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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Fierce Reads, Roadtrips, and Booklovers in the Wild!

Near the end of June I was lucky enough to make it to one of the Summer 2014 Fierce Reads events. For the first time, Fierce Reads made a stop in Petoskey, Michigan, which is quite near where I live in Traverse City. Not only was I able to meet four amazing authors – Ava Dellaira, Leigh Bardugo, Jennifer Mathieu, and Emmy Laybourne - it was my first time visiting Petoskey and I was able to grab dinner with three great online friends!

To be honest, the day of this event did not begin well for me. I had planned on having this day off from work, but circumstances changed and I ended up having to work, which put me behind schedule. Sabrina from I Heart YA Fiction – if you aren’t reading her blog yet, you’re totally missing out! – drove up from Kalamazoo, MI to meet me right after work. Since I’d never been to Petoskey before, I plugged the address for the event (at McLean &Eakin Booksellers) into my GPS and we set off. Little did I know that my GPS wasn’t quite sure where to go either, so we ended up taking a very scenic route through the country side that looped us right back to where we started, putting us even further behind schedule. This, plus traffic and construction, led to a late arrival and a missed opportunity to interview the authors one-on-one. While this wasn’t ideal, I’m still happy to report that Sabrina and I made it to the actual panel and Q&A session nearly on time, which ended up being one of the best panels I’ve seen.

In case you've been living under a rock and don't know these authors, here's the rundown: 

Ava Dellaira is the debut author of Love Letters to the Dead. Check out my recent review here.

Jen Mathieu, also a debut author, wrote The Truth About Alice, which I've also reviewed here.

Leigh Bardugo is the author of the Grisha trilogy, which just concluded with Ruin and Rising. Check out my review of Shadow and Bone from way back in 2012 here.

Emmy Laybourne is the author of the Monument 14 trilogy, also recently finished with the release of the final volume, Savage Drift. Check out my review of Monument 14 here.

I had originally intended to live tweet the event, but was unable to connect to the wifi. Luckily, Sabrina was able to tweet from her phone and was tweeting up a storm (you can find her tweets under #FierceReads from @iheartyafiction). Meanwhile I took lots of notes. Below are some of my favorite questions/topics and responses from assembled authors:

On outlining (or not):

Emmy Laybourne writes a detailed outline.

Leigh Bardugo starts with 12 main points, then fills in to keep momentum.

Jen Mathieu begins with a vague outline, but sometimes veers off.

Ava Dellaira has no outline to start, but she knew her main character, Laurel, and what she wanted the book to be about. She took a year on the first draft to connect to characters and figure out the story, and then looked at it structurally (like a screen play). At the beginning of her process, she tries to remain open.

On using maps to guide the events of the novel and keep track of locations:

Emmy Laybourne used Google maps to chart courses. She often zoomed in and used street view to find the perfect locations for specific scenes.

Leigh Bardugo had a very rough map that she used to plan and visualize during writing. She notes that she definitely did not draw the map in the book.

Who do you share drafts with?

Emmy Laybourne has a friend who reads her books and gives her 20 pages of notes, but she reaches out to different people depending on what kind of feedback she needs. She’s sent her books to her uncles who have military experience for feedback and call on experts when she can.

Leigh Bardugo said she gave the draft of her first novel to people she respected and who she knew knew how to build a story. She says it’s important to find readers who are honest but gentle and who you trust enough to listen to when they critique you. But, now, her novels usually go to her editor right away. She does, however, have consultants she works with – including one at NASA!

Ava Dellaira finished her novel when working on the set of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. She sent  the manuscript sent to her best friend who called and said, “I think you have a book here.” She relates that she felt pure joy, hope, and energy that kept her inspired through the editing process. Many other close friends read it and gave feedback.

On dealing with writer's block:

Jen Mathieu usually writes linearly, but, to stay motivated, she sometimes jumps ahead to write a scene that she’s really looking forward to. She will also write a list of her favorite words and does writing exercises when experiencing writer's block.

Ava Dellaira reads when struck with writer's block.  She also acknowledges that, someimtes, it takes 100 or 200 sentences to get one good one – she allows herself to write badly.

Leigh Bardugo takes a shower or a walk. Sometimes she will change the POV she’s writing from. She also mentions something Laini Taylor once said: “When you’re working on one thing and you feel the pull of another project, take whatever is pulling you toward that other idea and put it in your current project.” In the end, writing anything is always a good strategy too.

On starting a new project:

Emmy Laybourbe says developing a sense of what people will want to read is a big skill. She often pitches her ideas to readers to gauge how they react.

Leigh Bardugo asserts that tremendous anxiety that comes with starting a new project and worrying that it won’t work out. But if you don’t start anything you’ll always be in that in between period. She doesn’t really discuss her ideas early in her process, instead she likes to keep her ideas secret until she’s sure of them.

Jen Mathieu gets really shy when talking about her new ideas.

What are your favorite scenes to write?

Emmy Laybourne likes writing Dean’s Type O bloodlust personality. She says it’s thrilling and scary.

Ava Dellaira likes writing kissing scenes. She also loved writing the development of Laurel’s relationship with Skye. One of her favorite scenes to write was the first scene where Laurel is moving forward with her life.

