Today, we are very excited to be part of the blog tour for Australian YA author Jaclyn Moriarty
's exciting upcoming release, A Corner of White
. I've been a huge fan of Moriarty's work since I read Finding Cassie Crazy
(called The Year of Secret Assignments
in the US) and Feeling Sorry for Celia
after friends on Goodreads recommended them. She has a fabulous sense of humor and her writing is happy-making for me, even when she tackles bigger issues. A Corner of White
is a departure from her Ashbury/Brookfield series. Instead of contemporary, this beginning to a new series represents fantasy, a bit of magic, and all sorts of fun. It was our Australian blogging buddy Nomes' favorite release of 2012
which, to me, means that all of us have to read it. (Yes, even those of you who have no clue who Nomes is!) It will be released in the USA from Scholastic on April 1st
. Here's a bit about the book: A tale of two worlds, told in brilliant color. Readers have loved bestselling author Jaclyn Moriarty since
The Year of Secret Assignments. Now she gives them
A Corner of White, the first in a suspenseful, funny, genre-busting trilogy that brings her fantastic characters, laugh-out-loud descriptions, and brilliant plotting to a fantasy setting. Madeleine and her mother have run away from their former life and settled in a rainy corner of Cambridge, England (in our world). In another world, in the Kingdom of Cello, Elliot is in search of his father, who disappeared on the night his uncle Jon was found dead. The talk in the town is that Elliot's dad may have killed Jon and run away with the physics teacher. But Elliot refuses to believe it. And he is determined to find both his dad and the truth. As Madeleine and Elliot move closer to unraveling their mysteries, they begin to exchange messages across worlds — through an accidental gap that hasn't appeared in centuries. On both sides of the gap, even greater mysteries are unfolding — with more than one life at stake.
The Colors of Madeleine Tour celebrates the colorful aspect of the book, with two stops representing each of several colors. (see the rest of the stops at the bottom of this post) As one of the "Oblige Me With Oranges" (mmm, oranges) stops today, the prize pack we are giving away will be orange colored items, along with a copy of the book! Jaclyn Moriarty is introducing characters along the tour and doing a few interviews. Today, she's here to tell us a little bit about the main character's friend, Jack. Take it away...
Jack Cagnetti is fifteen years old. He lives with his grandfather in Cambridge, England. He and his best friend Belle recently met Madeleine Tully—a newcomer to Cambridge who wears colourful clothes—and now the three of them are homeschooled together.
Jack believes in the stars and in his own former lives. When he has to do an assignment on the poet Lord Byron, he decides that he himself was once Lord Byron. He wants a girl to reach up and run her hands through his hair. The girl he has in mind is Madeleine Tully.
One of my favourite things about writing is the research. For this book I read a lot about Isaac Newton, colours, and Lord Byron. Here is something I discovered about Byron:
Well, he spent some years living in a big house in Italy. At this time he had 10 horses, 8 dogs, 3 monkeys, 5 cats, an eagle, a crow, a falcon, peacocks, guinea hens and an Egyptian crane. All of these animals (except the horses) were allowed to wander freely through the house.
Each day, Byron got up at two o’clock in the afternoon. He had breakfast and chatted with friends until six. From six until eight he galloped through the pine forest (on a horse I think, not his feet). He came home, ate dinner and chatted with his friends again until 6 o’clock in the morning, when he fell asleep.
I am sharing this because the whole thing is my dream holiday. I love the idea of staying up all night talking with friends in a house in the woods! I really like talking all night. I also love the idea of sleeping until 2 in the afternoon! And having breakfast! I am so keen on breakfast. And riding a horse through a pine forest! (Setting aside my allergy to horses, which I did, between the ages of 14 and 17, when I owned a horse and could very rarely breathe.) I suppose the dream holiday might get a bit crowded, noisy etc, what with the monkeys and cats fighting over the bathroom, and the falcon swooping at the bagels, and the peacock upsetting the coffee mugs with its tail flourishes, and the Egyptian crane sulking in the corner, but mostly I think the animals would be a hoot! And they’d be sure to start the conversation up again, if ever there was a lull.
Thanks for visiting, Jaclyn, and introducing us all to Jack!
As part of the tour, there are two stops for each color so if you have a favorite color, check the links below the giveaway to see where you could win a copy of the book with a prize pack in that color. Here, our color is ORANGE, which is such a fun color. The giveaway will run for a week from today (3/28) and is US ONLY. The prizes have been provided by and will be sent to one winner by the publisher and/or tour organizer. Good luck and happy reading!
We are happy to be be part of the blog tour this week in celebration of Karen Healey
's newly released YA sci fi novel, When We Wake
. (Little, Brown BFYR, released 3/5/13) As part of the tour, we conducted an interview with one of the characters in the book, Joph, about environmental issues. You see, in When We Wake
, Tegan goes to a protest rally with her friends and then the next thing she remembers is waking up...one hundred years later. So many aspects of the world are different for her and Karen Healey has created a version of Earth's future that rings eerily possible. Joph is one of Tegan's new friends from after she wakes up in the future and we're excited to see what she'll have to say. Welcome, Joph!
Through your actions in the book, it is clear that you care a lot about people in need. Other than protesting, how can young people make a difference? Do you believe that one person can have an impact?
Yes. At the very least, they can make an impact on themselves, and in choosing to live with care for others, they make an impact on them. Groups of people dedicated to change don’t just come about – they originate with individuals who want to make an impact.
And youth makes little difference – young people have less power, but we have more energy, and often more passion. Young people can speak, they can listen, they can give what time or money or goods they have spare. We can be forces of change for the better.
In your current world, there are many commonplace practices in place to adapt to the environmental conditions—humanure composting, roof gardens, timed showers, water rations, fossil fuel taxes, underwater buildings, and gray water systems, for example. While some of these things are around now (2013), none of them are widely used. (save perhaps fuel taxes) What kinds of environmentally savvy inventions or processes do you think will be the first to garner widespread use?
Roof gardens, I’d hope. I like gardens. They’re pretty, and they give you shade, and they feed you, and they soak up carbon dioxide and release oxygen back into the atmosphere. I mean, we can only have roof gardens because we use humanure for fertilizer and water rationing to make sure there’s water for them. It’s all connected. That’s how everything works.
The people in Australia in your time are very pro-vegetarian and put off by those who eat meat. Do you think we have a moral or ethical obligation to alter the way we eat to preserve some aspect/s of the environment?
Oh, the meat thing. Well, I don’t know, does it taste nice? I don’t really miss something I’ve never had. And a vegetarian life is much better for the environment – raising food animals takes a lot of water and energy in comparison. I think it’s wrong to say how other people should eat, though. Maybe you should think about it? And decide what’s best for you?
Tegan is in a particularly interesting position, having experienced the world in two different centuries, but I’m sure you’ve learned a lot about Earth’s history in school. (plus, your being a genius helps!) What surprises you most about our past environmental choices? Are there any historical environmental disasters or events that you find particularly appalling or interesting?
Bethi’s much more your history girl, but let’s see, what can I remember? Oh, flying. We did this project on commercial flight, and how much fuel it took, and how much carbon it emitted. The numbers were shocking, and Bethi was really angry. She walked around for a week saying, “Couldn’t they sail? They had electricity! Why didn’t more people use electric cars and just drive to where they wanted to go?”
I didn’t want to tell her that lots of the electricity came from burning coal anyway, because she was already so upset. So I pretended that I’d taken some color and forgotten to do that part of the project and instead she got angry because she thought I was getting high too often.
It’s sometimes hard to do the right thing by Bethi, but she makes life interesting.
The Iroquois Native Americans originated the “seventh generation sustainability concept,” which basically means that when making important decisions we should analyze the impact that decision will have seven generations, or 140 years, from now. Yet it is very hard to get people to care about issues that are more abstract. What do you believe about the way we should handle our inherited Earth? Are you optimistic about our current trajectory?
The Iroquois are some smart people. Looking seven generations ahead would have done us a lot of good – seven generations ago. Now, no, I’m not optimistic.
I try to be. I hope there will be a solution. I work to help.
But I’m not sure if our species has seven generations left.
Thanks for answering our questions, Joph!
Here's the official blurb for the book:
My name is Tegan Oglietti, and on the last day of my first lifetime, I was so, so happy.
Sixteen-year-old Tegan is just like every other girl living in 2027--she's happiest when playing the guitar, she's falling in love for the first time, and she's joining her friends to protest the wrongs of the world: environmental collapse, social discrimination, and political injustice.
But on what should have been the best day of Tegan's life, she dies--and wakes up a hundred years in the future, locked in a government facility with no idea what happened.
Tegan is the first government guinea pig to be cryonically frozen and successfully revived, which makes her an instant celebrity--even though all she wants to do is try to rebuild some semblance of a normal life. But the future isn't all she hoped it would be, and when appalling secrets come to light, Tegan must make a choice: Does she keep her head down and survive, or fight for a better future?
And the trailer:
Pretty well done, eh? Healey will also be chatting with fellow writer Malinda Lo
about the book on the Live at the Lounge
author video chat on March 23rd
. It's going to be a great sci-fi/YA fest! As part of the Wake Up blog tour, the publisher has provided a copy of the book for one random reader at each stop. The giveaway is US ONLY and will run until 3/17
. Be sure to visit all the other stops on Karen's blog tour to hear from more characters and increase your chances of winning a copy!
3/4 - Novel Novice
interviews Bethari about media/communications
3/5 - The Book Smugglers
interviews Abdi about immigration
3/6 - 365 Days of Reading
interviews Dr. Marie about scientific/medical research
3/7 - Forever Young Adult
interviews Tegan about music
3/8 - The Readventurer (you're already here!), interviews Joph about the environment
Stay tuned this week for our (well, my (Flann)) 4-star review of When We Wake
. In the meantime, check out these reviews from some of our blogging buddies:A Reader of FictionsAlluring ReadsVegan YA NerdsBook SmugglersHave a wonderful weekend, everyone!
Since probably no one is reading this paragraph, I will take this time to say that I was just perusing Karen Healey's FAQs
on her site and this former child chess champion was giddy to find out that her favorite musical is Chess
. I'm going to kick my Friday off right by prancing around the house singing Nobody's Side
It's not often that we receive a request from a publisher that makes me downright giddy, but yesterday when Flannery forwarded me this message: "Frances Hardinge has been called one of the best kept secrets in childrens/YA literature but as a huge fan of hers (and also working on her books) I don’t want her to be a secret, I want to help as many people as I can discover her.
