Banner from Fierce Reads’ 2019 Fall Tour Announcement
This previous Thursday, I had the opportunity to head over to Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor to see Sara Faring, L.L. McKinney, Margaret Owen, and Katy Rose Pool talk about their books as part of the Fierce Reads Fall 2019 tour! As can be expected, it was a delight to hear these ladies talk about their books and the journeys behind them, and today, I’ve brought you a recap of the night so you can learn some of the fun details these ladies had to share too!
Before I get into things too quickly, though, I want to say one thing: if you can visit Nicola’s Books at some point, do it. The store is so cozy, and the folks working there were wonderful. Plus, this was one of the most well-organized little tour stops I’ve been to, with the signing line moving along efficiently and without any confusion, but still leaving time for the authors to chat with the folks coming up to the table. Even leaving out the actual book-related content of the tour, it was an A+ experience (and if you want to support a small indie, have at it by checking out Nicola’s Books right here)!
Anyway, plug for Nicola’s aside, the event truly was the highlight of my evening (of my week, tbh). I got there twenty minutes before it started and still ended up in the back row, a tragic result of leaving later than I meant to, and sat there as patiently as I could with The Merciful Crow, There Will Come a Darkness, and The Tenth Girl in my lap. I wanted to get A Blade So Black too, but my budget was for two books only, plus on the condition that I wouldn’t buy any other books this month. So The Merciful Crow came from home, and I was forced to pick the two that sounded most interesting to me. That said, you bet I’ve placed a library request for A Blade So Black. Normally, Alice in Wonderland is one of my least favorite classics, but the way L.L. McKinney has spun it has me itching to give it a try (and mad at how closely I have to hold to my budget, even if I want to break from it).
Once things got underway, though, I stopped thinking about my budget and started paying close attention to the Q&A, which was GREAT. The questions were in some ways standard fare, but it’s the answers that really matter, and all four authors had brilliant responses to the questions the moderator and a few audience members posed. Here are some of my favorites!
How did you get the idea for the book?
L.L. McKinney was watching Supernatural and wondering what it would be like if it was Buffy who’d gone down the rabbit hole instead of Alice when she first came up with the story seeds for A Blade So Black. One satisfying test fight scene later, plus a dash of some of her own childhood experiences, like being a Black nerd and going to DragonCon, and that’s the foundation of the Nightmare-Verse!
Meanwhile, Katy Rose Pool was thinking about the ancient wonders of the world, like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and how we don’t know if they existed 100% for sure. Toss in a sprinkle of reliance on prophecy, and There Will Come a Darkness started taking its earliest shape.
For Molly Owen, it was an article about the lives of medieval executioners that got the wheels turning. They were forced to often live in restricted areas, couldn’t always go where most folks could travel, passed the job on down the family line, and were both essential and generally mistreated. Mix that with plague doctors and bird masks, and you get The Merciful Crow’s earliest form.
As for Sara Faring, The Tenth Girl was a product of the stories she’d heard from family and friends about the period of military rule in Argentina, all blending into her horror/thriller debut. On one hand, she’d heard as a child a tale that her grandmother’s grandmother had been poisoned by tomatoes (grown by a neighbor, if I understood it right), sparking a childhood certainty that those damn vegetables would do her in someday. On the other hand, a friend of her family had been a rebel during the military regime, and when the police arrived during dinner to arrest him, he bit into a capsule of cyanide and died rather than be arrested and taken into government custody.
Which characters were the hardest to write?
For Sara, she had a hard time writing Angel, one of the POV characters. Apparently, she woke up in the middle of the night more than once convinced she needed to revise the hell out of one of Angel’s chapters, and all that hard work went into fine-tuning the voice and emotion to just the right pitch for each scene, especially when slotted against Mavi’s POV.
Elle found difficulty (and love) in writing Alice’s Nana, though, because she drew on her own grandma for inspiration. Sadly, her grandma passed before A Blade So Black reached shelves, so although her grandma knew about the book, she didn’t get the chance to read it.
In Katy’s case, the trickiest character was Ephyra, who doesn’t always think about the long-term consequences of her actions, and doesn’t really stew on her feelings (which Katy said she does A LOT). Makes it a little tough to write from the perspective of someone who has the big picture and who is more internally in touch with their feelings!
Molly had the most case-by-case answer of all, though: no one character is the trickiest to write. It’s the scenes where characters act far, far, FAR from what she would do, drawing on character traits she doesn’t possess, that she finds harder to write. She also talked about how the Crows in her book are at the lowest edge of society, and that forced her to be extra conscious of the decisions they made. For instance, she noted that the advice “just walk through like you know what you’re doing” comes almost entirely from white people, in a way that ignores social consequences for marginalized groups, especially people of color, and she had to think in a similar vein for writing about the Crows and their actions.
