July 19, 2012 by Heidi
At some point this year it occurred to me that hey, I live just outside NYC, a place where BOOKS HAPPEN. Books don’t just take place here, they’re made here, they’re written here, and of course, they’re celebrated here! So why have I lived here for three years and not taken greater advantage of this fact? Well this year I’ve started to, I’ve gone to a huge event (BEA) and a couple of smaller ones, including the incredibly fun event hosted last night at Books of Wonder in Manhattan, with authors Gayle Forman, Kristin Cashore, and Melina Marchetta.
These three authors are friends, and since Melina is in the US so rarely, they decided to do an event together! And we’re all oh so glad that they did. I was kind of shocked that more people weren’t there, but the short notice (the event was conceived/announced less than two weeks ago) it’s somewhat understandable. There were still about 80 or so of us crowded in hanging on their every word and enjoying ourselves immensely. You could tell that these women genuinely enjoy each other’s company, love each others work, and are each thankful and welcoming to all of their fans.
I loved the format of three authors who know each other and each other’s work well having an open conversation about their writing. You could tell from the entire evening that they loved being together, from the way that they laughed together and talked about one another’s work, to the way Gayle Forman ripped The Piper’s Son out of Melina Marchetta’s hands to find her favorite sexual tension scene. They have all written incredibly different books, but they all have similarities in their use of companion novels, their utter fearlessness when it comes to writing for young adults, and their ability to make us love some of the least likable characters.
I went in for the event super early so that I could meet and hang out with Catie from The Readventurer on her first venture to NYC! We didn’t have a ton of time to warrant anything big like a museum, though it wouldn’t have been the worst idea ever considering it was around 100 degrees out, so we mostly just walked around and saw a bit of the city. I make a pretty crappy tour guide, and we were dying of sweat and grime by the time we stumbled into Books of Wonder, but it was fun regardless. She brought me a whole bag of books that I’m dying to read (I’ll post them in a book haul Sunday), and I always have the best time talking to other book fiends who enjoy the same things I do. We were at Books of Wonder early enough to relax and explore the store (I was shocked it wasn’t like…two times bigger. I thought, where on earth do they have room for an event?!), picked up some books, and still missed out on seating. Consequently you can see the back of our heads in about all of the Books of Wonder pics (which are all less blurry than mine–yay!). We got to spend a bit of time before and after with Janice from Janicu’s Book Blog, Sash from Sash and Em, and Karen of Goodreads renown. It was a blast!
The authors opened by talking a bit about why each of them had ended up writing companion novels rather than strait series. Gayle Forman (GF) stated that she felt the word “sequel” was kind of a bad word with the connotation that the sequel is always a let down (with the exception of The Godfather II and The Empire Strikes Back). Kristin Cashore (KC) admitted that she kept thinking there wouldn’t be another book, and they all agreed that their further books grew out of the reality that they just couldn’t get certain characters out of their heads. For example, Melina Marchetta (MM) admits that she didn’t like Froi, but then his story came to her and the series was created. There wasn’t necessarily going to be a Quintana of Charyn either, but she pulled a George R.R. Martin and realized the story she had planned for Froi of the Exiles was just too big for one book when she hit about page 500.
They also laughingly discussed how you can really screw yourself with unplanned companion novels. MM admits she hates the name Froi, and would have thought of something less stupid, GF said the same of Adam’s band Shooting Stars. KC said she put up this impenetrable forest and mountain range to slow Katsa and Po down without realizing that this would hinder movement a lot when it came to Bitterblue. They also said, however, that they unwittingly planted Easter eggs for themselves in their initial books–lines or characters that later helped to inspire the other books.
