I read Grave Mercy
a few months back, when I was a panelists for The Cybils
. At the time, I think I was just saturated with YA sci fi and fantasy books and I needed something to be bang! flash! zing! with uniqueness, solid writing, great appeal, and tons of other criteria. I thought the book was fun and readable but not as earth-shattering as some of my blogging buddies and Goodreads friends thought it was, though it's quite a mixed bag when it comes to reviews from reader friends of mine. I still wonder if I would've liked Grave Mercy
more if I'd read it at a different time, especially because it is sometimes very hard to remember details of every book I read when I am on a binge. I remember quite a bit about Grave Mercy
and I was/am still very excited to read book two in the series, so much so that I followed the entire blog tour for Dark Triumph
and entered all the giveaways so I could (hopefully) score copies. I think Maggie from Young Adult Anonymous
would probably tell you that it is a foregone conclusion that I would win a set, since I seem to be insanely lucky these days, but I did
win a paperback of Grave Mercy
and hardcover of Dark Triumph
. There is a point to bringing this up: I bought another paperback of Grave Mercy
at the event I am currently crappily recapping and had it personalized so I will be giving away the paperback I won at the end of this post. Back to regularly scheduled programming.
Robin/R.L. LaFevers is a bit of a badass, in my opinion. She is totally matter-of-fact and seemed completely at ease with her audience and what she was going to talk about. I felt under-informed at the onset because I did not realize she also wrote two middle grade series, the Theodosia Throckmorton
series and the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist
series. She said her audiences can often be quite a mixed bag and thus seemed a bit relieved that the present audience seemed to be completely comprised of the target audience for the His Fair Assassin
series. After writing for younger readers, she was itching to write something darker and on a bigger scale. She said that she has always loved Arthurian stories, Mary Stewart
novels (particularly The Hollow Hills
and The Crystal Cave
), and the merging of history and fantasy.
An audience member asked how important historical accuracy is to her, LaFevers says she favors "historical fantasy." Most of the time, she feels beholden to stay pretty true to historical events but some truths are probably best left out of young adult novels, like perhaps early teenagers being married to 35 year old men, etc. Another questioner asked the author to elaborate a bit about the magic system in place in the series. LaFevers said that the "magic" (if you can call it that, she says it is more mystical than magical) is caused by birth trauma to certain children and their connection to the god of death. One reason she wanted to include nuns was because she wanted there to be a moral aspect to the story. Also, she knew that there are folklore stories about being "marked for death." If forced to pin down the historical accuracy of her work, LaFevers says that about 80% is true history, 10% is history she's taken liberties with, and 10% is completely made up.
To pick the names for her characters, the author said she pored over historical records. Quite unsurprisingly there were many, many common names which kept recurring (e.g. Elizabeth) but she did not want to use those, nor did she want to use any "silly" names like Mildred or Gwyneth.
Ismae is a deviation from the name Esme and means dismay. Her last name, Rienne, is a play on the French word rien, which means 'nothing.'Both books had their challenges
in the writing process but LaFevers said that Grave Mercy
was probably easier to write since she had the luxury of time while working on it. Dark Triumph
had a deadline and Sybella's story is much darker than Ismae's--she said she had gray clouds over her for months. Grave Mercy
actually started in third person but LaFevers says she kept losing Ismae into the shadows she is so good at hiding in so she had to switch the perspective. She wrote SEVENTEEN drafts of Grave Mercy
and the original manuscript was 500 pages. Dark Triumph
, comparatively, took only seven drafts, which compared to the many authors I've seen on tour before who have answered this question, is still a large amount. LaFevers says she likes to do many rewrites--each time she focuses on something different and she prints each draft in a different color.
A lot of people ask her how she came up with the series. She said that after that idea of assassin nuns came to her, she was looking for an excuse to set a book in the Middle Ages. During that era, a majority of people were very young.(she is not certain why but it could be many factors-plagues, war, life expectancy, etc.) People started “adult” life much earlier, sometimes being married at 10-12 (“not that [she’s] advocating that!”) and leading battles at 18-19. At this point, LaFevers talked a bit about the possibility that the prevalence of war and the tumultuous time period of the Middle Ages could have been a direct result of so many young people being in charge of countries, armies, etc. After all, just look at Joffrey in Game of Thrones
and imagine people like him and Sansa Stark in charge of decision-making. (I’d really rather not, thanks!)
From the idea and the time period, she knew she wanted to incorporate old gods/goddesses into the belief system, which really was not far-fetched, as it was common practice back then. The idea of girls going to a convent as an escape was also based on factual history. Though the idea may be a bit scary to imagine, many young women saw convent life as a life of relative freedom. Much of the history in the series is based on fact, a lot of it concentrating on Anne of Brittany
, whose father, the Duke of Brittany, promised his daughter’s hand in marriage to several different people (6-7 suitors, it is said) in exchange for military support, after which point the Duke died and left general confusion. A later question revealed that the whole council was based on real events and that Anne was betrayed in the same way. The story element of illegitimate children living with full-blooded children in the same palace was also based on real events. The area of Brittany also has rich folklore which LaFevers wanted to include, including Ankoù
, who personified death, Celtic druidesses, and stories about the night rowers who would hear knocks on their doors in the middle of the night and then go to row the souls of the dead across the water.
Besides history, LaFevers wanted to write about love. She found a real love herself and she sees so much YA that includes unhealthy relationships so it was important to her to include a real, healthy relationship but also to incorporate the ideas of love of country and duty. In addition, it was important to show that being a teenager is hard, so it is at least in part about one girl’s struggle. When she first started writing Grave Mercy
and Ismae got to the convent, Sybella (the protagonist from Dark Triumph
) seemed half crazy and she threatened to take over every scene. The author said she had to “take her aside” and explain that she would be the center of her own book, and now she is. Dark Triumph
is darker than the author thought it would be, but the character came to her as a whole and she felt she had to stay true to her. Sybella has been through a lot in her life and, in real life, a lot of people do not make it through these trials. Some people heal, but not many victims become the hero. The fact that Sybella ends up with Beast, was never intended to be a spoiler, according to R.L. LaFevers. Actually, he was supposed to die in the narrative but LaFevers just couldn’t do it; he was perfect for Sybella. He could deal with her dark past because he had his own darkness, having seen war. The author really likes the fact that though he is a soldier, Beast is gentle.
An audience member asked how much time LaFevers spends on research. It took her seven years to write Grave Mercy
. She was working on other contracted work and considered the book to be her own “private sandbox” that she could play around in. She Googled everything and the luxury of time allowed her to add more layers to the story. When she is writing, she will often get on a roll and leave blank spots where there are holes in her research, such as [They eat breakfast. What did people eat for breakfast back then?] and then moving on to keep the creative juices flowing without interruption. Those holes are easily filled with a few minutes of Googling.
The third book, Mortal Heart,
will be about Annith. LaFevers says Annith is pissed off about her place in life and why everyone around her is getting to do all sorts of things while she is stuck at the convent. In Mortal Heart
, the author says Annith will find out the answers to all her questions and we, as readers, will have lots of questions about the abbots/abbesses answered as well.
Sadly, LaFevers has yet to make it to France herself. She said if the books do well enough, she would love to go, but for now she has to make do with coffee table books and Google to find information about the region. I hope she eventually gets to see the region that inspired her series! Because I bought a copy of Grave Mercy for the author to sign for me, then subsequently won a copy, I’m giving a paperback copy away to one reader from US/Canada. Just leave your name and email in the Google form and I’ll let random.org pick a winner one week from today. (Open until 5/18 at midnight, PST)
CONTEST OVER: The winner is Roselyn from Bookmarked Pages! Congrats!
Have you read Dark Triumph yet? Is it even better than Grave Mercy? Have you seen
R.L. LaFevers at an event? Or anyone else interesting lately?
I love going to group author events. There are more people in the audience, more people to spy on, and more fun factoids to learn. In this particular case, though I did not partake in them, there were also SNACKS. My local stop for the Dark Days Winter Tour 2013 included one author I'd seen before (Dan Wells) and four new authors to cross off my list: Lauren Oliver, Debra Driza, Claudia Gray, and Kiersten White. (I've also seen Cynthia Hand, Veronica Rossi, and Tahereh Mafi previously
, though they weren't at my stop on the tour this time.) Speaking of group events, Harper seems to do a kickass job of organizing and publicizing these multi-author tours and I totally appreciate that and wish other publishers (well, the larger ones who could do such a thing) would do something similar. My one bone to pick with Harper is that I can never follow what the heck the tours are called. Some of these things might not be HarperTeen tours but I get Pitch Dark, Epic Reads, Dark Days, Spring into the Future, Breathless Reads, etc. all mixed up until I just tell people that I'm going to "that Harper YA authors event" which I doubt is the aim of branding the tours. Then again, I do have fun imagining what these tours will be called when we are out of this dystopian trend. (Will we ever be out of it?) To get back on track, this tour was very streamlined, with a Harper publicist running the show. She asked the authors questions and then took a few audience and Twitter questions.
Claudia Gray, Lauren Oliver, Debra Driza, Dan Wells, Kiersten White, and the moderator
The first question for the authors was what they thought the coolest thing about their book is, which White was the first to answer. She said that sometimes she thinks the cover is the best thing. (of Mind Games
. White is also the author of the Paranormalcy
series.) She said there is a moment of terror when you are going to find out what your cover will look like because you have no idea what you are going to get in that department. She thinks the Mind Games
cover represents the plot and characters of the book well, and she jokingly added that she supposed "the words are pretty good, too." Dan Wells, author of the John Cleaver
series and the Partials
series, said that he finds it "perversely fun to teach idealistic characters lessons" in his books so he thinks that is the coolest thing about his book. On this tour he is promoting Fragments
, the second Partials
installment. Debra Driza, debut author of MILA 2.0
said that the coolest part of her book is that the title character kills someone with a hair dryer, though she also loves the cover. Lauren Oliver said that the current coolest thing about the Delirium
series, which was just completed with Requiem
, is that a television pilot is being made with Emma Roberts in the starring role. Claudia Gray picked her villain as the coolest thing about Spellcaster
, which is the beginning of a new series for the author of the Evernight
When asked if the tour authors always knew they wanted to write, or if they knew what they wanted to do while they were in college, Gray said that she always knew she wanted to do it but for a very long time she didn't think she could. (She has held many other job titles, including lawyer, marketeer, etc.) She said she read extensively and when she would come upon a "great" book, she would think to herself, "you could never write a book that good." The book that changed her outlook was Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. After finishing it, she thought the same thing to herself but then realized that nobody else could have written that book. You can only write the best book that you can write. Lauren Oliver talked about how she has always written and about how she wrote her first novel in college. At the time, she was writing children's stories but also working on a "pretentious novel about a 35-year-old guy whose wife is dying of cancer," which she joked was "obviously based on firsthand experience." Later on, she added that she wrote (what I assume is this particular) 800 page book twice and basically nothing happened in it.
Debra Driza recounted how in her family her sister was always known as the best writer so she never really felt like she could go there, which Dan Wells played off of in his answer by saying that he "always knew he could be better than everyone else." (Obviously he was kidding!) Wells always knew he wanted to be a writer but he didn't believe he could make a career out of it. He said that the person who really changed his beliefs was Dave Wolverton
, well-known fantasy author, who told a class that Wells was part of that you can
make a living as an artist. Kiersten White always thought she'd write as a hobby. A professor once told her that the only way to make money in publishing is to write a cookbook. Paranormalcy
, which ended up as her first published novel, was actually the fourth she'd written.
