Imagine if you and I went to an author signing and I tell you it’s my first time (because I had to say the most virginy thing). You wouldn’t believe me for sure. Of course I had to be kidding. Except of course it is my first time.
That was exactly the case during Leigh Bardugo’s visit in Manila last Sunday, June 21st. It is the first book signing I went to and, you guys, it was so much fun! Leigh is wacky and hilarious and enthusiastic and just, it was obvious how very invested she is in her fandom. And I’ve always wondered if the author’s voice in a book somehow translates to how the said author speaks in real life or if he or she talks the way he or she tweets—because I seriously admire how writers phrase their sentences—well that can be said of Leigh. In fact, I wish you were all there, too, and were witnesses to her wisdom and energy. But for today I have a recap and, hopefully, it’ll give you an approximation of what went down. Here are some did-you-know’s:
- Leigh is pronounced as “Lee” and, excuse me, because I thought it was like the word “lay.”
- Alina Starkov started off positively different. She was a goody-good girl and Leigh was irked by that.
- On the flip side, Sturmhond (one of the central characters in Siege and Storm) came to her fully realized. He entered the room and was all, “hey, I’ve got stories to tell!”
- Like most writers, pieces of herself are scattered through her characters. However, she has this to say about her MC: “I think Alina and I share sort of the similar sense of humor, we’re both pretty pragmatic about life and I think I—when I was growing up I really felt like an outsider. I definitely spent many years of junior high in school feeling like I did not belong where I was. I hadn’t found my tribe. And I think, like, if you’ve read Ruin and Rising you know that she sort of begins to build her own family. She finds the friends and the people, and some of them are people you never expected her to be friends with in the end [but] that learn to fight side by side together and that really resonated with me.”
- Unlike a certain writer we know, she initially meant to kill off [spoiler] but grew rather fond of him (THANK THE SAINTS!).* She joked it was the reverse of Game of Thrones and, I mean, that was so on point.
- For Leigh, black-and-white characters are less hard work but also boring. “I don’t like villains who are easy to dismiss, you know, you get these villains and you’re like, why is anybody listening to this dupe he’s clearly bad news. So I wanted to create antagonists who, you know, you can see yourself rooting for—I mean, some of you do. And I wanted to create heroes who got things wrong and didn’t always do the noble and right thing, ’cause I think that’s more real, you know. I want magic to feel real. I want Ravka to feel real. I want Kerch to feel real.” (To give context, Kerch is a country mentioned in Siege and Storm and where Six of Crows takes place in.)
- Six of Crow is her latest novel. It’s Ocean’s Eleven meets Game of Thrones and is set in the same world of the Grisha trilogy. The concept came to her when she was driving and saw a promotion for The Monuments Men and was then overwhelmed by the inclination to rewatch Ocean’s Eleven. She gave in and after that, she’s dead set in writing a heist book but with more power play.
- Where Shadow and Bone is a “Chosen One” story, Six of Crows explores the opposite route: what’s it like to be not the “Chosen One,” to just want to survive.
- When faced with a writer’s block, she talks to herself. She puts on the “bluetooth thing” so people wouldn’t think she’s completely crazy.
- She’d always known she wanted to be an author. Actually, she has a drawing gifted by a friend from when she turned fourteen. It shows her in a book signing. (Dreams do come true!)
- Leigh doesn’t read much contemporaries but she loves I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park and Julie Murphy’s upcoming Dumplin’.
- She is a fan of Laini Taylor, Tamora Pierce, Marie Rutkoski and Kristin Cashore.
- When asked how she juggles writing and social media, she said she doesn’t do balancing. When she’s turning ideas into actual books, she locks herself in the house for two to three months straight. Like, her car doesn’t get drove and she orders high amount of take-outs.
- Also, she and her writer friends would go to coffee shops or retreats while drafting and they’d police each other by collecting phones and preventing one another from acquiring the wifi password.
- Also also, she doesn’t show her works to anyone during the early stages because she feels like, by doing so, she loses the magic.
- She recently finished Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae and her reaction was: “this is the first book I’ve read in a long time where, like, there was a twist and it felt like I’ve been punched in the gut. And then for like two chapters afterwards I was like, no, no, it can’t be real, no.” She called it “incredibly good.”
- She’s taking a break from the Grisha universe after the sequel of Six of Crows (it’s a planned duology). HOWEVER, she intends to write a Sturmhond book and, ladies and gentlemen, I died. RIP, ME. A STURM-FREAKING-HOND BOOK. LET THAT SINK IN.
