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

Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta

Froi of the Exiles
Melina Marchetta

It was a few weeks ago that I read Finnikin of the Rock, and although I found the book dark, there was enough light bits in the story for me to finish without trouble and overall would say I enjoyed it. Since Froi of the Exiles was up on Netgalley, I decided to request it to see how the story would continue. Since I’d already known the second book would be about Froi, I paid attention to his character in Finnikin and I was curious if I would like a story about a character I found darker than Finnikin or Evanjalin.
This review will have minor spoilers for the first book, so if you are interested in this series, I suggest you start there ( I also warn you that this is an advance review for a book that doesn’t come out till March 2012.
The Premise: A few years have passed since Finnikin lead his people back to their beloved homeland, but Lumatere is still struggling with the horrors its people have seen.The new King and Queen focus on rebuilding and starting afresh, but have a desire for justice still burning in their hearts. They know that the ones behind their country’s ‘five days of the unspeakable’ and the ten year aftermath is the kingdom of Chayrn. So when Charynite refugees and resistence fighters say they have a plan to kill their despot king, Lumatere sends in one of their favorite sons – Froi, to do the job.  It seems that Lumatere is not the only country with a curse, for Charyn is suffering its own form of hell which may or may not be broken by its loony princess Quintana. Not quite understanding this curse, but seeing an opportunity, Froi impersonates a Last Born and infiltrates the palace. In the meantime, there is unease in Lumatere as those closest to the border, the Monts, deal with a slow and steady influx of refugees from Charyn and must battle with their own latent hatreds.
My Thoughts:  In this second book, things are somewhat different from the first. It’s much longer (a little over 600 pages on my nook) and wider in its scope.The main character is Froi, but the book constantly switches its focus from him back to individual Lumaterians in Lumatere – mostly Lady Beatrice, Lucian of the Monts, and Phaedra, Lucian’s Charynite wife. This is a book that’s about Charyn and Lumatere.
But since the book begins with Froi, I’ll start with him. His character is that of a unlikeable boy-thief rescued from the streets who has now grown into an accomplished young man. He still has trouble with his temper, but he is loved by those who raised him and eager to prove his loyalty to his Queen. When the opportunity to kill the Charyn king who was behind Lumatere’s years of grief presents itself, Froi is the one to go.
It’s from Froi’s point of view that we are introduced to Charyn, and it is a dark place. The people are desperate, the king is a tyrant, and it has a recent history of a terrible genocide. When I read Finnikin of the Rock, rape was alluded to, but not directly shown. Here, rape and sex with questionable consent is a common trope. In order to alleviate Charyn’s curse, princess Quintana, an obviously mentally ill girl must have sex with the last born sons of Charyn. I was pretty disturbed by this. I continued to be disturbed when I read the description of Quintana’s lack of care (unwashed hair, often wearing the same dress), coupled with her childlike airs and the voices she hears. The prologue described in heartbreaking detail her penchant for disconnecting during the sex act by making shadow figures on the wall. To warn those who avoid rape in the books they read: Quintana is raped in a scene that squicked the heck out of me, and she is of course, hated and called a whore by her whole country. I don’t think I can begin to describe the way reading this affected me.
While Quintana is introduced as a character who is abused, she is also clearly set up to be Froi’s love interest. This is a very difficult thing to achieve, because on her side, we have an abused, mad child, and on his side, Froi is the person who in the last book tried to rape Evanjalin/Isaboe. Part of me has a very, very hard time rooting for Froi after this act, but this story does not try to rewrite history or deny that Froi is a dark character. He is a person tainted with the darkness of his past, and in many ways his darkness makes him a match for Quintana’s own demons. But it was very difficult for me to connect personally to these characters and their romance. I think that while I rooted for their happiness, I could never really love them. They were too alien for me. Quintana is too shifting in her moods and manner, and Froi too self-serving. I did believe Froi’s attraction to a dirty, mad princess with dark calling to dark, but on a logical, not visceral level.
I also think that the romance was difficult to get lost in with all that happens in the story. This was an incredibly heavy book. A sense of either shocked horror or utter despair pervaded my whole experience. As the story continued, I hoped for better things to come, but one calamity seemed to follow the next. When innocents are not being killed in Charyn, we’re treated to the problems in Lumatere and its border. This includes the drama of unfinished business between Beatrice and Trevanion, who are letting their pain stand between them, and the constant friction between Monts and the Charyn refugees.  Lucian of the Monts struggle as a leader and husband through an arranged marriage was particularly compelling and at times heartbreaking.  I think that there is room here for things to eventually turn out right, but as a reader I felt the balance of this installment of the story slide more towards hopeless over hopeful. When things started on an upward swing, it wasn’t for long. And if you are someone sensitive to rape, this book is a hard hitter.  While Quintana’s rape is on the page, she is not the only one. There are at least 4 other characters that have had this experience, and it is common for the females to be labeled as sluts and whores. This left me full of anger, which I think is the point. I don’t think that Marchetta wants to keep the reader cocooned from the horrors of war and strife, but I was pretty worn out emotionally. There ARE bright spots in the story (like when Finnikin and Isaboe make cameo appearances), but overall, I found this to be a grim book.
As with Finnikin of the Rock there are revelations in Froi of the Exiles which are alluded to by prophecy. Again, these secrets weren’t too difficult to guess, but I did have fun being right. The truth of what brought about Charyn’s curse wasn’t as much fun though. More horror and needless killing by the corrupt, basically. It got to the point where I was numb and unsurprised by the evil of those behind the curse, but it was disheartening to read about the past pains of the characters who lived through Charyn’s dark history.
OK, so I’ve talked a lot about how dark this book was. Is this a dealbreaker? I think it depends on the reader. Froi of the Exiles ends on an unfinished note, but I am glad I have a year to recover for the next one. I do plan to read it. I wouldn’t have found this story so dark if I wasn’t so caught up by these people and their struggles, and I really want to see all of this end in something good. I’m not eager to reread this book, but I am eager for a happy ending. I hope to see one in the next book, Quintana of Charyn.
Froi of the Exiles comes out in March 2012
Overall: Compelling but not for the faint of heart. Froi of the Exiles continues where Finnikin of the Rock left off but brings more heartache and strife to the tale, making this story more painful than enjoyable. It widens the scope to focus not just Froi and the kingdom of Charyn, but also on multiple characters still coping in Lumatere. Now the story is no longer standalone and the darkness will hopefully make way for better times, but we’ll have to wait for the next installment to get to them.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
No one in my circles have reviewed this yet. Let me know if you have and I’ll link to your review.

