Melina Marchetta, Kristin Cashore, and Gayle Forman at Books of Wonder

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Last Tuesday evening there was an Author Interviews Author event at Books of Wonder featuring YA authors Melina Marchetta, Kristin Cashore, and Gayle Forman. Luckily for me, I live close enough that I was able to go and attend the event after work!

I was good too — I took copious notes for the blog during the interviews. Here’s the lowdown of two hours of authorly goodness. Please note that I don’t write that fast, so this shouldn’t be considered verbatim — just the general gist of the conversation. And sorry about my blurry photos, I politely turned off the flash and I think my 5 year old camera just isn’t that great in with low light.

Companion Novels
All three authors (who are all friends) noted that they have one thing in common besides writing young adult: they all wrote “companion novels”. Companion novels aren’t true sequels because they were told from a different point of view from the first book in the same world, and in some cases, could be read out of order. All three authors had a similar experience with their companion novels–they weren’t planned. Gayle Forman said she had no intention of writing Where She Went, and Melina Marchetta said she didn’t know there would be a sequel, she thought she was finished when she wrote Saving Francesca. The same with Finnikin of the Rock. Melina didn’t like Froi at first, she just thought he was a tool in her story. She didn’t realize that Froi would get a book until the next year. On the other hand, Quintana was always going to be in a sequel, once she had written 500 pages for Froi and realized there was no way she could end it just yet.

Ways you can “screw yourself” doing things this way
Cashore had to slow things down in Graceling because her characters were moving too quickly, so she created an impenetrable forest, but in Bitterblue, when her characters had to move fast, there was the forest!
Marchetta had a tricky area to deal with because she had a character who loved musicals in one book, but in the other he flipped out over having to listen to Jesus Christ Superstar during a car trip. She says if anyone asks, she explains the discrepancy by saying the character grew out of liking musicals.
Forman says she wished she’d chosen a different name for Adam’s band.
Speaking of names, Cashore noted that names mean different things in different languages. Po means “butt” in German, and Katsa is Italian for penis.

Negative reactions from readers
Cashore talked about getting some backlash because her book Graceling was seen as anti-marriage and anti-having kids. She notes that the author is not the same as the characters (her phone has a picture of baby as the wallpaper and is “full of babies”), but while she got a lot of positive messages from readers, every so often she got abusive emails. Now she stays off goodreads and no longer accepts comments on her blog posts, and she also doesn’t have a public email address anymore. She decided to do this for peace of mind, but on the other hand, she met Melina Marchetta through an email, so she acknowledges she is missing out on the positive connections from having a public email.
Marchetta’s comment on reviews was that the author is not the audience of the review and that she keeps separate from the negative reviews.
Forman said that she got backlash from the swearing in her books. She says that her family swears at home, even her mother swears, but that doesn’t make them bad people.

Sexual Tension
This is where each of the three authors read a small passage from their books in which the sexual tension between characters was shown. Cashore read a very small scene from Bitterblue in which Bitterblue and Saf have a moment. Forman read a scene from Where She Went where Adam and Mia were wandering around New York together, and Marchetta read letters from The Piper’s Son between Tom and Tara. [note: for video clips of these readings, check out the recap on The Readventurer!]
Marchetta: With sexual tension, it is the insecurities and vulnerabilities that come through. The reader picks up on these and realizes that these characters are broken and are the only two people who can put each other back again.
Cashore: Conflict and the power dynamic are also important. These two people are the only two people who can take each other on. They go back and forth, but they are an even match. Also, what you don’t say is important.
Forman: an adversarial relationships heightens the sexual tension, there is a delicious dynamic.

