Richelle Mead and Kristin Cashore are two YA authors at the top of their game. Bitterblue, Cashore's compaion to Gracling and Fire has just released, and The Golden Lily, the second book in Mead's new Vampire Academy spin-off series, Bloodlines, lands on June 12.
The two of them got together and answered some questions in this exclusive dual Q&A about their books, their fans, what inspires them, and a whole lot more. You'll find the rest after the jump.
Q: You have both written strong, independent female characters: what or who were the inspiration for Sydney and Bitterblue?
MEAD: I’ve written a few female characters who were obviously very strong, so much so that they could just walk right up and punch you. What I wanted to show in Sydney is that there are different types of strength, including a kind that’s quieter and more internal. Sydney shows that strength can come from will, character, and intelligence, and I think that’s important for readers—especially young women—to see. In fact, it’s probably a strength more people can relate to than the ass-kicking kind—not that that isn’t important sometimes!
CASHORE: Yes --similarly, Bitterblue’s strength is of a quieter, more internal kind. I’ve written about women with incredible fighting powers, women with mind reading powers, but Bitterblue is my first “regular girl” protagonist, so to speak. She’s not truly regular, of course, because she’s a queen, with all the power and privilege that come with her position. But she doesn’t have any special powers to help her figure things out. She’s surrounded by people who do have special powers, and is overwhelmed sometimes, I think, by how incapable she feels, compared to them. I really enjoyed writing from the perspective of someone with no special powers. I could definitely relate to Bitterblue’s abilities more than I could relate to those of my previous protagonists, Katsa and Fire.
Q: Both of your main female characters have power in their worlds, though Bitterblue is not a Graceling and Sydney is not a vampire. What is the source of power for each?
MEAD: Sydney has a few different types of power. Part of it is just in how smart she is. She possesses a lot of knowledge about a lot of things and is able to think her way out of tough situations. The people she works for, the Alchemists, have some power from the substances and chemicals they use—including vampire blood. As the series progresses, Sydney begins experimenting with human magic, which is different from the kind vampires use. Vampire magic is internally drawn. Human magic must be wrested from the world and involves spells with complex incantations and tangible components. Managing them requires intense concentration and attention to detail, which Sydney excels at.
CASHORE: Bitterblue is the Queen of Monsea, an enormous external source of power bestowed upon her by law when her father was killed. Her internal strengths, though, sound like they might be similar to Sydney’s. Bitterblue is smart. She’s also a little bit smart-mouthed, and uses the privilege of her position to ask nosy questions and push people to say more than they might want to. She’s an information-gatherer and a list-maker; she’s a reader and a thinker. She excels at mental math and ciphers. She’s also a fighter--Bitterblue doesn’t give up.
Q: Both Bitterblue and Sydney are characters from earlier books who emerge with their own full stories to tell. Did you both always know that you would tell their stories, or did it come about through the writing process? What surprised you about these characters as you began to dive into their stories?
MEAD: I knew half-way through the first Vampire Academy series that there would be a spin-off, though I’d originally expected a different character to narrate it. I chose Sydney at the last minute and am glad I did. Having a human observe and report on the vampire world opens it up to us in a whole new way. I think what’s surprised me the most about Sydney is just how fun she is to write. I initially worried that writing an intellect like her would be boring, but she’s not! She has so much complexity and emotional depth, as well as a dry and wonderful sense of humor. Her social awkwardness and romantic obliviousness make for some very funny (and occasionally heartbreaking) scenes.
CASHORE: That makes me smile, because I’ve also written from the perspective of a romantically oblivious character (Katsa in Graceling), and it was totally fun! Returning to the question – in the beginning, I never expected to write more than one fantasy. I was partway through Graceling when the character of Fire began to knock on my heart, asking to be written. I began writing Fire, thinking it would be my last fantasy – and then Bitterblue began to clamor for my attention. I honestly can’t think of any aspect of Bitterblue’s character that didn’t surprise me as I was writing her. When I begin a book, there’s always this sense that I need to tread cautiously, avoid being too pushy, and allow my characters to show me who they are. Certainly, there are ways in which I’m in charge of who they are, and I will mould aspects of my characters. But my biggest job, when it comes to my characters, is to listen, and allow them to tell me who they are. What this means on a practical level is that I write draft after draft after draft of a scene, and don’t stop until I feel like I’ve gotten to the heart of the character. Getting to know my characters is work-intensive! Thankfully, some of them are more forthcoming than others. In Bitterblue, I was stunned by how easy it was to write Giddon, for example, whereas a lot of the other characters – Saf and Thiel, for example – would not show themselves to me! I’ve found that the easiest characters to write are the ones whose personalities are the most forthcoming.