Meet the Writers: The children’s authors of Hancock Park throw a grown-up party

Two women hug, surrounded by other people standing around and talking.
Sarah Mlynowski, left, hugs Elise Bryant at the home of Stuart Gibbs, during a semi-regular gathering of YA authors in Hancock Park.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

This story is part of Lit City, our comprehensive guide to the literary geography of Los Angeles.

In a Larchmont Village backyard on a chilly afternoon, author Julie Buxbaum pulls out her phone, opens Instagram and shares some edits her 12-year-old daughter, Elili, made on a draft of her second book in the middle-grade mystery series “The Area 51 Files.”

Elili had circled the word “swimmingly” with a red marker and commented: “No one uses this expression.” Next to the title of Chapter 6, “Lies, lies and more lies,” she’d written, “What is this title??” On another page, she’d crossed out “new best friends” and replaced it with “besties.”


“My daughter actually edits my books for me now,” Buxbaum admits, addressing fellow authors Abdi Nazemian, Lauren Kate and Leslie Margolis. “I pay her to edit them, and she’s amazing! It’s literally the best money I spent.”

Writers hang out on the backyard patio at the home of Stuart Gibbs.
Stuart Gibbs, center in foreground, the author of “Spy School” and other YA novels, hosts a February gathering of children’s authors.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

“Can I hire her?” asks Kate, author of the “Fallen” series.

Surrounding them is a potential goldmine for young Elili — 30-odd young-adult and middle-grade authors standing in clusters munching on Village Pizzeria pizza, sipping booze and catching up after two pandemic years — among them Steven Banks, Raphael Simon (a.k.a. Pseudonymous Bosch) and Melissa de la Cruz. They discuss jobs, problematic agents and publishers, New York versus Los Angeles, writing projects (completed, in progress, blocked), spouses and the absent but all-important social fabric and key market of this coterie, children.

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“Just because we write children’s books, that doesn’t mean that we’re not adults,” points out Maryrose Wood, author of the “Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place” series, clinking plastic wine cups with “Babymouse” series author Jennifer L. Holm.

“We’re not always appropriate,” Stuart Gibbs, the author of “Once Upon a Tim” and host of the evening’s gathering, adds later. Before the pandemic, Gibbs hung out with other writers at the now-defunct Lucy’s El Adobe Cafe; every couple of months he hosted larger gatherings here at his home in Hancock Park, a growing enclave for writers of young people’s fiction.

Julie Buxbaum’s “Admission” focuses not on the Felicity Huffman-like parent but her daughter, Chloe, and the way all children of privilege are raised.

This evening’s guests are a blend of old friends and new. Many are New York transplants who came for gigs in TV and film; others came to test the city’s weather and never left. They met through work or literary events like the L.A. Times Festival of Books and Yallwest, a festival for children’s books.

They write book blurbs for each other and promote them on social media, show up to readings and signings, or break off into smaller groups for extended writing trips. And when new opportunities land, they sing praises.

“Oh my God, congratulations!” exclaims author and BuzzFeed editor Farrah Penn, inching closer to a heat lamp. The subject of her cheers, Aminah Mae Safi, just announced she’s narrating the audiobook of her 2019 rom-com novel, “Tell Me How You Really Feel.”

“It was really interesting to go back and reread the novel,” says Safi. “It felt like revisiting a past self.”

Two men talk to a woman at a gathering outdoors in a backyard.
Authors Abdi Nazemian, left, Steven Banks and Julie Buxbaum socialize at Stuart Gibbs’ YA get-together.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

“To go back to an old work to figure out how to reinvent it in a new medium, that’s really fun for me,” responded Nazemian, who, in addition to writing YA books such as “Like a Love Story,” also works in TV and film. “But to just read an old book and watch an old movie, that’s like hell to me.”

Safi bursts into laughter. She says reading the book aloud felt like critiquing her younger self.

“I got to see what I remembered as a struggle, or how I wrote a scene or worked through a narrative problem,” she says. “That was really delightful, those things where I was like, ‘I would never construct a sentence like that today.’ Other times I would say things and as I reread them I was like, ‘Good for her. You did it.’”

Elili was not available to offer her own notes, encouraging or otherwise. The adults would have to make do for themselves.

The Los Angeles Times has announced the lineup for this year’s Festival of Books. See which authors are among the 500-plus set to participate.