On Saturday I went to an author panel at Books of Wonder with Kendall Kulper (Drift and Dagger), Mackenzi Lee (This Monstrous Thing), Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (Illuminae), and Jon Skovron (This Broken Wondrous World). I was mostly there to see Amie & Jay – it was the last stop of their Illuminae tour, and I have a thing about Aussie authors, and I also have a thing about Illuminae, so how could I resist?
If I were a more diligent person, I would have taken notes and pictures and written down all the questions that were asked, but alas we can't all be Jo from Wear the Old Coat, so instead I've just searched the recesses of my brain to cobble together the most interesting bits from this event.
There were maybe fifty people in attendance, mostly teens, which was good (I always feel kinda squicky when I see pictures from YA book events and the front row seats are filled by adults). There was also a moderator with a very laissez-faire attitude toward moderating (in other words, the best kind of moderator!), which made the panel a lot more interactive... kind of like Twitter, but with more face time and no character limits.
Anyway GOD I'M SO SORRY – I'm really sucking at highlighting the "interesting bits." Let's just jump right in.
Q: Do you have a favorite page, spread, or layout that you like – either because you enjoyed writing it, or because you thought it turned out well?
Amie's favorite spread in the book is one that Jay wrote – when the fighter pilots are in a skirmish and the text is showing their flight paths... There's a page where you see what happens to some of the other pilots and how Ezra presses the trigger and death blooms like a rose...
Jay's favorite spread is a chat between Kady and Ezra. All of the chats in the book happened in real time between Amie and Jay, and in one of them, Jay started riffing on Kady and Ezra's first kiss – the conversation carries on and at the very end Amie takes something Jay said earlier and brings it full circle. (Side note: I loved finding out that the chats were actual two-way conversations. And I love knowing that Amie is in fact a brilliant mastermind in real life.)
Q: What is your favorite "chapter" that you've written?
Amie said something about a scene in These Broken Stars that is apparently very iconic and intense – or so I'm assuming from the group's collective murmur of agreement – but I could not for the life of me figure out what she was referring to, so I kind of tuned out. Sorry.
Jay liked the scene with AIDAN on the bridge – when AIDAN is having a conversation with Captain Torrence and sort of playing God. This was such a disturbing moment when I read it and I love that Jay loved this bit of the book – it really is haunting and so well-written.
Q: What do you like most about writing fantasy and science fiction?
Amie loves that there's a sense of escape. You're leaving real life and finding yourself in a different world. She shared the first line of Mackenzi Lee's book as an example ("My brother's heart was heavy in my hands") and proceeded to highlight moments from Kendall's and Jon's books to make her case. I was mostly just impressed that she put the spotlight on the other authors and that she was familiar enough with their books to rattle off all these little details.
Jay loves that you can bring issues to the forefront in a sort of detached, distant way, almost from the view of a third-party observer – think Star Trek and the way it addressed racism, not in terms of light skin or dark skin, but rather green skin and blue skin. He went on to talk a little bit about seeing POC characters and how he liked that he could create characters who could be any culture, any orientation, any background. (Side note: This is the moment when I developed a bit of a crush. Also he shared this story about a Jamaican friend of his who had coded Ezra as a black character because the only description we have of him is that he's tall and built – and I love that this is how his character was developed, that Ezra doesn't automatically have to be white.)
Q: What was the inspiration for AIDAN?
Jay wrote most of the bits for AIDAN, and a lot of the inspiration was himself – both of them questioning life and death and existence and purpose and all that stuff. This was so fascinating and not what I expected to hear – I mean, it makes sense that authors end up writing bits and pieces of themselves into their characters, but the fact that there's so much of himself in a character like AIDAN... I admire that place of vulnerability a lot, and it makes me appreciate the poetry on those pages even more.
There were a bunch of other questions that were asked, too – something about the occasional loneliness of being a writer... a few minutes' worth of discussion on the amount of time spent in one's pajamas (spoiler alert: it's a lot)... the difference between talking to yourself and talking to your dog... favorite books as a teen reader (so much high fantasy)... upcoming projects (Amie & Jay are writing Illuminae #3 already!?; Amie's working on something new with Meg Spooner; Jay's new series is coming out in May; NEW MIDDLE GRADE BOOK FROM AMIE IS IN THE WORKS AND IT'S NOT SPACE-RELATED – it's fine, I'm cool). It felt like a conversation with friends.
We ended the panel with a book wave* and then went on to the signing, where I was feeling sleepy and shy and awkward, so didn't say much but I will note that Amie recognized me from Twitter, which is always fun and inflates my ego quite a bit. We also had a 2-second conversation about Melina Marchetta, which really is worth mentioning because I consider it a success when I manage to bring up the double M (as Rachel says) with real people in real life.
So, anyway, that was that – I got a bookmark and giant Illuminae badge along with my signed book which sadly doesn't say "FIGHT LIKE A GIRL" in Jay's handwriting but does include a note from Amie that, to the casual observer, might suggest that she and I are Internet BFFs. Just saying.
I was surprised at how much fun I had at the panel, and how much I learned – I'm a total skeptic when it comes to author panels, just because it's hard to ask meaningful questions to a bunch of authors if you're only familiar with one or two of those authors' work... but I think the different perspectives made for a more conversational atmosphere, and it was very cool to hear about where different stories come from and how they come alive. Also, I now want to read everything Jay Kristoff's written, so huzzah for that.
*Do you like how I just threw that in there? Like, oh yeah, we did a book wave, no big deal. It was ridiculous and by ridiculous I mean awesome and you should just see it for yourself.