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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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).
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)