Author Leigh Bardugo Shares Her Thoughts on the Tasks of Writing a Novel

 

Shadow and Bone author Leigh Bardugo got to share her thoughts, along with 20 other well-known authors, on the process of writing a novel, including your first one.  As one who’s debut series’s final book has yet to come out, I’m sure the first time process is probably fresh in her mind.  Read below what she had to say:

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When did you decide to write what became your first book? What were you doing for a living at the time?

Leigh Bardugo (first book Shadow and Bone): I was working as a makeup and special-effects artist at the time and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Before that I’d worked as a journalist, I’d worked as a copywriter. When my dad passed away I decided to switch careers. I needed to be away from a computer screen and around people. I think not writing for my day job helped to let that muscle relax during the day so that I felt like writing when I came home at night.

Was the proposition of writing a book intimidating or crazy-seeming, or were you confident you could do it?

Leigh Bardugo: I believed all my life that I could write a book. I thought if not easy, it would be a pleasurable journey. I don’t think I could have been more wrong about that. I think that one of the myths we have about creativity is that sometimes we have a calling, that you know that every day of your life, when in truth, half of writing a first draft is very much about failure.

Had you attempted to write other books prior to the one you ultimately published first?

Leigh Bardugo: I tried to write a bunch of books. I would get an idea and I would race into writing. I was so excited. Momentum would usually carry me through 50 pages or so and then I would hit a serious bump or I would lose steam or I would have one of those slow days. That slow day would turn into a slow week and then a slow month and I would step away from it and never come back.

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Did you show people sections or drafts of your manuscript as you wrote it?

Leigh Bardugo: I sent the draft to two people, a friend who’s a TV writer and another who’s an academic. Neither of them is huge into young adult or science fiction, but I knew they would at least appreciate what I was trying to do. They understood how to tell a story. This is something I tell writers, aspiring writers all the time: Choose your readers wisely. Choose people who aren’t going to bring their own ego or their own agenda to the page. You have to trust them wholly so that when they come to you with things you don’t want to hear, you can’t just dismiss them.

What helped you get through, despite the obstacles you encountered?

Leigh Bardugo: I basically tricked myself into writing the first draft of Shadow and Bone. Every time that voice kicked in that said, It’s not good enough, instead of trying to fight it, I said, You’re absolutely right. Nobody’s ever going to see it. I just have to write it and then I can put it in a desk drawer or send it out to sea or set it on fire.

All told, how long did it take you to write the book, from idea to selling it?

Leigh Bardugo: From idea to sending out the manuscript was a little under a year. It was a really great year.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known then? What advice would you give your younger self?

Leigh Bardugo: I used to believe in the myth of the big idea: The big idea hits and you never look back. It’s sort of like when you meet a couple that’s been together for a long time and the question you ask is “How did you guys meet?” And there’s always a great story. But the real question — and the one that hopefully you’re too polite to ask — isn’t “How did you guys meet?” but “How did you stick together?” That’s the story of writing a book. How did you stick with it? How did you get through the day-to-day? I think one of the reasons you get so many questions about process — “Do you plot?” “How do you do it?” “How do you do it every day?” — is because people want to believe there’s a way to take the pain out of the process of writing. And there really isn’t. You’re going to have days that are terrible.

You can check out the whole interview with all the other participating authors, including Dean Koontz and Charlaine Harris, on Buzzfeed.

 

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Exclusive YALL Fest Interview with Leigh Bardugo

Last week at YALL Fest, our correspondent Ellie got a chance to chat with Leigh Bardugo about the Grisha trilogy: The characters! The challenges! The fandom! THE DARKLING.

There are no RUIN AND RISING spoilers in this interview, but if you haven’t read up through SIEGE AND STORM, there may be some major spoilers. Also, if you haven’t read SIEGE AND STORM, what are you waiting for?!

Ellie and Leigh

Ellie and Leigh

First off, how is RUIN AND RISING coming along?

Leigh Bardugo: Well, the first draft was finished back in February and we’ve done a couple rounds of revisions since then. Now we’re basically just going into copy edits, so it’s done!

Any warnings or clues for your readers?

LB: Not everyone is going to make it out of the series. Those that do survive will be much changed. And many, many secrets will be revealed.

Which book is the Grisha series was the most difficult to write?

LB: Easily book three. Writing book two was incredibly intense. It was the first time I’ve written on a deadline and I was making the world much more complex. There were more characters and the political dynamics of the world came much more into play. But book three… books one and two are really about opening doors and book three was really about closing doors. It was really hard to say goodbye to the characters and also to make everything so final, despite the fact that I had plotted out the book literally years before. To bring those things into to being was a much more difficult process than I had anticipated.

As you were writing, did you leave your characters possible for alternate outcomes or were you set in their journey from the very beginning?

