Every year, the Boston Book Festival brings together authors, writers, and readers into Copley Square for a three day bookworm extravaganza. I attended last year for the first time and was excited to go again. This year a couple of authors I like, Marissa Meyer, Cinder and Scarlet, and Maggie Stiefvater, Raven Boys and Shiver, appeared. They were on the panel for YA: Legends Revisited with Nancy Werlin, Unthinkable and Impossible, and Shelly Dickson Carr, Ripped. The session focused on how myths and legends are incorporated in the author’s work, why myths are important for storytelling, and the author’s writing process. Below is a summary of the collective wisdom from these bestselling women of YA science fiction, fantasy, and suspense.
Why use myths?
Marissa pointed out that myths are popular because of their relatability to the reader. Maggie agreed and added that myths are larger than life and when placed in the contemporary setting resonate with readers.
Why set Myth retellings in a contemporary or future setting?
All the authors talked about how much easier life is in the contemporary setting compared to early periods, like the Victorian age. Shelly and Nancy reminded everyone that life was harder back then, and most girls would have lived a life without many options. Thus, throwing a myth into modern day can merge the best of two worlds. Maggie reminded everyone that cars are so much cooler than carriages (Disclosure: Maggie owns a race car).
What details do you use to root your story?
When Marissa wrote the Lunar Chronicles she used many difficult cultures and mashed them to create a new one, the futuristic Asian culture in Cinder. Maggie likes to experience the things she writes about, for example she searched for a tea recipe she wanted to use in the Scorpio Races. The tea tasted awful. Her point to the story was that as a writer we need to make the things that are true in our stories as real as possible, that way the fantasy elements seem more plausible. Nancy recommended that writers cement readers with gritty unpleasant details.
The Toothpaste Conundrum
The group joked about how a Victorian girl would describe the taste of toothpaste and that things we take for granted today could be an important detail that grounds your readers. Marissa called it the toothpaste conundrum, and she imagined that if she went back to the time of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that Mr. Darcy would fall for her because she had straight teeth. Wouldn’t straight teeth set you apart and make you highly desirable. (Marissa was so charming I doubt she’d have to rely on her teeth to attract Mr. Darcy.)
Who do they write for?
Maggie writes for herself and then uses later edits to worry about her audience. Shelly mentioned that for her book, Ripped, a time traveling Jack the Ripper tale, she needed to get away from the gore because of her audience (teens). She did that by showing Jack the Ripper’s killings using Madame Tussaud wax museum. This allowed her to show the disgust without having to show the real killings. Marissa described that when she started writing the Lunar Chronicles she approached it from a fantasy angle, but realized that it was science fiction and the fantastic powers of the Lunars should be more science based.
How do you create your characters?
Maggie uses only people she’s met (interesting). She steals all her characters from real life and can’t create a character without knowing them in person. Shelly looks to herself and family. She said that if you watch your family you have all you need to write a story. Marissa’s characters pop into her head. She knew right off that Cinder would be a cyborg and not a human citizen. Sometimes it takes her 2 or 3 drafts to get to know her characters.
Stay tuned for Part 2 later in the week.