She had quite a few advice for aspiring writers in the crowd as well:
- Look for a good agent. Or someone who can read your work and not put his ego into it. Those are “people who have understanding of [a story].”
- Writing is a lengthy process. It took her a long while to find the right story and, before, she thought she could write a perfect first draft. So she encourages everyone to “just [write] and [write] and [write] until it’s good.”
- She thinks taking creative writing courses or MFA isn’t a requirement to becoming an author. And while she went to Yale, she pointed out “going to Yale is not what made [her] a writer; reading and writing and loving books is what made [her] a writer.”
- She recommends Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder and Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat! for Novels workshops if you’re having troubles with plotting and structure.
- And she has a clear-cut message for owning your taste: “read everything, you know. Never let anybody make you feel ashamed for loving young adult or loving whatever you love, whether it’s fantasy or contemporary or whatever it is.”
So, okay. I didn’t just gawk like the awkward person that I am. I actually talked to Leigh! Some of the conversation is as follows (paraphrasing here):
Shelumiel: What I really love about your books, aside from the magnificent world building—
Leigh: Aww, thank you!
S: —is that I root for almost everyone.
L: Aah, that is so nice to know.
S: I’m like, omg don’t make me choose!
L: *Laughs loudly.*
S: And I can’t fully hate anyone—
L: The King though—
S: —well, except Vasily—
L: Right. And the King.
S: Yeah, Vasily and the King! That’s why when [Sturmhond] was like, “and I can’t decide if you’re an idiot or an idiot,” I was like, YES! NAILED IT.
L: *Laughs louder.* *Joanna (Leigh’s agent) joins in.*
She was also curios about my name:
Leigh: Oh unique name! Does it actually mean something?
Me: It’s prince of peace.
Me: *With swagger.* Yeah I’m actually a prince.
Leigh: Well, it’ll be really nice—
I believe she wanted to say it’ll be really nice if I was a real prince and could’ve brought peace to Ravka but she was interrupted. Then again, I might be fabrikating too much. No, that is not a typographical error.
Meanwhile, there were cosplayers in rad costumes! Alina, Mal, Genya and Zoya were all present, together with three anonymous Grishas (representing each order). I didn’t get a chance to talk to the people dressed up as the leads but I caught up with the other three and they were so nice! Turns out, the keftas were created by Master Fabrikator Dean—that’s his official title from Leigh!—as in from inception to execution. He and his friends Tiffany and Elva are all med students (I know, I know). And there were four extra Six of Crows ARCs that were raffled to the seven cosplayers AND these three each got one. Crazy, yeah?
The Baby Volcra
Leigh talked a little about her stay in the country, to boot. She sang praises for adobo, a personal comfort food of mine and—if we’re being honest—most Filipinos. She tried Cebu’s famous pork lechon and a shake made from this sour fruit called kamias, which she mentioned she hadn’t known existed until she had one. And when questioned whether or not she tried balut, her response was somewhere in the line: “actually someone recommended that to me and I searched it and NO I AM NOT EATING THAT,” with all the hand gestures and facial expression. It was perfect. Another thing, if you’re not from here and are not familiar with what balut is or looks like, I suggest you Google it because the moderator commented on how the chick in it looks like a baby volcra (Leigh was all YOU DON’T SAY) and OMG I am not looking at it the same way again. Ever. Of course I eat everything in a balut EXCEPT the chick to begin with, but that’s beside the point.
So if you haven’t picked up the Grisha trilogy, I highly recommend you do now! I haven’t read Ruin and Rising myself—because I’m waiting for the paperback with bonus material (a Darkling prequel!!!) and, you know, so my copies would line up beautifully, all in the same keftas—but here’s my pitch: effortlessly intriguing, fiercely moving and with stunning world-building and a seriously well-written cast of grey characters, you’ll find yourself rooting for almost everyone, lead or otherwise, in Leigh Bardugo’s tsarpunk world. Her new novel,Six of Crows, is set for a September 29th release.
Massive thank you to Leigh Bardugo for being so warm to us, your Filipino fans, and National Book Store for scratching the improbability of this!
I finally met Dianne of Oops! I Read A Book Again. Sadly, she wasn’t able to stay for the signing (she was cool enough to be invited at the forum).
Have you met Leigh Bardugo in person? Who was the author for whom you attended your first book signing event? Let’s talk in the comments below!
*The fact that I chose to bring this up, even if it has the promise of a spoiler, is enough a hint already.