Driza & Wells
At this point, the publicist moderator asked individualized questions to each author, but I kept spacing out. When asked why he picked Long Island for the second Partials book, Wells said that it it was because it is right next to New York City so readers could read about places blowing up and have a clue about the locations he is writing about. He went on to talk about how interesting he finds the idea of what happens to everything when we don't take care of it--our things, our cities, etc. I'd seen Dan Wells once before and I think I am just in love with going to science fiction and fantasy authors in general. In my experience, they talk about everything they are interested in (ideas, technology, magic, hobbies) and they are just so enthusiastic and real
about it. I saw Charles de Lint
and his wife a week or two ago and I honestly think they must be in the top twenty most authentic people I've ever encountered. Not that other authors don't discuss these things at book events but honestly, if I hear the word "swoon" one more time at an event, I think I might just ralph all over the fellow booklovers around me.
Wells, White, and the moderator
Claudia Gray talked about the character of Verlane in Spellcaster
, which led to a discussion of how ideas flow out of writers subconciously and that authors sometimes have no idea they are writing parts of their own lives. Kiersten White said that her editor called her out for having "too much about babies" in one of her books, because she was dealing with a related issue in real life, to which Gray said, "editors are there to save you from yourself." White laughed and added that "editors help you write the book you wanted
to write." When asked about the experience of writing a blind character, White talked about her inspiration, which was to incorporate the idea of the blind prophet. She found it very interesting that Annie's (the character in question) sister wants to protect her to some extent but that Annie is more ruthless than her sister. She also said that the experience of writing a romantic scene with no visual cues was something new for her and that it ended up "way hotter." In response to an additional question, White added that she wrote Mind Games
chapter by chapter and not chronologically and that she writes to entertain herself because if you don't entertain yourself, how will you entertain readers?
Lauren Oliver said that the character of Raven in the Delirium series is partially inspired by her younger sister who is a total badass. She said she is very sad to end her series because she is very invested in the stories. Someone on Twitter asked if she would provide more closure to the series eventually, to which Oliver responded that her favorite books growing up were the ones that left a world open. If a story was completely closed off, she felt bereft. She said she doesn't feel like it's her job to answer every question. Her job is to introduce you to a world and characters. You learn who they are and who they want to be--she wants to show that her characters are always in flux and transforming in one way or another. When she writes a book, she writes the first and last chapter so she knows where the character is starting and where they will end up so she has a guide. She said writing the overall series has been very cathartic for her. Before starting the book, she lost a significant other to substance abuse and she constantly wondered why she couldn't be good enough for him to stay alive. As the series continued, she was able to fall in love again and is now engaged so the entire series has brought her through very pivotal events in her life.
The moderator asked Debra Driza what Mila could do that she wishes she could do, which Driza answered with another reference to killing someone with a hair dryer. (At this point, I realized I will probably have to read this book, not because I really care all that much about the hair dryer scene, but because I want to know what else
happens.) Her real answer, however, was that Mila can see, whereas Driza is legally blind. An audience member asked Dan Wells if it was true that some real life friends of his were in every book he writes. He said that the same two friends show up and one of them always lives and the other always dies.
At this point in my notes, I took a break to tell my future self how much I don't care about romance in books, nor do I care about characters with which I am unfamiliar. I just want to hear about the story. Thanks, past me. Also, on a more relevant note, I wrote down that these authors actually seemed to enjoy each other's company and support each other's work, which was nice to witness. In a very non-me move, I must not have been paying much attention at this point of the event because I can't make heads or tails of my usually well-written notes. I have a joke that Kiersten White made about YA being more "32 Shades of Grey" than Fifty, and also a note about how she loves Logan
from Veronica Mars
and that the show has great storytelling. Why didn't I listen more?!
Oliver, Driza, Wells, & White
Okay, regular me is back. The next question was to Dan Wells and it was: how does he think the world will end? He responded that if it is
a plague, for crying out loud, STOP KISSING EACH OTHER (heh). He said he loves writing science fiction because he can read all sorts of crazy articles about ways the world might end, take them seriously, and write books about them. He added that if you want to prepare yourself for the end times, you should wash your hands, and consider dedicating your life to cleanliness. I'm not too sure on that point--isn't is supposed to be true that if you clean too much your body will become more
susceptible to airborne pathogens? In all plague movies and books, only about 1% of the population is ever left, he said, and he thinks that would be pretty amazing to be a part of. I mean, you could do whatever you wanted
Next up, the authors were asked what character they would choose to be their sidekick? The answers:
Debra Driza - Buffy
(though several members on the panel warned her against this as many of Buffy's friends end up dead!)
Dan Wells - The Baroness from G.I. Joe
Claudia Gray - Professor X
, on the off chance that he might be played by James McAvoy
Kiersten White - Harry Potter
Lauren Oliver - Hermione Granger
An audience member asked Claudia Gray what she thought of choosing a pseudonym and how that has affected her identity, which Gray said that she didn't regret it at all. She said the name was a quick pick for her but that she still liked the name Claudia so that was good. Her real name, she said, is very easily found on the copyright pages of her books but it helps that she can keep her personal and business lives private on the net, particularly on social media. The last topic discussed was the query process, which Gray said she was extraordinarily lucky about, considering her book was picked up almost immediately because it was about vampires right after Twilight
blew up. Oliver also said she was a bit lucky due to her job in YA publishing. She knew how the system worked and a lot of the people involved so when it came to her manuscript, she said she physically handed it to someone she'd known from college. Driza wasn't picked up until her third book, and Kiersten White said she had about fifty rejections before she got an agent for her second book. She said you truly have to write because you love writing because there is so much rejection in the field and you have to love what you do. Similarly, Wells said that he'd written five books before he sold anything and it took him eight years to find an agent. Even with an offer on the table, he was rejected by three agents. He just reminded the audience that it takes a lot of work to write and be published.
And that, my bookish friends, is another long-winded recap. Have any of you been to other stops for Dark Days Winter Tour 2013? What did you think?
I started reading Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires
series about two years ago, when only three of the books were out. I read all three of them in one weekend, devouring them for the fun paranormal series they are and loving Merit for kicking serious ass more than once in every edition. Since that weekend, I’ve been following the subsequent installments, though with the author’s quick publishing rate (a new book every six months), I haven’t kept up as quickly
as I would like to. What’s that? I seem to have a horrible tendency to be complete crap at keeping up with series? Well, maybe you should consider keeping your opinions to yourself! So, the seventh book in the series, House Rules
, came out last week and though I have yet to read it, I knew I could not pass up the chance to see what Chloe Neill is like in real life. The answer: totally normal, in an “I’m pretty sure she’d be fun to chill with and I seriously considered asking her if she’d like to go to the roller derby
with my friends and I after the event which is where I was going but I didn’t because I think she would’ve been weirded out” kind of way. I just remember going to see Patrick Rothfuss
a few months back and he talked about how it is kind of awkward to go from a book event, where everyone there thinks you and your writing are amazing back to your hotel, where you sit on the bed, turn on TV reruns of Hoarders
, and try to remind yourself that there are lots of people out there who think you’re cool. Anyway, Neill got to the event early, set up some swag on her table, and perused the books around where the event was being held. When the bookstore employee introduced her, she skipped the reading, which I was okay with, and just spent about forty-five minutes or an hour answering every question the crowd had.
So far, Neill has been working on 3-book contracts. There have been seven so far, and there will be at least three more, depending on sales. (the eighth (Biting Bad
) comes out in August) Originally, she thought the main storyline would fill eight books but eight are finished and there’s more to tell. Though she has no set end point for the series right now, she said she’ll continue to write them as long as Merit keeps growing as a character and as long as the mystery remains. Later on in the event she shared that she is not planning on closing up the series soon, per se, because she still very much loves the characters and they are still fresh for her. Well, except for McEttrick. She admitted that he can be sneaky and hard to get a handle on. There will not be any more books in her Dark Elite
YA series, but she has played around with the idea of a spinoff-type series, where it is a second generation and the main characters in that series are the adults. It would be darker, she says, and concentrated on human-vampire relations.
I found Neill’s story to be very intriguing as she did not always dream of becoming an author. In fact, she did not even start writing until 2005 and she joked that the only literature course she took in college was titled “African Novel,” though she did go to a liberal arts college where most of her exams were essays. (I hear that!) She began writing after a marriage fell apart and she spent an extensive amount of time reading every Regency romance out there. At that time there wasn’t a ton of vampire fiction out but she said that she was a fan of the Anita Blake series
…well, until the series changed at least. She also loved Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter series
and wrote some fan fiction for that series. She created a character and had the character interact with others from the Dark Hunter series and after doing this, she got the idea for Merit’s character. After that, it was quite a short road to publication. Neill wrote the first Chicagoland book in four months. At that time, some publishers were still accepting unagented manuscripts and hers (3 chapters and a query letter) was picked out of “the slush pile” by an editor at Penguin, and they bought the first two books. She did not even have an agent until after that point in time. Neill said she initially went to that specific imprint, New American Library
, because it published Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series
, which she is a fan of.
Someone in the audience asked who Neill pictures when she pictures Ethan’s character, while implying that this discussion had been going on for quite a while and that the answer is David Beckham
. Since I am not super tapped into the Chicagoland gossip, this came as news to me. Neill confirmed that initially she never did but after that series of underwear ads that Beckham did, she admits that he is who she pictures in her mind when she hears Ethan’s dialogue. I was sitting in the audience at this point thinking, “But his voice is kind of weird and I don’t picture him with that voice,” and then Neill said, “Well, except for the voice.” Thank you for that. Seriously. The next question was about why she chose to give the vampires silver eyes when they have heightened emotions. Neill answered this by saying that it was mostly just because she wanted them to have some outward sign of emotion and the silver was just because she likes the color more than gold.
Next, she spoke quite a bit about her writing process. Because the books have such a strict deadline, she has to be organized and diligent which she says is actually hard for her, as she is a procrastinator by nature. She spends about two to three months writing a first draft and then three to four months editing the prior book after it comes back from her editor. Though Neill says she is good at dialogue, she finds plotting much harder and has to work with her editor on it. (She later said that if you like the series, it’s because of her editor.) Neill writes a short outline of what will happen in the book before she starts out and she has to write every day and achieve a minimum word count of about 1000-1500 words per day to stay on track. Amazingly, she still has a full-time job. She says she doesn’t think she’d be any good at full-time writing because she needs a routine and things to do all the time. As it is, she squeezes in her writing every evening by sitting in bed with her laptop and keeping Adult Swim
on in the background. If she can keep her concentration on writing, it can be finished up in an hour but like the rest of us, she often succumbs to the interwebz. On the weekends, she spends about five or six hours writing and doing marketing stuff for her books. In terms of how she approaches writing, she said she used to just do random scenes and patchwork them together but too often she’d forget she’d written something and lots of stuff would need to be cut so now she just writes straight through the story. All of the installments are about 93,000-96,000 words and she ends up cutting about 10,000-20,000 words every time and adding the same amount of new material back in.
Chloe Neill at University Bookstore (Seattle, WA)
An audience member asked the author if she wrote the people she knows in real life, to which Neill answered no, but she admitted that many of the characters’ mannerisms are based on real-life people and everyone close to her thinks Merit is supposed to be Neill herself because they have very similar personalities and reactions to things. She also thinks that Merit and Ethan will get a good ending together, their “happily ever after,” but that everything being la-di-da and sunshine and butterflies isn’t what Merit wants or needs. She needs someone to butt heads with and disagree with to be happy.
Another point was added in the “Neill is awesome” column for me when she talked about how much she loves Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb’s In Death series
, which I love still in anticipation of the thirty-sixth or so installment
. Someone asked her about the reaction from readers after the big plot twist of book four, Hard Bitten
. She said that she got many horrible emails after that book was released and won a nod from me when she said, “It’s the internet age. People’s tastes are different. What can you do?” Exactly. She said that what happened wasn’t meant to be a cliffhanger—she meant it to happen as it did, with some finality. She doesn’t want to just throw in twist to be “M. Night Shyamalan
-ing” everyone. (nice one) The next question was about the Gabriel prophecy in the books and whether that is still important. Neill said very much so and that she has that ongoing arc in mind as she writes the next books in the series.