"I kind of got more than a bit excited. My response to this message went something like this:A) You had me at Frances Hardinge.B) WHERE DO I SIGN UP??Only...you know...I did try to at least appear slightly more professional than that. I've made no secret during my time here at The Readventurer that I am a huge Frances Hardinge fan. Remember when I:
That last one may or may not be a more recent occurrence that I've been keeping under my hat (tee hee) until now.So today I will quite happily participate in spreading the word about the excellent works of Frances Hardinge. Since you've already heard a lot about me and my opinions, I thought I'd share some thoughts from my favorite reviewers about this fantastic author:
"I hardly know where to start when it comes to Hardinge's spectacular novel. For one, let me assure you that it blew me away and, despite being a Middle Grade Fantasy novel, I found that it was every bit as thought-provoking and intelligent as YA and Adult reads, if not better because of its subtleties, cleverness, and surprising plot twists."
--Keertana at Ivy Book Bindings, writing about A Face Like Glass"I am overcome with Imperious Feelings demanding that I find the Right Words to write this review. Fly By Night is Absurdly Brilliant. This is not an overstatement.
"--Ana at The Book Smugglers, writing about Fly By Night."The Lost Conspiracy isn’t just a darn good story, it’s a story that can open your mind and change the way you approach life. It will ask you to question the meaning of stories, acknowledge the importance of understanding one another, understanding yourself, and knowing what you need from life. It is a story of stories in which we get to wonder how much of what is made up just might be true, and how much is really just conspiracy. The Lost Conspiracy exists so that when you pass the point where the stories end, you will know you can go on.
"--Heidi at Bunbury in the Stacks, writing about The Lost Conspiracy"A writer who asks a lot from the reader is a writer who believes the reader can deliver. That’s a writer with a lot of respect for her audience. It’s a risk for an author to demand so much, and I want Hardinge to be rewarded for it. That’s because it’s a risk for a reader, too. A reader has to have faith in an author to invest so much in a story, and I think Hardinge pays back on that investment, a hundred times over.
Reading The Lost Conspiracy is like climbing the mountain and turning around to see the world laid out at your feet. Only, in this case, the mountain is a volcano."--Megan Whalen Turner, writing about The Lost Conspiracy
Today marks the release date for the paperback edition of A Face Like Glass,
and the publisher has very kindly offered up a copy for us to give away. Open internationally!P.S. - I also happened to notice that the U.S. hardcover editions of The Lost Conspiracy and Well Witched are only $6.80 today over at Amazon!
Today, we're very happy to welcome Phoebe North, author of the upcoming young adult science fiction book, Starglass
, to the blog. The novel, her debut work, is being published by Simon & Schuster and will be released on July 23rd of this year. We're very excited to check it out for several reasons but most of all because Phoebe knows what's what in science fiction. Until recently, she was one half of Intergalactic Academy
, a blog that was devoted to reviewing YA science fiction. She also contributes to YA Highway
and Strange Horizons
, and runs her own website
. Plus, if we're in the cone of silence here, the three of us have been conversing with Phoebe about science fiction books on Goodreads for years. We asked her to write a guest post for us and she delivered by contributing another addition to our Book vs. Movie archives
. She's comparing Starship Troopers
, Robert Heinlein's popular military sci-fi book to its 1997 cinematic remake. How will they stack up?
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Book vs. Movie
Written by Robert A. Heinlein and published in 1959
Directed by Paul Verhoeven and released in 1997
I should preface this edition of Book vs. Movie
with the disclaimer that I am not a fan of the novel Starship Troopers
. I'm not even entirely sure I much like Robert Heinlein. I read Troopers
for the first time last year, when my husband bought me a copy for our anniversary. Days later, I called out to him as I sat in the tub reading.
"Why did you want me to read this?" I asked, as I fought the urge to submerge the old paperback in grimy, soapy water. "It's terrible."
"I didn't think you'd like it," he replied. "I thought you might find it interesting."
To me, Starship Troopers
's loathsome qualities are innumerable. Firstly, it's essentially a plotless bildungsroman, which would be fine if protagonist Johnny Rico were the least bit interesting. Instead, he's meant to be a sort of everyman Ur-soldier in this futuristic world where only military members are full citizens with voting rights.
(Defenders of Heinlein might object here that Heinlein said that citizens could complete civil service to gain voting rights, but that's not supported by the text
Characters in this military utopia--almost all men--act more like mouthpieces than actual characters. And they're mouthpieces for exceedingly conservative and now-outdated modes of thought. Dubois, Rico's military history instructor, lectures his students on the cause of juvenile delinquency: it's because no one spanks their kids anymore.
After a long lecture scene--during which Dubois sneers at a "shrill" female student--Rico joins the military infantry despite his father's objections. His global military society is currently engaged in a war with extraterrestrial bugs. Sounds promising enough, but the next several dozen pages are spent in a lengthy, nostalgia-tinged reminiscence on basic training. The science fictional elements are thin; Heinlein infodumps on powered armor exoskeletons exactly once, but this is recounted with all the thrilling passion of an episode of Antiques Roadshow
(though that might be underselling the suspense of Antiques Roadshow
). Eventually, Rico's mother is killed, and Rico realizes that we really should
be pre-emptively slaughtering our enemies. He fights the Bugs, of which we learn little about biology or society. The "narrative" (as it were) concludes with Rico as an officer and his father serving under him--having learned the foolishness of trying to deny his son his citizenship. (i.e. manhood)
So that's the novel. As a progressive ("shrill"?) peacenik feminist, I found little to like within its pages. The character of Rico was flat; the others were more like set pieces or author avatars, meant to allow Heinlein to posture at will. In truth, it felt like a particularly humorless military propaganda piece more than a novel, and the characters and world were so bland and underdeveloped that, in retrospect, I have no
idea why this book has entered the SF canon.
Which brings us to the film. I once heard the 1997 film adaptation referred to as a "travesty" during a conference panel on military science fiction. If the original novel were one close to my heart, I could understand such an emotional reaction. It is certainly different from the novel--satirical, rather than earnest; aggressively campy, rather than infused with machismo. Supposedly, the film adaptation began its life as an unrelated work; the novel, which director Paul Verhoevan claims to have never finished, was only optioned well into production.
While I agree with Verhoevan's declaration that Starship Troopers
is both boring and depressing, I'm not sure I entirely buy this story. Because in certain ways, the film Starship Troopers
is stunningly true to the book--particularly in terms of extrapolating how a society built on Heinlein's principles might appear to outsiders.Starship Troopers
(the film) is filled with hammy acting and ridiculous posturing. But I wouldn't quite call it a parody of Heinlein's work. It's most easily understood as an in-universe propaganda film. In fact, propaganda shorts are spliced into the larger narrative (which, as in the book, sees Johnny Rico go through training, lose his mother, and then go to war) to clue you in to the broader conceit. These propaganda shorts are hilarious
What the story loses in exosuits (not present here), it gains in a winking self-awareness and a sense of humor. Heinlein's novel treats every aspect of his overly conservative, militaristic society with crushing gravity. While the characters in Verhoevan's film likewise view their situation earnestly, we (as viewers and outsiders) are allowed to view some aspects of this society as absurd. And it is absurd--a world in which a military history professor would assert that veterans "took control and imposed a stability that has lasted for generations since" after "social scientists brought our world to the brink of chaos."
Those evil social scientists!
The film's also got a more meaningful and fully-fledged romantic subplot with a beginning, middle, and end. In Heinlein's novel, Carmen remains a cipher--representative of Rico's unattainable desires for sex and female companionship but never a character in her own right. Here, Carmen actually does stuff rather than acting representative of those mysterious and wily females.
The film also has Neil Patrick Harris.
So score one for Hollywood. Verhoevan's Starship Troopers takes a narrative framework that is slow, dull, pedantic, and propagandistic and turns it into an entertaining--if campy--satire of military propaganda itself. I must admit that there were several moments while reading Heinlein's work where his positions on military violence and citizenship were so outragous that I wondered if he could possibly be serious. Verhoevan seems to have decided that it really doesn't matter if he was. The most sensible framework for this story was, to him, and to me, one which points out the essential absurdity of it.
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(From The Princess Bride, by William Goldman and directed by Rob Reiner in 1987)
This is a very special rating that's reserved only for those movies that surpass the very books that they're based on. Inconceivable, for the most part, but every once in a while it happens!
But what do I know? In the world of Starship Troopers, I wouldn't even be allowed to vote.
Thanks for the comparison, Phoebe! I (Flannery) have to give props to any person who can use a word in a blog post that I have to look up. (bildungsroman
, for those who are wondering) I tried to listen to Starship Troopers
once on audiobook and I only made it through one disc before I gave up.
What say you, internet community? Do you like this book and/or movie? Did Phoebe's comparison make you want to check either of them out? If you want to read more of Phoebe's writings, visit her website, follow her on Goodreads or Twitter, or pre-order her upcoming book.
When confronted with over a hundred books, it can be really helpful to have expert recommendations – sort of like reader’s advisory about the reader’s advisory, if that’s not too meta for you all. While we were putting together yesterday's wall - 140+ Books for the Boys of YA – we thought we might branch out a little bit and ask some of the authors featured in the wall itself for recommendations. Surprisingly (but very excitingly!), we got more responses than we bargained for so today we have an entire post devoted to the recommendations for teenage guys from these experts in the field. We asked them to recommend anything they thought teenage guys might like, whether that meant adult books, children's books, books they loved as teenagers, or anything else. We hope you enjoy the recommendations from Adam Rex, Bill Condon, Ned Vizzini, Cliff McNish, Nick James, Sean Beaudoin, Tim Pegler, and Phil Earle as much as we did. Take it away!
1. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Incredible science fiction story about boys in battle school in the near future. Won every award in the book. The novel I've gone back to more than any other. It's brilliant.
2. The Long Walk by Stephen King
King is the best-known horror writer in the world. What are much less well-known than his blockbuster novels are the shorter books he wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. The Long Walk
is the best of these and in my opinion the most moving single novel he's ever written. In a near-future world a group of teenage boys are walking across America. Their prize is untold riches and celebrity. But only the last one left walking wins. The rest, as they falter, are shot like dogs. This novel is a great slice of real horror. And by that, first and foremost, I mean characters you really care about - because if you didn't what does it matter what happens to them? But I also mean the set-up is perfect. Horror is all about uncertainty. In The Long Walk
nothing is certain except death, there is nothing you can take comfort from, and the only rules you can understand are ones controlled by your enemy.