LB: I always knew where they would end up, but there were certain characters– There was a character in book two– I talk about this a lot and people always get frustrated because I won’t reveal who it is. There was a character in book two that I intended to kill off, but I just couldn’t. That was because that character still had a big journey to go on. That was really the only surprise of the series. But for the most part, even despite that, the ending has never budged and I think I always knew where they needed to end up, why they needed to be there. Alina’s story is– I’ve always known where the heart of her story is. If she had gone someplace different, it would have betrayed all of the things I’d set up to begin with…. That was very vague. (laughs)

When I first got into the books, I knew very little except that people were in love with The Darkling. When I found out the truth about The Darkling, I was shocked. Did you expect people to fall in love with him? How do you feel about that?

LB: Any time people connect with your characters, it’s kind of this wonderful surprise. I was not very active in the YA world in terms of readers and fantoms. I had no idea what that would be like or even to hope for it. In that way it was really gratifying but… (laughs) Honestly, if I didn’t want The Darkling to be appealing, I would have just pulled a Vader or a Voldemort. It would be like “Oh! My evil is making me gross and disintegrating my nose!” I want him to be appealing because I feel like that’s what charismatic leaders and dictators are like, otherwise nobody would follow them.

What is the most unique fan art, costume, gift, etc that you have seen or received?

LB: It actually happened on this last tour at our first stop. Two people cosplayed Alin and the stag, but they based the costly on fan art by Irene Koh. I was like “Now, if somebody writes fanfic of this, we’ll basically open up a wormhole.” That was incredibly fun, especially because I love seeing readers interact with each other. It’s fun for me to chat with them, but it’s cool for me when people get each other to read the books or plan things together. I’m part of the fan community. I’m a member of the Game of Thrones fandom, The Brotherhood Without Banners, and those people are a really big part of my life. So it’s really cool for me to see other people being brought together by the books. Again, something I never really anticipated, but it’s really fun to witness.

Is there anything you would have done differently if you were to redo your writing process for the series?

LB: I wish I could go back and eliminate some of the self-doubt I experienced. That’s something that kind of perches on my shoulder throughout the books. I’m getting better about that, but there are still days when I feel like I’m not capable of finishing a book or I have no idea how to do it; I don’t know how I managed it before and I’ll never manage it again. There are some magic and alchemy that I can’t recreate. There was so much of that early on and I wish I could go back and reassure that past Leigh that I could do it. That’s why whenever I talk to aspiring writers, I tell them to let go of that voice inside that says you can’t and tell them that they can.

Are you set on the fantasy genre or do you plan on writing other genres as well?

LB: Whatever I write will have some element of fantasy or the supernatural in it, but there’s a good chance I will deviate from secondary world fantasy and write some horror. Who knows what else.

If you had to enter the Shadow Fold, what would be your survival strategy?

LB: (laughs) I would curl up in the fetal position and I would sing softly to myself. Start singing “Soft Kitty.”

Would you want to be a Grisha and if so, what class would you be?

LB: I would love to be a Heartrender, but I think deep down, I’m really a Fabrikator. I’m kind of crafty but also I’m most happy when I’m sitting in my workshop all by myself. I don’t think I would be on the front lines.

What’s next for you?

LB: I can’t really talk in too much detail about what I’m working on right now. I’m hoping to be able to make an announcement soon. I can tell you that it is fantasy. I was just at a writing retreat and I spent the first week of that retreat drafting this new book. I’m very excited.

Do you have any last messages for your fans?

LB: A very heartfelt thank you. I feel very, very grateful. I have basically my dream job and you’re the reason for it, so thank you.

Exclusive Comic-Con Interview with SHADOW AND BONE Author Leigh Bardugo

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My fourth and final interview of the Comic-Con weekend was with Shadow and Bone author Leigh Bardugo, who was there to talk Siege and Storm, the sequel to Shadow and Bone and, of course, to be a fangirl just like everyone else there!

Like The Maze Runner author James Dashner, this was her 2nd visit to Comic-Con, and she finds it as enjoyable as everyone else, especially getting to meet other authors that she adores as well as the chance to “get exposed to things that are out of the YA world.” 

Warning: mild *spoilers* below

This time, I got to chat with her a little more about Siege and Storm, and then about the third book, Ruin and Rising.  One of the first questions that came to mind was about Sturmhond and what we can expect to see in regards to his role in the Big Palace.  Of course, she was quick to remind me that we don’t know what his situation is at this point, stating “Well, we don’t know if he is still alive.  He could be alive, he could be dead, he could be held prisoner.  We don’t know.”  I paused for a moment, realizing my faux pas and told her that I am just assuming he is (basically because how could you get rid of such a wonderful character, right?)

Read the rest of this very intriguing interview after the jump.

