Melissa de la Cruz has seen firsthand the cultural powers of the young-adult genre.

An author who lives in Southern California, she has made the New York Times bestseller list, had a novel (“Witches of East End”) adapted into a Lifetime series and crafted a tale about the children of famous Disney villains.

She is also a co-founder of YALLWEST, the young-adult book festival that will be held April 11-12 in Santa Monica. As a preview, de la Cruz shared her insights on the local event, the state of the genre and more in an interview with the Daily Press.

Daily Press: Elaborate on your involvement in YALLWEST.

Melissa de la Cruz: I’ve been involved in YALLFEST, the Charleston festival, since its first year and run the development and fundraising arm. After four years of organizing a festival in the South, we thought it was time to bring it home. It’s a wonderful festival that really celebrates teen books and the kids that read it. It has a joyous, zany atmosphere that really differentiates it from the usual book event. I’ve been to so many. YALLWEST is very special.

DP: What aspect of the event are you most looking forward to?

MdlC: We were able to bus in about 500 school children from less privileged sections of Los Angeles to partake in the festival, and raised funds for transportation, lunch and for each child to be able to buy a book at the fest. Some of these kids have never owned a book of their own. It’s about reaching out to the large tapestry of Los Angeles and representing the city as a whole. We’re very proud of our outreach.

DP: Why do you think Santa Monica is a fitting host for this book festival?

MdlC: It’s a beautiful place where the authors are happy to be. The local hotels have been easy to work with, and when you invite people to come stay at the beach, it’s hard for them to say no.

DP: Digital and technological advances seemingly offer more distractions to young-adult readers, but maybe those advances also make it easier to connect with them. What are the challenges of reaching the young-adult audience?

MdlC: I think there’s this persistent idea that kids are not reading. They are reading. They love “real” books and hold on to them even harder than adults. JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer and Suzanne Collins have shown us kids are reading books. A book is a worthy distraction to the electronic devices, is how I see it really. Books are just as fun, if not more fun.

DP: What projects are you currently working on?

MdlC: My latest book, “The Isle of the Lost: A Descendants Novel,” is coming out in May. We will have chapter samplers and swag to give out at YALLWEST. It’s about the four children of Disney’s most famous villains. To say it was so much fun to write is a huge understatement. For a Disney junkie like myself, it was an honor to play in the Disney universe.”

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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