘keep a lock on her diary’ – all her classmates had been reading her Livejournal, and placing bets on who would be mentioned next!
Another of the topics of conversation was the stigma that comes with young adult fiction. It’s surprising how many people look down on it, or the authors, and see it as a ‘lesser’ genre because it’s aimed at teenagers. Yet Maureen made a wonderful point when she said that she thinks the young adult readership are better readers, because we accept so much within a story – we don’t go into a book expecting one thing, and one thing only, to happen. Genres can get mixed up and we’re fine with that. We’re also more likely to be vocal about things we’ve loved and hated, which is great for the author. It doesn’t matter what you read or write, it just matters that you are reading or writing.
There was just so much wonderful conversation, and the three authors worked really well together. I didn’t take notes this time so most of this is from memory, and to avoid a wall of text I shall move on to the signing!
I spoke to David first, and told him that I loved Every Day and that I thought it was a really unique story – my five-star review of the book is still to come. I like the little message he wrote for me, and will be looking out for Boy Meets Boy and Two Boys Kissing. Two Boys Kissing isn’t released in the UK until April though, sadly – I’ve already read some wonderful reviews of it by bloggers from over the pond.
I didn’t actually get anything signed by Maureen – I didn’t have any of her books and the queue meant that you could go between authors rather than going past each one at a time. But they were giving out some pretty promotional postcards and little badges for her new book, which you can see above.
And then I got to speak to Sarah! I told her that her books were my favourite books of the year, and she asked me to sign a hardback copy of Throne of Glass whilst she signed my books. She’s been taking it round on tour and getting fans to sign it, which I think is a lovely idea. I mentioned to her about some blogger friends of mine (Paola and Charlene!) who had been to her Crown of Midnight launch party in LA, and brought Finnikin of the Rock for her to sign (as she is a big fan of the book, and so are they). She remembered them (yay!) and said she felt almost like she was defacing the book, haha! I also told her that her writing playlist is basically exactly the same as my reading playlist, and she recommended the Oblivion film soundtrack to me.

After that, I wished her the best of luck and that was the end of the event – and how brilliant it was. I loved the chatter and found each of the authors easily approachable. Now I look forward to Charlene and Paola’s Finnikin readalong, and maybe if I meet Sarah again I’ll take that one along too!
I also bought myself an amazing book covers poster. I couldn’t decide which cover I wanted, so I did the best thing and got one with ALL the covers.


9 thoughts on “Cheltenham Literature Festival 2013: Sarah J. Maas, David Levithan & Maureen Johnson”

    1. I am lucky to live so close – I live sort of out in the sticks though, so this is the one event I can go to. That sucks – maybe you could contact some favourite authors and ask if they have any plans to visit your country? =)

  1. Aww Sarah is so nice!! Great picture with her! I’m still so psyched that she remembered us. 🙂 And I’ve not heard the Livejournal story which is awesome and really terrifying – I can imagine how scary that would be for everyone at school to be able to read your thoughts on them! I’ve not read David or Maureen’s books – but I’ve heard good things about them so I really should check them out. Great poster as well! (though I don’t see Jane Eyre on there, so I would have been physically unable to buy that poster for myself :D). Are there more days to the Lit Festival?

    1. I know, I would have been so embarrassed! She said she was just amazed that they were actually all reading it.No there is no Jane Eyre I’m afraid =( And yes, the festival is on until this Sunday 13th. I’m going to one more event then too =)

  2. Whhhaaaat? You have Literature Festivals? How awesome. (I say that because I don’t live in a city and I’m never aware of these things even if they occur). You just read ToG? YAYAYAYA MORE PEOPLE TO LOVE THE BOOKS. Are you a Chaol or Dorian person? I’ll have to search through your blog soon…Oh, huh. Two Boys Kissing isn’t out yet in the UK for Levithan or is that the pb for Every Day is more recent than that one? And wow, I have NOT heard of Maureen Johnson’s latest work. I thought she was still working on the Shades of London series?Maureen sounds really funny on Twitter (yep, huge twitter presence) and her Coverflip project was AWESOME. I love that she’d gotten so many followers to go along with her – within 24 hours too! My favorite is the GoT cover too Aww, Maas’s haircut looks awesome. Short hair really suits her. I find it interesting that a lot of what you wrote about Maas is stuff that I’d heard from her when she held a workshop at my college. I wonder if that background is just something she knows to go over at every presentation?Yeah, he’s also the editor for Maggie Stiefvater’s books. I think that’s the most remarkable thing. That he’s not just an awesome editor with huge street cred in terms of the success of those he works with but also an awesome author. There’s not a lot of people who can switch between the two roles as seamlessly as he seems to. Also sad that he gets banned because he’s huge; imagine what happens to the less famous authors who face the same level of… indignation.Hahahaha, that’s funny about Levithan and Lovers Dictionary. I was wondering what was up with his twitter account, but I guess I understand now. I hate hate hate Facebook for anything book related. I don’t even like using it for personal reasons, but social media bleh. And haaaa, I also used Livejournal for diary reasons – okay, so she didn’t mention that at my presentation but wow, aren’t you amazed with how open they all are?Ahh, there we go. So it hasn’t been released yet in the UK. Well, I hope you like Levithan’s books when they are!Wow, sounds like you had a veritable conversation with Maas. Ahhh, how was she not nervous? How were you not nervous? That’s what gets me, anyway, at author events.What a BEAUTIFUL book covers poster! I think that was a really good decision too :P. I’ve never seen any place sell something like that. How fun!

    1. Yep, there are festivals in Cheltenham, Bath, Edinburgh and I think Hey-on-Wye every year. I’m sure there are others around the country too! And haha, Paola asked me the same question! I’m still not sure, I kind of love Celaena’s relationship with both. I just don’t know!! D= I’ve reviewed ToG and am hoping to get my CoM review up this week.TBK isn’t out here til April, I think we got Every Day last year. And it’s possible she’s still working on that series, but she didn’t talk about it at the event.Yeah she probably has a basic outline for each talk, and then deviates depending on the audience/questions asked. I mean, with anecdotes like that you’re going to want to share them with lots of people, haha =)I know, any kind of book banning is wrong – so his books, purely because they feature gay characters, and have NO explicit material, get banned, but books with explicit sexual scenes are fiiiine because they’re between a man and woman? Ugh. It makes me maaaaaad! >=(Oh I was nervous!! When I signed the book I was all shaky, and normally my handwriting is super neat but it looked a mess on the book and I was a little ashamed – haha!

  3. Aaahhh, finally I have a moment to comment on this post!!! I am SO thrilled you got to meet Sarah — she is awesome (as you know firsthand now) and meeting her was one of the best bookish moments of my life, hands down. I read your tweet about mentioning us to her and basically let out this really loud, high pitched EEEK in the gift shop of the museum we were in at the time. I REGRET NOTHING. Well wait, I do regret one thing: when Charlene and I attended the Crown of Midnight launch, I didn’t get a chance to sign Sarah’s copy of Throne of Glass D: So I hope I get to see her again in the future and make up for that!I’m happy you had a lovely time at the festival!!! Great recap, Rinn 🙂

    1. She was so friendly and was taking the time to speak to everyone individually, it was wonderful =) Haha, I bet you attracted some attention! Aw that’s a shame about not being able to sign it! Maybe at the launch of the next book? 😉

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