Switching points of view
Marchetta discussing how Froi arrived, talked about her friends and an long-running joke in which they play “You Raise Me Up” to her. She had just written a scene in Finnikin in which the captain and the guard had put people up on their shoulders, including Froi. Hearing the song soon after that, Marchetta realized that Froi was a player in the story.
Cashore: It was fun to write a book with Bitterblue, who is a character that is more aware of other people’s emotions. Katsa is more of a doer and doesn’t see things in the same way.
Forman: Switching point of view to continue a story is such a good way to do it because you learn things about the characters.
Cashore: didn’t realize how awful Leck was until she wrote his journals and in his point of view. It helped flesh out how horrible he is. Leck is the only character in all three books.
Marchetta says she didn’t understand why she was asked whose POV the book was from, because in Finnikin the book was mostly from his point of view. So she introduced quite early the different point of views in Froi of the Exiles so people wouldn’t be alarmed by the switches to multiple points of view.
Cashore: Switching points of view also helps with boredom. It’s more interesting with a different point of view.

Fantasy Contemporary
During the discussion it was revealed that Kristin Cashore is working on a contemporary story (!), and this led to a discussion on how the transformation happened between Fantasy and Contemporary YA and vice versa.
Marchetta was staying in New York City for two months after writing Jellicoe Road and she was in the subway one day when she saw a poster with a picture of a refugee camp in Africa. Everyone in the car was speaking a different language and she realized that so many people are not in their homeland. By 2007, she had a novel in her head, but she didn’t want it to be too political, so she decided to write it as a Fantasy. Her grandparents were immigrants and had always talked about going back to visit their homeland, so that became part of the spark for Finnikin. But she feels like Finnikin is not so different from her last novel just because it is a Fantasy.
Cashore said that her very first work was realism, and it was the characters that dictated the story and made it a Fantasy.

Q&A: How did you create characters that are abrasive and difficult to like and then make us love them so much it hurts?
Forman: Because you love them.
Cashore said her crankiest character is probably a librarian character in Bitterblue. When you are having fun, readers will pick up on it and like a character.
Marchetta: People start off not liking a particular character of hers, but they see that he uses the name “Anabelle’sbrother” online. This is a clue that he isn’t that bad. Marchetta uses little things like this as a promise that everything will come out right.
Cashore remembers at this point that her cranky librarian has a cat, which underlines what Marchetta just said.

Q&A: Most Helpful Advice from an Editor
Cashore: “Would you consider starting from scratch?” was what her editor said to her after an 800 page draft that took three years. The change of mindset made a difference.
Forman couldn’t come up with a specific piece of advice and says that her editor was key through edits.
Marchetta: “The word ‘said’ is a good word”. So don’t try to use “mocked” and other words like that when “said” will do. Also, “don’t be a thesaurus, use a thesaurus.”
Cashore: “Don’t let fear make your decisions.”

Q&A: Reviews
Forman: You can’t control anything in publishing except the book you are working on in the moment.
Cashore: The reviews that bother her are when the reviewer speculates what the author was trying to do. When people try to guess who the author is, it irks her.
Marchetta advises to stop reading a review when you read “I really wanted to like this book..”

Q&A: Creating Characters
Marchetta: the story begins with the characters. She waits for them to come to her and “observes” them and “listens” to their conversations with who they bring along.
Cashore: has a similar process to Marchetta. She observes. Some characters are easier. They’re talkative. Some aren’t, for example, Saf, who was taciturn. There’s a lot of conversation and dialoging that happens. You’re trying to reveal the characters through words.
Forman: You think you know a character up until you write. The process is endlessly surprising. Characters seem to have a mind of their own.
Marchetta: did not understand Quintana at first. Quintana changed her personality a lot, and Marchetta didn’t understand her for a year, then, during a walk with her dog, it came to her. Too much thought messes up the process — don’t fight them and try to make them into something they’re not.

Q&A: Intent of a book
Forman: It’s what she calls the Perfect Song Conundrum: she listens to an album and asks what the band/artist was thinking. Don’t they know they should do this and this to have the perfect song? there’s a chasm between the book you now it should be, and what it is. The best reading experience for her is cathartic, and leaves her different from how she was when she started.
Cashore: is trying to make a small, simple, emotional point. She tries to write for herself, writing as a writer, and later goes back as a reader. She tries to convey a feeling, and after a bunch of getting it wrong, in the end she gets to the place she wanted to.
Marchetta: Don’t think too much about it. The purpose is to entertain, but make sure you are always in love with the world. She knows it will work out when she’s still in that state when she finishes writing. Also she loves to think that she writes to make a connection.

