This week we’ve been talking about the fantastic new book Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton, which came out earlier this week. We had the pleasure of interviewing Arwen at San Diego Comic Con last year, and we’ve been sitting on this interview, waiting for the release of this amazing book. We’ve finally posted it below, so enjoy! In the interview we talk with Arwen about the different elements of the Seeker world, diving into the characters’ heads, the route to publishing, the movie, and more! We kept it spoiler-free, so even if you haven’t read the book yet you can enjoy the interview — hopefully it will get you excited about this book that we here at Lytherus fell in love with.
The final book panel of San Diego Comic Con was What’s Hot in YA. Here at Lytherus we love all sorts of fantasy and scifi, but we do often feature YA, so this was a panel we didn’t want to miss. Rightly so, too, as the lineup of authors was absolutely insane: Kresley Cole (The Arcana Chronicles), Kami Garcia (The Legion Series), Tessa Gratton (United States of Asgard series), Tahereh Mafi (the Shatter Me series), Natalie Parker (Beware the Wild), C. J. Redwine (The Defiance series), Brendan Reichs (the Virals series), Margaret Stohl (the Icons series), and Scott Westerfeld (Afterworlds). Chew on those names for a minute. These are some of the biggest and best names in YA, and all on one panel. Moderated by Nathan Bransford (the Jacob Wonderbar series), this panel proved to be one of the best that SDCC had to offer.
First off, let me say that the banter between Kami Garcia and Margie Stohl was hilarious. They kept cracking the audience up, and it set an atmosphere of fun and revelry for the whole panel. Also, Margie started out the panel by announcing some big news. All she could say was Marvel YA, which sounds amazing. We can’t wait to see what’s up next with this.
Nathan kicked off the questions by asking the simple one of how did they start? Were they thinking of what’s hot in YA? Brendan, who is also hilarious, writes with his mom Kathy Reichs (of Bones fame), and started off the replies with that simple statement and a shrug, much to the amusement of everyone. Scott regaled everyone with the story that gave him the idea for his series Uglies, saying he was in LA and at the dentist, who took him to the back and wanted to talk about his five-year plan for his teeth (huh?!). He wondered what the world would be like if everything was like this, and the idea was born.
Nathan led right into the next question, asking how they decide on something, even if it seems not marketable? Tessa replied first, talking about how in her first drafts she puts in everything, all the detail, talks about politics and religion, everything she loves, and then she shapes after. Kresley has been writing adult paranormal for years, and when a YA book came to mind she tried not to write it skewed young, but that was the story so eventually she stopped fighting it and wrote it as YA. Tahereh tried writing for the market, but eventually said f-it and wrote how she wanted. She didn’t think people would get what she was doing, and publishing was a dream, but it did happen. Kami added to this, saying that Beautiful Creatures was published by accident, and then after she had this intense pressure when alone re: the market. Market really messes with the head. Margie made her talk about her passions, pushing past that. Brendan said that writing for the market doesn’t work. You’re chasing something that may not even be there. Your writing should be passionate. C.J. said you spend a lot of time with an idea and world, so you should love it. The market is hard to predict.
This led right into the next question. Authors never want to write to the market, but how do you fight the pressure? Margie said the market never feels good, it’s always crazy. Writing a book feels great. Thinking about the market is crazy and stressful. Scott added that it’s always changing. Right now contemporary is “in” thanks in part to John Green. Kami added that John wasn’t trying to be a “thing”, he’s just writing. Tahereh paraphrased E. Lockhart at this point, saying that most authors re: John’s success are like, that’s great, but I wanna stay in my pajamas. Kami added that the idea of a phenomenon is strange too. People like John Green and Scott have written a while before getting huge, and people forget the years of self-doubt. Natalie said what’s cool about the YA market is it’s a cool canvas, and allows you to play. Scott added to this, saying he gets lots of great feedback from fans, has fan art Friday, and it’s great to see people play in those worlds. It’s fun to see what fans generate, and it’s all about inspiring each other. Margie said that some books are small stories, and some are big, and that’s okay. Not everything is about commercialism; sometimes it’s about the fandom tribe.
Up next Nathan wanted to know if there’s less pressure because of social media. Kami said that twitter is for hanging out. Tahereh observed that confessional blogs don’t seem as common and that micro-blogging is more popular, which makes it easer to stay on top of. Scott also prefers twitter because of the ease. You can just send out an idea. Less pressure, less questions.
