Em and I knew our evening was off to a great start when we ended up at the same restaurant as the authors we were later seeing (and the food was good, too). Even better was when the waiter, who had supposedly noticed that all we talked about were books, asked us if we were a part of the thing over at the bookstore. Of course, we responded yes.
Penguin Tour with Renee Ahdieh, Alwyn Hamilton, Lesley Livingston and Natalie C. Anderson
As many readers know, Renee Ahdieh is an old favorite, and someone we bump into a surprising amount (we’ve seen her at Quail Ridge Books before). But we were just as excited to hear from Alwyn Hamilton, of the Rebel of the Sands series, and Lesley Livingston, author of The Valiant. In addition, Natalie C Anderson, author of City of Saints and Thieves, made an appearance as well.
This panel was a little different from ones we had seen before. There were so many authors that the moderator only asked three questions before opening up a Q&A, and there were only three or four questions asked then. With four authors answering, there was a lot of time spent on one question. But the delightful part was that the authors were playing off of each other, bantering and joking, and it was wonderful. Alwyn, explaining her inspiration for Rebel of the Sands, tried to start off serious. But she was immediately derailed by Renee Ahdieh, who declared that Alwyn’s shoes were the inspiration for her series, that she had tried to steal them at least once already, and had Alwyn Hamilton hold up her shoes for the audience (note: they were gorgeous).
Granted, all of the authors had serious and less serious moments. Renee Ahdieh got somewhat emotional about how much her in-laws had helped her to write her Wrath and the Dawn series, and Natalie Anderson spoke about her years of working with refugees, and her attempt to portray some of their stories in a heartfelt way in her book. When someone asked about how each of their characters would contribute to the Women’s Movement going on today, things got a bit political (favorite outcome: ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’ as a nickname). Similarly, during the obligatory ‘advice for aspiring authors’ question, they were all serious and respectful, doing their best to illustrate both the challenges and the rewards of the process of publishing. Their advice: be prepared for both success and failure, practice makes publishable, and suggested finding mentors to help with the writing and publishing process.
The author who genuinely surprised us with her wit and humor was Lesley Livingston. From the moment she said that her inspiration had been that she’d had no friends in school and had been reduced to haunting the school library, Em and I felt as if she was a kindred spirit (except of course, we were friends in school). She then went on a rant about how male archaeologists had ignored mounting evidence for years that there had been female gladiators, and even posed for us to illustrate a bronze sculpture, ‘the Bather’, who was bathing triumphantly and as if she had just ended someone with her long, sharp ‘bathing implement’ (Renee here interjected that she bathed triumphantly on a regular basis, which I have no reason to doubt).
Another hilarious moment was when Lesley first asked her agent to step out of the room, and then mimicked panicked sobbing as her writing process. Again, Renee stepped in to declare that out of all of the authors on tour, Lesley was the only one currently writing. Her response: ‘But I look like this when I’m doing it’. But, turning slightly more serious for a moment and quoted Neil Gaiman, ‘you don’t learn to write a book, you learn to write the book you’re writing’. It was at about this point that Em and I looked at each other in a mutual ‘we like her’ look.
What I really love about these author panels is that they give us a chance to show that these authors are messy, silly, humans just like the rest of us–even though they have my dream job. They had a whole conversation about whether Amani, Shazi, Fallon and Tina would be friends (answer: only if they had something like a heist to bring them together). They laughed about the process of cold querying for agents, teased each other about productivity and drafting, and occasionally offered wonderful tidbits that gave us a glimpse into their worlds, and the worlds they write.
And then it was time for the signings. Emily had ‘accidentally’ bought Natalie C Anderson’s book during the talk (she’d walked past the wrong bookshelf when she went to the bathroom), and I had brought my copies of Valiant and Alwyn Hamilton’s books. Despite not having anything for Renee to sign, we did stop to chat with her, since she recognized us as regulars. We even got up the ladyballs to ask her about a potential interview for the blog, which she was wonderful about. We felt so good about it, that we then asked both Alwyn and Lesley about interviews (so, readers, be on the lookout).
Further bonus: pictures with everyone, accidental inclusion in a photo of Natalie C Anderson and her entire extended family, signed books, signed bookplates (Em is the first person to get Alwyn Hamilton’s signature for her third book, it’s confirmed), and plenty of glorious swag.
Our impressions of the evening? Unqualified success.