Q&A: Worldbuilding
Cashore: With Graceling she didn’t build the world first. She did it as she went along, and she thinks this was something of a mistake. Fire is different — she used landscape more carefully in her second book.
Marchetta: Half-planned her world and half-didn’t. Froi hit the ground running because she had set it all up in Finnikin. Her personal travels gets used in her world building.

Q&A: What happened to Jimmy Hailer?
Marchetta: “I don’t know.” Jimmy didn’t come back to her. He was based on a real person, and when she knew him, he was an angry person, but now he is happy. You can’t force a character back to hear his story.

Q&A: Race in Cashore’s series
Cashore: The inhabitants of Dell seem darker skinned in Bitterblue, but not so in Fire. The reason is that in Fire, she made the characters darker-skinned, but she did it so subtly that readers missed it. Now that she has a chance to correct that in Bitterblue. Cashore feels like she failed a little bit in making the race difference too subtle.
Forman: Maybe you need to be less nuanced in Fantasy (about race).

Q&A: Cursing
The authors spent a little bit of time talking about cursing in Fantasy and how fun it was to make up swear words or to use quaint ones. Marchetta’s favorite was “swiving” and Cashore’s was “weaselbugger”.

So that was a really fun event, and I did run into a couple of other bloggers there (Catie from The Readventurer, Heidi from Bunbury in the Stacks, Sasha from Sash & Em, and Grace from Books of Love). I also got a few books signed:

  • If I Stay by Gayle Forman – I hadn’t tried this author before and decided I would give the first book of this series a go. (bought at Books of Wonder)
  • Bitterblue by Kristen Cashore – I was sort of unsure of buying the hardcopy because my other two copies of books in this series are trade paperback, but I couldn’t wait. (bought at Books of Wonder)
  • Saving Francesa by Melina Marchetta – I am ready to try one of Marchetta’s contemporaries and this series appealed to me. Really wanted a copy of The Piper’s Son too, but couldn’t find one. (bought at Books of Wonder)
  • Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta – This book has been recommended all over the place and I WILL read it one day! (brought from home)

Other recaps (check these out for more pictures and other details of the event):
Bunbury in the Stacks
The Readventurer

Exclusive Brent Weeks Q & A Video

Something special for today – a video where Brent Weeks, author of the Night Angel trilogy and a new series, Lightbringer, answers a few questions I sent to him via the folks at Orbit at Comic-con!

I’m about two thirds done with his newest book, The Black Prism (which comes out August 25th), and it is so far really good. My husband has already read it and has been asking me where I am every night. I’ll be posting a review next week plus a book chat with The Mister about it.

In the meantime, this is the video where Weeks discusses Geekery, Weird Research and the length of this new series:

Other Brent Weeks videos and Black Prism fun stuff:
Here are the videos in this series so far, which ask excellent questions about the new world, characters, and the writing experience:
1) Grasping For the Wind
2) Fantasy Book Critic

Pixelated Geek has a 15 minute interview up at their site.

For some fun stuff go to Brent Weeks’ website and take the What Color Is Your Magic Quiz. I’m apparently a superchromat and Blue Drafter.

Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s One Question Interview Blog Tour!

I got the chance to ask  Lauren Baratz-Logsted one question for her One Question Interview Blog Tour, and because I’m always interested in books people recommend to one another, it was this:

Q: I noticed in your bio that you used to work at a bookseller and you had other book related jobs. What are some of your favorite books to recommend people (let’s say top 5 or 10?) and why?

Lauren Baratz-LogstedA: Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s my favorite novel by a living author. (The Great Gatsby is my favorite novel by a dead author.) I once saw someone on the beach reading it and experienced intense book envy that the person had the discovery of much of the book still ahead.

Freeze Frame, by Heidi Ayarbe. This YA novel about a boy who isn’t sure if he intended to kill his friend or not is a perfect example of why adults love YA these days too.

The Memoirs of Cleopatra, by Margaret George. The title tells you exactly what it’s about and this doorstopper has given me more pleasure than any other historical novel.

