Beneath the Surface Author Panel Summary

Yesterday night I had the opportunity to attend an amazing author’s panel sponsored by the Irving Public Library and I wanted to share it with you guys!  The authors on the panel were Rae Carson, Nova Ren Suma, Tessa Gratton, Aimee Carter, Tahereh Mafi and Ransom Riggs.  Jenny Martin moderated the panel.  Is that an amazing line up OR WHAT?  (They also had a teens only event earlier in the day with the same authors, and I have to say, I was super sad not to be able to pass as a teenager since I’m in my early 30s… If only the real world were more like Glee…)

Panel Pic

Every potential event yesterday that could have conspired against me did, and I ended up coming to the panel about 15 minutes late, which I was quite frustrated about, but I soon was swept away in the awesomeness that was this panel.  First of all, the room was PACKED.  I love seeing that at book events!  And everyone was really involved in what the authors were saying – there was laughter and applause in all the right spots.  And the Library really outdid itself on the decorations and treats – there were cupcakes with little miniatures of the book covers and rings and a candy bar and fairy lights.  It was really a well-designed event.

Because of the number of people on the panel, there were only a handful of questions asked, but that was actually perfect because it meant each author got to give a really fulsome answer to the questions asked.  They seemed to be enjoying hearing from each other as much as the audience was, which made it fun as well.  You could tell they were glad to be sharing the stage with each other.

My very favorite part of this event, though, was standing in line with a 10-year-old girl who was there to get some of her books signed by Aimee Carter.  This girl was literally vibrating with excitement.  She had adorned her hair and clothes with buttons and trinkets and representations of this book she loved.  I haven’t read this book yet, but I bought it just based on how much she absolutely loved this series.  Her copy of the book was just destroyed – dog eared, broken spine, pages marked, written in and just so well-loved.  I loved meeting this girl.  I loved her enthusiasm and excitement.  I loved how seriously the authors reacted to her and all of the other authors took the time to sign a piece of paper she had, since she didn’t own any of the other books.  She absolutely reminded me of myself when I was little, when authors were my celebrities and when a book I loved would look just absolutely trashed from all the times I read through it, wishing to return to the world the author had created for me.  I wasn’t worried back then about my series matching or my pages not being bent or getting ARCs or whatever it is we sometimes worry about in the book blogging world.  I was so glad to meet her – she reminded me of why it is I love to read in the first place.

As for the panel, like I said, I missed the first 15 minutes or so, but here are the highlights of the panel from the rest of the questions. 


What Do You Have Coming Next?

Nova Ren Suma (NRS): Working on a novel set in a girl’s detention center.  It’s really dark and twisted and she was excited about writing this novel that explored that darkness.

Tessa Gratton (TG): Working on a sequel to The Lost Sun.  This one is from the perspective of a girl who “reaches for and surrounds herself with the positivity of violence.”  She reminds us that Odin is not only the god of war, but also of poetry, and she wants to focus on the violence of creation in her next work.  (Sidenote: I really need this one to come out SOON!  She sold it so well!)

Ransom Riggs (RR): Almost finished with the sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. After the sequel, which is coming out in January, he’s working on a book for Little, Brown that is so nascent he didn’t want to speak the idea out loud for fear of talking himself out of it.  He actually said that the idea for this new work was born out of a conversation between him and Tahereh Mafi on the flight down!

Tahereh Mafi (TM): Working on the third book in the Shatter Me series, which will be coming out in February.  She also possibly has a novella in the same series coming out in December.

Rae Carson (RC): Working on a new trilogy.  This one takes place during the California gold rush in 1849.  The main character has the magical ability to find gold. She sold it as a dangerous western/fantasy.  (Sidenote: YES PLEASE!  I’m ready for this to come out now.)

Aimee Carter (AC): Working on a new trilogy due to come out November 26, called the Blackcoat Rebellion trilogy.  She wrote this one approximately five years ago!  It’s a dystopian about a world where when you turn 17 you take an aptitude test that defines your entire future – how many children you can have, what your job can be, where you live, etc.  The main character, Kitty, gets a low score due to her dyslexia.  But she is offered an opportunity to turn it all around and become part of the ruling class.  Though taking it is tempting, she is quickly exposed to the dark underside of that decision and is eventually forced to either play along with the government who has killed someone she loves or die herself.  Will she play nice or will she rebel?  (Sidenote: Adding this one to the TBR pile as well, of course.  Love a good dystopian trilogy and Kitty sounds like a really interesting protagonist.)

What is Your Writing Style?

TG: Chaos! (This got a huge laugh.)

AC: Very structured, due to her background as a screenwriter prior to becoming a novelist.  Everything is very strictly outlined before she writes anything.

RC: Interested in the interplay between the literary and the commercially successful.  What separates books generally considered to be beautifully-written, sophisticated literature with those that are considered to be less technically proficient but end up to become commercial successes? And how can they be combined?  She wants to mix the sophisticated literature with the commercially successful novel and doesn’t feel that they need to be separated.  (This was co-signed by the other authors on the panel.)

How Do You Name Your Places/Characters?

NRS: She is a name collector and steals names from people she meets and places she’s been.  Watch for your name in one of her stories if you meet her at a signing and she comments on your interesting name!

