(Robert Casillas / Staff Photographer)

Photos: 2nd Annual Torrance High Author Fair


Anyone who believes kids these days don't read ought to meet Ishita Singh, a senior at Torrance High.

A self-described reading junky, Singh burns through three or four novels a week, and has managed to make reading cool at school.

"It's not a hobby, it's part of my life," she said. "If you take the books and the literature away from me, it's like you don't have Ishita anymore. "

Solely through the power of her blog, "The Reading Fish," the founder of the school's book club organized an author fair that last week drew 20 published authors in the "young adult" genre to the school library. Officially named the Torrance High School Second Annual Author Fair, the Friday event drew about 200 students, tripling last year's attendance.

Unlike what one might expect of a literature festival, Friday's event was a fast-paced affair, clearly designed by Millennials for Millennials.


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The format went as follows. In the library were 10 tables, each featuring two authors. Students gathered at the tables in groups of about a dozen - some of them munching on potato chips and sipping from water bottles provided by the club. Each table of authors was given 10 minutes to sell their stories. Then a bell was rung and the students migrated to another table. Ishita likens the format to a speed-dating game, but one that connects authors to potential readers.

(Robert Casillas / Staff Photographer)

Pitching his book, "The Lost Code," author Kevin Emerson sprinkled his elevator version with humor.

"It's one part creepy summer-camp mystery, one part Indiana Jones fantasy," said Emerson, whose book opens with a kid drowning in a lake - but not dying. "This book is completely mermaid-free. "

Buoyed by mega-hits such as "Twilight" and "Harry Potter," the young adult genre of fiction - commonly referred to as YA - is in the midst of a boom.

It is relatively common for authors in this genre to receive small advances in the neighborhood of $5,000 to $20,000 from major publishers such as Random House or Harper Collins.

"They do a lot of authors with low print runs," explained Kathy McCullough, a screenwriter who recently made a foray into the YA market with a book and sequel, "Don't Expect Magic" and "Who Needs Magic?" "They're hoping for the next 'Twilight.' It allows you to get your foot in the door. "

The authors on hand Friday hailed mostly from Los Angeles, but came from as far away as Oregon. They are largely responsible for promoting their own products.

Gretchen McNeil, author of three books, with the most recent being "Possess" - about a girl who hears the voices of real demons - attended last year's event at Torrance High not knowing what to expect. After all, she'd never before heard of a student-organized event such as this.

"I was blown away, not only by the student organization but the caliber of the authors was huge," she said.

McNeil was typical of many authors present Friday in that she still works a part-time job, as an office manager in Century City.

"I like health care," she quipped.

Not all students in attendance were readers.

Sophomore Marcos Ambriz said he was just there with his English class. Sophomore Aaqsa Parwaiz was trying to acquaint herself with a possible new hobby.

"I'm not really fond of books," she said. "But I want to give it a try. "

Friday's event reflected the fact that YA fiction is a female-dominated world. All but maybe three of the authors were women. Likewise, all but a handful of the 30 or so students in Ishita's book club are girls.

But one guy in attendance - a senior - seemed to be infected by the love of reading.

"I definitely regret not joining the book club while I had the chance," Brent Saito said.

In addition to making pitches, authors took a lot of questions from students.

"If you get a TV show, would you get a cameo?" one student asked author Kasie West, whose book, "Pivot Point," chronicles the story of a girl who has the power to see two futures.

West also had some questions for the students, asking how many of them use Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. About two-thirds of the students in the group raised their hands to all three.

"Is Tumblr too hard for someone old like me?

rob.kuznia@dailybreeze.com @robkuznia on Twitter