Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl: interview & review

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl will captivate fans of To Kill a Mockingbird. This new young adult novel takes its inspiration from Harper Lee’s classic and from contemporary paranormal fiction. Magic, romance and history are served with a side order of southern charm. The atmosphere, replete with dripping moss and Civil War gravestones, is a character in itself.

From To Kill a Mockingbird, we get a story of senseless persecution and bigotry in a small southern town. Eccentric Macon Ravenwood is called the Boo Radley of Gatlin. His niece, Lena, has just moved into his old plantation home. Rumor has it that Ravenwood Manor is haunted.

Ethan narrates this Gothic romance in a true teenaged boy voice. He recognizes Lena from his dreams, but she ignores him and everyone at school. The other girls ridicule Lena for wearing black and a necklace of junk mementos. Lena breaks windows and writes poetry. The weather always seems stormy when she’s around. Lena is also under a curse, coming to term on her sixteenth birthday. Ethan is smitten, but he’ll have to choose between Lena and his friends.

 Old Burying Ground in Beaufort, North Carolina, photo by Kami Garcia

I picked up Beautiful Creatures at a Harvard Coop bookstore and couldn’t put it down. I loved the writing and the southern flavor. The food descriptions were good enough to eat. I really liked Ethan, but I never quite connected with Lena, although I related to her inability to fit in. The other high school kids were stock characters, but the rest of the cast was marvelous. Ethan’s surrogate mother Amma, who practices voodoo magic, and Lena’s Uncle Macon were my favorites. Having well developed adult characters, sophisticated literary references and beautiful descriptive prose broadened the appeal of this young adult novel to an adult audience.  It was one of the best young adult novels I read in 2009.   Unforgettable!

Although Beautiful Creatures was remarkably well crafted for a debut, it had one problematic flaw. Too much back-story about the town and the families slowed the opening, although the pace really picked up later in the narrative. My 12-year-old daughter quit on page 30 of this 563-page book. She prefers a book with a faster pace and a strong female voice (instead of a male narrator.) Perhaps she’ll return after she reads To Kill a Mockingbird. Many, many teenaged bloggers have raved about Beautiful Creatures.

Will Beautiful Creatures become the next big hit since Twilight and Harry Potter? It has been a New York Times bestseller since its December 2009 release. Two more books in the trilogy are in the works at Little Brown, the publisher of the Twilight series too. The movie rights have already been sold to Warner Brothers and the fan club launched. What a magical debut!

My Interview of Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Authors photo by Alex Hoerner

Sarah: Who are your favorite young adult authors and what made you decide to write in this genre?

Margie: My favorite young adult authors are Diana Wynne Jones and Robin McKinley, but Kami and I both love Cassandra Clare, Melissa Marr and Holly Black. Holly Black's ARC of WHITE CAT (Spring 2010) is one of the best books I’ve read in years. I write YA fantasy because that is what I read – and always have - and I identify as a reader more than a writer.

Kami: I love S.E. Hinton, Clive Barker, and Ray Bradbury. I also worship Cassie, Melissa, and Holly. I had the same reaction to WHITE CAT – it was one of the most original novels in urban fantasy. I decided to write in this genre because these are the books I love to read. Also, I work with teens, and Margie’s daughters are teens, so I think we feel comfortable writing them.

Sarah: Why do you think paranormal fiction is so popular with teens today?

Margie: I think we all want to feel powerful. And none of us seem to feel “normal,” so why not let ourselves feel what it is to be paranormal? (Photo of Margie Stohl at age 16 by her parents.)

Kami: In some sense, all romances feel supernatural. They don’t feel natural—because each one is so special and unique. A supernatural romance takes those feelings and magnifies them, and allows us to explore them.

Sarah: Why didn’t you call the novel “Sixteen Moons” like the book’s theme song? Who composed the song?

Margie: The original title of the book actually was Sixteen Moons, and it is still called that in France, 16 Lunes. We didn’t call it that in the US because of the many titles with “moon” somewhere in the mix.

