Saturday, September 27, 2014

Author Reading: Scott Westerfeld at Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC

Earlier this week, Daughter and I enjoyed a school-night outing to one of our favorite independent bookstores, Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, NC, to hear Scott Westerfeld, on tour to promote his new book, Afterworlds. This was, in fact, the first stop on his book tour, as the book was released on Sep 23rd.

Daughter discovered Leviathan in 5th grade and devoured the trilogy, a steampunk alternate history of World War One, in which the Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition, while the British Darwinists employ genetically fabricated animals as their weaponry.

She wasn’t then interested in the “Uglies” series, but I think she mistakenly thought it was more realistic fiction of the type her friends enjoy but she finds boring. After hearing Westerfeld talk about the series, in which sixteen brings the surgery that makes you Pretty—because who would want to stay Ugly forever?—I think she and I are both much more interested to read it!

After Goliath, the third of the Leviathan trilogy, Westerfeld took a break before beginning his new work, which is in fact two stories interwoven into one novel, Afterworlds. I’ll have to wait for Daughter to read her newly minted and signed copy first, but then I plan to enjoy the book and will post a review here.

Meanwhile, here are my notes from Westerfeld’s talk:

This is his first tour in 5 years – a little nervous! How will he be received without bringing more Talia (from Uglies) or airships (from Leviathan)?! He showed a book trailer for Afterworlds (above)…and talked about how different the publishing industry was in terms of media and social media in 10 years – primarily due to the explosive growth of Young Adult (YA). Next year will see a new release of Uglies to mark its 10th anniversary – and it will have all the bells and whistles, compared to the simply styled book trailers of 2005.

What a year 2005 was for YA! Uglies, Justine Larbalestier’s Magic or Madness (coincidentally, Westerfeld’s wife); Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy, John Green’s Looking for Alaska, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight

Westerfeld gives Meyer credit for much of the YA explosion. Twilight truly changed the global landscape of the YA publishing world. It’s been translated into 20 languages and is a media juggernaut.

This is a huge “cultural moment” for YA – as it’s being read by more and more adults, teen tastes are informing their parents’ generation in a more positive way than any since there have *been* teenagers. Strong emphasis on story and narrative… Stephen Colbert said “YA is like a regular novel, except people would actually want to read it!”

Afterworlds is about a young writer who gets published, and about her 1st year living on her in New York while she grows up, falls in love, and rewrites her book with her changing perspective on life, love, and more. Half of the book is her own story, and half of it is her novel.

“Teenager” is a relatively new concept in human cultural history. 150 years ago, child labor laws were established that limited children under 18 from working more than 80 hours per week. In 1920, US laws established that you had to be 16 to get married. So there was this kind of twilight zone, where you weren’t a child anymore, but you weren’t fully an adult yet.

The word “teenager” wasn’t even invented until 1941, and movies like Rebel Without a Cause showed how much the new “teens” terrified adults! They were old enough and big enough to be dangerous, but not yet “civilized” and “in control” like adults!

Uglies tapped into this uncertain time, this “moral panic”

Now, almost 10 years after Uglies and other YA exploded on the scene, YA is what keeps the publishing industry in business. It’s by far the most profitable section of any bookstore…Meyer, Collins, and Green are the publishing powerhouses of today.

Back in 2005, several of the YA authors realized they all lived in New York City, so they started NY YA Drink Night, a monthly gathering.

Westerfeld thought it would be fun to write about the YA lit community, and rather than from his own perspective he thought it would be interesting to show it through the eyes of a young girl/woman just entering the scene, both as a Young Adult herself, and the author of a soon-to-be-published manuscript. She writes it during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) of her senior year in high school, and she has a publishing contract by graduation. Decides to defer college and go to the NY lit scene…which absolutely does not thrill her Indian immigrant parents!

2nd trailer:

There’s such great teen interest in *reading* - blog widget countdowns to next releases – a passion for books...

The pubishing industry is over 500 years old. Lots of weird legacy things – but also lots of great conversations with like-minded people. [This is why spec fiction Cons are so great!]

He’s going to put together a “How to write a YA novel” – parts of it are already on his blog! 

The book has already been optioned for a movie, and Westerfeld is thinking a sequel could be about Darcy making a movie of Lizzie’s story.

Westerfeld loves falling/flying – flying would be his superhero power – he pushed himself to write Lizzy’s story in Darcy’s voice, not his own! No falling or leaping out of buildings!

Lizzy becomes a Soul Guide – Westerfeld researched lots of different religions and traditions. Hindu story of the Lord of the Dead: Yama and his sister Yami were the first to find the afterworld, and so he became the ruler of it!

Research – it’s not just to “get things right” –the best thing is it gives you story!

Q&A session with the (mostly teen) audience:

AQ: Will Shay’s story ever be finished?
SW: No, sadly, there will only be the two graphic novels

AQ: So Darcy and Lizzy’s names are obviously inspired by Pride and Prejudice…
SW: (with a laugh) I actually didn’t notice that at first! Names are an important part of the book. Pen names, knowing people, power over people Lizzie’s kind of a badass and Darcy’s fussier – not pride, more insecurity – the other side of the same coin, I guess.

