Dragons are people, too. Or at least, it’s possible to put so much thought into them as characters that they might as well be. This was just one takeaway from Children’s Books Boston’s “A Midwinter Night’s Fantasy Panel,” in which our own Martha V. Parravano moderated a discussion between authors Kristin Cashore and Tui T. Sutherland.
Kristin, author of the Graceling Realm books, and Tui, best known for the Wings of Fire series, are longtime friends, and that was evident in their chatty conversation. (They had practiced not putting down their work together in the car on the way over.) Much of the discussion was about their writing process, and both were full of interesting tidbits. Tui keeps a writing journal, where she vents about what’s not working in a manuscript, and often figures out solutions by doing so. Kristin once wrote a draft of a novel in which the main character’s gender was unspecified, and found it a fascinating exercise in thinking about gender. Challenges specific to fantasy include keeping mind-reading characters from learning secrets (naps help), and not world-building oneself into a corner — you can add a mountain to a setting to slow characters down, but if you need them to move quickly later, you can’t pretend the mountain isn’t there. (But you can add tunnels.)
The authors answered questions from Martha and from the audience, ranging from what they read when they were younger — both grew up near very small libraries, but Tui read plenty of fantasy and Kristin stuck with older literary classics — to the ways their villains operate. There were mentions of similarities to, ahem, political figures. And to ex-boyfriends. Both gave hints of what may be next for them. Kristin’s next novel, Jane, Unlimited, is a choose-your-own-adventure-style tale spanning a variety of genres. Tui was cagey enough that perhaps we shouldn’t say more, but her fans should definitely stay tuned. They also discussed their complex relationships with fan-made works: both authors view fanfiction of their work as flattering and as a great way for young aspiring writers to hone their skills, but don’t read it.
The topic of working with their editors came up several times. Tui and Kristin agreed that their editors’ suggestions are usually right, though sometimes, they need time to realize that for themselves. They also observed that an editor who isn’t a big reader of fantasy can still be good at editing it. Characters are characters. Dragons are people, too.
Martha cited two Lloyd Alexander pieces from the Horn Book Magazine:
- “The Flat-Heeled Muse” (April 1965 issue)
- “High Fantasy and Heroic Romance,” a speech given at the New England Round Table of Children’s Librarians in October 1969 (published in the December 1971 issue)
and don’t miss Kristin’s own HB article on the logistics of fantasy world-building, “Hot Dog, Katsa!” (January/February 2010).
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