The conference is a wonderful opportunity for young writers from a middle school to undergraduate age to come together in a professional, vibrant setting and learn from other gifted young writers. As the marketing manager and one of the original team, I've been myself a couple of times, and I highly recommend it. The experience is like no other! Besides being quite educational and enjoyable, it helps young writers find great friends with similar interests who can support them throughout their future writing careers. I've talked some about my experiences at the conference here and here.
Christina Li is a junior in high school who writes YA novels by night and can daydream like nobody’s business. She loves milk chocolate, drinks way too much tea, and aspires to be just like Hermione Granger. In the past, she has blogged for the Art and Literature section of the online magazine Paper Droids, where she discussed trends of YA literature. Today you can find her on her Twitter, her blog, or maybe just out in a coffee shop somewhere. She’s represented by Jessica Regel of Foundry Media.
Brett Jonas is a writer, lover of chocolate, and over-user of smiley faces. She’s been writing YA fantasy novels since she was fifteen and has no intention of stopping. After being homeschooled her whole life, she’s now taking classes at the local community college and working in her family’s business, Goat Milk Stuff, with her seven younger siblings. In the rare moments when she’s not writing, reading, working, or doing homework, you can find her wasting time on Twitter as @BookSquirt, where she loves making friends and using too many exclamation points.
1) Tell me a little about yourselves!
Christina: I’m currently a junior in high school. I live in the Midwest, which has a lot of flat land, terrible winters, and deep dish pizza (and also this sweet teen writers' conference called Ch1Con...) Oh, and I write YA.
Brett: I'm the oldest of eight kids and was homeschooled my whole life, until I started going to community college part time while working full time at our family's goat milk products business. I started writing when I was fifteen, and if you don't count that first (completely terrible) Camp Nano novel (which I don't), I've written four books since then. I mostly write YA fantasy, but apparently I'm branching off into superheroes, which is super fun.
2) You two are the newest members of our team. How did you become involved in the conference?
Christina: News of this young writer’s conference was buzzing around Twitter last summer. On a whim, I checked the site, out, thought, “this is the coolest conference, ever,” and signed up immediately. Having been to a few big writing conferences, I knew they were either hit or miss. But I knew once I arrived at the conference that this would give me the close-knit, workshop-like vibe and YA-minded community that I had been lacking all these years. And so I was absolutely ecstatic when I was able to join the team this past fall.
Brett: I first heard about the conference when I became friends with Julia, the founder. Somehow--I'm still not entirely sure how--I managed to convince my parents that I needed to attend Ch1Con '15. I'd become online friends with most of the conference team at that point and was so excited! Then I got there and volunteered to help with a couple things, and next thing I knew, Julia was offering me a spot on the team. I think I actually squealed. LOL!
3) What's your top piece of writing advice?
Christina: It’s always about the writing. I remind myself about that, when I feel like I’m too caught up in the activities surrounding writing: tweeting about writing, eating Nutella in lieu of writing, or thinking too much about the business aspect of writing. Those are all things that circle writing, but they’re not writing. Always go back to the writing itself.
Brett: Don't stop! If you don't keep the momentum going, it's so much harder to pick it back up.
4) One of my biggest struggles with writing right now is "writer's doubt." Have you faced this specter, and if so, how have you overcome it?
Christina: Absolutely, all the time, always. I almost think of writer’s doubt as a rite of passage: if there’s doubt, then that means something’s going according to plan. Also, I mean, if I really doubt myself, the Nutella jar is still here, so…
Brett: Oh, all the time! I'm scared that I'll never be good enough, that my writing will never be good enough, that I'll never get published, that my friends will hate it, that my family will hate it, that my characters are unrealistic--you get the picture. Here's what I do. I have my CPs (critique partners) who will tell me how to fix it. But I also have some friends who read what I write as I write it and pretty much just squeal over it. They tell me everything they love about it. And when I feel like it's terrible and I'll never get anywhere with it, I turn to them, and they cheer me up. Honestly, having them as cheerleaders makes a world of difference.