AQ: How did your YA lit friends respond to the Afterworlds concept?
SW: Well, in general, they were really supportive, as you saw in the 2nd trailer. The thing is, Darcy isn’t exciting – her story is about slow growing up in real life. Lizzie has the dramatic scenes leading up to a big climax. What was interesting about people’s responses is that those who write realistic fiction didn’t like Lizzie’s story, and those who write fantastical fiction felt the same way about Darcy’s story. Across the board, this was pretty consistent.

AQ: How long did it take to write the book?
SW: Well, I took a little time off after Goliath, so it really took three years to write. That’s from start to end of first draft. Now, keep in mind, this is really two 75,000 word novels combined into one big brick.

AQ: Did you write the two stories in sequence? Or did you write one and then the other?
SW: That’s a really good question. I actually wanted the two stories to be interwoven together, like a conversation. And Darcy’s experience of living and writing her story very much influenced Lizzy’s story. So while it would have made a lot of sense to write them one at a time, I wrote them pretty much like you will read them. Now sometimes I would write a little ahead on Lizzy’s story, because I found it more fun.

AQ: Was it easier to write Darcy’s part? Like a journal of your own experiences?
SW: It was easy and fun in many ways.

AQ: What do you think of fan fiction?
SW: I think it’s great, and especially fan art – I used to post Fan Art Friday on my site. I think anything that makes the world bigger and better known is great. Similarly, I think self-publishing is great, too. You get better when a lot of people read your stuff. It’s like pumpkin carving. Remember before all the fancy kits and social media, when you carved a simple pumpkin, five people might say “That’s a pretty good pumpkin.” Now, you post a picture on Instagram and get 2 million likes! The fan fiction community and the author community are the same.

AQ: Any advice for NaNoWriMo?
SW: Don’t take anyone’s advice! Just do it – write, write, write. Novels are Really Fucking Big. Embrace the Kleenex boxes….
The thing is, if you’re a writer, this is what you do all the time anyway. To do NaNa, you have to write like 1500 words a day (1667, but who’s counting). That means *you are writing all the time*…even when you’re not sitting in front of a computer, or pad of paper, you are still writing in your head. That’s what writing is…

AQ: You write a lot of strong female progtagonists that behave appropriately to their circumstances. What are your influences?
SW: Well, I have two older sisters. And I went to Vasser. One of my sisters is a rock climber. She says, “This was the best weekend—Ever! We almost died!” Like it’s a good thing. She’s fearless. I don’t specifically set out to write girls, but So Yesterday and Peeps are my only two books with only male protags. I just don’t find teen boys as interesting, as complicated, as challenging as teen girls. Chris Crutcher (Running Loose, Stotan!, Chinese Handcuffs, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes) writes really good, super realistic books about male protags and how teen boys think…

AQ: When did you start reading SF and fantasy? Who influenced you?
SW: I always did, as long as I can remember. In the bookstores, I was drawn to the fancy covers and then the great stories in the SF section. I was never interested in the early YA books like the Outsiders or Judy Blume, even though those are some great books. Enders Game, that’s a terrific SF story.

AQ: NPR just did an article on Afterworlds, and it says YA is defined by a character being the special “Chosen One” – do you agree?
SW: Well, that’s pretty much every Hero’s Journey, ever, right? Two things about that... 1) Journalists tend to be reductionist. And 2) Remember, those scary teenagers need to be put in a box.

AQ: In the Leviathan series, how did you choose Darwinists?
SW: Well, it’s an alternate history of WW1, so the Axis, the Germans were good at building things. The British were big into naturalism, so, Charles Darwin. The story has a strong steampunk feel – that is, set in the past with a sort of futuristic technology (at least, futuristic for that past). I wanted a *biologist* to be the “mad scientist”, rather than a mechanics inventor. Because, Frankenstein.

AQ: How do you get in the head space for writing?
SW: It takes awhile…like a year of percolating. One of the main ideas in AfterWorlds was something I sat on for 20 years. Basically, you become very good at setting an idea on the back burner on low for as long as possible and letting it “cook” before you ever begin to put it on paper.

Great Westerfeld quotes:

The Darkness Is Coming!

People are paying me for squiggles…
I just put words in the right order…this is crazy!

Taliesin (Frank Lloyd Wright’s home) will not withstand the zombie apocalypse!

Writing a novel is like sitting at your desk with a box of Kleenex on your feet. Embrace the Kleenex boxes….

surely one of yours...]


And so, with a loving heart, I offer you
I’ve heard many translations. Here’s one I love:
The light of the universe that shines within me recognizes
the light of the universe that shines within you.

Dogs in House

Music Playing
Ambient soundtrack mix

Time writing
90 minutes

September word count

1 comment:

  1. Writing report:
    Novel editing, Ch 35. I'm having the worrying thought that I might end up taking the new POV out... although I might have to do it after I've finished the book with it in, so that that character acts natural. For some reason I have a lot of trouble getting in her head unless I'm writing from her POV.
    Time: ~15 min