3. Legion by Dan Abnett
Dan Abnett is probably the best writer of dark military SF in the world. Set in the distant future, this volume in the Horus Heresy Warhammer 40,000 series
is about genetically-enhanced men fighting frequently inglorious wars for dubious reasons. What lifts the series into true pathos and makes the story so frightening is the dark heart of the series' premise. You think you're going to be reading about gladiatorial contests in some far-flung future, and Abnett delivers on that in spades for you action-fans, but what you get on top of that is a tragedy which ultimately assumes Shakespearean proportions.
4. Bloodtide by Melvin Burgess
I've left my favourite scary story of all time to last. Bloodtide
is an urban fantasy set in a near-future where rival gang lords vie for power in a London watched over by capricious Norse gods. It's a retelling of the ancient Volsunga Saga
, but carried off with such power, originality and vision that it is quite simply one of the most eloquently dark books ever written for a young adult audience. When the novel came out in 2000 critic Wendy Cooling said that 'it will leave teen readers with shredded emotions that will last forever.' That's a perfectly accurate description of this book. Dystopian fiction abounds these days in the YA field, but Bloodtide
ranks in its savage brilliance alongside any of the adult twentieth-century classics. You need a strong stomach, but if you can handle it this is not a book you'll ever forget.
| || |The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith"Definitely for the older teen, but this book really freaked me out." To the Vanishing Point by Alan Dean Foster"Not one of his more notable books, but the utter craziness of it really appealed to me as a teen" | || | Feed by M.T. Anderson "One of my favorite sci-fi/coming-of-age hybrids" The Magicians by Lev Grossman"More adult, but very teen friendly. Touted as the 'grown-up' Harry Potter" Holes by Louis Sachar"For the younger teen, this is an incredible boy book"
| |Ned Vizzini's Top 5 Books for Teenage Guys
1. William Sleator - Singularity
I didn't discover this book until my friend & writing partner Nick Antosca recommended it. I was a fan of Sleator's Interstellar Pig
and I'd have to re-read that to determine which is better -- but this is a great example of a book that only works as a book. A large portion of it takes place in one room, over one whole year,
and it's still riveting. Sleator passed away in 2011.2. Michael Crichton - Jurassic Park
I don't understand why people say Moby-Dick
is the Great American Novel. It's Jurassic Park,
which tackles the same themes as Moby-Dick
but with a precise, mechanical occupation of your brain that prevents you from doing anything other than reading it. Everyone I knew growing up read this book.3. Gary Paulsen - Hatchet
If somebody took away your cell phone, laptop, and tablet and gave you a hatchet and dumped you in the woods, how long would you
is strangely relevant to today's technocracy. 4. George Orwell - A Collection of Essays
Appearing one year after Catcher In the Rye,
George Orwell's essay "Such, Such Were the Joys," which opens this book, is a better exploration of teen angst. Orwell was already dead when it was published, so he never had to take the flack for writing about the beating, bed-wetting, and class hierarchies that dominated his time at Eton (his high school), but for anybody who's ever felt like an outsider, this essay is a revelation. The book gets better from there. 5. Brian Jacques - Redwall
Sure, Narnia and Middle-Earth are great, but give me Mossflower Wood any day, where there's a sense of humor! Brian Jacques (pronounced "Jakes") created something very special in his 22-book Redwall series and this is the place to start. Chapter Two, which introduces Cluny the Scourge, is the best introduction of any villain ever. ("Cluny was coming!") Jacques passed away in 2011.
I am most happy to make recommendations on great books for teenage guys; it's a topic I speak about in schools fairly regularly. I also tag books on my LibraryThing site with 'books for boys'
if I think a title will work well for young male readers.
Some particular favourites follow:
Tim Pegler is an Australian author and journalist. He has written two books for young adults: Game as Ned, which was a Children's Book Council of Australia notable book in 2008, and Five Parts Dead. He can be found at his blog, over at goodreads, and on twitter.
Fighting Ruben Wolfe: Markus Zusak. Markus is best known, of course, for his amazing novel, The Book Thief. While I love that, and highly recommend it, I feel that perhaps teens might like to taste a smaller portion of his work, before tackling The Book Thief. Fighting Ruben Wolfe was Markus' second book. It's quirky and funny and tough and honest - all the best things - and all done in the unique style that has made Markus famous. And it's about brothers and boxing. What's not to like?
Nobody's Boy: Dianne Bates. I'll put my cards on the table and say that this was written by my wife, Di. However, I'm recommending it chiefly because it's a book that I think would have great appeal to teens, especially boys. It's a verse novel, which makes it very accessible for reluctant readers. It tells the story of a boy who is shuffled around from one foster family to another. All he wants is to live with his dad, but for a long time that just isn't possible. Touching and poignant and ultimately uplifting.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian: Sherman Alexie. Funny and warm, vibrant characters, and a gutsy story. This is a winner and I think teenage boys will eat it up, exactly the same as I did.
Into That Forest: Louis Nowra. Highly original and a page-turner, it's about two girls who find themselves stranded in a forest. Eventually they are 'adopted' by a family of Tasmania Tigers, a breed of wild dogs which are now extinct. Even though the main characters are girls, I'm sure the straight-forward narrative, action-packed scenes and rich language, will make it a favourite with boys. Louis Nowra is one of Australia's leading novelists and playwrights. This is his first venture into young adult books. It's an awesome debut.
The Dead I Know: Scot Gardner. This book won Australia's coveted Children's Book Council Book of the Year Award in 2012. Scot has written many terrific books, but in my opinion, this is his best. It's about Aaron Rowe, who goes to work for a funeral director. Aaron's a sleepwalker, and has other problems to cope with, but in John Barton, the funeral director, he finds a caring man who befriends him. Some of the scenes may be a little grisly and tough to take at times, but they are handled honestly and with great compassion. A brave and memorable book by one of Australia's best writers.
Daredevils: Bill Condon. I thought I'd sneak one of my own in when no one was looking. This is about a boy who knows he's going to die, so he makes a list of things he wants to do while he still can. Daredevils came out before the Bucket List and it's a lot different. For one thing, it hasn't got Morgan Freeman in it. It's got humour and sadness, and there's even a little sprinkling of sex.
Deadly Unna: Phillip Gwynne. This won the Australian CBCA Book of the Year in 1999. It's about friendship between a white boy, known as Blacky, and an Aboriginal boy, Dumby Red. They play in the local football team and live in a remote country town where racism thrives. It's funny at times and sad, which makes it all very real.
The Road: Cormac McCarthy. This is for adults and may be too tough for teens to attempt, but it's worth a mention as it is such a brilliant , mesmerising book. There aren't a lot of jokes, because it's set after an apocalyptic event, which is always a downer. But the writing is incredible. I felt so much for this father and son battling to stay alive in a world gone mad. I think it's a classic.
Holes: Louis Sachar. This is brilliant story-telling. Easy to read and gripping.
The Old Man and the Sea: Ernest Hemingway. For teens who feel daunted by huge tomes, I suggest this.The Old Man and the Sea is in the middle ground between short novel and long short story. Hemingway didn't give himself much to work with here. It's about an old man alone on a boat. But Hem turns on all his best writing and it becomes an epic struggle as the old man fights a huge and beautiful fish. When Hemingway wrote well, no one could touch him.
Phil Earle is the author of Being Billy, about a boy in the care system, and the 2012 release Saving Daisy, which our blogging buddy Jo over at Wear the Old Coat loved to bits and which I've been hankering to read ever since. Earle lives in London and is available for school visits. Visit him at www.philearle.com, on facebook, and twitter.
Our very heartfelt thanks go out to each of these authors for taking the time to share their recommendations. What do you all think? Anything new to add to your to-read pile?
Yesterday we were delighted to have Andrea K. Höst here for our Year of the Classics
feature to speak a little bit about Classic Mysteries, and more specifically, the works of the very prolific mystery author Agatha Christie. Today she's back for part two of her post, where she looks outside of Ms. Christie's overflowing shelves. Take it away, Andrea!
Welcome to part 2 of the Classic Mystery Primer, where we look at some authors who aren't Agatha Christie.
Dorothy L. Sayers
Sayers published over a dozen mystery novels and short story collections featuring Wimsey. In the mystery genre, these edge toward the literary, exploring Wimsey's complex development toward a whole being while unravelling knotty problems and on occasion agonising over the consequences of catching a killer. Wimsey's personality is a big draw in these books, as is his complicated romance with Harriet Vane, a mystery author.
Criticism of Sayers sometimes claims that she committed the crime of falling in love with her detective, and that the later books suffer because of this. Certainly she cheerfully quotes everything under the sun and expects her readers to get the references, and there is an excessive amount of singing in French in the 'marriage volume', Busman's Honeymoon
, but on the whole these are all intriguing mystery novels with strong characters. Who is the detective?:
Lord Peter Wimsey, the second child of an English Duke, combines strong intellect and athletic ability with a vaguely foolish appearance which he uses to his advantage. Service as both a line officer and an intelligence operative during World War I left him shell-shocked and traumatised by the death of men under his command. With his former sergeant and now impeccable valet (and supportive friend), Mervyn Bunter, he balances fragile nerves with an interest in solving mysteries.
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“Experience has taught me," said Peter (...) "that no situation finds Bunter unprepared. That he should have procured The Times this morning by the simple expedient of asking the milkman to request the postmistress to telephone to Broxford and have it handed to the 'bus-conductor to be dropped at the post-office and brought up by the little girl who delivers the telegrams is a trifling example of his resourceful energy.” –-Busman's Honeymoon
| |Where it starts:
The first Wimsey is Whose Body?
, the story of a body in a bath.Highlight: Murder Must Advertise
sees Wimsey under cover in an advertising agency.
Ngaio (pronounced Nye-oh) Marsh, a native of New Zealand, was a painter, and also deeply involved in theatre, and all three of these elements appear repeatedly in her 32 detective novels. They're also notable for deaths which make you wince and shudder, as the victims perish variously from drinking acid, a shot of insect spray, falling in boiling mud, and grotesquely being stabbed in the eye with a skewer.