What characters were the easiest to write, or your favorite?
Molly had a conditional answer again this time, one that made so much sense to me. Her characters come most easily when they’re leaning on a personality trait that she shares too. There might not be a one-to-one equivalence, but that connection streamlines the writing process for her!
While Sara did talk about her characters, she spoke a little more to the atmosphere and setting instead, which she likes to model on somewhere she wants to be. In the case of The Tenth Girl, she drew on her love of a good fall fog and the crisp temperatures, mixed in with the Patagonian location, to give her setting a character of its own.
Because of the similarities Elle and Alice share (though Elle made it clear Alice is hardly a self-insert; for one, Elle isn’t exactly a champ with a blade), Alice was Elle’s easiest character to write, lending even more weight to the idea that sharing traits with your characters smooths the path forward.
Katy, though, found that while Jude came easily to her, Beru was a very pleasant surprise. She ended up being unable to predict exactly how Beru would move through a scene, and while that led to some shifting character dynamics and plot points, it fascinated her just as much to have a character so strong-willed and flexible.
About halfway through the Q&A, I realized I’d forgotten my blogging notebook to jot everything down in, so while there were more questions, my memory isn’t quite sharp enough to recall them AND the corresponding answers. I do, though, remember what I talked about with each of the authors, and I can also offer this tip: if you don’t have to be anywhere after the signing, and if you have the patience, wait at the back of the line. You won’t feel as rushed when it’s your turn to get your book signed, you have time to think about what you want to say, and as long as you’re not holding up the author or the line, you have a few spare moments to chat.
I ended up getting There Will Come a Darkness signed first, as the tail of the line was being moved up selectively as authors freed up. This meant I only got a brief moment to say hi to Elle and promise to get A Blade So Black through my library (she’d signed her last book either while or right after Katy was signing my book, I think), but Katy and I did share a moment to get excited over my “werewolves not swearwolves” What We Do in the Shadows shirt. We also had a bit of a laugh when I mentioned I’d been a classics major, and Katy said I’d be able to pick out all the inaccuracies in her world building. I’m not that mean, I promise! And it’s fantasy! Be inaccurate! Have at it! (But you bet I’m going to also be looking for ALL the classics content all the same lol.)
After that, I was directed over to Molly, and since I’d read The Merciful Crow that morning (review to come, based on the unknowable workings of my blog upgrade schedule), I gushed at her about that. Of course, I also used the phrase “And I LOVE Barf,” which is truly terrible without context. And if you’re not in the know, Barf is the name of the cat in The Merciful Crow. But besides Barf the cat, we chatted about how our favorite female characters are the angry ones with knives, and about how lovely Seattle is (can you tell I’m still not over my vacation back in May?), which was all around a great talk. Truly, Molly’s only flaw at the panel was pronouncing .gif as JIF, but no one’s perfect. And she made up for it with absolutely horrendous dad jokes, so all is forgiven!
Finally, I spoke to Sara while she signed my book, and while we pinky swore not to share one detail of what we talked about, the rest of it is fair game. (I made a promise! A pinky promise! I won’t break it!) Mostly, we talked about our mutual love of V.E. Schwab and Pokémon, and how little brothers somehow always seem to try and spoil over video game related joy. Portal fantasy wound its way into the conversation too, and even though it was a quick chat, it was so much fun. It was also very possibly all the content of a normal length chat, crammed into a tiny slice of time because we kept talking faster and faster. A shared mundane superpower, perhaps?
After all that, though, it was time to pack up and go home. I may have developed another superpower in the parking lot, when the streetlight I walked under went out the second I passed it, and both of my car’s headlights, which worked on the drive to Nicola’s, gave out (0/10 DO NOT RECOMMEND ON A NIGHT DRIVE), but beyond that, I seem to have any potential zappy superpowers under control. Plus, I had a great night, and have two new books I need to get to soon, one of which sounds PERFECT for the chilly nights ahead.
At the end of the day, the moral of this tour is that you should absolutely go to any events these four authors are a part of if the opportunity arises. They were funny and kind and energetic all night long, and though I’ve only read one book of theirs so far, I have a strong feeling the TBR they’ve provided is just as fantastic. Every minute spent at Nicola’s Books rather than at home in pajamas was a joy, and given how much I like staying in my PJs, I think you can probably see why that’s high praise coming from me.