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Leigh Bardugo Talks Siege and Storm with Goodreads

Leigh Bardugo and the Grisha Trilogy are featured in Goodreads1..2..3… Chat! video this month! The author discusses her favorite characters, weird fears, and happiness. She even gives us a lovely sample of her singing voice!

Leigh Bardugo on Female Leads and “Competent” Boys

EW’s Shelf Life caught up with Leigh Bardugo and author friend Veronica Roth (Divergent) to discuss YA lit and what makes their characters tick!

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Here’s a pretty spectacular snippet!

The love interests in your books, Tobias/Four and Mal set readers’ hearts aflutter. What qualities do they have that reflect what you look for in real-life partners?

L: I’m about to give the least sexy answer ever. Ready? Mal, and the Darkling, and Sturmhond all have one thing in common: they’re spectacularly competent. They’re really good at what they do. I guess I also love the sense of honor at Mal’s core. He’s someone you’d always want at your back in a fight. I feel like that’s true for Four, too.

V: I LOVE that answer. I think competence is extremely sexy, actually. And it’s what Tris is attracted to when she sees Four jump on a train for the first time — she admires his physical competence, and the ease with which he does it. I also think something your boys have in common in Shadow and Bone is that they feel like whole people — you don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on their looks, and instead you focus on the things that make them tick, their strengths and their flaws and their desires. That, I think, is what makes them appealing to readers, even if they can’t quite put their fingers on it — they feel real. I tried as hard as I could to make Four feel as real as possible, so this is something I think about a lot.

With Four specifically, he’s always appealed to me because he’s utterly convinced of Tris’s strength even when she isn’t. He respects her and respecting women is sexy, I don’t care what anyone says.

L: Hold up, who says respecting women isn’t sexy?

V: I mean, no one in particular, but sometimes you see love interests who completely disregard the main character’s opinions or feelings or even clearly expressed wishes, and I think that is the antisexy. There’s a difference between, say, impulsive or protective and straight up controlling and disrespectful, and that’s something I try to be pretty careful about. I think you’ve done a good job with this, actually — Mal wants to take care of Alina, but he’s not pushy or condescending about it. Two thumbs up, Bardugo.

L: Okay, now I’m the one blushing, Roth. It’s funny, I said that both Mal and Four would be people you’d want at your back in a fight. I think they’d say the same for Alina and Tris. That trust, that respect is fundamental. I like alphas. I like bad boys. I like a guy with a protective streak. But all of those archetypes fall apart if they’re just running roughshod over the heroine.

Fear and darkness are themes in both the Divergent and the Grisha trilogy. Do you ever have nightmares about the characters/scenarios in your books?

L: Ha! No but I had a nightmare about a bird pecking its way into my mouth after I read Divergent. (I did once dream that I was at King’s Landing, one of the locations from Game of Thrones. The Pet Shop Boys were playing.)

V: And I have been haunted by a particularly horrifying image at the end of Siege and Storm since I read it. I don’t want to spoil it, but you know what I’m talking about. So I guess we’re even!

L: Is it wrong that I’m pleased? I’m pleased.

Read the full interview here!

Leigh Bardugo’s SIEGE AND STORM Blog Tour Stop #7

On Leigh Bardugo‘s seventh stop in her blog tour, Leigh gives us more insight on Alina, the 2 previously known male characters and 1 new male character in Siege and Storm, as well as some information on Ravkan wedding traditions (what?!):

Jen: I love that the books explore the issue of women and power. In Shadow and Bone, Alina remembers suppressing her Grisha abilities as a child. Using her powers brings Alina a sense of joy and even pride, but also a great deal of ambivalence, guilt and self-doubt.  Can you talk a little about this?

Leigh: One of the questions at the heart of Shadow and Bone is what we give up, what we’re willing to sacrifice to belong to someone or something. I think we often make those concessions—women in particular—without even realizing it, so I wanted to explore that. But I also think Alina’s struggle with power is as much about class as it is about gender. At the beginning of the series, she’s a girl without status or prospects or any kind of real say in her life. So while using her power is a joyful thing, the repercussions of actually wielding influence are much harder for her to contend with.

Jen: Dealing with those repercussions is certainly a huge part of Alina’s story in Siege and Storm.Transformation is another theme in your books. Besides being a writer, you’ve worked as a “glamour and ghouls” make-up artist. Do life and art intersect in this area for you?

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(source: Leigh Bardugo)

Leigh: I worked primarily in beauty as opposed to effects, so most of the time, my job was to make someone look “natural” (now there’s an illusion) or perfect a smoky eye. But my favorite shoots were the ones that combined the beautiful and the bizarre, where I got to bring a little bit of fantasy to life. With both makeup and writing, the goal is to hide the craft, so that the viewer or the reader never has cause to question the illusion. Hopefully, they just get to experience something magical.