Marsh is by far my favourite classic crime writer. Alleyn is a highly sympathetic detective, his eventual marriage to Agatha Troy is a beautifully drawn romance, the crimes are knotty and original, and the victims and suspects vividly drawn. Marsh had a gift for portraying the awkwardness and secret shame of family business people don't want to share, the petty feuds of life, and also the grand passions. The books involving the theatre are interesting both on a mystery level and as a glimpse behind the curtain - particularly if you also have an interest in Shakespeare.Who is the detective?:
Roderick Alleyn, a detective at Scotland Yard. Known variously as the gentleman detective and "Handsome Alleyn" by the press, he is a reserved, charming, and almost ascetic man. While he is the second son of a baronet, he chose to work his way up through the police force from constable, and is extremely well-regarded by his colleagues both for his ability and his unswerving courtesy.Where it starts:
The first novel is A Man Lay Dead
, revolving around a detective game played at a country house. This first book focuses more on a gossip reporter, Nigel Bathgate, and the second novel, Enter a Murderer
, is stronger.Highlights:
These books are frequent re-reads for me, but the two which stand out most both involve 'little New Zealanders' who go to England and get caught up in murder.
First, A Surfeit of Lampreys
(US title: Death of a Peer
): The Lampreys are spendthrift aristocrats, always going from boom to bust, staying out of debtor's prison through a combination of luck and charm. They are very funny, and very sweet, and you want to hit them at times for their madness and lack of sense. They do not handle murder well.
Next, Opening Night
(US title Night at the Vulcan
), where a young would-be actress down to her last few pennies in London and becomes tangled with the murder backstage during the opening night of a new play. Also highly recommended is Artists in Crime
, since this is the introduction of Troy.
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As she turned into Carpet Street the girl wondered at her own obstinacy. To what a pass it had brought her, she thought. She lifted first one foot and then the other, determined not to drag them. They felt now as if their texture had changed: their bones, it seemed, were covered by sponge and burning wires. –Opening Night
| |Margery Allingham
Allingham's early mysteries run more to high adventure than intricate puzzles, with plenty of disguises, master criminals and gun fights. These later mature into more sleuth-like affairs, along with the notable The Tiger in the Smoke
, which is more a character study of a killer than it is a traditional detective novel.Who is the detective?:
Campion is an outright parody of Lord Peter Wimsey – another son of a Duke hiding a sharp brain behind a vacuous expression. Campion, however, turns fatuity up to 11 – at least for the early books – though this is toned down in later books to mere deceptive blankness. Where Wimsey had the impeccable Bunter, Campion has Magersfontein Lugg, an enormous, lugubrious former cat burglar, grown too large for his profession. Campion and Lugg form a rudely affectionate odd couple double act.
Eight of the Campion books were adapted as a TV series in the late 80's, starring Peter Davison as Campion, and there is a certain madcap skin-of-his-teeth air to Campion's early adventures which would fit well as an incarnation of the Doctor.Where it starts:
The first book is The Crime at Black Dudley
(where Campion is not the focus of the story, but part of it) – a moderately silly adventure/thriller. If your tastes don't run to international master criminals, try Police at the Funeral
.Highlight: Sweet Danger
, although more an adventure novel than a mystery, introduces Amanda Fitton, who goes on to be an aircraft engineer and figure an important part of Campion's life.
Tey's eight mysteries run the gamut from thoughtful police procedurals to hilarious and picture-perfect-painful schoolgirl portraits (evidently drawn from her time as a phys ed teacher).Who is the detective?:
Alan Grant, a Scotland Yard inspector with an interest in theatre and fishing. Grant's is a quiet intelligence – he's not a creature full of idiosyncrasies, flashy patter or wise homilies – and solves his mysteries through methodical police work and dogged logic.Where it starts: The Man in the Queue
, where a stabbing is unseen by a crowd of hundreds.Highlights: The Daughter of Time
is by far Tey's most famous work, and more than likely one of the most off-putting for the casual browser. A police detective, confined to a hospital bed, starts researching Richard III and the murder of the two princes in the tower to give himself something to do. The book starts with a paragraph entirely devoted to the study of the ceiling in his hospital room, and a writer would be hard-put to begin a book less propitiously and yet The Daughter of Time
is compelling and brilliant. It is a study not merely of Richard III, but of the way history is formed, accepted, and becomes true.
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“The truth of anything at all doesn't lie in someone's account of it. It lies in all the small facts of the time. An advertisement in a paper, the sale of a house, the price of a ring.” – The Daughter of Time
Another highlight is Miss Pym Disposes
, which is not a Grant novel, but set in the same world. Miss Pym is a delightful creature, an 'accidental' lecturing psychologist who is drawn into a world of schoolgirls and then a murder. There is a brilliant morning scene in this book, where Miss Pym is an unseen listener as the girls are shouting to each other as they get ready in the morning, which is sheer brilliance of characterisation.
Heyer is, of course, famous for her Regency romances, but also produced twelve mystery novels set contemporary to the time of writing, for a period putting out one Regency and one mystery each year. The Regencies sold approximately ten times as many copies as the mysteries, but the mysteries retain many of Heyer's strengths – characterisation, conversation, convincing romances – if also some of Heyer's issues – it's so rare to encounter interesting, intelligent non-aristocrats in Heyer's books, and her Jewish characters are painful stereotypes.Who are the detectives?:
Along with several stand-alone mysteries, Heyer's primary series features Superintendent Hannasyde and Sergeant Hemingway of Scotland Yard make an amiable pair. Hannasyde the steady-headed senior, and Hemingway the young up-and-comer, are vehicles of investigation – we get to know them a little over the series of books, but the primary focus is definitely on the murder suspects of each title.Where it starts: Footsteps in the Dark
is the first of Heyer's mysteries (and is almost a gothic, with ghostly monks being a large plot point of the story), while Death in the Stocks
is the first to feature Hannasyde and Hemingway.Highlights:
My stand-out favourite of this series is A Blunt Instrument
which (as Heyer sometimes did with her Regencies) takes a handful of stock stereotypes of the genre and promptly stands them on their heads. It has some large weaknesses, but they are entirely made up for by Neville, who is hilarious. It also has, hands down, one of the best proposals of any book I've ever read. Another favourite is Behold, Here's Poison
, which features the acid-tongued Randall.
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“In this case," said Randall unpleasantly, "it affords me purer gratification to dwell upon the thought of my dear Aunt Gertrude duped and betrayed."
"Your aunt doesn't suffer through it!"
"What a pity!" said Randall.” – Behold, Here's Poison
| |Rex Stout
If, by now, you've had it up to your ears with English country mysteries, take a hop across the Atlantic to New York and the near-noir of Rex Stout.Who are the detectives?:
Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are two halves of a working whole. Wolfe: corpulent, lazy, a laser-sharp brain wallowing in self-indulgence. Goodwin: young, snappy, man-about-town who admires Wolfe just as much as he sasses him. Wolfe cannot function without Archie, and Archie acknowledges the sheer fun – along with frustration – he gets out of working for Wolfe. Particularly tweaking the nose of the police and then dancing rings around them. And, most entertaining spectacle of all, Wolfe obliged to leave his comfortable brownstone and venture out in one of those dangerous and perilous conveyances, the automobile.
These are books full of snappy patter, twists, and personality. Wolfe is a monster of ego, spendthrift gourmand, orchid obsessive, unbelievably selfish, sexist eight times out of ten, and yet remarkably admirable. He is not only intelligent, he has his moral code and he sticks to it rigidly. Archie is the charmer, a ladies' man (with a dose of his own sexism), whose conversation sparks and zings, quick to react and on-the-go.
Stout's work is a good example of stories where the characters have faults – such as Wolfe's hatred of women – but the text does not support his prejudices. The occasional foolish female might stumble into view, but she's outnumbered by strong-minded, independent, more appealing fellows. Characters such as PI Dol Bonner and the inimitable Lily Rowan both earn Wolfe's grudging respect through the course of the novels.Where they start:
The first Wolfe book is Fer-de-Lance
, though since Stout effectively 'froze his characters in time', there are few books you could not pick up and have a typical Wolfe experience."You're a practical woman, Maria Maffei. Moreover, possibly, a woman of honor. You are right, there is something in me that can help you; it is genius; but you have not furnished the stimulant to arouse it…" ---Fer-de-lanceHighlight: Some Buried Caesar
is the introduction of Lily Rowan and full of all the potential absurdity born of Wolfe not only pried out of his house, but most uncomfortably escaping from potentially-murderous bulls.
These are only six of the many contemporaries of Christie, some of the most enduring of her genre. One of the reasons I like reading these stories so much is that each holds not only a carefully constructed mystery to unravel, but is its own little TARDIS, taking me back to the attitudes, the concerns, the clothes and manners of a foreign past.
Usually I end up glad not to live there, but they're a fascinating place to visit.
Many thanks to Andrea K. Höst for obviously putting quite a lot of thought and effort into these posts! I'm excited to try out some of these series. Mysteries can feel formulaic to me after a while, but I have a feeling that some of these classics would rekindle my interest. What do you guys think? Do you have any beloved classic mysteries that you'd like to share with us?
Please look out for Andrea K. Höst and her books around the web - she can be found at her blog and on twitter and goodreads.
Every author should be a reader. I (Flannery) recently went to an author event during which an author admitted that she was never really a reader. (Name withheld to protect the hopefully embarrassed) I now know that I will probably never read that author's books -- perhaps that's a bit harsh, but it is also a reality. Quite the opposite is true of my interactions with Andrea K Höst
. I've been friends with Höst on Goodreads for over a year. She engages on the site primarily as a reader and I've come to really enjoy her taste in books and her recommendations. Her personality and conversation, as well as a 5-star review from a friend of mine
, made me very curious about her work and I really enjoyed the first one I read, Stray
which is the first in a sci-fi series. She writes mostly fantasy and science fiction stories but her upcoming release, entitled And All the Stars
, will be her first foray into the post-apoc genre and I am so excited to see where the story goes. I loved a recommendations post
Höst published on her blog, Autumn Write
, so I asked whether she'd write something for The Readventurer. Today and tomorrow, Andrea will be here talking about her knowledge of mysteries for our Year of the Classics
feature. Today, she'll do an overview of Agatha Christie's work and tomorrow, on to some other recommended mystery books!
A Classic Mystery Primer, Part 1: Agatha Christie
Where do you start with classic Whodunnits? You've been pointed at Agatha Christie, picked up a title at random, liked it, and want more. This brief (*cough*) primer may give you some ideas on where to head next.
First stop, more Agatha Christie!