At nearly every author event I go to, someone asks the author how much say they have concerning the cover art for their books. The answer is almost always “barely any,” “just a bit,” or “I can say I hate something but that’s about it.” The answer was the same in this case, and Neill joked about trying to get Merit’s bangs on the cover in the last few covers with no luck. When asked if she thinks the Chicagoland Vamps series will ever be adapted for television or the big screen she said there are no plans in the works but that she’d love to see it and thinks it would work better as a television series. (I concur.) After this comment, someone asked her if, since she likes to write dialogue, she’d ever considered writing scripts. She said yes, though she really doesn’t have any free time. She joked about how she would love to write an episode of Castle
, minus the mystery bits. I took this to mean that she just wanted to write an entire show of witty banter.
A few random asides: We’ll find out more about Jeff in House Rules
, she thinks Lacey is like that friend we all have who just repeatedly makes the worst decisions, and she agrees that the series needs a new female bad guy. (she misses Selena but doesn’t see a way to bring her back.)
And that, folks, is another author event. I guess I’ll never know if Chloe Neill would’ve gone to the roller derby but I do know that you should all go see her if she’s coming anywhere near you on this tour. If you miss her, I bet she’ll be on tour again in six months for Biting Bad
Go see Cory Doctorow if he's coming anywhere near you on his February 2013 tour
for the sequel to Little Brother
, which was released last week. I've only read two of his novels, the aforementioned Little Brother
and Pirate Cinema,
which was released in 2012 but I have so much respect for his online presence and activism that I knew I wanted to see what his book tour would be like and it exceeded all of my expectations. It was also my first time inside the main Seattle Public Library, which is a crazy-looking modern architectural building
downtown. With the topics of discussion and the number of intelligent people around, the fact that the auditorium we were in is encased in concrete with gigantic black metal sliding barn doors and curtains closing it in definitely made me feel like I was part of some super-secret "question the system" club. The library representative began by introducing Doctorow and mentioning the blog post
he did for the library blog. In case any of you aren't familiar with Doctorow, yes, he is a novelist, but he is also co-editor of Boing Boing
and very active proponent of liberalizing copyright laws. (most if not all of his books are available for free online as well as through traditional outlets) Doctorow won my heart when he made a joke about one of my recent favorite reads, Twelve Angry Men
by Reginald Rose. He read about twenty pages from his new novel and said beforehand that there would be some spoilers but they wouldn't really come as a surprise, just obvious ones, like if someone got angry that Twelve Angry Men
had twelve angry men in it.
After reading from the book, Doctorow talked quite a bit about several legal cases and current legislation battles he finds interesting. I had no idea a lot of it had gone on (and I'm guessing many of you are in the dark as well). In Robbins v. Lower Merion School District
(2010), it was found that a school in Pennsylvania issued laptops to its students and was remotely monitoring their behavior AT HOME. (taking pictures of them in their bedrooms, etc.) Though that case was settled, providing students with school-issued laptops is extremely common and there are all sorts of suspect third-party programs on many of them. After talking a lot more about the creepiness of many anti-theft software companies and how far-reaching the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984
(CFAA) goes, he segued into the most emotional discussion of the night.
Cory Doctorow at the Seattle Public Library
Doctorow was good friends with Aaron Swartz
, an extremely intelligent programmer and activist who, sadly, committed suicide last month at 26. Swartz wrote a section of Homeland
and also the afterword. Doctorow spoke about what an amazing person Swartz was and how extreme the charges brought against him were (if convicted, he could've faced 35-50 years in prison and over a million dollars in fines), essentially because he believed that people should have access to information. I do find it rather appalling that many Wall Street criminals get away with stealing money and people who commit horrific crimes often have significantly lighter sentences, but a programmer who makes publicly-funded research available to people faced such an enormous legal battle. (Yes, I do know that I am oversimplifying the situation but I can easily think of hundreds of things that the government could and should be spending its money on instead of prosecuting people like Aaron Swartz.) Doctorow said that if you'd like to be involved in keeping information more open-access, you should get involved with groups like DemandProgress
or the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Because it was the first stop on Doctorow's tour, he got choked up speaking about Swartz's suicide. He said that he promised Aaron's family that he would discuss suicide at all of his stops to honor Aaron and I know I wasn't the only one whose eyes were watering up as Cory talked about what he wished he could've told Aaron. He said that in this age of technology, it is easier than it has ever been to know more about people than we ever have before, but we can't know how someone is feeling
unless they tell us, and unless we ask. Later, in the question and answer section, an audience member thanked him for all of his words about depression and suicide and told the audience that we should keep in mind that for every murder in the US, there are two suicides, and we never hear much about them. (1
) I've been thinking about this a lot recently, especially after reading my local suburb's weekly newspaper which informed me that two weeks ago we had four suicides
. Four, in one suburb, in one week.
The question and answer session followed and it was unlike any other at a book event I've been to, and most of you know I try to go to as many as I can. Doctorow's fans are intelligent. The first person just asked him how he felt being immortalized in the popular webcomic xkcd
, to which Doctorow jokingly replied that he'd actually been in several
, thank you very much. He is usually portrayed in a hot air balloon "up in the blogosphere" with goggles on, but he said he's actually afraid of heights so the only thing he'd actually ever be doing in a hot air balloon is cowering.
The next few questions were of interest to me but I was concentrating so hard on what Doctorow was saying that I probably messed up transcribing. An audience member asked what he thought of country to country cyber warfare, which Doctorow answered by saying that he finds it immensely irresponsible because the potential for blowback is so high. Malware can easily (and inadvertently) affect systems that were never intended to be involved, though he's not sure what we can do to support nonproliferation at this point. I'm not sure if it was at this point but sometime during the event he told a story about a programmer who showed that he could take control of pacemaker software and essentially insert a bug into it that could end up killing the users. Such dangerous potential. Along similar lines, another question was about why lawmakers would spend their time passing laws like the one from recent weeks which made it a felony to unlock your phone
. (I wish I was kidding) Everything is dependent on computers these days and we all have an obsession with trying to lock them up and keeping people safe, but the answer is probably not keeping ourselves safe individually but by making the system safer--but not through censorware. (content filtering) Every word out of everyone's mouth at this event made me want to know more about computers and the internet. One audience member even said, "The more you talk, the more I feel like I am totally f*cked." To that, he said get involved. SOPA
failed because so many people wrote to their lawmakers and spoke out against the proposed legislation.
I had no idea until the next question came up that the Seattle Police were experimenting with a drone program, which basically included using unmanned small aircraft for monitoring. The questioner asked what Doctorow thought of the city using CCTV to monitor Seattle's harbors for Homeland Security and using drones. (incidentally, Mayor McGinn grounded the drones
just a day or two after this event because there were so many privacy concerns) Doctorow talked about how prevalent CCTV is in London, where he resides. He said it hasn't really had much effect on how much crime is committed, though it has had some effect on how many people are convicted of crimes. To this, he said that prevention should be the actual goal. He told an anecdotal story about a friend of his, a lawyer, who was stabbed and killed outside a tube station. Did the recently installed CCTV prevent his murder? No. Even if it did eventually provide evidence against his assailants, what good is it if it doesn't prevent the actual crime? He said that use of surveillance also lessens the feeling of community we have with our neighbors. No one likes being watched.
To a question about why he decided to write a sequel to Little Brother
, Doctorow said he never intended to do so but that he had an idea for a scene and he went with it. He said it was immensely satisfying to revisit all of his old characters. He also said that he'd recently written a short story for the White House about emerging technology. His task was to write short fiction on how some sort of technology could be applied in the field. Imagine their surprise when he turned in a story about how activists and protesters could manipulate a police drone program by tapping into it and then maneuvering entire crowds of people around to evade police. Everyone had a laugh about that one.
I had my copy of Pirate Cinema
signed after the event and Doctorow was pleasant and approachable to everyone despite having been up since 2am that day. He even drew a skull and crossbones on my title page. The only (and I mean ONLY) downside to this event was the fact that I had to listen to some douchebag coder from Google treat an out-of-town intern at Amazon like an infant while I was waiting in line. I was this close
to calling him out on his nonsense. Learn some social skills, dude.
Seriously, go see him on tour if he's coming anywhere near you
. Your brain will thank you.
All three of us are huge Laini Taylor fans so it took very little convincing for me to drive down to Portland from Seattle to see her at the last tour stop for Days of Blood & Starlight
. I trucked it down there, listening to my Delusion In Death
audiobook, and made it in 2.5 hours, which is notable considering the inability of 99% of the population of the Pacific Northwest to drive at a reasonable speed and keep right except to pass. I was meant to make it in time to have dinner with Sarah, Laura, and Sandra from Clear Eyes, Full Shelves
but I was too late, so we just met up at the event and went out afterward. The event was at the Barnes & Noble at Clackamas Town Center
and the store seemed a bit underprepared. When we all walked in about twenty minutes early, all of the thirty-odd chairs were taken or being saved and there were about ten people just standing around. The employees did go and retrieve more chairs, though there were still about ten people standing during the event. I guess they just didn't know what a literary badass Laini Taylor is.
Taylor walked out to start the event and seemed totally approachable and comfortable. Actually, she reminded me of a friend of mine from high school who was a bit shy but once you got to know her, she was an absolute riot and a goldmine of hilarity and fun. Also, she blew every other person out of the water when it came to gift-giving. I still have a decorative box that my friend made me that is covered with probably 100 magazine pictures and words that had some meaning to us that she'd decoupaged. Listen, all I'm saying is that Laini Taylor comes off as totally genuine and likable. (also, I bet she and her husband can make amazing artsy gifts for people) She began by speaking a bit about how Daughter of Smoke & Bone
came to be--and it was when she was cheating on another book. After she'd finished Lips Touch: Three Times
, she was working on a sci-fi-ish story and she just couldn't make it work. She said it was quite demoralizing. One day, she told herself she could just write anything she wanted as a brief respite from the book and what came out was a snippet about a girl with blue hair and her father, who wasn't truly her father and who also wasn't human. Taylor talked about how authors often say that "characters just took over" and "the characters just spoke through me" and how, frankly, she always thought it was a bit of a lie. (So did/do I, most of the time*) However, she said that it actually happened in Karou's case. Bits and pieces of ideas she'd written from earlier writing prompts just intertwined into the story and she was very anxious and excited to see where it went. At that point, she didn't have a book under contract so she wasn't under as much pressure, but her agent sold the book before it was complete and she said she's never wrote something faster than the rest of that book. Daughter of Smoke & Bone
was initially going to be a standalone but the story just kept growing. She knew/knows the ending but doesn't like to plot too far in advance because she may think she knows what's going to happen but she's wrong. (We both have an aversion to the term "pantser." She prefers to call her method "flying into the mist") To Taylor, revisions aren't as exciting as first drafts because there just aren't any times to high five yourself for your creative feats. When Tatiana and Catie recently reviewed Days of Blood & Starlight
, they talked about the change in tone from book one to book two. Taylor said that when she initially started writing book two, she intended, or at least tried to keep the tone consistent with book one. She found herself trying to start the story six months after the end of book one, after all the dark material had occurred, but realized she was skipping the story she needed to tell because she was a bit scared to tackle it. Overall, she said she wanted to honor the darkness of the story but keep it from being a drag to read. For those interested, Taylor says that book three will have a completely different tone than either of the previous books. (and when asked what color she hoped the cover would use, she said gold.)