5) Tell me a little about your current WIP!
Christina: Imperial Asian fantasy, opera house, palace intrigue.
Brett: Current WIP. Hm. I'm actually kinda working on two at the moment. ELARU is a fantasy about a princess who leaves her castle anonymously to learn about her country, but the neighboring country finds her and kidnaps her. And INITIATIVE is my superhero story--Superstrength Dude and Telepathy Girl must learn to control their broken powers while attempting to rescue the other supers, who were kidnapped. Apparently I like people being kidnapped?
6) I like to come up with a new challenge for each novel I write: for example, working from a point-of-view I haven't tried before. What has been the most challenging part of writing this WIP?
Christina: Oh! There’s sort of two major plot threads that tie this novel together, and the trickiest part is trying to make the two sort of work together while making sure that the tension keeps growing.
Brett: With the latest book I drafted, I wrote in first person present, instead of first person past, which was what I'd always done. It was challenging, but so much fun!
7) What's the latest book you've read and loved?
Christina: V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic absolutely blew me away. I mean, magic Londons, blood magic, creepy power struggles, and cross-dressing pickpocket pirates? Come on. Also, Schwab’s worldbuilding is downright brilliant, visceral, and fantastically airtight.
Brett: Well, I actually haven't had time to read anything that's published in a while, because I've been busy beta-reading for several author friends. So all I'm going to say is keep an eye out for new books from Francesca Zappia (who's one of our speakers!) and Gina Ciocca. They are absolutely incredible authors, and their latest manuscripts have been phenomenal!
8) MSWL is a great website where writers can find editors and agents looking for specific themes, tropes, and genres. What would be on your personal manuscript wishlist?
Christina: Asian fantasies. F/F fluffy YA contemps in the vein of Becky Albertalli books. And magical realism. All the magical realism.
Brett: Any YA fantasy or contemporary novel that will make me 100% swoon over the romantic relationship with a happy ending. I neeeeeed my HEAs. And lots of kissing. ;)
9) Christina, you are currently agented by Jessica Regel of Foundry Media. Could you give me a summary of your agent-wrangling process?
Christina: Sure! I actually wrote a blog post about it that was probably way too long, so long story short: I’d been querying for a while when I pitched my MS to Jess at a summer Writer’s Digest Conference. I was an absolute nervous wreck on the inside, but managed to keep my cool (somehow) and was super excited when she requested the full. I didn’t send the full immediately; rather, I did an extensive revision for another agent’s R&R, and then sent Jess the revised copy. But hey! She liked it, so she offered. And then I celebrated/ate copious amounts of Nutella for a week.
10) Brett, how do your unique experiences as a homeschooled, goat-raising, oldest child of eight affect your perspective as a writer?
Brett: I certainly look through a different lens when it comes to the family perspective. Because I was homeschooled and the oldest of eight, I'm used to having a lot of siblings around all the time. It's made me realize how in many YA fantasy novels, family isn't really important. I'd like to try to change that.
11) What's something you're psyched about right now? (TV, movie, blog, food, fashion, OTP, anything you like!)
Christina: Okay, I’ll cheat, because this is book-related, but I am absolutely psyched to read Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven King, which is coming out in less than a month. So basically, I’m excited to see my favorite Raven Boys ships probably implode and go up in flames.
Brett: Honestly, I'm just so psyched for Ch1Con to come around! I've had a countdown on my phone since we decided on the official date, and I pretty much squeal every time I think about it. My experience last year was so incredible, and I can't wait to do it again. (You can ask my family. I talk about it all the time. LOL!)
For more information and to join in on the Ch1Con community online, check out these links:
Website: Chapter One Young Writers Conference
YouTube: Chapter One Young Writers Conference
Facebook: Chapter One Young Writers Conference
The Chapter One Young Writers Conference, the only conference by and for young writers. Every story needs a beginning. This is ours.
Images via Ch1Con and Twitter (2).