Christie published over 70 detective novels and short story collections (along with a few plays). My personal preference with Golden Age mysteries is to start at the beginning and read chronologically, but with 70 novels you might want to pick and choose. Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot are the best known of her detectives, but she used at least half a dozen others who might pique a new reader's interest.
Poirot: Symmetry and Logic
Who is the detective?: Poirot was Christie's first detective, and there's a clear comparison between the stories of the little Belgian and his literary predecessor Sherlock Holmes. Although Poirot disdains some of Holmes' evidence-gathering methods (throwing oneself about on the ground in search of cigarette ash is most definitely not Poirot's style), many familiar notes will sound as Poirot's keen observation and logical deduction sees him untangle what to his Watson-equivalent, the good-hearted but mildly comedic Hastings, is a Gordian Knot of mystery.
And just like Conan Doyle, Christie had soon had it up to her eye teeth with her most famous creation, describing him as a "detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep". Christie's later Poirot novels often shift the focus away from him to secondary characters. Despite the author's growing dislike for him, she maintains his character, his unflagging sense of justice. I've always found Poirot, with his love of symmetry and his painfully tight patent leather shoes, to be rather endearing.Where to start:
With Christie's very first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles
, which is a classic English country murder. Another option is The Labours of Hercules
, a collection of short stories in which Poirot is challenging himself with particular cases before retirement.What to skip:
A very influential novel, but I'm not a fan of this sort of twist ending: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
.Miss Marple: Fluffy But Deadly
Who is the detective?: Miss Jane Marple, an elderly resident of St Mary's Mead, devoted to her garden, and the observation of human nature. Christie created Miss Marple because, during a stage adaptation of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
, the narrator's spinster sister was replaced by a young girl character, and so Miss Marple became a deliberate attempt to give a voice to one of the least-heard members of society: elderly women.
If ever there was a mystery series dying to be written, it's Jane Marple's early life. Along with possessing keen intelligence, young Jane attended art courses which apparently involved the study of human cadavers, and she (claims to have) won awards for marksmanship, fencing and equestrianism. Where are the Steampunk Jane Marple novels?
In the early Marple books, Miss Marple is considered nosy and is disliked, but in later volumes evolves into a respected (and feared) community member. Her time in the small village of St Mary's Mead has given her ample opportunity to study a microcosm of human life, with all its sins and foibles, and for a sweet and fluffy looking creature she has an absolutely cynical view of the worst aspects of human nature. Miss Marple books often are resolved using a parallel village incident. Miss Marple has seen it all before.Where to start:
The first Marple novel is Murder at the Vicarage
and is a solid 'everyone has a motive' story. Another good starting place is The Thirteen Problems
, a collection of short stories, or the wonderful juxtaposition of fluffy spinster and jaded millionaire in A Caribbean Mystery
.What to skip: The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side
. One of my main reasons for disliking a book is if it leaves me depressed, and this is definitely one of those.Tommy and Tuppence: Time Goes By Adventurers
Who is the detective?:
Tommy and Tuppence start out as Bright Young Things who, out of work in post-WWI London, decide to hire themselves out as young adventurers, and get themselves mixed up in blackmail, plots and spy games. The stories are firmly in the thriller category, not mystery, and follow the pair through the next war and beyond. Where to start:
The first in this series of four novels and one short story collection is The Secret Adversary.What to skip:
The T&T books are a very distinct set of books. If you liked T&T in the first book, and enjoy the idea of watching two characters mature and change over time, then read on in order. The later books especially are not Christie's strongest, but you do have to give Tuppence points for refusing to be left out when the War Office is only interested in recruiting her husband.Ariadne Oliver: The Author as Character
Who is the detective?:
Ariadne Oliver appears periodically in the Poirot mysteries, with one or two later outings of her own. This is Christie going meta – disorganised, apple-loving mystery writer Ariadne Oliver is a clear parody of herself, down to loathing her idiosyncratic detective and wishing she dared kill him off. Oliver makes a much better foil for Poirot than Hastings, and is so often the viewpoint character that her books can be considered a distinct sub-category.Where to start:
Ariadne Oliver first appears in a short story (to be found in the collection Parker Pyne Investigates
). Her full introduction is in Cards on the Table
, a mystery involving around a collection of detecting experts and a collection of suspects. My favourite of her appearances is probably in Dead Man's Folly
, where she is a guest at a garden party, and has been asked to write the clues in a scavenger hunt.What to skip: The Pale Horse
, which focuses primarily on a one-off character, Mark
Easterbrook, and involves witches.
For something different, try a couple of the short story collections: The Mysterious Mr Quin
(and two later stories): A mysterious figure who intrigues and impresses social doyen Mr Satterthwaite. These stories combine touches of the supernatural (Quin) and often issues of romance. Rather fun.Parker Pyne Investigates
: Pyne considers himself a 'detective of the heart', and features in a series of mystery short stories which bring about romantic resolutions.
Although best known for her classic mysteries, Christie also turned out quite a few books which would be better classed as thrillers, over-flowing with espionage, master criminals, secret societies and, well, unlikely and overblown plots. Some notable books:And Then There Were None
: Racist poetry and all. It would only take a touch of supernatural to turn this particular book into a forerunner for Halloween
and Friday the 13th
, as ten people trapped on an island are picked off one by one.
Death Comes as the End
: Completely different to any other Christie, this novel is set in Ancient Egypt, about a family dealing with the introduction of a new concubine. It's based on translations of real letters of a man to his family, and while I don't often re-read this, I'm always fascinated when I do. It actually reminds me a little of Andre Norton
!The Man in the Brown Suit
: Take one young orphan, longing for adventure. Add an accidental death, a strangled young woman and a mysterious man in a brown suit and you end up in a spanking and romantic tale that ends on an island in Africa. One of my favourites of Christie's adventure tales.
So, we've scratched the surface. Part 2 of the Primer will cover some of the classic detectives not written by Agatha Christie!
True confession: Sometimes Andrea makes me feel like I am not well-read at all. She seems to have read everything, especially in the fantasy, mystery, and sci-fi genres. Congratulations on being a badass, Andrea. Join her here tomorrow for non-Christie mysteries!
Have you read any Christie? Do you agree/disagree with any of her assessments?
We are so excited to have Rachel Hartman
, author of the recently-released fantasy novel, Seraphina
, here at The Readventurer today. Last month, she went on a family vacation to England and rediscovered how wonderfully scenic the countryside is. She's here today to discuss how the years she spent living in England and the scenery of that area affected her world-building in Seraphina
. If you've already read Seraphina
, we know you'll have fun seeing if Rachel's photographs align with your imaginings of the setting. If you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for? You should pick up a copy soon...or if you're in the US, you should enter our giveaway to win it! Don't forget that there is a short prequel, Audition
, available to read online here
. (PDF alert)
The English Goredd
When I was sixteen, I spent a year in England. My father took a sabbatical in Kent, and we lived in the hamlet of Godmersham, a tiny place, without a post office or a single shop. Our house had once been the coach house of a larger estate. It was surrounded on three sides by sheep pasture; across the lane were fields of blue-flowered flax and yellow rapeseed.
It was an easy walk to the Stour River, over the little bridge to Godmersham Park, where one of Jane Austen’s brothers had lived. She visited frequently, supposedly basing Rosings on the manor house and Mr. Collins’s parsonage on the parsonage next door.
Jane Austen attended this Norman church! here’s a sign that says so.
If we walked up the hill beyond the river, we reached the Pilgrim’s Way – that’s right, the old footpath to Canterbury. I was surrounded by literature, as well as sheep.
Although seriously, there were plenty of sheep.
If you want to accurately envision Goredd, the world of my novel, Seraphina, south-eastern England is a good place to start. I sometimes suspect that half the reason I’m a fantasy writer is that the landscape and architecture captured my heart and wouldn’t let go. My imagination laid down roots, and still draws sustenance from the things I saw that year. I travelled back recently, after almost twenty-four years away, and felt once again that I was in the place where my imagination intersects with reality.
First of all, there's the bucolic countryside:
Check out the South Downs! Also, the big chalk dude.
Some of those public right-of-ways are a thousand years old; they let you walk straight through farmers' fields. We used to hike around on weekends, or even after dinner, crossing chalky, flinty meadows, edging through hedgerows, all over the rolling weald. This land was domesticated long ago, and yet one can't help feeling that there is some still older wildness lurking just beneath the surface.
History is writ large in the buildings. I walked the streets in Canterbury, admiring Roman walls, Tudor and Georgian buildings, many eras living side by side. Country houses often have floors at many levels, where wings were added without quite enough forethought (or measurement). I am particularly fond of oast houses, and made sure Goredd had its share (as mentioned by Sir James in a story about encountering a battallion of dragons).
Oast houses are a type of kiln for drying hops; that pointy bit on top turns when the wind blows, keeping the ventilation just right. Technically, this round-house design dates to the 19th century, a bit late for my fantasy world, but I figure Goredd has its own variation on the thing. In fact, Goredd has all kinds of wondrous buildings. Here’s another style one often sees, the brick-and-half-timber:
We stayed in the room above the arch.
The most important building in Goredd, of course, apart from the castle, is the cathedral. St. Gobnait’s in Lavondaville is modelled directly upon my favourite cathedral of all time, the one and only Canterbury Cathedral.
I got this off of Wikimedia Commons because all my pictures turned out crappy.
Oh, how I love this building. I’m not even sure why. Maybe it’s the literary angle, the dramatic history, or the fact that they let you walk around in the spooky Norman crypt. Maybe it’s the fact that it can make you feel so small and so large at once, or simply that this was the first cathedral I ever saw and you never forget your first. Whatever the case may be, I could stare all day at that perpendicular nave.
This one’s mine. Crappy.
Seraphina’s Garden of Grotesques also grew out of a quintessential English place: Sissinghurst Castle Gardens. The landlord of our rented Coach House had lived at Sissinghurst, and we had visited the gardens on several occasions when they were closed to the public. As a teenager, I found it magical. It was wonderful to see it again, to rediscover every nook and cranny of the place and let myself get lost in the hedges.
Totally lost, here.
The garden is divided into many little sub-gardens, almost like rooms, and I think that’s where I got the idea that each of Seraphina’s Grotesques might have a designated space. There's an orchard, a moat, some pristine stretches of lawn:
And statues. And topiary.
There’s a cottage garden and a lime walk.
OK, I didn’t get a picture of the cottage. But what a lovely lime walk!
And last, but far from least, there was this bench:
You're not allowed to sit on it, which is a pity.