TG: For her, naming is part of the world-building exercise.  Where do these characters come from?  When do they live?  Who were their parents, since it’s parents who name children? When writing alternate histories, specific naming conventions are required for the time and place – you may want them to have the feel of the original history you are drawing from.

RR: Depends on the style of book he is writing, but he does try to make them meaningful or to have underlying meanings related to their role in the story.

TM: Generally just chooses names that she likes.  In her series, the name Kenji was inspired by a book she loved in college, The Tale of Genji.  Certain aspects of the character of Genji reminded her of the type of character Kenji would be. 

RC: Specifically for her Fire and Thorns trilogy, she was teaching herself Spanish at the time by watching telenovelas.  She had friends at work who would help her with her questions, and to honor them and to carry through a Latin feel in the novels, she named her characters after her friends and after characters in the telenovelas that reminded her of her characters.  Hector specifically was named after a particularly attractive character in one of the shows.

AC: For her, names are tough.  She never wants to have two main characters start with the same phonetic sound.  She read through an entire baby book over the course of a week when naming characters for her Goddess Test series, looking for names that had underlying meanings that related to the god/goddess represented by the character while not overtly calling back to that god.

Tips for Aspiring Authors?

This question ended up being everyone’s favorite of the night, I think.  Each author really took some great time to tell their story about how they became a writer and what obstacles they faced in doing so.  They all had such different stories, and it was great to hear about the different paths taken to get to be published.

AC: Started by writing Harry Potter fan fiction, then moved to writing her own stuff.  She wrote with a single-minded focus all throughout high school – didn’t do anything else but write, no prom, nothing.  She eventually received a hard rejection that took about four years for her to get over, but then she got back in the game and was able to find an agent and sell her Goddess Test series.

RC: In 1977 Star Wars came out, and Rae fell in love.  She knew she wanted more stories about magic and mages in the world, and knew she wanted to write them.  When first pitching her novel, she received a great deal of rejection from agents focused on publishing it as an adult novel.  When she suggested marketing it to a YA publisher, she was told that the novel was “too sophisticated for kids.”  Soon after, she got a new agent and was able to get her book sold.

TM: Never wanted to be an author.  Seemed like a monumentally tough thing to do.  But after college, she found herself working full time and was bored in the off-hours (“TV did nothing for me and people weren’t very interesting.”) So she returned to her love of reading, and more specifically returned to the books that originally grabbed her attention, which were YA, and she knew she wanted to stay there forever.  She started writing right then and there and knew she wanted to do it forever and wanted to get published.  At first, she said it was a “rejection party in my inbox every single day.”  It took her a long time to get published until she wrote Shatter Me.  She thinks the only difference between a successful and an unsuccessful person is time and advised aspiring authors in the crowd to never give up.

RR: As a child, he knew he wanted to tell stories.  At first, he thought he wanted to be a writer like CS Lewis or Steven King, or other authors he loved.  Then he found film and went to film school to become a director.  While he was trying to chase that dream, he was also working for Mental Floss and developed a relationship with a publisher there.  He wrote a short book for that publisher, and decided to bring to them some odd, old photographs he had been collecting.  The publisher suggested that perhaps a novel could be borne out of these photographs, and his novel was born.  That chance changed his life.  Ransom advised the crowd to basically say yes to everything.  Don’t lock yourself into one thing and refuse to move in other directions.  Artists don’t always know where own their best strengths lie.

TG: After her father went to Iraq serving in the military, Tessa became frustrated with the world and decided she wanted to change the world!  She went through a number of different ideas of how she would accomplish this, and eventually realized that being a writer was the path she wanted to take.  She said, “Books helped me understand other people and connect to the world.  They changed me and therefore changed the world.”  I loved that thought!  She gave herself five years to be published before she had to find another career.  She wrote a novel per year basically, and sent them out to different agents, continually being rejected.  Eventually she wrote Blood Magic, sent it to one agent and eventually sold the novel two months before her five year deadline.

NRS: Nova Ren didn’t plan to write YA novels.  She went to Columbia grad school for creative writing and there was never any mention of YA fiction – no one really knew what it was or what it could become.  After graduation, she spent a long time writing an adult novel inspired by her family (“Not an autobiography!”).  Then she wrote another novel that featured teens as main characters.  The adult agents kept asking about the adult characters, but that’s not what she wanted to write about.  She kept querying agents and set a deadline for herself that she had to be represented by the time she was 30, or else she would move on.  That time came and went and she eventually gave up.  She became a copy editor for a publisher in New York City and was eventually given the opportunity to do some ghost writing.  She eventually wrote a Middle Grade novel, Dani Noir, under her own name and sold it without an agent due to the connections she had built in the publishing world.  After writing this novel, she had a light bulb that she wanted to write YA going forward.  She wrote 50 pages of Imaginary Girls after that, and after years of rejection was given six offers from agents based on only those 50 pages.   


I know this was super long, but the panel was just so good.  I wish you all could have been there.  I really appreciate the authors taking the time to speak to us and give such thoughtful, fulsome answers to the questions they were asked.  I also really appreciate them staying after for so long to sign all of our books!  As you can tell – I splurged a bit.  WORTH IT!

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