Kami: Michele McGonigle composed the music and sang the song on the audiobook, and we wrote the lyrics.

Sarah: Which character in your novel do you most closely identify with and why?

Margie: I identify with Ethan. I almost never feel like I fit in anywhere, but I never want to rock the boat. Aside from Ethan, I identify with Marian. I always have my nose in a book and my head is full of bits of everything I’ve ever read…

Kami: I identify with Lena. I grew up not fitting in and not caring and writing poetry in my own journals. I also identify with Amma, because I’m ornery and incredibly superstitious! (Photo of Kami Garcia at age 15 by her friend Madeline Smith Scoular)

Sarah: Despite having two authors, the voice in Beautiful Creatures is remarkably consistent. How did you split the writing of the first draft? Do you write together or separately in sequence? What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing a novel as a team?

Margie: We outline obsessively in a shared office in my house, which is full of crazy, color-coded whiteboards. Then we each take a chunk of writing to work on, and hand it back and forth to each other until we’ve hacked it apart and written over each other.

Kami: By the end of the process, we have a hard time remembering out who wrote what. But we also naturally have similar voices, and a shared vision for the series. We fight all the time like sisters, about stupid things, but never once about the books themselves.

Sarah: What is the best advice you’ve had on writing?

Margie: My oldest friend, the brilliant middle grade fiction writer Pseudonymous Bosch, likes to say there’s no such thing as a bad book, only a bad draft. It’s really true. Just keep going!

Kami: Clive Barker told me that Ray Bradbury once told him to read everything he writes out loud. It is so painful, but so helpful. If something sounds awkward when you read it, it needs to go.

Sarah: When is the next Beautiful Creatures novel due out? Can you give us a hint about where the series going? What is happening with the movie?

Margie: Our sequel will be out in the USA in December 2010. The next book is more intense, and the stakes are higher. Broken hearts, true love, pie – everything you’d expect from Gatlin!

Kami: Richard LaGravanese, our screenwriter and director, and Erwin Stoff, our producer are hard at work on the film version for Warner Brothers. We completely trust them!

Sarah: thank you, Kami and Margie, for squeezing in this interview right before your book tour.  Best of luck with the future!

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@Barrie Summy

Half moon photos at Bailey Island, Maine.


troutbirder said...

I liked the interview. The book sounds fascinating. And a movie coming too. Wow!

Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

Good review, Sarah. I love the pictures--especially the first one.

Tracy :)

Sarah Laurence said...

All, Barrie Summy’s book review club host post is not up yet, but it will be soon.

AJC, welcome to my blog and thank you.

Troutbirder, I enjoyed the review on your blog too.

Tracy, thank you. Half moons have a special significance in the narrative.

Angie Muresan said...

That is a wonderful interview with two authors new to me. Gothic romances are some of my favorite to read. Congratulation to them both for the success of their book.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

Oooh, this one looks very tempting! I love coming here for Book Review Club--you always make me look outside my reading comfort zone. Great review and interview!

Bee said...

You have become my best source on exciting new YA books. I was describing this book to my teenager, (based on your review), and she urged me to order it for her. She recently read (and loved) To Kill a Mockingbird.

I was intrigued by the shared writing process of these two authors. I also wanted to know how long they've know each other and how they started writing together. Also, are they both Southerners? Did they have to do much research to create the "small southern town" atmosphere, or did they grow up in a Mississippi/Alabama kind of place?

Sarah Laurence said...

Angie, these authors were new to me too. I’m not familiar with Gothic romances so I’d love to hear your impression as a connoisseur.

Alyssa, this book was a little outside my comfort zone too but I really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to reading your review.

Bee, I love sharing my discoveries. I’d love to hear what your daughter thinks of BC. I found this Post and Courier interview which says the authors have been friends for 8 years. Kami grew up in small town South Carolina, similar to the fictional setting of the novel.

Keri Mikulski said...

Sounds amazing!!

Fabulous review and interview!

Donna said...

This sounds like a really good one. I've added it to my list.
I think it's so neat that you do these interviews with the authors!