If you’ve read Seraphina, you may remember a bench like this belonging to Pelican Man. His is planted with oregano; he finds the smell soothing when he sits there. Well, when I spotted this bench at Sissinghurst, I started pointing at it and laughing. My husband and son, who were somewhat reluctant visitors to this garden, thought I had heat stroke until I was finally able to explain to them that this was the bench I'd described in my book.
And that I'd forgotten it existed in the real world.
England is still trickling into my work, even when I'm not aware of it. Who knows what new detritus accumulated during this vacation? I can't wait to write some more and see what unexpected footpaths my imagination takes next.
Thanks for sharing some of your inspirations with us, Rachel! You made us a bit jealous with all of your beautiful vacation photos.
Hartman will be on tour in September to promote her new release. Is she coming anywhere near you?
9/18 – 7pm – Children’s Book World
, Haverford, PA
9/19 – 5pm – Warren-Newport Public Library
, Gurnee, IL
9/21 – 7pm – Barnes & Noble
, Skokie, IL
9/23 – 2pm – Barnes & Noble
, Lynnwood, WA
9/25 – 7pm – Copperfield’s Books
, Petaluma, CA
9/26 – 6pm – Barnes & Noble
, El Cerrito, CA
9/28 – 7pm – Barnes & Noble
, Santa Monica, CA
9/30 – 2pm – Authors Tent, The Word on the Street
, Vancouver, BC
Rachel's publisher, Random House
, has provided a finished copy of the book for one lucky winner in the US. The giveaway will be open until 12:01 am EST on 9/5/12. Good luck!
As you all well know, the three of us are massive fans of Melina Marchetta. We've talked about her books
and her talents
extensively in the past. We were all excited when she recently released a new short story featuring Lady Celie of the Flatlands
in the Review of Australian Fiction.
And we simply can't wait for the release of Quintana of Charyn
this fall. (Well, the Australian release is this fall but I doubt any of us will be able to wait.)
So you can imagine how happy and flattered we were when Melina agreed to answer some of our questions. We hope you will enjoy her answers and her insight as much as we did!
We loved what you said in your recent talk at Books of Wonder, about your writing process - that you wait for a character/voice to arrive first, then see who he/she brings along, and then listen to the dialogue for a long time before committing anything to paper. So, we have to ask: who are you listening to now?
Believe it or not, I’m still listening to Taylor Markham and the Jellicoe gang after all these years, but that’s because talk of a film in the near future has cranked up and those characters need to feel fresh in my head. Mostly I’m thinking of a bunch of new characters (and old) for a TV series I’m co-writing with Cathy Randall, which include Jessa McKenzie and Tilly Santangelo, but also Akbar, Sebastian, Florence, Hughie and Claudine. [Melina is talking about this 10-part TV project
.]And speaking of TV projects, (from Flannery) many of my friends and I are severely addicted to Dance Academy so it was extremely exciting to me to recently find out you were writing an episode for the upcoming season and that you’ve written one or more episodes in the past. Can you talk a little bit about how much freedom you have in terms of plot and dialogue when writing for the show?
That’s so funny. I went to dinner with Jo Werner and Sam Strauss the producer and creators of the show the other night and told them about your DA love. They were thrilled. I’ve written for them in both Season 2 and 3. They’re great people to work with and Jo Werner will be producing my next two projects and after years and years of being asked by others, I’ve trusted her with the film rights to Francesca.
The hardest part about writing for someone else’s show is getting the characterisation right. I know my own characters inside out, but that’s not the case with Dance Academy
, and no matter how much preparation I’ve done, I still get things wrong in first and second draft. Sometimes the mistakes are about sense of humour or colloquialisms. Also, DA is very controlled by the children’s television classification so there’s not a swear word or sex scene or sexual reference in sight which is very difficult when you’re writing the “will-they/won’t-they-go-all-the-way” episode. I’ve never had to write with restrictions so it’s been very good discipline.When we heard that you were planning to concentrate on writing for TV after the publication of Quintana of Charyn, we were heartbroken. How can we go on without having another book of yours to look forward to? Do you expect this hiatus from writing fiction to be long?
I’m just so tired, you know. It’s a different sort of tired than when I was teaching and of course, I’m no less tired than anyone else, but I need a break from the solitary nature of this work. I’ve never fallen out of love of novel writing and I know I’m going to be yearning for it. I’ll definitely be writing shorter pieces. I recently had to write a short story for an online magazine about Lady Celie of the Lumateran Flatlands and I enjoyed it so much. But I also have to work out where I’m going with my writing career. I have the most amazing loyal readership, but it’s small and I have to find a way of making it bigger without selling my soul.
(from Tatiana) It took you years to conceive and write your first novels and now you have a new book release practically every year. How were you able to change your writing pace so drastically? Was it only a matter of having more time to write now that you are full-time writer?
No, it certainly wasn’t about having more time. I wrote Francesca and Jellicoe at the busiest time of my teaching career. I think the second wave of my writing career was about confidence and timing. I wrote Alibrandi from the heart and had no idea about process or my craft. Which made it so hard when people would say to me, ‘Do it again.’ How can you do something again when you weren’t quite aware of what you did right in the first place? Of course I couldn’t admit that to anyone. It took eleven years and I think writing the film script of Alibrandi helped. Screenwriting is all about craft and structure and so many rules and I learnt quite a lot about process during that time working with the director Kate Woods who is now on board to direct Jellicoe. So it’s no coincidence that I started writing Saving Francesca a year after the release of my first film.
Are you involved in a writing group? Do you converse with other writers or seek advice and support from other people while writing?
I don’t belong to a writers’ group except for when I’m plotting for TV with my co writer and producers. I tend to disappear in groups of more than four, but I have a strong connection with writers, both here and in the US at a one-on-one level. We rarely speak about the actual content of our work, but we’re a great support to each other. There are very few people you can have a whinge to about the down side of writing such as the daily isolation, or the lack of publicity or bad reviews or wondering what the next royalty statement will look like or whether it’s worth pursuing the career. It’s the same sort of workplace chatter and support you’d get in a staff room or office.
(from Catie) I am a huge Anne of Green Gables fan, and I’ve read several interviews where you mention being inspired by the scene where Anne hits Gilbert over the head with her slate (after he calls her “carrots.”) I just love that. And I know that you’ve also said that you often include scenes in your books that were inspired by that moment. What are some of your favorite “slate over the head” scenes from your own books?
I use those moments to convey that one character (usually the male) thinks he has all the power. And then the other character (usually the female) shows, rather than tells, that it may not be the case.
My favourite to write was when Francesca has the Trotsky/Tolstoy exchange with Will Trombal in Saving Francesca. It’s an important moment for the reader as well, because Francesca could easily be seen as a pushover when the story begins, and I had to hint that there’s more to this girl.
There are a few of those moments in Jellicoe (the scene in the prison cell when Taylor threatens to burn down the Club house as well as the cow manure scene) but the earliest one in Jellicoe is when Taylor and Jonah are younger and she approaches him on the railway platform, and he tells her to go to hell and she tells him she’s been there and hell’s overrated.
In Finnikin, of course, it’s after Evanjalin speaks for the first time and then Finnikin realizes she’s understood every word between him and Sir Topher because she speaks as many languages as he does.
(from Tatiana) You’ve talked often about how characters in your contemporary novels have “twins” in your fantasy novels. Whenever I read Saving Francesca, I imagine Francesca’s parents as grown-up Josephine Alibrandi and Jacob Coote. For some reason I feel like they have the same dynamic. Am I crazy?
Half crazy anyway. Whenever I’m asked whether Alibrandi will ever have a sequel (absolutely not) my response is that Mia Spinelli is a grown up version of Josie Alibrandi. Josie and Mia are fiery, passionate and driven. But I don’t think that Jacob Coote is Bobby Spinelli.
My most obvious twins are:
Will Trombal and Finnikin of Lumatere (pragmatic, a bit dry, and don’t cope well with women).
Tom Mackee/Lucian of the Monts – My editor and I call Lucian, ‘Medieval Tom’. Everything that comes out of their mouths is so so wrong, but they mean well and I love their relationship with women of any age. Tom has a great place in the lives of Frankie and the gang, as well as with Georgie’s world and his little sister and mum and both nans. Lucian is the same. I loved every one of his scenes in Quintana of Charyn. Apart from Froi, he goes on the biggest emotional journey and it’s the women who take him there. I also think both those lads come from the same gene pool as Santangelo in Jellicoe. All of them live under the shadow of charismatic fathers, and all of them have leadership of some sort thrust upon them.
We’ve noticed (and appreciated) that you write some of the most honest sex scenes in young adult literature. Is it important to you to represent sex and intimacy in an honest way to teens?
I’m not saying it isn’t important for me to represent it honestly, but it’s not the number one intention. It’s a personal thing. I appreciate many things about religion, and people’s faith amazes me, but I resent the guilt I felt growing up when it came to sex or sexual thoughts or whatnot. I grew up thinking I was going to go to hell. But in saying that, I will not throw in a sex scene for the sake of it. It must belong to the story being told. The sex scenes in Jellicoe, for example, were part of the story, but they have not found a place in the film script. To use an awful pun (but there’s no other way of saying this) sex between Taylor and Jonah in the film would climax their story too early. The tension between them has to be there until the very last frame.
It’ll be interesting to see where I go with Lady Celie if I continue writing novellas or short stories featuring her and Banyon, because she’s 22 and he’s about 30, so certainly not the YA age. That doesn’t mean it has to be 50 Shades of Lumatere. For me, nothing works better than sexual tension and less is more when it comes to writing it. It’s where romantic comedies today are dismal and excruciatingly boring and it’s why more adults are reading YA.
What do you think of this new genre - “new adult”? (Which is basically a genre that targets readers in their early twenties.) Did you think about writing for slightly older young adults when you wrote The Piper’s Son? Do you think you’ll ever write a purely adult novel?
I don’t’ think of audience when I write. In my mind how can The Piper’s Son not be a novel for teenagers and how can it not be a novel for adults? Genre labels are so tricky. My greatest commercial failure is going to be what I consider my best book, which is The Piper’s Son. And it will be a failure, not because of the writing or characters or sense of place, but because people don’t know where to place it. My greatest commercial and critical successes overall are Alibrandi and Francesca, because they fit into a genre (and because the girls don’t have sex).