The next question was about traditional vs e-books: is there a polarization? Kami said there’s lots of hybrid authors, and that it doesn’t matter. There are self-published authors who kick ass, etc. If you’re out there, you’re an author. Scott added that it’s fun to write in other ways. He loves NaNoWriMo, so fans can appreciate how hard writing is.
For the last question Nathan wanted to know what is voice, and how the authors make it their own. C.J. said it’s okay to copy, that’s how you learn. Voice is what fans can expect, even if the world changes. For her it was deciding to stop being afraid and start writing what she loves to read that helped her. Kresley said it’s her voice when she’s writing and starts giggling at herself. Margie has an exercise she tells teens: look down and write about your shoes, and that’s your voice. Shoes are often the way teens are communicating with the world. Brendan got a laugh, saying he finds this question hard, as he’s writing a fourteen year old girl and he’s a thirty-seven year old man. Natalie said she gave her manuscript to Tessa, and to have her laugh was good feedback.
The mic was opened up for fans, and some book-specific questions were asked. Overall though it was a busy, fun, interesting and entertaining panel filled to the brim with fantastic YA authors and their insights. I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!
The second epic fantasy book panel Lytherus attended at San Diego Comic Con this year was titled Rulers of the Realm. This was the panel for fantasy book fandoms, to be sure! The all-star lineup consisted of Joe Abercrombie (Half a King), Lev Grossman (Magicians Trilogy), Diana Gabaldon (Outlander), George R. R. Martin (Game of Thrones), and Patrick Rothfuss (The Kingkiller Chronicle). The MC was Ali T. Kokman of Barnes & Noble, and he was a lively host to this lively panel.
Ali started out talking about how every story needs characters and setting. However, these panelists up the ante with theirs. He wanted to know: what’s their approach to world-building? Joe kicked it off, saying his approach is similar to others: he makes stuff up. He suggested you do a lot of “research”, as in read stuff. He likes a lot of historical non-fiction to provide authenticity. Diana decided to write historical fiction because she’s a historical researcher. There’s lots more to steal with real history (this got a good laugh). George said he does the same, and just throws out what he doesn’t want. Lev starts with normal and then defiles and degrades every part (ha!). Pat added to these ideas, saying that he’s written things he thought he made up and then fans send links asking if those comparisons were deliberate. “I’m clever, I take credit for accidents” (lots of laughing with this one!). He also is a huge advocate for writing what you know, and that half of deciding what to do is deciding what not to do; basically his reaction to what pisses him off is his book.
For the second question Ali wanted to know what, aside from movies, assists with writing. Joe said maps are good. George added that writers need to be careful however, because then you need to fill them in. And don’t even get him started on the world map. Lots of chuckles were had as he regaled the audience with his personal story regarding this, and how he had the hardest time naming mountains. Pat likes special paper and colored pencils. He also asks lots of questions. Lev got a lot of laughs when he said has a passive-aggressive relationship with maps, as his wife’s ex-boyfriend creates them. Diana took a different approach, saying that she needs a kernel: an idea, a sentence, and her process is to develop off of that. She then describes how she got a scene in one of her books and describes the thistle goblet and cold winter afternoon (it was amazing to see her train of thought and how one led right to the next). George brought it back to maps, talking about Tolkien’s maps, how we get this detailed map of the Shire, and then once they leave you realize just how small it really is. Tolkien pulled the rug out, in a sense.
At this point Pat brought up an interesting thought. He said the main question you should be asking yourself is why am I doing a map? You should think about what purpose it serves. Tolkien did languages, for example, because he was a huge language guy.Everyone is a geek for something, you should revel in your geekery because that’s what will be the most interesting. Pat then provided his personal example of geekery: currency. It’s really prevalent in his books, because he’s really interested in it.
The next question was about writing. Ali wanted to know who is their first reader? Diana said she writes for herself, so technically she’s her first reader, but her husband of 42 years will read, as she trusts him. She said it’s good to have a first reader you trust, but make sure you know what you trust them for. Joe echoed this, also saying he writes for himself, and if the people like it, awesome. He said you should cover your own interests; as soon as you write “out”, you’re doomed. Lev said his wife reads for him, she’s way smarter than he is. But he said also he writes for himself, he’s an asshole and will be tough on himself. He’s a grumpy reader, so he’s tough. George added to the general idea, saying he’s known writers writing the trends vs. the stories they lose themselves in, and it doesn’t work. And Pat’s right, you need to write your obsessions. George loves heraldry and food. Pat added that you hope your interests will catch on. He then said his first reader situation is really different than most. He had 2-300 beta readers for his first book. It’s good to have smart people read your book over writers, but he wants general people. Other people know lots of things about everything else beyond writing. It’s part of his therapy (ha!), he’s obsessive about getting feedback. Joe said he couldn’t do more than two readers at a time. The current book had four editors and that was a lot for him. But Lev said that he has around twenty-five beta readers because of reading about Pat’s way of doing things on his blog. Diana said you should always ask the experts. For example, if you cut a leg off, find out how to amputate a leg, etc.