Sarah Laurence said...

Keri, thanks! BTW, you don’t seem to have comments enabled on your blog anymore.

Donna, I think you’d love this book given how much you enjoyed Twilight. I’m grateful the authors made time for me during their debut launch. Their responses were so interesting.

Ellen Booraem said...

Oh, this book sounds marvelous. And I love the fact that you interviewed the authors, Sarah...actually thinking ahead rather than getting Barrie's email and thinking, "OK, what do I review this time?" *blush*

I've always wondered what makes writers decide to collaborate. Different but complementary strengths, I guess... how clever of them to recognize that!

tina said...

Interesting to write a novel as a team. Sounds like they did a great job.

Barrie said...

So glad I already have this book in my TBR pile. And I loved the interview.

Sarah Laurence said...

Ellen, I read BC when it first came out in December, but I already had an interview set up for January. I like to give authors time to answer my questions. It’s also helpful during a writing crunch to have a review already on deck. I don't do interviews every month because it takes so much planning and back and forth time. I enjoyed your Wolf Hall review too.

Tina, I was skeptical about team writing, but these two certainly make it work.

Barrie, you’ll love it. There’s a ghost and a mystery! Thanks for hosting another book review club.

Linda McLaughlin said...

This sounds really good, Sarah, though the 563 page length is a bit daunting. Great review & interview.

A Cuban In London said...

I loved the review and interview. What I found more interesting was the fact that there were two authors. I had to do a double-take before I realised that you hadn't made a mistake at the beginning of your post and one of the people mentioned was not the illustrator or something else.

I can understand your daughter perfectly because if you're aiming at that age group, I gather a write ought to be snappy and capture your attention staright away. Still, I loved the theme even though novels about paranormal activities are not my cup of tea anymore.

Many thanks for such brilliant review. It's ever so nice to be introduced to new authors.

Greetings from London.

Rosaria Williams said...

Excellent review and interview, Sarah. The interesting part for me was how the two writers cooperated throughout, yet managed to blend their voices into one. I'm interested in reading the book thanks to your fine presentation.

Sarah Laurence said...

Linda, I was actually sad to reach the last page. It doesn’t drag, except a bit in the opening. Thanks for telling me about the MG Shakespeare series in your review.

ACIL, young adult fiction is aimed at 12-18, which is a large age range. It’s quite possible my daughter will like this book better when she is older. It is also true that fast paced openings work best for children of all ages.

Lakeviewer, I’d be interested in hearing what you think of this book.

Gail said...

I am going to order this book~ I know my niece will love it...and she might let me read it after! gail

Rose said...

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is one of my favorite books of all time, so to compare "Beautiful Creatures" to it is high praise indeed. I don't usually read young adult fiction anymore--I had to force myself to read "Twilight," though enjoyed it for the most part--but you have presented a very strong case for reading this novel.

Thanks for re-visiting my blog today--I was late getting my review up. I just wanted to tell you that though the Warshawski series has been around for 27 years, Paretsky doesn't write a new one every year. I think there's something to be said for an author who doesn't churn out a book every year just to fulfill a contract:)

Sarah Laurence said...

Gail, great to hear! I love sharing books with my kids. It’s what motivated me write for young adults myself.

Rose, BC isn’t written in the style of To Kill a Mockingbird, but it echoes its themes. It’s certainly more literary than Twilight. As for Paretsky, I’m sure if an author is going to write 27 installments in a series, it’s probably a good idea to take creative breaks. I wouldn’t judge an author by the speed she writes because it doesn’t necessarily affect quality. Some authors write quickly and others need more time with first drafts. All books improve from revision, so there needs to be time for that.

Stacy Nyikos said...

Awesome interview. I've got to add this to my list. I need a few more good, inspiring, craft-laden pieces. This sounds like it could fit the mix.

Sherry said...

Awesome interview! I agree with the slow beginning but so glad I listened to my blogger friends and continued because I am really getting into now! Can't wait to see what happens! :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Excellent interview. I was quite interested in how they collaborate.