Leigh Bardugo likes writing party scenes, saying it’s like having an unlimited budget to throw a party. In her novels, the advent on modern warfare is a legitimate threat. To make this element fit, there had to be a constrained magical system. She explains that she enjoyed making rules and then finding ways to “break” them.

On choosing to write YA:

Jen Mathieu explains that the rhythm, spirit, and energy of adolescents is around her all the time as a teacher. When she sits down and writes a teenaged voice comes out, she says; she’s in touch with her teenage self.

Emmy Laybourne discusses how meaningful it’s been to connect with male readers who say that Dean feels real to them. She credits her years working in comedy for giving her a sense of the teenaged male voice.

Ava Dellaira says writing YA felt more natural than anything else she’s written before. She explains that growing up isn’t something that you do and then are done with, it’s continuous. Adolescence is precipitous; it’s a bright spot that you carry with you.

Leigh Bardugo doesn’t think about writing a teenager. Instead she focuses on writing a character at a specific point in their lives with a specific set of experiences. Sometimes, that character ends up being a teen.

On secrets about their books:

Leigh Bardugo admits that there are spoilers written into every name if you look them up. Also finding mistakes in finished copies kills her.

Jen Mathieu didn’t want to date book, so she never mentions social networking. She chose to focus on the graffiti on bathroom stall because it is (horribly) timeless.

Ava Dellaira based many of the people in the book on people she knows or has known in real life. In fact, the crushed velvet shirt scene in the book happened to Dellaira in 6th grade.

How has your life changed since becoming a published author?

Jen Mathieu says that every day she can wake up and say that her childhood dream came true and that she wrote the book of her heart.

Leigh Bardugo was “dead broke three years ago, married to jerk and deeply, deeply unhappy.” She had ideas but didn’t believe she could write a book. Finally, she just decided to write the worst book after. Then six months in, she realized it was actually kind of good. Things were so very bad that she made the commitment to just do it. Now she realizes that success is a moving target.

Emmy Laybourne explains that, for a long time, her dream job was to be on SNL. She auditioned, came close to landing a spot, then wasn’t offered a position. In retrospect, she’s now thankful. She’s exactly where she’s supposed to be. She doesn’t know if she’d have everything she has now if things had turned out the way she planned.

Ava Dellaira says writing her book helped her to heal in the aftermath of her mother’s death. She believes it’s possible to create wonderful and beautiful things out of really hard, tragic, life shattering events.

On writing compelling, well-rounded characters:

Jen Mathieu says her characters come from a life of watching and observing.

Emmy Laybourne advises that, when writing unlikeable characters, you must “give your villains your best argument.”

Ava Dellaira borrowed moments and stories from shared pasts, but her characters also developed a story of their own, so it wasn’t an exact replica of a real person.

Leigh Bardugo says don’t worry about it in the first draft. You’re telling yourself the story in the first draft – info dumps are okay. She says she tries really hard not worry about likeability; the worst characters are sometimes the most relatable.

After the panel, the authors signed copies of their books for the audience and chatted individually with everyone. Though the Petoskey event was the last stop in their tour – and I’m sure they were all anxious to get home – everyone was lovely and energetic. Many signings and panels I’ve attended have more adult attendees than teen, which is great, but it was fantastic to see lots of teens at this signing, excitedly asking questions and interacting with the visiting authors.

Since Sabrina and I were just in time for the event, we missed the pizza that was provided by McLean & Eakin and Jet's Pizza. Though there was still some left after the event, we decided to grab dinner with fellow booklovers Kyle (@kyleloveslit) and Kate Bassett (author of Words and Their Meanings) at the nearby Noggin Room.

Kate, Kyle, and me at Noggin Room. Photo courtesy of Sabrina!

Noggin Room was blessedly cool after the event. Though the signing space was great, it did get a bit warm in there towards the end of the evening. Kate - who couldn’t make the event but lives in the area - met up with us. Previously, I had only chatted with Kyle and Kate online, so it was wonderful to finally meet them in person. There’s seriously nothing like hanging out with fellow booklovers; they’re kind of like insta-friends. Though we spent most of the night shouting over the music or waiting for the live band to go on set breaks, I had lots of fun chatting and trying to lip read when the music was too loud. Though I was exhausted from a day of working and traveling, I was sad to leave Kyle and Kate’s company. Luckily, Sabrina was staying the night in Traverse City!

Sabrina and I stayed up late talking, despite my having to open at the bookstore the next morning. In the morning, after an early breakfast of pancakes, Sabrina headed back to Kalamazoo and I headed into work to sell some books!


  1. I'd like to read 'Love Letters to the Dead' ** Here in Italy it has just been published and I will buy it *-* (I'm sorry for my english, but I'm out of practice D: )
    You was so lucky for meeting this authors**

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience! It's really interesting to know about the authors experience as well.

    I would love to participate in event like this.

  3. If you ever get a chance to go, take it! These are really great... I always feel like I connect with the books more after meeting the author and learning about their process!

  4. Hi, Ambra! It's great that you can now get LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD in Italy. I hope you love it as much as I did - it's a beautiful book!

  5. So glad you two got to go!! Bookish events are so much fun. Thanks for including so many of their responses!

  6. I will! But unfortunately, there's no event like this in my city, except the book fair every Spring.

    Luckily, I've had amazing writing classes the past semesters so it was great to interact with authors and learning about there writing process.

  7. This was such a fun night! Plus the pancakes were delicious. :)


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