If you want to give a book event some ambiance, hold it in a church. Better yet, hold it in a chapel with a backlit cross and recessed lighting above it, so that when something shorts and the lights flicker over the cross and then smoke starts coming out, everyone will ponder if it is God wondering why it took a book event to get them to go to church. Or maybe that was just me. This event made me so excited from the get-go. I walked in and was handed a raffle ticket for the paperback boxed set, which included an advance reader's copy of Bitterblue. While writing the series, Cashore's editor moved publishing houses so she's had two different publishers. For that reason, she noted, this might be the only boxed set that is ever offered of the series. Spoiler alert, I didn't win the boxed set. Second spoiler alert, I thought about jumping the winner in the parking lot. Instead, I bought a dollar ice cream sundae at Mickey D's and called it an evening well spent.
I'm not sure what I was expecting from Kristin Cashore in real life, but what I got was an enthusiastic, approachable, friendly author who more than carried the event with her personality. Most of the events I've gone to previously were for groups of authors and I was curious to see if I would take as many notes when it was primarily a reading and just one author. Well, when the author is so gosh-darn interesting and quotable, it turns out that answer is definitely yes.
Cashore said she was in a great mood that day for several reasons: a positive diagnosis for a family member, Obama's support of gay marriage, and finding out she was #2 on the New York Times bestseller list for the week. She'd decided, upon visiting Seattle, that she'd like to take a ferry ride since we have regular ferries running all over Elliott Bay and Puget Sound. While she was on the boat, she found out all this information so not only did that make it "the best ferry ride ever" but she was also contagiously happy that evening.
All of my photos from the night are blurry. Photo fail!
Armed with a tabbed and margin-note-ridden copy of Bitterblue
and one of her many notebooks, Cashore began talking about her writing process. She writes everything by hand and transfers her work in Word every so often. Since it is impossible to backup handwritten words with the same regularity as computer work, she keeps her notebooks in a fireproof, waterproof safe. Cashore showed the audience one of the seven notebooks she filled while writing Bitterblue
, and when she walked down the aisle, we could see that almost half, if not more, of the writing was crossed out. She chuckled when she saw that she'd written, "This is rot and shards and contagion, but that's okay" along the top of one page. Evidently that is a quote from a book she enjoyed but she used it as a starting point to talk about the importance of failure for aspiring (and all) writers.
According to Cashore, the first draft is total crap. You know the heart of the story but you don't know how to get it into words. You just write it and rewrite it until you get it right, except even when you think you might've gotten there, you could be totally wrong. Bitterblue
took twice as long as the previous two books for her to write and when she turned it in, her editor read the draft and said what is probably every author's nightmare sentence: "Would you consider starting from scratch?" Though it was an initial shock, Cashore agrees with her editor's statement and thinks the book is stronger for it. She used that first draft as a source and just lifted all the good stuff from it. Doing so allowed her to approach her revision with unbelievable freshness and when she was completed, her editor called the revision a miraculous feat.
Here's Cashore doing two readings from Bitterblue
. Sorry the audio quality is not the greatest. Pump up the volume
! (I wish there was some reason to put pics of young Christian Slater in this post.) These two videos are a bit long and straightforward so if you're pressed for time, watch the other two later in the post, in which she answers audience questions.
I mean no disrespect to young adult fans in general, anyone who knows me knows what a huge, huge fan of the genre I am, but I have to say, fantasy and sci-fi young adult readers ask phenomenal questions. They are invested in the worlds, the characters, the author, and the inventions in ways that astound me. I was surprised several times over when audience members asked questions about how tyrannical characters from history influenced her writing of Leck and a question about a comment Cashore made in the acknowledgments of Bitterblue
that elicited a wonderful response from the author. Apparently, she made a comment in the acknowledgments about Po's character and this was the first time she'd ever been asked about it. (If you click that link, it takes you to a discussion on Cashore's blog which was inspired by the audience member's question.) The reader just asked if she could elaborate a little bit on what the comment meant. I could tell that Cashore thought very hard about what exactly she wanted to say, and I think she explained herself thoughtfully and tactfully on the matter. (There will be a spoiler for Graceling
, if anyone wants to skip on to the next paragraph.) When an author is writing a book, they won't notice everything in their own characters or plot that might offend people. By blinding Po at the end of Graceling
but then having his grace be magical sight, it might be seen as implying that Po couldn't be a "complete person" without his use of sight. "Curing" a disability may be seen as rude or presumptuous. Cashore talked about the inevitable mistakes authors make and though she regrets making that choice for Po overall, it was never intentional and she is very mindful about not making a similar mistake for any future characters she writes. I actually drew hearts all around my notes from this section of the event because it was readily apparent how much Cashore took it to heart and I was glad she didn't try to evade the question even one bit.
The most exciting part of the night for me was when someone asked the inevitable "What's next?" question. The answer, I was ecstatic to find out, is contemporary, realistic YA! The draft is already completed so I, for one, cannot wait to read it when it comes out. What she will do in other arenas? Here's Kristin talking about the book she's just finished a draft of and what else might be next for her:
She said she may eventually write another book set in the same world as the Graceling Realm books, perhaps one from Po's point of view, but one character she hopes never to visit again is Leck. Cashore said being inside Leck's mind was an awful experience. For a few weeks, she'd write something terrible for him, approach it with fresh eyes and realize it had to be even more horrific and rewrite. The entire process was taxing, but an author can get a sort of sick pleasure when writing evil characters.
An audience member applauded Cashore for cleverly writing a young adult book with romantic elements but without that as the central theme. Story is the main force behind Cashore's books and she said she wouldn't feel as challenged if she were to write a book with romance driving the story along. She is averse to love triangles and finds them "so boring." As do I, Kristin Cashore, as do I.
A few more fun facts:
- She queried Graceling along with a realistic middle-grade book, which is now, sadly, closeted.
- It took her one and a half years to write the first draft of Graceling, and six months to revise it.
- She doesn't remember the inspirations behind the characters in the series.
- She once worked as a waitress in a pub in Australia. She said she must've been hired for the novelty of having an American working there as she was a terrible waitress.
- When they were trying to think of a name for the overall series, one of her friends suggested "Kickass Women Who Kill Their Fathers."
At the end of the evening, when it was time for the raffle for the boxed set, she walked over to the bag of tickets and looked at the audience before saying, in a perfect Effie Trinket voice, "May the odds be ever in your favor." Psht, as if you could even make me like you more, Kristin Cashore.