I also found it interesting that your 12-year-old gave up on it. Leisurely narrative stories seem to be a thing of the past. Some kids only want to read dialogue and skip over exposition entirely.

Violet said...

Excellent interview & I adore the photos! Loved Beautiful Creatures! :) Can't wait for the second book!

Anil P said...

A two-author book, most interesting, the first instance I remember coming across. The only other instances I've seen are with photography books, with photographs dealt by one, and prose by the other.

I found her answer to the challenge of two authors authoring a book very interesting, perhaps helps to think like sisters.

I've read To Kill a Mockingbird, but not so much the paranormal theme.

The interview made for a great read.

Still thinking of how it must be to negotiate the plot together, would be interesting to be a fly on the wall when they're working on the drafts together.

kj said...

What a terrific interview! I never thought of two authors writing one book so new wheels are now turning on my already packed head. :)

how I love love love writers....

How glad I am one....

Kelly H-Y said...

Wonderful, helpful review - sounds like quite a book! Your moon pictures are completely captivating - - gorgeous!

Sarah Laurence said...

Stacy, yes, Beautiful Creatures is a well-crafted novel. I enjoyed your book review too.

Sherry, welcome to my blog! Thanks for sharing your reaction to BC. I’m looking forward to checking out your book blog.

Tricia, contemporary young adult literature seeks to meet teens on their own ground. This means a faster pace, especially in the opening, and less descriptive prose. The quality of the writing can still be top notch. My daughter has enjoyed some old classics such as The Little Princess, Alice in Wonderland, The Secret Garden and Black Beauty too. I mentioned the slow opening to encourage readers of all ages to keep going. I know of adults who wanted to quit too and were happy they didn’t.

Violet, welcome to my blog and thanks for adding your endorsement to BC. I’ll come visit your blog soon.

Anil, Louis Erdrich and her then husband Michael Doris collaborated on her early novels and on one of his, although only one book (The Crown of Columbus) gave both authors credit. They divorced and he committed suicide so now she writes alone. I haven’t noticed a shift in her voice. I swap manuscripts with my critique partner, the author Charlotte Agell, and value her input as she does mine. I can’t imagine writing a book together although sometimes we joke about it. We both have such unique voices. It would be interesting to see a video clip of Kami and Margie working together.

Kj, thank you! This partnership shows that there are many ways to write book.

Kelly, thanks! The half moon has significance in BC – it’s the time for making white magic.

☆sapphire said...


Thank you for this nice review.
Oh the novel is so tempting that I'm sure I'll order this one.
PS: I loved your photos in the previous post, especially the last one!

Sarah Laurence said...

Sapphire, I wonder if you’ll be the first BC reader in Japan. I’d love to hear what you think of it. Thanks about the photos.

Jenn Jilks said...

Fabulous review. Great photos, too.
When this becomes a big hit you can say 'told you so'!
Funny how something just strikes you about a particular novel. Thanks for visiting my rhyming dictionary review! A lot less intriguing than your post, but useful nonetheless!

cynthia newberry martin said...

From the minute I saw there were two authors, I was hoping you were going to ask about process. Great interview. And I can actually see how handing the manuscript back and forth until they're both comfortable with it would work.

Sarah Laurence said...

Jenn, thanks! I enjoyed your review too.

Cynthia, two authors and one voice made this an interview I just had to do. I’m so glad they squeezed me into their packed schedule.

TBM said...

Gosh, what timing! Roxi is reading To Kill an Mockingbird again for English (the dangers of switching schools so often). I think I'll order this for her (and me). I love your book reviews and interviews, Sarah.

Sarah Laurence said...

JAPRA, if I had to read one book two years in a row, I’d choose To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m planning to reread it when my daughter reads it for school. I think you’ll enjoy sharing Beautiful Creatures with your daughter too.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

Just finished it, Sarah!
Really, really liked it--I look forward to the sequel (or series).

Thanks again for the review!

Sarah Laurence said...

Alyssa, wow! That was quick. I’m glad to hear that you liked it too. Thanks for reporting back.