For the last question Ali asked them what’s the toughest thing with writing? Diana said inertia. The longer you wait, the harder to get back into it. When stuck, write anyway. Joe said with a laugh that with the first and last sentence he’s awesome. Otherwise he thinks he sucks. But he said don’t get down on yourself.
There were some great audience questions, but one of them referenced Jane Austin and wanted to know their understanding of love and how they explore healthy and unhealthy relationships. Pat got a lot of laughs when he said that he’s explored a lot of unhealthy relationships. He said to make a lot of mistakes early on, as we learn through failure. Without mistakes we don’t have motivation to evolve, so get out there and do crazy stuff. Lev said you can’t hold back, that fantasy is raw. Be very honest, which can be painful. Diana said Lev’s dead right, honesty is important. So is picking the right person (ha!).
One of the best things about this panel was the authors all listed books they’ve really enjoyed recently. Here’s the list:
Joe: Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer.
Lev: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer
Diana: Phil Rickman’s crime novels, Pandaemonium by Chris Brookmyre
George: Classic fantasy like Jack Vance, Tolkien, and straight historical fiction like George MacDonald Fraser
Pat: Declare by Tim Powers
Lots of great info to chew on from this panel, especially if you’re a writer. These are some of the best, and it was great to hear what they had to say about their craft and the worlds they create. And be sure to check out some of their book recommendations!
When a panel has Fantastic Females in the title it’s expected it will be good. Really good. And it did not disappoint. MC’ed by Chris Marie Green (Only the Good Die Young) the stellar panel consisted of Deborah Harkness (The All Souls Trilogy), Marjorie Liu (Labyrinth of Stars), CJ Harper, who is made up of Samantha Sommersby and Jeanne C. Stein (Reckoning), Christina Lauren, who is made up of Lauren Billings and Christina Hobbs (Sublime), and Tonya Hurley (Blessed series).
The first question kicking off the panel asked what makes their female characters strong. Deb started everyone off with a chuckle when she said that hers is tenured. Marjorie said that she has tattoos peeling off to form an army, but the stories really are about moms and daughters, about strength inside and out, and about building complex relationships. Sam said that their main is one of three sirens kicked out of Mt. Olympus, and she works in the modern day to find missing women (and of course there’s a hunky werewolf). Jeanne added that there’s a big curse and lots of bad that happens to the guy. Lauren said that they switched it up from typical YA books with romance, and have the boy doing all he can to be with the girl, and she lets him. Christina got a laugh when she answered with a simple “Ditto!” Finally Tonya explained that her newer series is about ancient martyr tales, and that it’s lots of fun writing them.
The second question asked about tropes, and if there are any they like to avoid or use. Lauren jumped in, explaining that they found a lot of stories where the girl does anything to be noticed and she has the growth. But in this case she’s locked as a character and the boy is trying to figure it out. Marjorie said she’s so done with the love triangle. In the beginning it was fun and often done well, but she started to feel it was a distraction to the female’s journey. In the start of her series the character is in a relationship, and it was interesting writing. Deb said she’s totally over the “will or won’t they get together?” story plot. You know they will, why waste time, she reflected. But to make them stay together, that’s a different story. How as a writer do you make it last? That’s the challenge. Sam observed that there’s an expectation to use sexuality to get things with a siren as a main character. They turned that upside down: their main character has a glamor to hide that, and she can’t be discovered, so she can’t use sex. Jeanne added to this, saying that she’s also an old-fashioned heroin with old values. Tonya closed out the question talking about her main character, and how she handles love totally differently than what’s expected. It’s not about getting a guy to save you; you’ve got to save yourself.
The next question reflected on sexism: are there places you can’t go with a woman that heroes can go? Sam said it depends on the audience and the motivation of the writer/story. Chris added to this, saying that writers need to think about how comfy the reader is going to feel. Deb countered, saying that writers need to push that. Be consistent with character, but don’t think of the reader, it can get in the way. Sam added that you almost have to break the rules. Lauren also added the thought that you don’t have to completely relate to the character to do this. Tonya provided an example of this: Hannibal. “He’s charming, even though he eats brains. That’s writing!” Jeanne added Dexter as another anti-hero we root for.
