On Sunday, my mom and I drove down to the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul (MN) to see Kristin Cashore, author of Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue. I want to take a moment and plug the Red Balloon, because they’re an indie bookstore that has been in business for over 27 years. Since that’s older than I am (though not by much), I have to admit that is pretty darn cool. The Red Balloon Bookshop is one of three places I know of that frequently hosts book signings in the Twin Cities area (Mall of America and the B&N in Roseville being the other two), though the Red Balloon often has their events at a local library, since their store is on the smaller side. It was my first time at the Red Balloon, but I look forward to future events there.
I want to preface this recap by saying that I have not read any of Cashore’s books yet, though I do now own all of them, and have every intention of reading them. I love book signings, but you will always get more out of them if you have read the books by the author(s) present. The book signing was pretty standard: Kristin introduced herself, talked a little bit about her writing process, took some questions, and then signed some books.
What was extra awesome about Kristin’s talk was that she had a slideshow for us. She started off talking about the process of writing Bitterblue, and telling us that not only does she write by hand (which has to be extremely hard work) but that after turning in the first draft of Bitterblue to her editor, her editor told Kristin to start from scratch and rewrite the whole thing. In the slideshow, Kristin shared some of the pages from her notebooks, complete with notes and crossed out words (and lines, and pages). Every signing I go to renews and strengthens my respect for authors and what they do. The writing process plus the editing process has to be incredibly exhausting.
Kristin said that Bitterblue took up 7 notebooks (she had a picture of all of them, but I missed it!). When she transcribed the manuscript to her computer and printed it out, it came out at 750 pages. When she started her second draft, rather than using new notebooks, she took a printed copy of her first draft, crossed out nearly EVERY LINE and rewrote it. She also makes notes to herself, both positive and negative.
(this one is hard to read, especially with the head, but it says: “This is crap but push on thru 2 the other side. The only way out is through.”)
Some of the tidbits I remember from the Q&A*:
- Kristin wants to revisit the characters she’s created in the Graceling realm in the future, but it all kind of depends on what happens when she sits down to write.
- She has work pajamas.
- Normally, as an author, she has no control over the book covers for her books. However, because it took so long to write Bitterblue, she was asked for input on Bitterblue’s cover. Thus, there is both a literal and figurative (ciphers) importance for the three keys on the cover of Bitterblue.
- Failure as an author is IMPORTANT. She stressed this a few times.
- To build on that, she said that she has a negative voice (e.g., this is crap). She imagines him as a sad man sitting in a chair next to her, and when he gets too negative, she gives him a hug and moves on.
- She wrote a contemporary around the time she was shopping Graceling around. She says the contemporary is in her closet and will stay there. I gathered she wasn’t very proud of it.
- She’s also writing a contemporary novel right now, but said she wasn’t ready to talk about it. She said either her agent or editor had it.
- Kristin has an English degree and a Master’s in Children’s Literature. I believe that before she became a full time author, she was a freelance writer for textbooks (what, exactly she wrote is fuzzy for me)
- She is a very moody reader, and said that part of this reason was that after spending the day picking apart sentences, it can carry over into reading. (and I so understand this)
- She also lets her emotions dictate when she writes. Sometimes she find herself at the end of a day, and realize that she “took the day off.”
- How much time Kristin spends writing a day (and during what time) depends on where she is in the process. When she is near the end or in a really good scene, she can write for up to 14 hours. On days where she is is doing research or “drudge work” she may only spend 2 or 3 hours writing.
- When she was transcribing her manuscript (through voice recognition) she finds that there are some words that the voice recognition software does not pick up. The biggest offender for Bitterblue? Queen. Kristin said that she had to come up with a code word of sorts to use to replace queen. So she chose telephone, as the word telephone does not appear in Bitterblue, and was therefore a suitable alternative.
- Her idea for Graceling started when she had three characters arguing her in head. Kristin said they were very angry with each other, and that she spent some time learning who these characters were and how to write a story about them to connect some of their conversations/arguments. The three characters ended up being Katsa, Po, and one other character I’d probably remember if I had read the book. But I didn’t, so I don’t.
*Please note that I am writing these at least six hours after the event, and I am reconstructing what was said from my memory (no notes were taken, though I wish I had). If I have given incorrect information, I apologize, as it is completely my own mistake.