By Christian Holub
Updated October 27, 2015 at 08:19 PM EDT
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EW Fest kicked things off early Saturday with a panel discussion among YA authors. Moderated by David Levithan, the panel consisted of Holly Black, Maureen Johnson, Gayle Forman, Nicola Yoon, and Maggie Stiefvater. Over the course of a 42-minute conversation, the authors talked about their experience with the genre, disputed whether YA should even be called a “genre,” and discussed how they approach writing for a teenaged audience.

YA is everywhere now thanks to the blockbuster success of franchises like Twilight and The Hunger Games, but the genre wasn’t always so rewarding. The first question Levithan asked was what entering into the genre was like. Most responses involved awkward stories, such as Johnson’s sad time at a publishing party years ago (though a fun cameo was involved in that one).

“I walked into this party and I didn’t know anyone, I’m all alone,” Johnson recalled. “Someone came up, looked at my sign, and just turned away. That happened all night. Eventually I was standing in a corner with an equally sad-looking man. I was like ‘I hate this.’ He said ‘I hate it too.’ You seem nice. So we talked about how much we hated it. And it turned out, in the end, that was Terry Pratchett.”

Thanks to YA’s popularity, adults read these books as often as teenagers (perhaps even more, Levithan mused). So the question becomes: who do you write for? Forman pointed out the audiences aren’t as different as they seem.

“The reason I love YA is because teens are allowed to feel their feelings. With adults it’s this myth that we no longer have these strong feelings, so it’s not as socially acceptable to express them anymore,” Forman said. “So if you’re writing an adult book it all has to be sublimated. There’s something so real and raw about writing through the voice of a teenager. It allows me to explore the issues I’m dealing with as middle-aged me, but in this very exciting dynamic immediate way. So I write for me first.”

Watch the full video above and see more from EW Fest.

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