This article was first published in issue one of Cinders magazine.
Two fantastic YA worlds collided when authors Rainbow Rowell and Leigh Bardugo came together for a fantastic author event in Dublin in October. Méabh McDonnell was delighted to be in the audience for the event, where she was able to bring us the low down on everything that the two authors had to say about writing, diversity and how to write the perfect kiss.
Rainbow Rowell and Leigh Bardugo are two of the biggest names in YA literature right now. If you haven’t heard of them, you need to race out to your nearest library and demand everything they’ve ever written. You won’t be sorry.
I was lucky enough to attend their recent World’s Collide event in Dublin and literally fangirl all over both of them!
The event was originally born out of NY Times bestselling author, Leigh Bardugo’s launch tour for her new novel Crooked Kingdom, the hotly anticipated sequel to Six of Crows, where she – as Dave O’Callaghan, chief children’s buyer for Easons, Dublin put it – wanted to bring a friend.
And what a friend she brought – Rainbow Rowell, author of the heart-soaring (and heart breaking) Eleanor and Park and the wonderful Fangirl to name but a few of her fantastic novels. The two friends came together in a tour that went from London to Dublin, to Edinburgh to Manchester to read, meet and discuss each of their weird and wonderful approaches to writing, the story behind Rainbow’s name, how to write the best love scenes and overcoming writers block. The evening began with the two ladies swanning onto the stage, explaining how they met, and how Leigh wasn’t expecting to like Rainbow as much as she did.
Leigh: We met at LeakyCon.
Rainbow: She wasn’t expecting to like me.
Leigh: Well I will confess I thought she had picked her nameI thought she would be like ‘hi I call myself Rainbow,’ you know really dreamy? I grew up in LA and I really hate hippies, I thought I wasn’t going to like her.
But then I met her and she turned out to be so delightful
Rainbow: Also, I didn’t choose that name, my mother gave it to me! I always thought I was going to change it to Sarah with an h, and my mom always said you can do it when you turn 18. But when I turned 18 I thought there’s no way I can say this to my friends, ‘um can you start calling me Sarah?’ So that’s how I got my name.
Rainbow and Leigh then entertained the audience with two of the most unique, funny and bizarre readings from their respective novels that I have ever seen. They read from Rainbow’s novel Carry On to begin with.
Rainbow: So, Carry On is a spin-off of my novel Fangirl where the main character Cath writes FanFiction about this series books about wizards and vampires. After I wrote Fangirl I realised that I had actually done a lot of the hard work that goes with writing a fantasy, the characters, the world, the system of magic and even the villain. And I was going to leave them there in Fangirl but it was like the characters kept on talking to me asking me to write more! They were saying, ‘hey Rainbow it’s Baz I’m still here and I’m a lot hotter than any of the other characters you’ve ever come up with!’. So I wrote this spin off of Fangirl but you don’t actually have to read Fangirl understand this book just a stand-alone fantasy novel.
One of the main characters of the novel is Simon Snow. Simon Snow is like the most chosen one of chosen ones. He is like if Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker had a baby… and Frodo nursed it! Simon spends most of the book hunting Baz his secret-vampire-nemesis whom he is obviously secretly in love with!
Leigh: Because everyone’s in love with Baz.
After delighting the audience with the morbid genius that is Baz, the ladies moved on to a reading from Leigh’s new book, Crooked Kingdom.
Rainbow: When I met Leigh Six of Crows had not been written yet wasn’t a book it wasn’t a series. It was just an idea.
Leigh: I had never written a book like Six of Crows before, it has multiple narratives. Six of Crows was a heist story about six kids who get paid an incredible amount of money to breach an impregnable fortress. I really didn’t know how many books that was going to be. I told my editor I didn’t know if it was going to be one book or two books or six books.
“Simon Snow is like the most chosen one of chosen ones. He is like if Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker had a baby… and Frodo nursed it! Simon spends most of the book hunting Baz his secret-vampire-nemesis whom he is obviously secretly in love with!”
When I got to the end of Six of Crows I had accomplished everything I wanted to do plot wise. But emotionally the characters were not where I want to leave them. So I wrote a sequel because the characters all turned out to be a lot more damaged than I thought they would be! Like when I first told my friends I wanted to write this book I said it’s going to be a romp, it’s going to be an adventure story! Apparently I forgot what kind of books I write. By the end of the first novel the characters were only just starting to crawl out of their shells. But I really felt like they needed another book. So the result was Crooked Kingdom!