Breath, by Tim Winton. This Australian novel was my favorite adult novel in 2008. Without the framing device of an adult telling a story about his teenage self this could have been easily published as YA. The story, about a boy’s fascination with surfing and the dark road down which it leads him, is thoroughly gripping.

Forever on the Mountain, by James M. Tabor. A nonfiction account of a real mountain-climbing expedition gone bad, this is so well done that even though the reader knows from the start just exactly who will make it down the mountain and who will not, it’s still edge-of-the-seat suspenseful.

Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns. Back when I was a bookseller a woman came into the store wearing dark glasses. It was obvious she’d been crying. “Just give me something good to read,” she said. After mentally rejecting more serious literary and dark commercial fare for fear those books might send her running for the open windows, I handed her this charming crowd-pleaser. She bought it and came back the following week to thank me. She said I’d saved her life with that book. How can I not love and go on recommending a book that saved a woman’s life???

The Education of Bet
Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Baratz-Logsted has a new Young Adult novel, The Education of Bet, coming out on July 12th. The story is about a girl pretending to be a boy in Victorian England. From the blurb on Amazon:

“When Will and Bet were four, tragic circumstances brought them to the same house, to be raised by a wealthy gentleman as brother and sister. Now sixteen, they’ve both enjoyed a privileged upbringing thus far. But not all is well in their household. Because she’s a girl, Bet’s world is contained within the walls of their grand home, her education limited to the rudiments of reading, writing, arithmetic, and sewing. Will’s world is much larger. He is allowed—forced, in his case—to go to school. Neither is happy.

So Bet comes up with a plan and persuades Will to give it a try: They’ll switch places. She’ll go to school as Will. Will can live as he chooses. But once Bet gets to school, she soon realizes living as a boy is going to be much more difficult than she imagined.”

It sounds like it could be cute, especially since she develops a crush on her roommate at the Betterman Academy.

Previous stop (June 22) @ Persephone reads: If you could bring any character – not your own – to life for a day, who would it be and why?

Next stop (June 24) @Wendy Toliver: If an alien offered to give you any position in the world, what would you choose?

Originally posted on

Author Interview: Lili St. Crow

I decided to do something I’ve never done before in this blog. An author interview. ooOooo!! Very exciting! 😀

I just reviewed Lili St. Crow’s new book, Strange Angels (link to  wordpress / LJ)  and I sent her some questions about the series and some general questions about being an author. She reveals some interesting information about the rest of the series, plus talks about being an author who uses plenty of profanity (hehe), and I think it gives people an idea of what to expect from this series. Thank you for answering my questions Lili.

Read on for more.

Strange Angels questions:

Please tell us something about Strange Angels. How would you describe this book?

It’s like Supernatural meets Buffy, plus Appalachian folk magic and Eastern European folklore, plus a soupcon of Vampire Hunter D. Dru Anderson, our heroine, has been traveling around with her dad, killing things that go bump in the night. When her dad shows up as a zombie, suddenly she’s on her own–and all the secrets her parents never told her start crowding in. The things she and her dad hunted start hunting back.

The scene with Dru at the beginning of the book with the zombie had a lot of suspense and I had to reassure myself that she’ll be ok because there would be no book otherwise. It reminded me of good horror movies where you’re freaking out along with the person on the screen. Are you a big zombie horror movie fan and if so do you have any favorites?

I’m not a huge zombie buff. I’ve seen Romero’s movies, sure, and I watched Shawn of the Dead and Planet Terror like everyone else. My favorite horror movies tend to include more vampires than zombies, because I’m fascinated by the polymorphous aspect of the vampire myth.

The scene with Dru and the zombie was in the very first bit of the book I had done, and when I was asked to do some YA I sent that along, so the editor would kind of see what they were dealing with. To be honest I expected there to be trouble over it, because it is such a troubling scene. But that is the kind of writer I am, and I wanted it up-front. I wanted to say, this is what we’re dealing with here, there is real risk and real danger. Without real danger to the character, horror just isn’t…well, frightening.

The werewulfen and zombies and other creatures in this book are familiar yet different. For example the zombies turn to dust after being “killed”. What’s your favorite otherworldly creature and why?