Personally, I don’t think there should be a new adult genre. I think novels like The Piper’s Son belong in both the adult and YA section of a bookstore and library. Sadly, there seems to be a whole lot of politics involved into why they can’t be part of both.
(from Flannery) The only one of your books I’ve listened to on audio is Looking for Alibrandi and I honestly sat in a parking lot and sobbed during “that section” of the book. I want to go back and listen to The Piper’s Son on audio because the Australian narrators for your books make it feel even more authentic to me. Do you have any input in the audiobook production or narrators? Have you listened to the voice performances of any of your books? (*Actually, I listened to half of On The Jellicoe Road but I got too excited and wanted to read faster so I finished it in book form:))
I listen to all of my books as a point of closure because I’m always interested in someone else’s interpretation and because I like audio books. Once or twice I will re-listen, especially when I was writing Quintana and I had to check Finnikin and Froi for continuity. Listening to my work the first time is very confronting and I’m the worst judge because I’ve lived with those voices in my head for years and then to hear another’s reality is strange. I’ve had a bit of a say with The Piper’s Son and Froi here in Australia. They’ve sent me a couple of audio voices to choose from. I also got to speak to the actors about pronunciation.
I agree with you about the authenticity of the Australian voice. At the moment I’m being asked whether I’m okay about a big international name for either Taylor or Jonah in Jellicoe. The producers both here and in the US agree that it will ensure Jellicoe becomes an international film if one of the two leads is a big name. I’m pushing for Taylor. I think she’s more a citizen of the world. Jonah has such a distinct Australianess to him. I could be wrong, but I think he would change considerably as a character if an American or English actor played him.
(from Catie) The world of Finnikin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles is immaculately drawn and feels very fresh but at the same time, I can see a lot of parallels between it and some of my other favorite fantasy novels: The Queen’s Thief series, Tigana. Did you draw inspiration from either of these when you were starting The Chronicles of Lumatere? Was there anything that you did draw inspiration from?
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When Finnikin came out and readers truly did not like the novel (there were many) Tigana seemed to come up time and time again, especially regarding what Guy Gavriel Kay did better. Some even flirted with hints of plagiarism. And that’s not a criticism about reviewers, just a fact. So to be honest, I’ve avoided Tigana like a Charyn plague and I’ve always considered it my treat read for when I finished the trilogy. But I’m going through
that coming-down-from-a-high period that happens after a novel goes to print and I know I’ll feel bereft reading it because it will be everything I love in a fantasy novel. So I think Tigana will be my Christmas read.
But Attolia, oh my goodness, a big yes. Unashamedly. When I was planning Finnikin in my head, I wanted Evanjalin to do something pretty awful for plot and characterization reasons, but didn’t want to go there because I thought no one would like her. I didn’t want to alienate the reader. And then I read The Queen of Attolia and everyone who’s read that book knows exactly what scene I’m talking about and it unleashed something brave in me. Also, MWT has this ability to create intricate passionate and tension -filled relationships between the younger characters and their elders, for example Gen and Relius and even the Magus. So the relationship between Finnikin and Sir Topher or Froi and the Priestking and Gargarin and Arjuro are very much inspired by The Queen’s Thief series.
Compared to Finnikin of the Rock, Froi of the Exiles is much more intricate story, with many twists and turns and mysteries and characters. How did you manage to keep track of this very difficult plot while maintaining a good level of suspense? Did you use flow-charts or white boards to keep the pieces of the puzzle together? And is Quintana of Charyn going to be as twisty?
No, I use none of those things. I want to because they look fantastic and they’d make my life easier, but logic is not a bedfellow of mine. I’m one of the untidiest people in the world. I usually start off with good intentions, lose everything and find my notes and scene cards the week after I go to print. So I have to trust my head and it doesn’t let me down. It’s about re-writes for me. I think that if I planned things more I wouldn’t have to re-write so often, but I find pieces of gold in all the mess of not planning. “That Scene” Flannery was referring to in Looking For Alibrandi was one of them. Totally unplanned. The scene in Jellicoe where Jonah reveals what he was doing on the platform is another one. Dom’s confession at the AA meeting in The Piper’s Son was another. And Quintana’s personalities were totally unplanned. So I stick to the mayhem in my head.
There are a few big reveals in Quintana, especially about who or what cursed Charyn (which was still a mystery to me when I finished writing Froi). Quintana is twisty emotionally. It’s very much a relationships based novel.
(from Tatiana) One of my most favorite couples in Froi of the Exiles (and there are many, believe me) is Lucian and Phaedra. I won’t lie, for a huge part of the novel I was infuriated by Lucian’s actions towards his wife, but because of that his redemption in the end was so much sweeter. What inspired you to put Lucian through this journey?
Lucian is one of my favourite characters too. If he were real, he’d be the type of young man I’d be proud of. It’s hard as a writer to re-introduce a beloved character in such a negative way. I did that with both Lucian and Tom Mackee. I knew that Lucian’s humanity would come through his interaction with the enemy and I was really hoping the reader would stay with me because Lucian (and Froi and Quintana and the rest) aren’t the easiest people to like at the beginning.
I can’t really discuss his relationship with Phaedra because it gives too much away for those who haven’t read Froi, but I’ll give you an idea of the genesis of that relationship. When I first started writing Froi, I thought Lady Celie was Froi’s love interest because he lives with her family. That didn’t work and it taught me you couldn’t force your characters to be somewhere they don’t want to be. So next I decided Celie would be Lucian’s love interest. Celie’s goodness would take him to the valley where the homeless Charynite’s were camping. Obviously that didn’t work. So it made total sense that Lucian’s love interest would be one of those refugees in the valley and not a particularly strong girl on first appearance (much like Celie). But I love those types of characters.
Of course now Celie has her own little novella and I don’t think I’ve heard the last of her. Phaedra and Celie are more than just love interests. I had a Patrick Swayze dirty dancing moment with both of them when I realized that no one puts Celie or Phaedra in a corner.
In our reading circle, mostly comprised of American readers, you are a superstar. Do you feel like you are better known now in Australia or in the US?
Thank you. If the average person on the street asks me what I’ve written here, it’s all about Alibrandi. People in their 20’s and 30’s either studied it at school or watched the film. But I have a bigger fantasy audience in the US than here in Australia. I think those who have read The Lumatere Chronicles in Australia are those who have followed my writing from the beginning, whereas in the US people discovered my work through the fantasy series or Jellicoe. Every time I’m introduced here in a literary capacity, Alibrandi is mentioned. It was a very important novel in my life but I’d love to be referred to as the writer of On the Jellicoe Road or the Lumatere Chronicles. Regardless of everything, they are better novels. Now when someone approaches me and tells me how much they love my book. I’m very polite in my response and ask them which one, although I know exactly what they’re referring to.
You transitioned so smoothly from contemporary realistic fiction to fantasy. Are there any other genres you would be interested in trying out? Science fiction maybe? Or mystery?
Unfortunately I don’t have science fiction cleverness. But the fun about writing the Lady Celie novella was being able to write a mystery crime story. Jellicoe was a mystery as well. I’d also love to write a historical novel because I loved the research involved in writing The Lumatere Chronicles. It makes me very sad to think that my next trip to Europe won’t revolve around castles and underground cities and cobblestone streets and medieval seaports. Which goes back to your earlier questions about the writing hiatus. Perhaps it won’t be so long after all.
Well, there is some hope for us in the end! Thank you Melina, for taking time to talk to us. Melina Marchetta can be found at her blog
, and on twitter
Tuesday was a complete whirlwind and I am still recovering! I got up at the crack of dawn and headed out to the glamorous bus depot near Union Station in Washington, D.C. to meet my chariot to NYC. Unfortunately, there was construction all around the station and D.C. already has notoriously tiny street signs, so I got pretty lost, had a panic attack on the phone to my husband, cried, and then stumbled upon the parking garage completely by accident. I sprinted down two non-functioning escalators to meet the bus, got in the wrong line, and finally, finally made it into my bus only two minutes before it was supposed to depart. And then I waited there for forty five minutes because the driver was late.
It was a horrible start to the day, ameliorated somewhat by a cheeky Brit up front who called out loudly for some “common courtesy” and then called the driver a “twatter.” I’m pretty sure everyone on the bus appreciated it.
The drive up was largely uneventful, except that I had completely forgotten how quickly I can read when I’m not constantly being interrupted. It’s a good thing I came prepared, book-wise. Everything else…eh, not so much. This was my first time in NYC and it was hot. And loud. And crowded and dirty and most of all, draining. It was also fun and exciting in a frenetic way. Granted, I only saw a tiny part of it, and what I saw was most likely the touristy-est part. But still…I think I could have been more prepared.
Here is what I wish I had brought to New York with me:
- Personal shower
- Change of clothes
- Make up
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Cattle prod
Here is what I actually brought to New York with me:
- Seven books
Luckily, the very lovely Heidi from Bunbury in the Stacks
agreed to meet up with me right off the bus, so I at least had someone awesome to walk around with in the hot, evil sunshine. Heidi was really fun to hang out with and was a great guide to NYC – we never got lost and we made it to the event an hour and a half early. Books of Wonder is a beautiful store with titles for children, middle-grade, and young adults. I found a really nice hardcover copy of Antonia Michaelis’ Dragons of Darkness
in their sale section for only $4.00! I also bought Finnikin of the Rock,
because I didn't own it yet and Heidi brought me Being Friends With Boys!
Their meeting room was quite tiny, however, so Heidi and I ended up standing behind the measly 15-20 seats they provided. (Yes, in answer to your unspoken question – we were there an hour and a half early and still somehow managed to not get a seat. I blame the heat exhaustion.) The event itself was amazing. It was clear from the beginning that these three women are all fans of each other’s work and friends as well. Instead of each giving a talk/reading, they decided to interview each other.
Kristin Cashore started things off by bringing up the interesting fact that all three of them wrote companion
novels and not necessarily sequels. Even more interesting is that all three of them wrote the first novel in their respective series intending it to be a standalone. This actually happened twice for Melina Marchetta, both with Saving Francesca
and Finnikin of the Rock.
Melina said, “I didn’t like Froi; I used him as a tool.” It wasn’t until later that she realized he had a story of his own. However, Quintana of Charyn
was always intended as a sequel. As Melina put it, she realized that there was a problem when she was five hundred pages into the book and the pregnancy
(no spoilers!) was only five months along. She contacted her publisher, feeling very stressed but as soon as her publisher heard the word “trilogy” all was well.