Jen: I would definitely call your books magical! And yet, Alina also feels like a real girl. She can be prickly and sarcastic — and funny!  In an interview last year with author Claire Legrand, you described Alina as someone who “struggles to be strong.” Would you still describe her that way in Siege and Storm?

Leigh: I think that may depend on your definition of strength. Alina is far more powerful, more confident, and simply more dangerous in Siege and Storm. Now she has to struggle to maintain her humanity. Being merciful, kind, and just, and balancing those traits with the authority to rule requires a different kind of strength.

Jen: You’ve also written a trio of swoonworthy yet complicated male characters: Mal, the hunky guy next door with a chip on his shoulder, the Darkling – the tortured bad boy – and then, in Siege and Storm, the swashbuckling, wisecracking Sturmhond, who is creating quite a buzz around the blogosphere. They’ve inspired fan art and fanfic. Are you amazed by how invested people have become in your characters?

Leigh: It’s the craziest, most wonderful thing. I am so blown away by the things that people create, by their talent, by the fact that they care enough about the characters and the story to find all of these wonderful ways to bring them to life. I just don’t think there’s any higher compliment. But one of the reasons I like tumblr so much is that we’re all fans of something. I love finding out that I share fandoms with my readers, because then we get to geek out over Legend of Korra or The Mortal Instruments or Game of Thrones together.

Jen: I love your Game of Thrones posts! I can tell that you’re an avid fantasy fan, but I also think about history and historical figures when reading your books. After finishing Siege and Storm, I began to wonder if Alina might surprise us all and stay single, like Queen Elizabeth I. Then last month I saw an intriguing little tidbit that you posted on tumblr:

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Is this wedding you speak of a love match? A marriage of convenience?  Is it reminiscent of the plots of any of these Hollywood wedding movies: The Runaway Bride, My Best Friend’s Wedding or What Happens In Vegas?

Leigh: Ha! Well, I didn’t say it would be Alina’s wedding, did I? Elizabeth is an interesting parallel.

Jen: Well, no, you didn’t say that.  But… hmmm… I’m going to have to think more about this.

(via seventh blog tour stop: YARomantics.  Enter to win a paperback copy of Shadow and Bone and a Hardcover copy of the upcoming Siege and Storm!)

Leigh Bardugo’s SIEGE AND STORM Blog Tour Stop #5

On Leigh Bardugo’s sixth stop in her blog tour, does a bit of Q&A for the folks there, including who her favorite was to write, and her other projects:

1) Where did your inspiration for the Grisha trilogy come from?

The series really began one night when I managed to scare myself into thinking there really might be monsters waiting for me at the end of a darkened hall. I went to bed wondering, “What if darkness was a place?” What if the monsters were real and you had to fight them on their own territory? What kind of power might create such a place? What would it take to destroy it? Those ideas became the Shadow Fold and the rest of the story grew from there.

2) Was it harder to write Siege and Storm compared to the first book, or easier?

So much harder. The world got much bigger and more complex, I had more characters and plots to juggle, and I was writing on deadline for the first time. It was an incredibly intense process.

3) Which character do you love to write about most? Which character do you wish had more scenes in the trilogy?

Sturmhond is easily my favorite character to write. Most of my characters struggle with themselves and the choices they make, but Sturmhond is pure confidence. He knows exactly what he wants and he has no doubts about his ability to get it. Writing that clarity of intent is such a pleasure. Honestly, it was hard not to let him take over the whole book. But I wish all of the characters could have more scenes in the trilogy. They all have stories to tell and the narrative (as well as Alina’s POV) doesn’t always permit that. That’s why I love writing bonus content. I get to share a bit more of these characters with readers.

4) How did you create the world of the Grisha?

The political structure and magical system came first for me. It was only when I started getting into later drafts that I really set out to give the reader a sense of place. That was when I turned to Russia as a kind of cultural touchstone. I was introducing a lot of unfamiliar elements, so I wanted to help the reader feel grounded in the world. Still, I was surprised at how deeply the research impacted some of the dynamics at work in my story. In terms of the actual process, most of the research for Shadow and Bone happened between the pages—in cultural histories, surveys of folklore, old recipe books. With Siege and Storm, I took a slightly different approach and ended up consulting quite a few friends and acquaintances when I needed help with the nautical research and some of the stickier science.

5) Are you working on any other projects you can share with us?

I have a few new things in the works, but I can’t really talk about them just yet. Right now, I’m revising Ruin and Rising, the final book in the Grisha Trilogy and I’m hoping to write a Ravkan folk tale to accompany it. I wrote “The Witch of Duva” for the release of Shadow and Bone, and “The Too-Clever Fox” for Siege and Storm, but I’m a bit torn over which story to tell for Ruin. Maybe one day I’ll get to write them all.

(via sixth blog tour stop: BookYAReview.  Enter to win a paperback copy of Shadow and Bone and a Hardcover copy of the upcoming Siege and Storm!)