There are so many otherworldy creatures! I don’t know if I can pick a favorite; they are a feast for a writer. Certainly the creature I’m most fascinated with is the vampire. The permutations and changes of the vampire as each generation starts playing with bloodsucking as a metaphor are something I find fascinating. People’s vampires tell you a lot about them, a lot about how they view the world and what they’re scared of.

I noticed that for Strange Angels, you use the name Lili St. Crow and I’ve seen you as Lilith Saintcrow on other titles. Is this to distinguish your young adult books from adult ones?

Yes. I’m a fairly prolific writer, and we wanted to be clear that these books weren’t part of my adult oeuvre, so to speak.

How did deciding to write a young adult series come about? Was it just a natural progression – the next story you wanted to tell happened to be young adult, or was it more planned – you wanted to try your hand at it? And how different is it writing adult versus young adult?

I actually never thought I would be writing in the young adult. My work has plenty of profanity and plenty of troublesome themes that I thought would mean I’d never get close to writing anything for younger readers. But…I was asked if I had anything that might do for a young adult book, and I had the first few chapters of Strange Angels lying around. It was something I was very interested in, because I could tell the rest of the story was there, but I hadn’t had time to work on it yet.

So I sent those first few chapters off and started working on it full-time, and next thing I knew we had a contract for a series. And I was terrified. I’d never written young adult before, and part of the process was me calling the editor and saying, “You’ve read what I write, right? You know I put the F-word in things, right? You know characters are going to die, right?” And she was fine with that. That was why they’d asked me, as a matter of fact.

So I was still terrified, but I decided to just barge in and do it. Nothing ever gets done if you’re too afraid to make a move. Besides, I feel very strongly that if I show up consistently to take dictation, the Muse won’t let me down. My job is to be available for the words, and the words will take care of the rest.

For fans of Strange Angels – any influences? Are there authors or books you’d recommend for young adult readers?

Of course the first few episodes of Supernatural and the first two seasons of Buffy were huge influences, as well as Vampire Hunter D and Manly Wade Wellman’s Silver John books and short stories. And Dru and her father listened to a lot of classic rock, so I’m rediscovering classic rock stations now, and music I listened to in my childhood since it was the only thing the whole family could agree on. The music is a huge part of my creative process.

When I was younger, I read omnivorously. I particularly enjoyed Stephen King, Alice Hoffman, LJ Smith, Robin McKinley, Anne McCaffrey, early Mercedes Lackey, and of course all the Algernon Blackwood, Robert Aikman, and Tanith Lee I could get my hands on. That’s not a bad lineup of authors, I think.

Strange Angels is the start of a series – do you have an idea how many books this series will be?

Right now there’s three in the series, with the possibility of another two books later. That’s about as far as it would be possible to tell Dru’s story.

Any hints you want to give us about what to expect in the second book? When will it be out and what will it be called? 🙂

The book will be out in November ’09, and it’s called Betrayals. We have two first kisses, lots of fight scenes, burning buildings, a car chase, and treachery. In other words, I had a lot of fun.

General questions

It seems to me that you are a prolific writer – the Dante Valentine series of five books all came out within two years and then you started the Jill Kismet series and I’ve seen books from you at other publishers (The Demon’s Librarian which I want to read, and Steelflower..amongst others). You must be very busy! Tell us something about your day to day schedule.

My day is pretty boring. Get up, make breakfast for the kids, tend to correspondence and the weblog. Make lunch, settle down to writing between the other minutiae of childrearing and keeping the house from sinking into chaos. Make dinner, clean up, go back to writing. Put kids in bed, then write until about midnight. Go to bed around 1AM. Get up in the morning and do it again.

See? Boring. Most days I don’t even leave the house.

I really liked Selene and Nikolai when they were first introduced in the Dante Valentine series and then reading the serialized novel “Selene” online. Are you planning to continue their story from where “Selene” leaves off?

Eventually, yes. I know what happens next. The problem is time–I literally have no time for discretionary projects at the moment.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for asking me! That about covers it. Thank you very much.