The last question from Chris was about themes the authors spotlight. Christina said that most girls don’t know they’re strong, and that her character reminds her of her students in that sense. Tonya deals with belief in this new series. The idea came from a guy on the subway saying he’s Jesus. And she thought, “What if he is?” This led her to one of the questions of her series: would you believe you were an ancient martyr? Lauren actually had a conversation with a neuroscientist regarding nerve protection, which ties into a frozen lake in Sublime. They fictionalize the science in a way. Where does science and paranormal intersect? Sam said their series is similar, referencing things from the real world, things like addiction. Marjorie is drawn to stories of the outsider, internally and physically, and what the idea of home means. Do you have a home? How do you have friends when you feel alone? How do you break that cycle? These are all ideas she’s explored, and they deeply move her. Deb closes it out, saying for her it is power and the price of power. It always exacts a price: loneliness, isolation, etc. She likes to think this through.
There were some great audience questions at this point, including how not to repress dominant females (do a give and take, and follow the “don’t be a dick” rule), dealing with LGBT issues (the sex can’t define them), and sex in YA books (is it relevant to character growth? Conflict?)
This panel had a really cool mix of authors. There were a few I hadn’t heard before combined with some I had, and it was interesting to hear how all of these women represented women in their stories. I also have added a few series to the reading list, thanks to this panel. All in all this one was excellent, and I’m really glad I went.
One of the panels I was most looking forward to at San Diego Comic Con this year was the one titled “End of a Series … or not?” Moderated by Maryelizabeth Hart from Mysterious Galaxy book store the panel consisted of Lynn Flewelling (Nightrunner series), Lev Grossman (The Magicians series), Laini Taylor (The Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy), Jon Maberry (the Rot and Ruinseries), Ben Winters (The Last Policeman Trilogy), Kresley Cole (Immortals After Dark Series), and Leigh Bardugo (The Grisha Trilogy).
The first question up: what decides if a series is finite or not- is that pre-planned? Do you destroy the world or leave the story open-ended? Lynn started us off, saying she has a seven book series and one that’s three. She said it’s painful to end a series. Her big series books are more episody vs main overall arcs. But her gut told her it was time. Lev said that stories have structures. He wanted to write about magicians after their education, the unknown parts. For example, what is magic for if no one is threatening the world? Once his characters figured that out, he stopped.
Laini spent five years planning, out of fear, vs. spontaneous writing. But even half way through book two she had no idea about the end. Some things are still open, she said, but she wanted to finish the main story arc. For Jon the ending point was about character growth. He wanted to tell the story until he liked the main character (who started out the opposite). It took him four books for that to happen. Ben got a laugh, because part of his series is about an asteroid colliding with the earth, so he knew it was a trilogy and where it ended—anything past that would have been BS, so he had to stop. Still, he needed to keep the character doing work.
Kresley has a fifteen book series that isn’t done yet, which has had a continuously pending apocalypse (Leigh’s disgruntlement over this got a lot of laughs). She had the beginning and the end plotted out, but the stuff in the middle she said she’ll keep going with until people don’t want to keep reading. Leigh likes shorter series; she could have gone longer, but decided three was enough. Sometimes limits make things hard, however, because you have to work within those parameters (she wants a sky fortress and a secret island).
The next question was about sustainability. What keeps readers engaged? Leigh said that authors have two choices for character: a character that has everything and you take from them, or they have nothing and you take more. Also, story is always king over world building. Kresley likes to introduce secondary characters like a villain or godmother and switch up expectations. In Ben’s first book in the series the character was young in a lot of ways and had to grow up. What makes people stick is that the characters are still growing. Jon mentioned how we always enter a story with a limited world view. For example, his main character in the Rot and Ruin books is angry all the time, and why he’s mad is part of his limited world view. But once exposed to a larger world view it changed his life. World view isn’t entirely the character’s fault, but as there’s more exposure the view adjusts. Laini said she likes a tight narrative where certain questions are answered. Also, if the writing is beautiful, the reader wants to sink into it.
Lev wrote The Magicians as a stand-alone, because he wasn’t convinced it would be published. But he had to send his characters back into that world. He wanted to know what happened next. Lynn said she also wrote a stand-alone that became two books, and then her editor asked her if she wanted it to be more. She invested so much, and there was more to tell. She writes for herself, as writing is hard, so she needs to love it.