The authors followed their very ‘dramatic’ readings with a Q&A with the audience where we learned some interesting facts about the way they write novels, and describe the Big Damn Kiss in their various romances!
Rainbow: I try to make that scene happen way past the point of your tolerance. In my books people don’t come together until it’s just getting desperate, and all they have to do is touch each other’s hands and it’s dirty. I love a slow burn.
Leigh: I love a slow burn too, I mean once they start making out its like, okay what’s next? Personally I think the worst thing you can do in a romantic scene is to rely on clichés. To rely on language and declarations that you’ve seen before. In my books characters very rarely say ‘I love you’ because I feel like there are so many other ways that people show that kind of emotion. Like actual actions of love and loyalty that will be much more specific to those characters. I will say there is a chapter in Crooked Kingdom that happens in a bathroom in hotel. That sound’s dirty, but it’s not it’s actually very chaste, but emotionally it’s an incredibly intense moment between the two characters and there were probably 30 different versions of that chapter.
Rainbow: I often get asked how to write a good kiss, but for me personally I don’t think there a very many ways to write a kiss. Until it starts to just sound lame. Like when words like squelch show up, it’s not good. In the same way there aren’t that many ways to describe the word mouth, like you can’t say food hole!
Leigh: Ha! He squelched me on my food hole!!!
“Personally I think the worst thing you can do in a romantic scene is to rely on clichés. To rely on language and declarations that you’ve seen before. In my books characters very rarely say ‘I love you’ because I feel like there are so many other ways that people show that kind of emotion. “
Rainbow: The key to writing a good kiss is to write good characters and a compelling love story. Merging the language of the kiss with the choreography of the kiss isn’t what matters as much as the feeling you have when these two characters come together. I think that writing those things is in the character work and the thought that goes into them. I think that it works if you have a really powerful plot and build up and then the last line is ‘and then he kissed me’. It just works.
Leigh:The trick is italics.
Diversity and representation are a huge part of both Rainbow Rowell and Leigh Bardugo’s books. From the relationships and disabilities present in Leigh’s books to the representations of mental illness and LGBTQ relationships in Rainbow’s, both have experience in writing diverse fiction and were asked about how representing this felt.
Leigh: I don’t live in a white straight world so I don’t write a white straight world. My peer group has never been white and straight, so I had to really ask myself why is Shadow and Bone so white and straight. I had to really look at it and see that I wasn’t writing the real world that I knew but instead I was echoing a lot of fantasy that I had seen before. It’s funny though how you can end up writing something very personal and not realising it. When I wrote the first draft of Six of Crows, it did not occur to me that I was writing a character who had to walk with a cane – like me – who was also a total badass. I realised later that this was the year that I was coming to terms with the fact that I had an invisible disability that was about to become visible. So I created this character who lives with his disability and lives with chronic pain and he still terrified everyone around him. And that’s my goal [laughs].
Rainbow: For me, Carry On was the first time I was able to write a story with non straight characters who were the protagonists and that was very exciting for me. I come from a very, very conservative place, Nebraska.
One of the most conservative parts of the United States.
Rainbow: Gay people can get married in Nebraska now. I never thought I would live to see that, I never thought that I would live to see the time in Nebraska when my gay friends could be out in public. And I can’t express how it feels to witness that and then as a writer the ability to write about characters like the real people in my life, and the people that I love, it is such a powerful thing. I don’t think it’s that powerful in the rest of the world I mean it’s not a groundbreaking book but for me it was. For me it was to be able to write freely. It was very exciting for me to be able to write about these characters and write a love story to give them a happy ending was incredibly liberating.
“I think Levi from Fangirl is my favourite character just to hang out with just because he’s so sunny.”
One of the last questions was who each of the author’s favourite characters were from their own books and each others.
Rainbow: I would have to say Baz is my favourite character from my own book. I just find him funny in a way that I’m not funny. He’s very grand and moody and self loathing. I find him very, very, funny to write. Now I think Levi from Fangirl is my favourite character just to hang out with just because he’s so sunny. In Leigh’s books I think Nina is my favourite character I just find her so funny and inspiring and sexy.
Leigh: I have a huge crush on Lincoln from Rainbow’s book Attachments, I love him. Of my own characters I really love Nina and I really love Genya. I just love writing them.
Rainbow: If I’m being honest I really like all of my characters. I mean you have to, you spend so much time with them so it’s difficult to write a character that you really don’t like.
After rapturous applause drew the event to a close we all lined up in neat order to meet both ladies, who were just as funny and witty as you might guess. I only wish I could have spoken to them longer!
-By Méabh McDonnell