It is always interesting to hear authors talk about their journeys to publication, how they work/write, and what makes them tick. At least, to us, it is, else why would we be reading book blogs? Taylor was 35 before she finished her first novel. She often wrote first chapters and then when it got hard, she just moved on to something else. According to her, writing is such a secretive act. It looks like you're working but you could just be fooling yourself and those around you. She said it takes pure stubbornness and courage to finish something, especially when you are always being seduced by what she and her friends refer to as "that slutty new idea." (you know, the one that always seems like it would be more fun that what you've got going now)
Laini Taylor reading from Days of Blood & Starlight
Before going into the questions from the audience, the store did a raffle for jewelry from www.daughterofsmokeandbonejewelry.com
, and Taylor mentioned that all profits until January 31st from the website will be going to Hurricane Sandy relief. Sadly, we weren't told about the raffle so none of us won but it was a fun addition to the event and the jewelry on the site is beautiful. She also mentioned that she is running a contest for a book trailer through her website
. The winner will receive $1,000 and the runner up will receive $250, though the runner up prize is for the funniest trailer. (intentional or unintentional)
The first audience question was about the flashback section in Daughter of Smoke & Bone
and what made her take such a risk. Her reply was that she didn't realize how unorthodox a move it was until much later--that is, to move the story back in time for such a long section during such a climactic time in the plot. Both she and her editor never questioned the move so it never was an issue, though she can't imagine it being any other way.
A movie is in development at Universal Pictures, though she is unsure if it will ever happen. (Isn't this always the case with movies we really hope will happen?) The aforementioned flashback section is currently throwing the screenwriters through a loop. Another person asked how much input Taylor will have and she said that she seems to have some, at least on paper, but who knows how that will translate into reality and that the entire process is awesome, but scary.
Did she always want to be a writer? Yes, for sure, though there was
a veterinarian phase, as well as a badass coroner/crime-solver phase that was a result of a loving Quincy, M.E.
Has she been to Prague and/or Morocco? Twice to Prague--once for a graphic novel that she and her husband (the artist and writer Jim Di Bartolo
) never ended up writing. She'd never been to Morocco until after Smoke & Bone, though she was obsessed with Morocco for years beforehand. She said she read some ex-pat blogs and watched YouTube videos for some of her inspiration. Someone followed up this discussion by asking where Taylor would like to go next and another person asked (by proxy for an Australian!) what it would take to get her down under. She said that her Aussie publisher is amazing but the best thing to do would be to let them know there's an interest.
One reader asked about the Monty Python and the Holy Grail
references in the book and what copyright issues surrounded it, to which Taylor said she didn't really know but she assumed it fell under fair use. (I'm sure the publisher looks into this sort of thing and it would've made for a fun discussion in my Copyright Law class. Certainly more than the long, drawn out discussion we had about belt buckles
.) She and her sister were huge fans of the Monty Python guys and she is fully aware that many teens wouldn't get it, but she made sure to include keywords and things in the text so any curious minds could easily find out. I look forward to welcoming these future fans to the bright side of life.
Does she have any say in the covers? Not really. She loves them and got to see them beforehand but she didn't get to choose them.When she was working on Smoke & Bone
, the working title was Wishbone but the publisher nixed that one because of the kickass (my word choice, not Taylor's) dog from PBS
who used to retell classic literary tales and who my younger sister and I used to watch. She said it is sometimes easier to start with a title, then start writing because it can be a bitch to think of a title after the fact. Now that she has the "something of something and something" theme going, she has a working list of words to think of for book three. She also spoke a bit about the initial Smoke & Bone arc cover being different and I only realized while writing this that I read the arc of that book and how weird it was to several of us that the eye within the mask was completely blacked out and how they changed it for the finished copy. (good choice, publisher!) One of Taylor's favorite things is checking out the foreign editions of her books. Probably the most interesting factoid of the evening was that nearly everywhere but the US markets the series as adult. She even said that the Slovak edition of one of the books has a beefy adult man on the cover. (I think it's this one?
The night ended on an adorable note when an audience member asked if she'd ever thought of writing a children's book. She said that she and her husband had been reading their book, Blackbringer
to their daughter, Clementine, and that she'd taken to acting as Magpie, a character from the book, and she refuses to brush her hair to stay true to the character. She said that the couple has thought about doing a graphic novel for kids at some point.
If anyone is still reading, I will just tell you that the dinner afterward with Sarah and Laura and a friend of mine from Goodreads was awesome. Those women are amazingly funny, intelligent, and bookishly awesome. Laura lent me Love-shy
by Lili Wilkinson and I can't wait to read it! I may or may not have been very ill on my drive home (twice) but the drive down and back was worth it to see an amazing author and to spend time with lovely people.
*Props to Laini Taylor for bringing up Castiglione's sprezzatura
at a book event in the children's section of Barnes & Noble.
You might think that not having read an author's work would preclude me from going to book events and recapping them. Well, you'd be sorely mistaken, because this is one of my favorite pastimes. In some cases, though, I am especially excited for other reasons. On Friday, I went to go see Margo Lanagan
at a branch of the Seattle Public Library. Catie
really like Margo Lanagan. She's had two books on the Printz Honor
list and won a World Fantasy Award. Everyone tells me to read her books and I'm fairly certain I'll enjoy them (I'm not easily scared off by anything) but I just haven't gotten around to them yet. I felt like I was meeting a literary superstar. At the event, I read a book (Shadows on the Moon
) while I built up the courage to go ask Lanagan if she minded that I took a video during her reading. I can't imagine what it is like for people to be speaking and have some random girl clearly taking a video of them. What am I going to do with it? What if I'm going to search online for a selkie sex website and upload Lanagan reading a hot scene? (I did that.) What if we now start getting hits from people searching for "selkie + sex" on the blog? (I'll let you know when this happens, because it will.) Okay, I didn't really upload anything to a website like that. Just to our measly Youtube channel
Margo Lanagan was friendly, approachable, relaxed, and well-spoken. It was clear that she is confident in her writing and comfortable talking about aspects of her work. Though she discussed several of her works, she read from and primarily discussed her newest young adult book, The Brides of Rollrock Island
, which is her take on selkies
. One of the aspects of selkie stories that Lanagan always wondered about was why they never seemed to be proactive about finding their stolen skins. The areas where the stories are set are often remote and she never quite understood why the women didn't self-help more, especially considering how they are never truly human and there's always something of the sea in them, which leaves a certain amount of sadness and sets them apart from humans. She said that she wanted portions of the book to be from the male's perspective as an attempt to capture that strangeness. To demonstrate, she read the following section of the book:
| || |
"Seals do not sit about and tell, the way people do, and their lives are not eventful in the way that people's are, lines of story combed out again and again, in the hope that they will yield more sense with every stroke. Seal life already makes perfect sense, and needs no explanation. At the approach of my man-mind, my seal life slips apart into glimpses and half memories: sunlight shafts into the green; the mirror roof crinkles above; the mams race ahead through the halls and cathedrals and along the high roads of the sea; boat bellies rock against the light, and men mumble and splash at their business above; the seal-men spin their big bodies by their delicate tails as lightly as land-lads spin wooden tops, shooting forward, upward, outward. Movement in the sea is very much like flying, through a green air flocking with tiny lives, and massier ones more slowly coasting by." (hardcover, p. 255)
Between reading portions of the book, the author talked a little bit about aspects of the novel that readers and fans might find of interest. Rollrock (titled Sea Hearts in Australia) began as a novella and that shorter book was told entirely from Daniel's point of view. While writing the novella, she realized just how big the story was and she knew how much possibility laid underneath, waiting to be adapted. She said she just kept asking herself, "Why is the witch doing this thing?" and it was something she wanted to explore. Lanagan also said that a bit of the storyline surrounding the male characters is due to her own empty nest syndrome, since it was written at a time when her sons had left home. Later, an audience member asked her about the symbolism in her writing and whether she is aware of any of it while she is writing, to which she replied that she is usually unaware until after the fact but in the case of missing her sons, she was well aware of why she was writing what she did. Here's Margo reading the first section of Rollrock, a beach scene with several young half human, half selkie male children:
When she'd finished reading from the novel, she opened the event up for questions and I was impressed by several of the audience members and the questions they had for the author. Lanagan told readers that her favorite character was hard to choose, so she picked two: Daniel and Misskaella. She said that Daniel reminded her a bit of her own kids and that she liked that Misskaella exacted her revenge, even though she did it in an unwholesome manner. Another audience member spoke a bit about how Lanagan's work has been labelled anti-feminist in the past and about how she felt about that. In response, Lanagan spoke a bit about the sexual scenes in this book. She said that there are several hot sex scenes that no one ever saw. Her agent shopped around the novella with no sex scenes and she thinks Random House was pleased that her new novel would be easier to stomach than her previous (and more controversial) book, Tender Morsels
. She then pointed us to one outtake that was not included in the book but that is available online. Listen to her read Flower and Weed here
, at Terra Incognita podcast.
When asked whether writing the novel was a long process, Lanagan said that it took her about eighteen months while she worked part-time. She said that the book had to be wholly re-formed almost twice. "Writing is many levels of self-delusion," she said, "You think you're done when you're not." Editors and publishers might not be an author's favorite people to talk to about their work but she said they asked her all the right questions about this novel and that she knew somewhere inside of her that the problems they mentioned existed, but that she appreciates the criticism because it does not come hand in hand with a presumption about how she can/will fix anything. Tender Morsels
took her about the same amount of time. When she started writing that book, she was in the middle of several other half-completed projects and wasn't sure if she could finish anything full-length. Obviously, she said, she felt less tension when writing Rollrock
because she had concrete evidence that she was capable. Someone inquired what she's currently working on and the answer is that she's doing short stories now but that she's also working on another full-length novel about an Irish convict who comes to Australia and accidentally brings a goddess with him. (you know, as you do) She wrote a zero draft of the book during NaNoWriMo (presumably last year) but she said it needs a lot of work. When she was writing the first draft of Rollrock, she kept receiving emails from editors asking her to participate in this or that anthology and she said her mental process was like, "Oh! Dragons. Oh! Witches. And short stories are so short, I can definitely do this," and subsequently said yes to quite a few people. As it turns out, she'd agreed to do twelve
short stories. She ended up completing every single one of them and they will all be published, though it seemed clear she hoped never to put herself in such a position again. At this point, she has five separate short story collections out, and another one, Yellowcake
, containing previously published shorts, will be published in May 2013. (it's already published in Australia)
Here's Lanagan discussing a bit about selkie lore and reading from Rollrock
(sorry about the audio quality):
Speaking again about her short stories, Lanagan intrigued me by saying that her agent has a collection of shorts from her that "by no stretch of the imagination can be categorized as YA." She said they are very nasty, and when and audience member asked her if she meant scary, Lanagan replied that they were less scary and more filled with violence, sex, and gore. (I want to read these.) After this, someone asked how she felt about being categorized as YA, especially in the "Dark YA" context that has saturated discussion in the last year or so. She said that she feels as comfortable as one can in any category and that she's certain the people who feel it is their job to "police" YA probably feel much more uncomfortable than she does. Lanagan likes the blurred edges of reader age categories--there will always be adults who read children's, middle grade, and YA, and there will always be children and teens who read up. She said she loves those 13-year-olds who can and do take anything you give them to read and can handle it. Additionally, she feels like the popularity of books like the Twilight series and Harry Potter have made it more acceptable for adults to read YA and that there's less social stigma attached to doing so. When asked if she heard negative feedback from teens, Lanagan said that she really only hears from the teens who love her books but I chuckled when she said that she sometimes goes on Goodreads when she's feeling "particularly strong" to read what some people have to say--and a lot of it isn't great. She knows that her books will be "what some people need at the time," and I think that's a healthy way to look at it.