When addressing people’s reactions to books, they each seem to take reviews in various ways. KC seemed to be the most negatively affected by bad reactions, and was pretty upset about being labeled as someone who is ‘anti-marriage and hates children’ because of Katsa. She exclaimed that people should look at the pictures on her phone “My phone is full of babies!”. She’s found it best just to cut out reading feedback entirely, no longer visits her Goodreads page, and does not have a public e-mail address. I respect this, and personally think it’s the best route to take for those authors who are hit hard by that one bad review for every ten great ones. GF wisely stated that “the opposite of love is indifference”, and that even hearing that someone hates a book means that it affected them. All of them spoke to the fact that a lot of people have really disliked their books, but that those aren’t the readers they’re writing for, and they’re so grateful for the outpouring of excitement and love from the readers who do enjoy their work. MM joked that as an author, you should just stop reading a review after the words “I really wanted to like this book” and GF added that those are fairly equivalent to “don’t take this the wrong way”.
The authors talked about how great one another are at writing sexual tension, and forced each other to each do a reading from their books as an exhibit, which was both hilarious and a wee bit awkward. I can’t help but agree that they’re all excellent at this, and the tension/slow burn development of their characters’ relationships is one of the reasons I love them best. MM says it’s best not to try to make a scene about the sexual tension, it will arise naturally from knowing the character’s insecurities and the situation, KC states that conflict is a huge part of sexual tension–it has to be two characters who can take each other on in a way no one else could, and GF admits that it’s what you don’t say that’s more evocative than what you do.
One of the parts of their discussion I loved best was their addressing what it is like to change points of view. Personally, companion novels are my favorite, and I’m not a big fan of series. I get bored reading the same characters, and it turns out they get bored writing them! KC said that she learned a lot about characters like Katsa and Po by writing about them from someone else’s perspective, GF agreed that you learn new things about your characters by stepping away from them.
Coinciding with the PoV change, is the reality that both MM and KC (who is currently working on contemporary fiction) have switched genres. MM told us a lovely story about the inspiration for Finnikin (from NYC!) in which it occurred to her how many people are living outside their homelands, but how the story she wanted to tell might be too political to set in the here and now. She actually asked her publicist to talk her out of trying to write fantasy, but I don’t think any of us are surprised to hear that her publicist’s reaction was ‘of course you can write fantasy!’. She says that she has to travel to write fantasy, drawing inspiration from the world, and she never knows how it’s going to turn out–sounds like a nice deal to me! KC said that really all of her books are about the same thing, she just uses various formats to express them.
My favorite question from the audience was asking them how they all manage to write about these characters that are so unlikable, and then turn around and make us love them? KC says that the abrasive characters are the most fun to write, GF thinks Adam is most like her, so she hopes she can get people to like him, and MM says that she tries to use little things (like Thomas’s e-mail address) as hints that there is something to this character, and they’ll get better if you just don’t give up on them.
I found it interesting that each of these authors have a similar structure in how they go about writing–for each of them a story starts with character, and character is the most important thing (though MM and KC did both admit this hurt the world building of their fantasy a bit). They talk about their characters as if they are real people with minds of their own, that drive the story and surprise them every day. That’s probably why I love their characters so damn much, eh? They all want their books to be cathartic, to connect themselves and readers to something, and they write for themselves and readers like them.
- KC bemoaned translation issues. Po means butt in German, and Katsa is apparently quite close to the Italian word for penis.
- They’ve all had more complaints about the swearing in their books than the sex.
- In fact, swearing is the thing MM misses most when writing fantasy (and yes, they discussed making up new swear words for these situations–weasel butter I believe?)
- KC’s favorite suggestion for a series title for her books was ‘Kick Ass Women Who Kill Their Fathers’–I approve.
- MM said “said is a great word”…clearly James Preller didn’t get the memo.
- I think KC’s signature on my copy of Fire looks like it says “Bitch” (see above) and that makes me kinda happy.
All in all, it was a fantastic evening, and a wonderful event! I felt like the time with the authors flew by, and I am so happy that I got to see these three wonderful women together. Now that I’ve finally been to Books of Wonder, you can certainly bet I’ll be going back for more in the future!