The floor was opened up after this, and some of the questions were about legit cliffhangers (needs not to be done like a cheap-shot, but can be done) and prequels (hard sometimes if the ending is already known). The panel was funny and engaged, and the audience asked great thought-provoking questions that spurred interesting discussion.
I’m so glad I made it to this panel. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the different angles the authors came from regarding series, and though there is no one right way it was wonderful to get some insight into what helps make a series successful.
The first panel to kick of Lytherus’s book coverage of San Diego Comic Con 2014 was the Fairy Tale panel. MC’ed by Shannon Hale (Ever After High series) it featured Cornelia Funke (Mirrorworld series), Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles series), Ben Tripp (The Accidental Highwayman), John Peck (Charming series), Danielle Page (Dorothy Must Die), Tony DiTerlizzi (WondLa), and Katherine Harbour (Thorn Jack).
First off, let me say that Shannon Hale is an absolute riot. This was my first time experiencing her, and wow, she’s a character. Hilarious, witty, and goofy, she made this one of the most animated and engaging panels I’ve ever seen. There wasn’t a single lull and the panel authors really fed off of both her and each other.
First question asked if the authors read fairy tales in their youth and their thoughts on them. Ben grew up on them, and said he discovered at a young age the idea of metaphor and how everything is a metaphor in these stories. Marissa started on Disney’s The Little Mermaid movie, which she loved, and so her family bought her the Hans Christian Anderson version, which is a lot darker. This made her wonder what else Disney wasn’t telling us (ha!). John thought the Grimm stories were boring, but he loved how creepy the Anderson ones are. But what brought the biggest laugh during this question was definitely Cornelia’s reply: “I’m German. Enough said.” She actually hated fairy tales, but they got stuck in her head. This lead Shannon right into commenting that hate is a powerful motivator, and she then regaled the audience in a hilarious description of why Rapunzel is dumb. Danielle followed this up, saying that her frustration with stories is also what motivated her. “Why does Dorothy have to remain in Kansas?” Tony agreed, saying that’s the exact same idea with his WondLa series.
The next question reflected on the fact that these tales are old, and Hale asked what the authors add to make it feel new. John immediately said character, and that old stories lack the depth of character that readers connect to. They want to know who these people are and what their motivations are. Marissa agreed, saying that the characters are often flat in the old tales, and that we take things for granted; that’s what they’re there for. But why? Ben likes to view it from a different angle: what do they do the rest of the time? These characters have to go home after the tales. Danielle added that it’s fun to take those characters and see where the story goes beyond the original tale. Cornelia said that authors bring their own sensitivity, and things like adding (back) in strong women (“Women weren’t always lame!”). Tony added to that idea, talking about that sensitivity regarding tropes. For example, a classic trope is that a kid’s an orphan. He said he couldn’t even imagine what that’s like, and what that does to people. Ben finished up the idea, commenting that in the 18th century being an orphan was no big deal, vs. our time where it’s become a big thing.
The third question wondered if authors have the right to re-tell. John paraphrased a quote (I can’t remember from whom), saying that no story is beautiful unless you add something new to it, and that the writers are doing that. Cornelia threw in that they’re adding heart to the stories. Shannon observed that they can also flip the stories, or can add to them, or can use satire to re-tell it. Katherine said that she loves bringing the modern into these stories. Danielle picked right up with that thought, adding that she wondered how a girl of our sensibilities would take on Oz and add in sarcasm, and also what she would feel because of today. Marissa said that the passive princess annoys her. She takes the stories and gives them heroines she can be proud of. Cornelia wants to travel the world with her stories, featuring not only Germany but Russia, China, Africa and others. She actually reads fairy tales from these places and they read like a travel guide, with all of the local details and references. Ben added that Hindu fairy tales are often the same as religious texts, which is fun because you can actually go to the places the stories take place.
For the next question Shannon asked if they are all essentially writing fan fiction. Marissa said that the characters make it different, because they have more freedom than a fan-fiction character restrained to the boundaries of the tale might. Ben added though that they are still sort of the same, and that essentially the authors need to stand the stories up and see.
At this point Shannon opened the floor up for some questions, and they were all great ones. At one point someone asked how the panelists actually define a fairy tale. Ben said intrusion of magic into someone’s problems, Tony said otherworldliness, and Cornelia said a journey, which I thought were great answers.
This was one of the best panels I’ve ever seen thanks to the humor of Shannon, the constant pace, and the thoughtful answers of the panelists. Lots of fun was had, and it was great to get some insight into the inner workings of the modern fairy tale retellings that have become so loved.