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock
Melina Marchetta
Ah, the awesomeness of the internet. I bought Finnikin of the Rock at that Greenwich Library sale I went to earlier this month, and Chachic commented that she had the book too and we should do a readalong. Before long, Hollyjoined in. So last week we all read Finnikin and used goodreads and twitter to discuss the book as we read it. So much fun, you guys. Who says reading is a solitary activity? 🙂
The Premise: When Finnikin was a boy, he lived an idyllic life in the kingdom of Lumatere. His father Trevanion, was heroic Captain of the King’s Guard. His childhood friends were Prince Balthazar and the prince”s cousin, Lucian of the Monts, and they dreamed of being heroes and ruling the kingdom. Then ‘the five days of the unspeakable’ happened. The royal family is murdered, Balthazar is missing, a false king is placed on the throne, and Travanion is imprisoned. A curse hangs over Lumatere, closing it off from the outside world. Half the kingdom is trapped inside a dark and impregnable force. The people who escaped before the kingdom was sealed are miserable refugees left wandering in lands where they are not welcome. Ten years later, Finnikin is apprentice to Sir Toby, who was once advisor to the murdered king and now looks out for the Lumaterian refugees. One day, they get a message to travel to a remote temple. There they find the novice Evanjalin who claims she walks the sleep of the people still living within Lumatere and who may be the key to bringing Lumaterians back home.
My Thoughts:  There was a little bit of a learning curve getting into the story (the prologue took me a little time to understand), but by the time I reached the ‘five days of the unspeakable’, I was up to speed. Present time is now ten years after Lumatere was shut closed, and Finnikin, Sir Topher, and Evanjalin find themselves traversing the neighboring kingdoms as they progress in their desire to help Lumatere. The world building is fairly generic (mostly semi-Medieval societies with the exception of the tribal Yuts) with religions and magic that isn’t explored with great detail. What sets Finnikin of the Rock apart was its unique take on displaced people.
With such a serious message, Finnikin of the Rock has some aspects that are darker than your typical YA – rape, torture and suffering are things alluded to, if not directly described. The story tended to hold back from going to far on most things, but the plight of the refugees was very affecting. In particular, there is a pretty surreal scene within a fever camp that is mind-numbing.  There is also an attempted rape which left me cold. Do not let this dissuade you from reading the book! I tend to avoid these things and didn’t find this book as disturbing as I think it could have been. And on the flip side there is a lot of love and hope in this story too. Finnikin was raised by his father and his men when his mother died in childbirth, and the love and protectiveness that the hardened killers feel for this boy as he grows into a man is a reoccurring theme. Finnikin is a product of their hope for Lumatere – outwardly cynical because of what he’s seen, he is still soft when it comes to what he loves. It takes some time to see his character, but it is one of the stronger ones in the book.
Evanjalin on the other hand, is not always so easy to read. Secretive but sharp, she feels no remorse in holding back or bending the truth to “do what needs to be done”.  What she hides eventually comes to light, but while I understood the need to keep some things a secret, by the time I was halfway through the book I was tired of her hiding things after there didn’t seem to be a reason to. I found her strong for keeping her own counsel, but on the other hand, too much of it made her overly secretive when she didn’t always need to be.
There was a similar problem with the romance being more complicated than was necessary. I could allow for a little less getting-to-know-each-other time than I’d like because the romance was rather sweet, but I couldn’t overlook the number of unnecessary roadblocks. There were hang ups and hesitations when just talking to one another would have solved the issue. It is disappointing not to see deeper communication because it took away from a romance that was thisclose to being very good.
Another problem I had was that the story seemed to propel forward during the traveling portions so the characters would be in a new country or town without a sense of how far they traveled or how long it took. I understand that this was to condense the story to the important parts, but the transitions felt too sudden.
Maybe I’m sounding very critical of this story, but I did enjoy it. Following the fulfillment of the curse/premonition and the struggle of the characters was compelling stuff. There’s something about Marchetta’s writing that makes me eager to read more. I want to see what happens in the next installment, Froi of the Exiles, which will follow the adventures of a character introduced in this book, and I do plan to read more Marchetta.
Overall: This is a fast moving young adult fantasy with a romantic subplot that I liked, but hesitate to recommend it to others because of its sometimes abrupt transitions and over complication of certain parts of the story. If there was time spent on developing intimacy between characters I would have been a lot happier. I did end up enjoying the serious Finnikin and self-assertive Evanjalin, loved the way Finnikin’s father loved his son, and was invested in Lumatere’s survival. Your mileage may vary.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
Angieville – “There was so much potential that just never found a grounding point.”
Chachic’s Book Nook – “[…]definitely a worthwhile read if you’re an epic fantasy reader or a Melina Marchetta fan but it’s the kind of book that would make you pick up something light and fun afterwards”