The last discussion of the event was about the time period in which The Brides of Rollrock Island is set, for that issue caused a bit of confusion with one reader in the audience. The reader said she was just rolling with the story, picturing it mostly in some olden days year and then a bus came along and she did a double take. For the record, Lanagan said she wanted to set it right on the cusp of technology. She also wanted the setting to be remote but not completely removed from our normal world so we could relate to it in some way. The actual time period is somewhere around the turn of the century. The audience member also asked about the witch character (Misskaella), because she seems to outlive a lot of people. To that, the author said, "There's just something about evil, isn't there?"
After the event, while I was waiting in the signing line, Lanagan spoke with two other readers about selkie stories and like the creep I am, I totally eavesdropped. They had a discussion about how popular some topics are in young adult literature--mermaids and angels, for example, but that selkie stories represented a far smaller slice of the genre. One reader suggested that might be because selkie lore is not as well known in the United States as it is in Ireland, Scotland, and the like, though Lanagan mentioned that it is more well-known in fisherman communities from Maine upwards to Newfoundland and other Canadian provinces. She also said, and I found this particularly interesting, that she wanted to write a particular kind of selkie story. Angel stories are often viewed as overly sentimental and she liked that there is an underpinning of unhappiness in selkie lore. Though I don't have notes for this conversation, what I understood Lanagan to be saying (and what is evident in the stories she does choose to write) is that she is less inclined to write fanciful, happy books.
Have you seen Margo Lanagan at a book event or read any of her books? What did you think? Also, do you think there are websites about selkie sex fantasies? (I'm not looking!)
This book event recap is dedicated to Flannery. All three of us have read Ender's Game
, but there is no doubt, Flannery is the biggest fan of Orson Scott Card's books (well, some of them anyway). She was the one who told me about the event, in fact. As it turned out, Card actually lives in Greensboro, NC, aka the middle of nowhere. I simply had to go see him, weather considerations disregarded, if not for Flannery, then due the fact that there is hardly any chance of any celebrity author visiting my local Barnes & Noble ever again.
I showed up at the store about 30 minutes early (you know, just in case) and at first was concerned whether the event would have enough attendees. I shouldn't have worried. There was a pretty decent crowd of about 50 people. Card must have a very strong fan base as there were people who had come all the way from DC and Atlanta just to see him, in spite of the hurricane Sandy. Overall I thought this turned out to be a pretty neat signing (not that I have anything to compare it to).
Orson Scott Card
OSC himself came a tad early too and started off by signing the books of the people who were already there. First, I thought he was taller than I had expected, and second, he was a very confident author. He took the reins into his hands right away and acted like he'd done this signing thing a million times before (and he probably has), needing no introduction or help from the store's staff, and guiding and entertaining attendees like a pro.
Card was very chatty and managed to have a small talk with just about every person at the event. He was even able to identify my accent after me saying just three words ("to Flannery, please"). He has a rather elaborate set of signing rules though. If you are planning to attend an event with him, you might want to acquaint yourself with these rules posted on his website
Card's wife was there as well; he talked of her a lot and during his speaking part she was the one who often kept him on track. He likes to go off on tangents while answering questions.
As 7 pm rolled in, the event started.
Asa Butterfield as Ender
1) OSC began his talk with the movie news. Ender's Game
, the movie, is a sure deal. It will be released in November of 2013. Card joked that his involvement with the movie ended the moment he cashed his check. However, he did have a small role in the production - he did a very short voice-over of a pilot making an announcement. He did this during his visit to the movie set where he met some actors starring in the adaptation - Harrison Ford
(Colonel Hyrum Graff) and Asa Butterfield
(Ender). Card was very much impressed with the actors, commenting on how shy and quiet Ford was in person and how smart of an actor Asa was. He said the scene he participated in isn't in his book, but that it's still very powerful. In fact, there are many differences between his book and the movie adaptation, but he is not bothered by that at all. Card expressed his hope that the movie would do well, because only in that case can more of his books could be adapted to screen. In his words, it is customary to blame authors for the failures of movie adaptations of their books and to punish them by not giving their works another chance. (I bet Philip Pullman knows all about that. No more chances for him after the failure of The Golden Compass,
whereas Stephen King's movies are being adapted again and again.) Card encouraged all of us to go see the movie when it comes out.Next OSC took questions from the audience.
2) On a sequel to Earth Unaware
(co-written with Aaron Johnston): There definitely will be one. Originally this series was conceived as a series of pre-Ender comics. OSC and Aaron had all the stories planned and laid out, but later, while pitching this project to the publishers, they managed to sell it as a series of novels. Earth Unaware
uses Card's story but was written entirely by Aaron Johnston. Card was very complimentary of Aaron, saying that he imitated his own writing style perfectly, not in terms of vocabulary, but in terms of style. He can't wait to read Johnston's very own book.
3) On if it's okay for a 7-year old to read Ender's Game
: Card said that in his opinion when it comes to YA, the perfect age to read any YA book is at the age of the protagonist -2 years. Ender's Game
started when Ender was 5-6. Most likely a 4-year old won't find it interesting, but for a 7-year old this book would be perfectly acceptable, as long as the story itself is engaging enough for him/her.
Card was supposed to promote his newest book at this event, his YA novel Ruins
, but he barely even spoke about it. However, he talked about why Ender's Game
is considered adult and Ruins
- YA, even though he wrote them both using the same language. He said because there was a section of Ender's Game
written from an adult's POV, his publishers considered it adult. 4) Writing advice: Don't just want to be a writer, be a writer and write. Card said that every aspiring writer has to write about 10,000 pages of drivel before becoming a real writer. If you are lucky, you write them before your fist book is published. In his case, he is still occasionally writing drivel because he hasn't reached that mark yet. So if you see nonsense in his books, attribute it to that:)According to Card, writing never gets easy. Every project presents its own set of challenges.He also has an explanation for "writer's block." You experience it when you are subconsciously not satisfied
with where your story is going. During times when you'd do just about anything BUT write, your mind encourages you to find a new, better path for your story. 5) On why he chose to write such a dark story about child soldiers (meaning in Ender's Game):
When the idea of this story came to Card, the concept of a "child soldier" didn't exist, at least not as it does now. So that idea wasn't the core of the story. Rather, Ender's Game
was conceived after reading a book about pilots in WWII who got shot down by enemies because they didn't think to watch out for other planes approaching them from behind, above and below. These pilots only looked straight ahead. That's why Card started thinking about 3-dimensional combat in space. In his mind, soldiers had to be very young to be successful at such a training. OSC was only 16 when he thought of this idea, but he found an actual story involving aliens to incorporate it into when he was 23.6) On his future writing: Here Card got very personal.
He said that 2 years ago he had a stroke and it made him think about his whole approach to writing. At the time he had 2 outstanding book contracts and he realized that if he died his wife would have to return both advances and that would eat up all of his life insurance. So now he only accepts money for the books he has already written. Even though financial considerations are always at the forefront of his writing decisions, he never writes books he doesn't believe in.Then more book signing and picture taking.All in all this was a very interesting
event. Card was very comfortable with the crowd, very sensitive to how the public was reacting to his stories, so at no moment was he boring. He is an engaging speaker and fortunately he left his political opinions I strongly disagree at the door, making this event more enjoyable.
This weekend, I attended Northwest Bookfest
, which is a literary festival celebrating authors from the Pacific Northwest that includes panels, workshops, author presentations, and lots of other fun book-related events. I went last year and it was one of my solo blog posts
from that-period-that-I-sometimes-have-a-hard-time-remembering (also known as My Time Without Awesome Cobloggers). I absolutely loved my experience at the 2011 event so much that I actually rearranged a trip to Oregon so I could be back in time to attend for a second time. Anyone who has read a recap of mine before knows how many notes I take at these types of things so I decided to break it up by day. Thus, I'll recap my experience from Saturday only and tomorrow, there will be another post on Sunday's experience. (as well as my time seeing Rachel Hartman
at the Seattle Public Library
!) In case you are wondering, yes, my bum hurts from sitting all day long, and I have about 20+ pages of notes in my little pad of nerdiness.
My day chock full of books began with me oversleeping, which is really nothing new. One of my biggest regrets last year was missing two or three panel sessions, so I was determined not to make that same mistake. This is an amazing and FREE chance to geek out about books, learn some things, and meet (or spy on, let's be honest) some authors; I would be an idiot to skip out. The
first panel I attended this morning was called, "Creating a Successful Blog", and it was moderated by Shauna James Ahern (Gluten Free Girl
), Bill Kenower (Author Magazine
), and Tara Austen Weaver (Tea and Cookies
). The only one I was familiar with before the discussion was Kenower, and that was from one of the most awkward events I've ever had the, er, opportunity to attend.*
One of the most interesting aspects of the blogging panel was that I realized how absolutely different every type of blog is. As a book blogger, very little of our readership and traffic is driven by images. Of course, making graphs
, drawing pictures
, Catie's lovely drawings for our features, those types of things occasionally bring people in, but food/fashion/wedding, etc.-type bloggers? It seems like blogging for those arenas is a completely different animal...one that I am happy to just leave in its cage. Both food bloggers on the panel spoke about the importance of Pinterest and taking good photographs but I have no interest in photography and I quit Pinterest on behalf of the blog a few months back because I am paranoid about copyright infringement. (side note: I do know several book bloggers who take amazing photos)
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These are my notes. The lighting is bad, I took the picture with a point and click camera, I threw a blanket on a chair, I have awful handwriting, and I put about .3 seconds of effort into this photo. This is why I write a book blog and not any other type of blog.
When the panel talked about just forgetting about stats, I was worried that I might not get a great deal out of the discussion. (Stats, while I'd like to
forget them, seem to be of great significance to publishers.) However, all three members of the panel drilled their main point into our heads for an hour: You have to love what you're doing. You have to write about what you are passionate about. You should be writing stuff that you want to write, and no matter what, be authentic because someone will enjoy your unique voice and people can tell when you're faking. Kenower talked a bit about how he wasn't sure what the overall theme of his blog was going to be but he's made it into what he wanted--a blog about why it's worth it to get up in the morning and do this. [be a writer/editor] Weaver elaborated on the importance of finding your voice by saying that she's found work as a writer due to her blog and Ahern told a great story about driving while listening to a radio story told by an iron welder. She said that she would never be an iron welder but that she had to pull to the side of the road to concentrate on his story because "his interest was so interesting." As someone who gets sucked into individual stories, I loved that. What do you all think? Is Pinterest necessary for a book blog?
Weaver said that she jotted down four things she wished someone told her before she started blogging: (1) the aforementioned "be passionate about what you write/write about what you have a passion for"; (2) post with regularity (whether readers will be consistently visiting depends on their expectations of your new content); (3) pick a name early on in the alphabet for blogrolls and such (READVENTURER FAIL!); and (4) reach out to the community. She said that regular writing can be a bit weird after blogging because you find that you can't just hyperlink to additional sources all the time, you have to actually explain or change up what you are writing to accommodate. Kenower noted that a blog shouldn't be about you, it should be about things that happen to you that someone else, somewhere
might find useful.
Other tidbits of advice that were doled out in the blogging panel were that if you are starting a blog, consider doing it for two months or so before telling anyone about it. You'll be able to see what it is like generating content and whether you like the feel of it. Don't be afraid to take breaks once in a while; everyone gets tired of blogging sometimes. If you go back to your early posts and you don't cringe, you're doing it wrong. Weaver said that would indicate that you haven't evolved as a writer at all. She quoted who she thought was Mary Oliver but who the magicians of Google inform me is Annie Dillard
: “You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.”