They then spoke about some of the decisions they made in their first books that impacted their second books in frustrating ways. For example, Kristin Cashore mentioned that in Graceling,
she wanted to slow down the pacing a bit and so decided to add in the impenetrable forest and impassable mountain. However, when she was writing Bitterblue,
she wanted the pacing to move more quickly but found it difficult because of the forest/mountain sitting there, in the way. Melina Marchetta brought up that in Saving Francesca
there’s a part where Tom and Justine are said to have similar musical taste and both enjoy musicals. However, in The Piper’s Son,
there’s a scene where Tom thinks “it can’t get worse” than Jesus Christ Superstar. Melina Marchetta laughed, saying that she was all prepared to explain that inconsistency by saying that Tom had grown out of his love for musicals over the years, but that the question has never come up! She also said that she never expected Froi to lead the companion novel for Finnikin of the Rock,
based on his actions in that book, but also because he has a “dumb name.” Then Gayle Forman piped in, saying that if there were one thing she could change about Where She Went,
it would be Adam’s band name! (Ha!) Kristin Cashore then mentioned that “Po” actually means “butt” in German so the name had to be changed in the translation. And apparently Katsa is somewhat similar to a word for the male anatomy in Italian.
This is how small the room was!
The topic then changed over to (dun dun dun!) reviews. Kristin Cashore was frustrated by some reviews that made assumptions about her beliefs about marriage, saying, “I’m apparently anti-marriage and I hate children” – all based on her decision to write one character who doesn’t want to get married or have kids. She then said that if we could all see her phone, we’d know how wrong that assumption is, saying “my phone is full of babies!” She eventually decided that she couldn’t just brush off the bad reviews or negative emails anymore. She doesn’t ever visit her goodreads page and she doesn’t allow comments or emails through her blog.
Melina Marchetta said that she doesn’t often read reviews and that she’s come across some good ones and some bad ones. She said that she tries to keep in mind that she’s “not the audience of the review” and that mostly, she stays away. Gayle Forman then interjected, saying, “the opposite of love is indifference, right?” She said that a lot of readers got upset about Adam’s swearing in Where She Went, but for her, his swearing didn't feel like a big deal. She said that swearing doesn’t connect to morality. They all agreed that they write for themselves as readers and for readers like themselves. Not everyone will like their work, but that’s okay.
Gayle Forman led the next question, saying that in her opinion both Kristin Cashore and Melina Marchetta write some of the “most delicious sexual tension.” Melina Marchetta, using the example of Taylor and Jonah (from Jellicoe Road), said that for her it’s about letting the insecurities and damaged places come through. She said it’s about “the belief that they [the characters] are the only two people who could put each other back together again.” Kristin Cashore then expanded on that, saying that for her it’s also about equality in power – “the only two people who could take each other on” – an even match. They both agreed that what you don’t say is often more evocative than what you do say. Gayle Forman said that she also loves that in both Melina Marchetta’s and Kristin Cashore’s novels, the love interests often start out as adversaries which creates immediate tension between them.
Then they were each urged (by each other) to read scenes laden with sexual tension, which I thought was hilarious. Gayle Forman wasn’t going to read, but after Kristin Cashore went, they convinced her to. Here are the videos:
They went on to speak about why they felt the need to continue their one-novel-standalone-stories. Melina told a very funny anecdote about two of her students who would sort of tease her by blaring out “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban
whenever she would ride with them in a car, simply because they knew she disliked it. They would also call her on the phone and hold up the receiver whenever that particular song was played at their Catholic school assemblies. One day she was listening to that song and reading the scene where Froi gets hoisted up on someone’s shoulders in Finnikin of the Rock.
“That dumb song” (“it’s not really dumb” – she later corrected) made her realize that Froi was a major player in the story. Also, after writing Tom Mackee, she looked forward to tackling another unlikable, antagonistic character – someone who was difficult to like at first.
Kristin Cashore said that it was fun to see Katsa, a character who is very much not in tune with herself, through the eyes of Bitterblue, someone who is. She then struggled a bit to describe exactly why that was interesting for her, and Melina Marchetta suggested it might just be that she’s getting the opportunity to see her character through a brand new perspective. Gayle Forman said that it’s very interesting to her as a writer to explore the exact same timeline but from a new perspective. And Kristin Cashore added that changing perspective can actually change how you see your own characters. When she was writing from Leck’s point of view in Bitterblue, she found that she had to keep going back to his words again and again, to make them “more creepy.” She only realized then just how disturbing he really was.
They moved on and spoke a bit about point of view. Melina Marchetta said that Quintana of Charyn will have multiple points of view, just like Froi of the Exiles, but they will all be introduced at the beginning so that the reader knows what she’s getting into. Kristin Cashore suggested that sometimes simple boredom might be an issue with point of view – it’s more interesting to change perspective when she’s writing.
Gayle Forman gushed a little bit and said that Melina Marchetta is her favorite contemporary YA author and then went on to express some anxiety about how difficult it must have been for her to switch over to fantasy – to which Melina Marchetta replied, “It’s not that dramatic.” Apparently, Kristin Cashore is also switching gears and writing a contemporary novel next. I didn’t know this, but her first and third novels (unpublished) are also contemporaries. She said that for her, it's the character who leads her to contemporary vs. fantasy. Katsa appeared to her with powers, so she wrote a fantasy.
Melina Marchetta spoke about what motivated her to write a fantasy, telling a “New York story” about a two month period where she had switched homes with “Justine and Scott” (ie, Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld) and stayed in NYC. She was riding the train and saw a poster showing a camp in Africa. Then she noticed that everyone in the carriage was speaking a different language and she thought about how “so many people are not in their home lands.” She said that she feels very strongly about refugees and people who lose their homes, and she feared that a contemporary novel would feel too political. She sent an email that day, asking her editor to “talk her out of it.” But when she asked if her editor thought she could possibly write it as a fantasy, her editor replied, “of course you can.”
Some highlights from the audience Q&A (abbreviated):
How do you create characters that are abrasive and difficult to like and then make us like them so much it hurts?
Gayle Forman said that it was quite easy to write Adam, because he's so much like herself. Kristin Cashore said that difficult characters are the most fun to write, and if you (the writer) are having fun, then the reader will enjoy it. Melina laughed and said that she gets a bit sad when people say they "hate Georgie" because that's the character she thinks is the most like herself. Melina Marchetta went on to say that it was important to her that Tom Mackee was genuinely unlikable at the beginning, but that she slipped in little hints, like "a promise to the reader" that he was a decent guy. For example, in the email exchanges between Tom and his sister, his address is "annabelle'sbrother" which is a cue that he's not all bad. Kristin Cashore then piped in to say that she gave Death a cat in Bitterblue with much the same intent.
What was the most helpful advice you've received from your editor?
Kristin Cashore: after handing in her 800 page draft that took three years to write, her editor said "would you consider starting from scratch?"
Gayle Forman: couldn't think of a simple piece of advice but said that her editor often "gives her the key to unlock the book."
Melina Marchetta: "The word 'said' is a good word. Use it." And, "don't be a thesaurus; use a thesaurus."
Melina Marchetta: doesn't let any of her books go to print unless she's 100% happy with what's inside. If she's 100% happy, then anything negative a reviewer might have to say won't affect her. Also gave this sage advice: "stop reading the review after the words, 'I really wanted to like this book but...'"
Kristin Cashore: doesn't like when reviewers try to speculate about what she was trying to do with the book, or about who she is as a person.
Melina Marchetta: the characters are just there, in her mind. She begins by listening to her characters and waiting to see who they bring along with them. She waits for them to come to her and she spends a lot of time listening to their dialogue before she commits anything to paper.
Kristin Cashore: is somewhat the same. She listens to her characters' dialogue and waits for them to reveal themselves.
Gayle Forman: her characters often surprise her and she doesn't always know where they're going to go. Sometimes as she's writing, a scene will come out completely different than she initially pictured it. Her characters sometimes seem to have a mind of their own.
Melina Marchetta then spoke a bit about Quintana's dual nature in Froi of the Exiles. She was confused because Quintana would sound one way in one scene, and then another way a few scenes later. She couldn't figure it out until Quintana finally revealed her secret - it was a big surprise.
On world-building in fantasy:
Kristin Cashore said that with Graceling, she let the world develop more as she wrote it and didn't really pre-plan it out. She said that she regrets that now and she thinks that planning it out before-hand works the best for her. Melina Marchetta said that she does a bit of both - planning and just going with the flow. She uses a lot of her real-world travel destinations as inspiration for her fantasy worlds. They both agreed that making up swear words or using the more "quaint" swear words is really fun. I think Melina Marchetta said "swiving" about five times during that conversation, haha.
Where's Jimmy Hailer? (this from an audience member who called Melina Marchetta "her goddess")
Melina Marchetta: "three words: I don't know." She went on to say that Jimmy was based on a student of hers who was very angry at the time, but has since gone on to become very happy in his life. She said that she feels content to leave him there, to let him be happy. She also thought that Jimmy's absence in The Piper's Son would speak more loudly than his presence.
After the Q&A, we all lined up to get our books signed. I felt bad that I only had books for Melina Marchetta (and also that I'd been walking around all day and was a sweaty mess) but I made it to the head of the line and they were all so wonderful! Melina Marchetta gave me a hug (poor woman) and I got a picture! I look like complete hell and my eyes are like half closed, but Melina looks gorgeous. And isn't that all that really matters? In fact, I'm just going to warn all of you right now that every picture of me from this day is pretty rough. But I'm gonna share them all, because I know you guys love me for my heart and not my (usually) not-so-sweaty face.
Of course, Sash
and I had to take our customary photo at events such as these. I was really hungry, so you'll have to excuse the excessive baring of teeth. Watch out Sash!
And look, more awesome people!
On the left, the lovely Janice from specificromantic
. With me in the middle and wearing the absolutely stunning knitwear is my tour guide Heidi. And on the right with me is the goddess of goodreads - Karen! Karen was amaaaazing and heroically walked with me through what I can only describe as several million blocks
to drop me off at Port Authority safely at 9:30 at night. Not only did she save my life once on the journey (true story!), she left me with the very wise advice that I probably shouldn't just stand on the street corner waiting for my bus and looking "directionless." I took that advice, and I'm happy to say that I survived New York City. I had a blast, but I have to be honest - seeing the national mall all lit up in the distance as I picked up my car in the middle of the wonderfully dark and silent night was one of the best feelings I've ever had.