The entire time I was in this panel, I was just thinking about how happy I am with our blog. The panelists talked about having copyeditors look over your work, printing out your work, reading it to others, having their parents comment on errors. I was just smiling at my good fortune because I know that after I go to bed tonight on the west coast (best coast), one of my two cobloggers will wake up on the east coast, come and read through this post, edit it, and post it. So thanks, ladies.
Greg Bear (r) and Daniel H. Wilson laughing at a science joke.
I also attended a panel entitled, "To Infinity and Beyond: Writing Science Fiction" with Greg Bear
and Daniel H. Wilson
. I will always go to sci fi and fantasy presentations and author events regardless of whether I've read an author's work. Case in point, I've never read anything by Bear or Wilson, though I am familiar with much of their work. Wilson has a robotics degree from Carnegie Mellon. (Pittsburgh, holla!) He said that after writing How To Survive a Robot Uprising
, he realized that he was excited to find he didn't have to build robots but could make a living by just making things up about robots. Wilson told a story about a robot someone created that could fold towels and Greg Bear thought that was interesting but said he'd be really interested in a robot that could unfold the newspaper and shake it out and fold it back up so it wasn't so annoyingly cumbersome at times. Amen, brother. And now, a list of tasks I wish I had a robot to do for me:
1. Cooking my breakfast before I wake up (I don't want to have to re-set up my Pee-Wee's Big Adventure Rube Goldberg machine
2. Keeping tabs on where the remote, my keys, my gym card, my license, etc. are at all times. (My friends put velcro on my college ID and put the other half on my computer tower. They'd tap it and give me a look if it wasn't there.)
3. Stand behind me and make a throat-clearing noise anytime I go to reddit
or try to leave the room while I attempt to finish this blog post. (Okay, most blog posts)
4. Same, for when I start making lists of things like this instead of finishing recaps.
5. Take the recycling and garbage bins down the driveway on garbage day.
6. Collect all the clogs in the world and just deliver them to me so I can pile them up like Scrooge McDuck's gold
and unrealistically swim through them to make me happy.
7. Braid my hair all sorts of crazy ways that I've never been able to figure out how to do despite watching Youtube tutorials. (also, to cut perfect swoopy bangs)
8. To go to YA writers conferences and walk around casually reminding people to sew up their world building.
9. To complete all the mindless tasks in video games that earn gold but take lots and lots of time with minimal exertion.
9b. To paint my nails perfectly, with no mess on the sides on my left hand.
10. Also, the robot could also be a hat.
This panel was more of a discussion between the two men and the science nerd vibe was strong, in the very best way possible. They talked about so many things that a bullet list is probably in order. (this is also due to my 7 pages of notes from this panel and the fun I just had writing the robot list)
- Wilson talked about how he finds consistency to be very important in sci fi writing. Characters can't explain everything--they often do not have the personal scientific knowledge--so they better not be talking about things they know nothing about.
- People who work on/with robots seem to have tons of fun.
- Bear talked about speculative stories in sci fi publications like Astounding/Analog and how you can basically make a Nerd Map for where nerds are concentrated in the country. (government research facilities, for example. )
- Bear is working on the origin story for Halo 4 and how the Halo world is based on Larry Niven's Ringworld and incorporates elements of Heinlein, Haldeman, and Iain Banks. He said that in the sci fi world, it is natural to rip each other off. Movies rip off sci fi books and sci fi authors are inspired by movies and other writers. He said Arthur Clarke once said that the important thing to remember is that you must add something of your own in. Bear sent Clarke one of his books that was heavily inspired by Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama and Clarke was blown away by where Bear went with the story.
- They continued to discuss video games and how the world building is just off-the-charts in some games and that it has to be deep and cohesive. In several instances, these games sell millions of copies and that's rarely true for a book. Similarly, Wilson talked about how writing for video games is probably the most demoralizing job in the world because of the lack of control is even lower than writing for television or movies. An entire story can just be tossed aside because the artists couldn't make an element look as cool or the game developers scratch an entire environment.
- Wilson talked about what it was like to meet with Steven Spielberg regarding the upcoming movie based on Wilson's book Robopocalypse. He said it was amazing to see all the concept art and have a say in inconsistencies he saw between the movie and the book, in addition to how robots were portrayed.
- Both authors have had the chance to lecture at US military academies and the audience got a kick out of the fact that Wilson basically presented "what to do in the case of a robot uprising" and it was taken very seriously. Everyone wondered if the class the next day was going to be about zombie uprisings.
- Bear is working (or is already done with?) a book about homo floresiensis people and talked about how cool it is to be writing about something that sci fi authors of the past could only speculate on.
- Wilson wrote a screenplay for a remake of an 80s movie called Cherry 2000. Basically, it's about a man who falls in love with a robot. Also, he has a talking cherry tattoo. He said the studio executive he pitched it to just said it was weird and Wilson joked about how there really isn't a comeback for an accusation of weirdness, but those are the things that stick.
- An audience member asked about the balance of male/female sci fi authors and Bear talked about how it is a pretty great balance, actually. He cited the popularity of Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. LeGuin and talked about how probably 70% of editors are female and that he's worked with women throughout his career in the publishing world.
- In response to another audience question about the best entry point to sci fi publication, the authors talked about getting published in magazines but to also investigate the possibilities of doing Amazon shorts and/or self-publishing.
- Evidently the authors of the Mongoliad have all sorts of fun when they get together to plot the series. Bear said they swordfight, eat muffins, and then plot in their clubhouse:)
- Wilson talked about getting cred in the industry, both in publishing and in the movie industry and how anyone should think about why they are the best person to be writing a book. What do you know about? What are your degrees in? (Though that doesn't matter, as they talked about. Bear was an English major who mostly talked to scientists and does tons of research on his own.) They also said that being a science fiction writer is awesome because if you have a question about something science-related, you can just call up whoever it is that is an expert in that area at their university and just chat with them (or geek out) about the possibilities of x or y.
- A question from the audience about sci fi romance elicited recommendations (from Bear, Wilson, and other audience members) to check out Catherine Asaro, Nancy Kress, Seanan McGuire, Charlie J. Anders, Cat Valente, and Ann Aguirre.
- A conversation arose about the publishing world's views on sci fi and Bear told a crazy story about how sci fi was outselling other titles at a publishing house in the 70s/80s and they dropped one or more sci fi authors rather than the chance they might become known as primarily a sci fi publisher. (Whaaaat? A corporation saying no to profit?)
- Does everyone reading this realize that Blade Runner is set in 2019? That's less than 7 years from now. Get ready.
- Even though a lot of non-sci fi readers think that genre is all about techie things, Bear and Wilson (and hopefully everyone!) believe that it's more about story and characters.
- Wilson said that he doesn't believe that the goal of science fiction writing is predicting the future. Rather, the goal is probably just to caution readers of what could happen or what could result if some particular event, invention, etc. happens.
- One of the last talking points was about branding inventions in sci fi and how many words are incorporated into our lexicon that came from science fiction. Wilson talked about something called GameFace from the aforementioned Cherry 2000 which was makeup you could put on to hide your facial structure from roving facial recognition robots. Awesome idea, eh?
Peg Kehret, Lynne Brunelle, and Katherine Schlick Noe
In the afternoon, I went to see a panel entitled "What's All the Fuss About Middle Readers?" with Peg Kehret
, Lynne Brunelle
, and Katherine Schlick Noe
. I don't read a ton of middle grade fiction but some of my absolute favorites are from that genre -- everything by Gary D. Schmidt
and A Monster Calls
by Patrick Ness come readily to mind. The first thing that blew my mind was the fact that both Kehret and Brunelle have written over forty books. (Noe is a debut author. Her first book is Something to Hold.
) Each author took her turn speaking about her background and books and I learned wonderful tidbits including the fact that Brunelle used to write for Bill Nye the Science Guy (badass), and that Kehret first started writing by publishing a newspaper about the dogs in her neighborhood which she would sell to her neighbors for a dime. (she said it quickly went the way of the dodo when the neighbors realized that an overwhelming amount of page space was spent on one particular dog. *cough*)
Kehret spoke about how she is inspired to write a book by explaining how a book she wrote about tsunamis came about after she saw tsunami warning signs and escape routes in Oregon. She wrote the entire book and when she turned it in, her publisher made her take tsunami out of the title because they thought the word was too hard for children. However, directly after Escaping the Giant Wave
came out, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit and everyone knew the word. She said her inspiration just comes from all the things around her and that she often just picks up small stories or fun facts from the people and places around her and works them into the story.
Schlick Noe talks about her book, Something to Hold.
Kehret and Brunelle
An audience member asked what her bestselling book is and it surprises even her that it is her memoir, Small Steps
, about having polio as a child. Her agent had a hard time selling that book due to the fact that most kids today don't even know what polio is ("which is great!") but by a stroke of luck it ended up on the desk of an editor at Whitman whose father had polio as a child. Her advice to budding authors is to start short. The idea of writing a novel is daunting--instead, write a chapter, then another. When asked how to plot a children's book, she said it all about what the character wants. Think about what they want and then think of tons of obstacles that will prevent them from getting there. She said that when the book is nearing its conclusion, she writes faster because she "just can't wait to see what's going to happen."
Lynne Brunelle used to write for Bill Nye the Science Guy
, which sounds like such a cool job, doesn't it? She worked for a time (or perhaps still works) with children of varied learning styles. She's a firm believer that there's a book out there for every reader or if there isn't, there should be. (Schlick Noe also mentioned this point.) A very interesting conversation developed including some mothers and librarians in the audience about how amazing illustrated books are for visual learners and how much success people have had by giving middle readers graphic novels to help them grasp parts of a story and to bridge them to longer books. When a mother in the audience asked what she would recommend to her son who has a hard time with the reality of most middle reader books, Brunelle suggested trying historical fiction, which I thought was a great suggestion. Those stories are real in a sense, but very removed from the child reader of 2012.
Katherine Schlick Noe had a hard time writing her first and so far only novel. She said she had lots of memories but didn't know how to put them together and that the experience was like "walking backwards through the snow. You can see where you've been but not where you're going." Noe wrote her book, Something to Hold
, about a young girl growing up as a non-Indian on a reservation, which is an experience she lived firsthand. Her advice to writers who want to explore children's/MG books is to join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
, the members of whom have shown her much support. Noe talked about how she is inspired by writers like Gary D. Schmidt
(Huzzah!) and Deborah Wiles, particularly her book, Countdown
. Children are always looking for that one book
that they can identify with and love to bits and Noe spoke about how she'd love to have written that book for even one child.
Other advice from the middle grade authors included to always have the child solve the crime (Kehret), write what you want and let the publisher pigeonhole an age range on it (Kehret), hang out with kids the age of your protagonist and other characters (Brunelle), and if you know the story you want to write and are having trouble with the subplots or anything else, just write the story from beginning to end and come back to fill in everything later. Just aim for that first draft. The last topic discussed at this panel was what the authors thought of the idea of middle grade horror books. Kehret has written a few ghost stories and spoke about how she had one entitled "New Friend, True Friend" that was changed by the publisher to Deadly Stranger
, which she thought was a bit scary and never would've picked. She thinks there is a difference between scary and horror in that in scary books there is a hint of violence but the violence never actually occurs. In horror, it does. Brunelle chimed in that she thinks there is such a thing as "safe scared" and that has to do with how removed a child is from the subject matter. A librarian in the audience brought up the popularity of Caroline Cooney
and R.L. Stine
and everyone agreed that some kids eat that genre up and go far beyond what many middle grade authors are comfortable writing for children but Kehret summed it up quite nicely that the goal is to make them readers however they can. That's it.
The biggest mixed bag for me was the "Using Social Media to Market Your Work" presentation, by Sean McVeigh of 425 Media
. While he made some very interesting points, I disagreed with a lot of his advice. However, I am not a marketer, I am just a reader/blogger so I come at the question from a different angle. (Also, I have only personal experience to back my opinion up.) McVeigh advised the authors to create their own website and then point all social media back to that site. The importance of this is that almost every other site you post to is not under your control. At any time, Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. can change their terms of service and what they allow/disallow so you have far less control over your own content. This is great advice, especially when I recall people losing followers because of Google Friend Connect
, the recent Feedburner problems
, Facebook changing how it links out to Youtube videos, etc.
Where the presentation went wrong for me was in his advice to authors about where they should spend their time. McVeigh told the audience that for his money, he'd spend the time on Facebook and Google +. As someone who reads around 130-150 books a year, I can honestly tell you right this second that I have never gotten a book recommendation or even clicked through something on G+ and I don't know anyone who uses it regularly. I do click through on Facebook and I use it daily for the blog. However, if I were to give advice to authors, I'd tell them to spend more time on Twitter, post a giveaway up on Goodreads for exposure, engage as a reader
on that site or on Amazon, and also use Facebook. I am happy that McVeigh explained about linking FB and Twitter accounts to auto-post, though. (I have gotten many, MANY recommendations from Twitter and I routinely click through links that friends/followers (even ones with whom I am not familiar) tweet) I hate it when authors are too promotional/salesy but there have been a few times when I interacted on Twitter with someone and then clicked through to find out they are an author and became more interested in their work. Success. The two most useful points McVeigh brought up from a blogging standpoint were the importance of backlinking and post titles. Google indexes post titles so it is important to title your posts using the keywords that people might search on Google for (or Bing, if you're one of "those people" (McVeigh is)), and backlinks also raise sites in Google's algorithms. Backlinking, which I'm kind of addicted to doing anyway, is when you talk about something in a post and then link out to another site. The more links out there to your site there are, the more legit you are in Google rankings (and I know Alexa takes these into account for site ranks as well) I find search engine optimization fascinating.
I'll be back tomorrow...or the next day to recap day two of the festival and my adventure to see Rachel Hartman at the Seattle Public Library! Were you at Northwest Bookfest? What'd you think? If you weren't, was this the longest blog post you've ever read?
* A multi-author book event where the bookstore employee had no idea how to interview, had nothing prepared, and the moderator was half hour late so the audience and authors just had a staredown of silence, no introductions were given, the bookstore events person asked a few questions but mostly talked about himself and then the moderator came and asked basically the same exact questions. Names left out to protect the hopefully embarrassed. I never did a recap because I was understandably not in a very good mood.
The two books I picked up at tonight's event. You can win the signed Heartsick! (Book #1 in the series)
Wednesday night, I went to see Chelsea Cain at Elliot Bay Book Company
over on Capitol Hill with my mom. I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out who introduced me to the Gretchen Lowell/Archie Sheridan series, I think my mother might've heard about it on the radio or in a news article? Anyway, I've been reading this series from the beginning as have many of my friends, both online and in real life. For those unfamiliar with the series, it revolves around a female serial killer in Oregon and the detective who finally put her behind bars, but not before she tortured him for ten days and completely messed up his mind. The third primary character is Susan, a local newspaper reporter, whom Cain later mentioned she added into the series as an entry point for her as a writer. Cain herself used to be a journalist so Susan's character allows for her to speak with authority about what life is like for someone in that line of work.
We were a few minutes late for the event so when we walked in she was already reading, and the chapter was a gruesome one from early in the book. I had started the book that morning but only got to around 20% on my Kindle before we had to leave. There is a chapter early on wherein Susan is giving her boyfriend a hand job in a public place. It is weird to know your mother is reading about hand jobs. (I can't even begin to think what people think about their mothers and even grandmothers are thinking about whilst reading Fifty Shades of Grey
) So it was with great relief that I sat down and listened to Cain read about a hanged body, stripped flesh, rotten smells, and general grossness. She is an engaging speaker and my mom and I had joked on the way there about what kind of person writes these gory crime thrillers. I don't know if you could ever look at a lineup of writers and guess what genre they write (this could be a really fun blog post), but I don't think I would pick a blonde woman in a Hufflepuff quidditch captain t-shirt
as my go-to for crime thriller, would you?
Remember when I should've put my hair down?
Cain continued to read while I thought about this and then my blood pressure started to rise as she finished the chapter and declared, "Alright, that was the gruesome, now let's get to the sex!" and read the entire hand job chapter. While I sat in the audience. With my mom. Welp, I guess I can cross that off my bucket list. And don't even try to make the argument that I should lighten up and that everyone knows that adult women are all probably familiar with hand jobs. Only someone who has done something similar like watching an explicit sex scene in a movie with their parents and not felt one iota of awkwardness can come in and tell me to get over it. While we're on this subject, here's how she signed my copy of Kill You Twice
Oh, I'm sure they will.
Truth be told, it wasn't as awkward as I thought it would be. After the reading, she took questions from the audience and *gasp* I actually asked a few. When asked where she gets her inspiration, she joked about how she need look no further than the Metro section of her local Portland paper, The Oregonian, because it's filled with some pretty messed up stuff. (She also joked that her computer had once gotten an STD from a bondage website she visited while researching) Chelsea Cain is the type of person who crosses bridges and instead of taking in the view is instead wondering how many dead bodies are in the Willamette River at that very moment. The type of person who reads through articles about how the number of pedestrian deaths in Portland is huge and wonders if there is a serial killer on the loose running random people down for kicks. The type of person who goes hiking and spends all their time eagle eye-ing the woods in the hopes of finding a dead body. (Perhaps I missed my calling as I do these things as well!) An audience member asked a question about how Cain approaches a crime scene. As a former newspaper reporter, the audience member spoke about how she always tried to approach a crime from the victim's point of view in order to rebuild their life for the reader. Cain responded that if she were to do something like that, it would add too much emotion to the books and become a sad experience for readers, which would obviously be detrimental to a successful crime thriller. She approaches the story from Susan and Archie's perspectives and the victim is just a part of the storyline. Cain then went on to talk a bit about Gretchen's POV. (Gretchen is a seriously deranged lady serial killer and master manipulator with a shockingly high body count, for those unfamiliar with her) She said that Gretchen's POV is purposefully left out to keep readers wondering why she does what she does. It would lessen the suspense, in Cain's opinion, if we knew what was driving Gretchen's actions.
The next question cracked me up because it was something I'd been wondering and laughing about while I was reading the beginning of her newest book. "Is she making fun of Portland/ers?" Here is an example of what made me wonder about it:
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Jake Kelly only drank fair trade coffee. It guaranteed a living wage for coffee farmers, who otherwise might be slaving away for a price less than the cost of production, forcing them into a cycle of debt and poverty. Jake needed a cup. He needed the caffeine. But the center only had Yuban. He could smell the nutty aroma of French roast wafting from the brewing air pot. Was he tempted? Yes. But then he thought of the indigenous people of Guatemala, working for pennies in the coffee fields. Every choice a person made, what to buy or not to buy, what to eat and drink, had the power to change lives. You were either part of the solution or part of the problem. (Locations 131-136).
This reminds me of Portlandia
and also several experiences and people I've encountered in Portland
. (I'm still trying to forget one of the worst hangovers of my life when all I wanted was a greasy breakfast and a pop and what I got was a 45 minute wait at a "hip place for brunch
" where I was told they didn't have fountain drinks but only italian sodas and homemade root beer and instead of a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich, I could have something more pretentiously described and less tasty.) Cain isn't making fun of Portland. "No way," she said, "Portland is a character in the book." She said she set the series there mostly because she's lazy, but that it has worked out well because it is a fabulous setting and it feels relatable to a lot of people, including Germans, for some reason.
Having read all installments in the series thus far (Heartsick
, Evil at Heart
, The Night Season
, and last week's release, Kill You Twice
), I asked Cain whether she has an end in sight or an idea of the overall story arc of the series. Cain joked that she'd like to write as many of these as she can but that she'd probably write 57. She said that she's not an outliner but that she has the main storyline in mind and side ones are added in when she's plotting a new book, some that she has thought of already to add in over the series and some that come up while writing. This question and answer made me a bit nervous, actually, because Tatiana, Catie, and I talked recently about series that go on for too long and I hope that doesn't become the case in this one. (Also, I am very excited at what other crazy serial killer characters Cain can come up with!) As it stands, Cain signs 3-book contracts for the series.
The next topic up for discussion and one I am super psyched about is that FX is developing the series into a television show. Everyone in the audience and Cain seemed to be very excited to discuss casting choices. The pilot was written by a Finnish screenwriter who contacted Cain and was a fan of the series from its onset. The first season of the show will be Heartsick
and so on, that is, if the network picks up the pilot. (I hope they do!) The author has no specific choices in mind for casting, but people have told her they'd love to see someone like John Turturro
as Archie and she thinks Charlize Theron
would be a killer (pun intended!) choice for Gretchen because the actress needs to be scary and believable and with a certain intelligence behind her eyes. When speaking about Henry, Archie's fellow detective, Cain and an audience member talked back and forth a bit about whether Henry is black or white. I was surprised this came up because I'd never thought of Henry as anything but black, though I can't point to anything that really made me think that. (For the record, the audience member thought the same) Cain says that he is white but that it is interesting that so many people wonder about that because she originally wrote him as a black man and then changed it because she felt it to be too cliche to have a black best friend/partner. Meh, I think I'll just continue on my way, reading him as black. (and also picturing him as Henry from Eureka
) Even if the show's story deviates from its source material, Cain isn't too worried about it because FX produces some amazing shows. Agreed.
Susan, the reporter from the books, is known for her sense of style and her ever-changing hair color. Someone in the audience asked Cain what her favorite color has been for Susan's hair, to which she responded pink, and said that she's been careful to only use colors that are actually real ones in the Manic Panic line
. Fun factoid: Every piece of clothing that Susan wears is actually part of Cain's wardrobe in real life. The author, while talking about Susan's pink hair, then went on a tangent to discuss Barbie Theatre
, which is a subsite on her webpage where she uses her daughter's Barbies to create trailers for her books. One of my favorite portions of the evening was when Cain talked a little bit about funny things that have happened with her daughter due to her job as author of crime thrillers. She joked that her daughter chastised her for leaving fake blood on one of her dolls, Cain found her once engaging two fake severed hands in an imaginary conversation with each other (she was giving away signed severed fingers with book purchased at the event. I'm sad I forgot to ask for one), and that Chuck Palahniuk
once lent her a book and she later found her daughter using a crime scene photo in it as a coloring book. (The two authors are in the same writing group and meet up weekly)
I asked her what she likes to read for pleasure and Cain said she was currently reading The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
and that she loves the Sherlock stories because the solutions to the crimes are always so ludicrous but that we, as readers, just totally believe them. (True. Also, she's a fan of BBC's Sherlock
. (Who isn't?!) She also likes to read nonfiction like the work of Bill Bryson
and often mines books for factoids that she can use for Susan's character in the series. In terms of her television tastes, she likes Game of Thrones
, True Blood
, Mad Men
, and Law & Order
, which she thinks she's now seen every episode of. She joked that she knew she'd made it when she saw a character on True Blood
reading her book.
The "I knew I'd made it" moment.
She's also a fan of British television, which is a holdover from her childhood, during which she watched tons of Masterpiece
. One of her favorite shows, Wire in the Blood
, is based on the crime series that inspired her to write Heartsick
. (Val McDermid's Tony Hill & Carol Jordan series
) She finished all the books from the series and was wary of starting a new series to fill the void and finding that it wasn't as good. She decided to just write her own book that would be exactly what she wanted to read. Cain also joked that when she was writing Heartsick, she'd think about how she'd write this book, it would be successful, and that somehow she'd get the chance to meet Robson Green
, star of Wire in the Blood
. She got her wish last year when she was nominated for a British literary award and met him at the awards show.
The next question was which book in the series is Cain's favorite. She said that next one (which is already finished!) is her favorite. It is Halloween-themed and will contain a big reveal. When restricted to those books already published in the series, she wasn't sure if she had a favorite but that Evil at Heart
was her least favorite. My least favorite was The Night Season
because it was less gruesome and Gretchen was largely absent from it. Cain spoke a little bit about that particular book and said that her publisher asked her to write an installment that was more accessible those unfamiliar to the series and its gore and that might serve as an later entry point. This kind of validated my feelings about the book so I'm glad it was addressed. She said that she really missed Gretchen while writing and that it would definitely be a long time until she writes another book without her. (Thanks!) In terms of her characters, Cain answered an audience question about whether they were based on real people with the statement that she was never able to actually finish a book until she stopped basing characters on real-life people. Nowadays, she often uses people's real names for the victims and just kills them, which some people appreciate and others find less amusing than she thought they would. She said her beta readers thought Susan's character was a huge asshole, which entertained Cain because she used Susan's character as the vehicle to say all the things Cain herself would say in the situation but would never actually
After the event, I bought the newest book, which you saw signed above, and a copy of the first book in the series to give away. Are you still reading? Have I piqued your interest? Enter to win a signed copy of Heartsick!
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I read every once in a while during high school, and I include my "required reading" in that every once in a while. I distinctly remember getting a 99% on an exam about Chen Village
without ever reading the book. When I got to college, I had all this free time and I couldn't spend it all
partying. Good thing I met my two best friends and they introduced me to lots of awesome things. These pictures are of Maureen and me. Maureen got me hooked on the Harry Potter
series and Nora Roberts books during my freshman year. (I actually got into a verbal spat with the people in the mail room when my copy of Goblet of Fire
didn't come in by 10am the next day as Amazon promised) She is the reason I am the avid reader I am today. Bet you didn't see that one coming, did you, Maureen? BLINDSIDED. She gave me Nora Roberts' The Villa
and I was hooked. I tediously collected every book Roberts ever published--in used book stores, from Ebay in huge lots of books, just anywhere I could find them. It makes me so happy to think of the weekend days we spent just laying around in our dorm room reading all day. Fast forward seven years. When I was in grad school, Maureen introduced me to Susan Elizabeth Phillips...and then I bought every book she's written for my Kindle and read probably five or six that week alone. Though I do read some other romance authors these days, the only two I insta-buy and read are Roberts and Phillips. I've been a fan ever since my entry book (It Had To Be You
) so when I found out Phillips was touring for her newest book, I was so excited to go. Alas, no event was near enough for me to attend. Therefore, I did what any blogger worth her salt would do: I called up my best friend and fellow SEP fan and asked if she'd go to the event near her and cover it for the blog. Thankfully, she agreed. Problem solved! So here she is!
Okay, so don't be too jealous, Flannery...but I have a new BFF! And her name is Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Granted it might not be totally
reciprocal just yet, but we'll get there! I just know it!
The reason I have decided that we are besties is that she threw the MOST fabulous book event, ever, ever, ever this past Sunday. Her new book, The Great Escape
, comes out on today (July 10th), so she is just kicking off her supporting book tour (more on the book later!).
First of all, let me just tellllllllll you about the venue. It was hosted by Lutz Cafe and Pastry Shop
, and this place is like a sweet Bavarian dream. An unassuming little shop front opens into an adorable bakery - with a pastry case full of jaw-droppingly beautiful goodness, and as you wander to the back, there is a fabulously formal dining room with linen table cloths and gorgeous place settings. Through the back door is a patio area with several tables under umbrellas nestled into a beautifully landscaped garden, with a little fountain in the middle. It really felt like we had stepped into a German mountaintop scene. So while we were swooning over this, the group of girls I arrived with - which included Sarah of the Brazen Bookworm
(a fab book blog everyone should read), snagged a table with a great view. Then we were able to purchase advance copies (!!!) of the book, from local independent bookstore, Anderson's
. As an aside, I love that SEP is such a supporter of independent bookstores. She is from the Chicago suburbs, and has been using Anderson's for book events forever (one of the many points in her favor for bestie-dom).
so cute, right?
And then! The grand entrance! SEP walks in (wearing a super cute dress and little heels), and just starts walking table to table introducing herself and chatting with everyone. She came up to our table and asked us each our names and what we do for a living - and was very excited to hear that there were representatives from two different book blogs! She chatted with us about her drive in from Naperville (a Chicago suburb about 45 minutes from downtown), told a few funny stories, and was just generally charming.
As she moved on to another table, we were offered our choice of coffee or tea and a dessert selection from that amazing display. Seriously, this was the best $10 ticket I have ever purchased. I am not 100% sure what was in my pastry - but it was delicious and amazing and heart-shaped:
So onto the actual talking about books! The set up was really conducive to a casual and informal conversation, rather than SEP standing at a podium in a more formal or structured event. Apparently, she has been asking her publisher to arrange more events like this because she really loves getting a chance to meet and interact with her readers (another point on her bestie score card). So she just stood up and started telling some stories about her recent European book tour. I think it is so interesting to know where certain books do so, so well - and then where they totally flop. SEP said that her books have not done terribly well in France or Italy, but that the Germans go CRAZY for her stuff. So much so, that when she was there, she had an entire entourage of people travelling with her to see to her every need (which she said was so so fun and felt very fancy!). Apparently the British are not fans of her books, AT ALL - the British branch of her publisher won't even sell them there, because her books are "too American" - isn't that crazy?! Those Brits don't know what they are missing. Part of her tour was also in Croatia and Slovenia - and SEP noted that while her books (and the whole romance genre) tends to do very well there, there are very few, if any, homegrown romance novelists from any of those countries.
She also shared some funny stories and mishaps from her tour - things like being afraid of birds and totally losing it at a fancy lunch when a bird flew into the restaurant, and waiting to make a big splashy entrance at an event, only to completely faceplant into her translator. Haha, it was just too funny - she summed it up nicely that when someone gets into as many ridiculous situations as she does, "Well, its just hard to try to be sophisticated!" (down to earth = another point!). So then she launched into a trivia game, which was hysterical. She asked that we not reveal her questions since I think she will be continuing to play this game on her tour and it would ruin the fun to give away the answers. But they were fun and funny questions about previous books, her characters and their backgrounds. (likes playing games = CLEARLY a point in her favor).
When we started talking about the actual new book, The Great Escape
, SEP pointed out that she just can't talk about this one without also talking about her previous book, Call Me Irresistible
. She did note, however, that she doesn't really think of any of her books as part of a series, but rather that since all of her characters live in the same world, they just have a habit of showing up in her other books. When she set out to write Call Me Irresistible
, she really wanted to tell Ted Beaudine's story. Ted is a character who first showed up in Fancy Pants
as a little boy, and then we see him again in Lady Be Good
, this time as a recent college graduate. Phillips said that she just loves Ted as a character, and that when she wrote about him in Fancy Pants
as a child, her two sons were just around his age, so Ted became a little bit of both of her sons, which apparently is the only time that she has created a character based on someone she knew in real life. So while SEP loved his character, so did all of her readers, and apparently she was regularly pestered to tell his story. Then SEP wrote First Lady
and she just fell in love with the character Lucy Jorik. The first time I read First Lady
, I totally thought Lucy was the best character I had read in awhile - she is fiesty and pissed off and super protective of her baby sister, and just heartbreaking. Love it.
Anyways, SEP totally thought that Lucy and Ted would be absolutely perfect for each other...until she realized that they both WERE just too perfect and are too 'together' to be good for one another. Which is why Meg Koranda, first seen in What I Did For Love
, had to show up and get that wedding derailed. This point is where The Great Escape
starts - Lucy realizes that Meg was right when she said that marrying Ted would be a huge mistake, so just before she walks down the aisle she calls of the wedding and runs away. (Not a spoiler, don't worry. That part is all in the GR summary). When SEP was working on Call Me Irresistible
and announced that Ted and Lucy weren't going to end up together, apparently people were SUPER pissed at her - she laughingly admitted that she got hate mail over it! Sheesh.
Phillips originally thought that she would be able to tell Lucy's story as a subplot of Call Me Irresistible
, but as she got deeper into the story, she decided that there was more to the story and that it really needed to be its own book (thanks for that!!). So she pulled everything that she could about Lucy's story out of the book. There were just two phone calls between Meg and Lucy that had to be kept - so SEP knew that whatever else she did as she was writing The Great Escape
, she HAD to get to those two plot points. The story of Lucy and Panda (ugh, that name, I KNOW), got a whole book to sort out their messy situations. (Note from Flann: PANDA? SERIOUSLY?)
Here is a brief summary of the Q&A:What's next?
Working on a new book but is still pretty early on in the process so she wouldn't share any more than the fact that it will be a total stand alone, which she knows "everyone will moan and groan and whine about." What is her writing routine?
When she started writing, she decided to approach it like any other job - "just as if I was a secretary and simply had to go to work everyday." She writes everyday, even on weekends, when she can, so she doesn't lose the flow of the story. She also uses a digital timer and makes herself get in three solid hours of writing time every day. If she has to get up for a snack, or answer the phone, or go to the bathroom, or do some research, the timer gets paused until she starts writing again. It sounds like a pretty awesome plan, actually. She said that she uses this technique when she feels like she has to force herself to do anything - cleaning out closets, or folding laundry, or whatever. Decide how much time you are going to commit to it, and then set your timer. I miiiiiiight have to try that out (since I am grossly procrastinating on my thesis writing). What is your favorite book?
"My favorite book is always the one that I have just finished. And my least favorite book is always the on I am currently working on. Always!"Do you read your own reviews?
She said that she does sometimes. There have been some online reviews (on Amazon for example) that she found really thoughtful and well-done. But she said that oftentimes, readers fall in love with an author's voice in one book and then want the author to keep retelling that same story so they are frustrated with any different stories or types of material. And then there are some reviews that are just "damn stupid." Who are your favorite characters?
She mentioned three characters that she just loved and knew that she had to know what their stories were:
1. Bobby Tom Denton (first in It Had to Be You
, unfortunately one of the worst cover art situations I have ever seen), then in Heaven, Texas
2. Dean Robillard (first in Match Me if You Can
, one of my all-time favorites, and my usual recommendation for where to start with SEP books), then in Natural Born Charmer
3. Finally, of course, Ted Beaudine (we've got him covered) Did you always want to be an author?
"Oh god no, I wanted to be a movie star! Being an author was my fall back career!" She apparently studied theater in college, and taught high school theater before she started writing. She said she started so she could write the books that she wanted to read. (Loves reading romance books = another BFF point earned). What romance authors do you love to read?
Jayne Ann Krentz and Kristen Hannah.
So there it is folks! We finished up the Q&A, and then she stuck around to make sure that she signed everything that anyone wanted to get signed, and took pictures with everyone who came (more points, DUHZ). Susan Elizabeth Phillips was already an insta-buy author for me, but getting a chance to meet her and hear her talk about books and her writing, and telling stories really made me love her so much more as an author. If she is going to be anywhere near you in her upcoming tour I highly recommend that you make the effort to go! You won't regret it. I'm not sure how that math for becoming my best friend works out, but she got a LOT of points, so I'm pretty sure its all going to come together nicely. (Note from Flann: So it's over just like that?! Gosh, 10 years down the drain.)
Okay so I instagrammed this one. #imobsessed
No, thank YOU, Maureen, our little intrepid reporter!
Have any of you read Susan Elizabeth Phillips' novels? Thinking of giving them a try?