Writing on Wednesday: World Building and Historical Fiction

One of the panels I attended at #YALLFEST was  Moat By Moat: World Building in Historical Fiction, moderated by Libba Bray. Rae Carson, who I already talked about above was also a part of this panel.

A bit about the authors:

0f154bde6523de25a2073ef0e2640203Gail Carriger– Is awesome! She’s a former archeologist who wrote The Parisole Protectorate series, The Custard Protocol series, and my personal favorite, her young adult Finishing School series. I wouldn’t have considered her series to be historical fiction though. She writes supernatural, alternate history, steampunk. The books are comedies so she noted frequently that people forgive her a lot in comparison to other more serious and actually historic setting driven stories. She did sign my book, but she was on her way out the door when she signed it, so I didn’t have the nerve to ask her to sign my notebook. Loved her outfit, she really dresses up like the characters in her novel.


Elizabeth Wein wrote the Code Name: Verity series, The Lion Hunters series, and Black Dove, White Raven. I haven’t read her books, but she reminded me a lot of me when she talked about her childhood. The clapping game she and her friend made up for Hamlet’s Soliloquy stole the show. I have a video, but you really have to have been there to fully understand the hilarity.


Ryan Graudin writes alternate history with a supernatural bent, mostly focusing on “What if Hitler had won.” Her books include All that Glows, Wolf by Wolf, and the Walled City. She’s another author I haven’t read, but she’s definitely been added to my TBR pile.




Carol Weatherford is prolific and probably the most famous author on the panel. She’s written more books than I can list here. A few of her works include Becoming Billie Holiday, The Library Ghost, and Jazz Baby.

The First question Libba asked was where do the authors begin their world building process. Most of the authors agreed finding the voice of the protagonist was their first step. Once they have a protagonist in mind, the setting, a very specific setting, complete with atmosphere, came next. Gail Carriger said most of her stories begin by her “overhearing” snippets of dialogue between two characters, and before she knows it, the rest of the story fills in. Rae Carson mentioned that one thing that really helps her is establishing limits, what they can’t say, what they can’t do, where they can’t go, whereas Elizabeth Wein said she tends to annotate places that need more research as she goes along, and cautioned that sometimes research makes you procrastinate.

I can definitely believe that. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of research, but I’ve also been in situations where I literally can’t write another word until I fill in those details. So I’d say it’s a mixed bag. One acknowledgement I was happy they made is that contemporary settings demand just as much research and world building as historical fiction, at least initially. The authors talked about how they tied personal experience in with their work, even if historically they can’t relate, there’s always a universal experience.

One thing Ryan Graudin and Gail Carriger elaborated on was the juxtaposition of light and dark, of humor and sadness, to echo each other and really bring each other out.

Some of the sins of worldbuilding they agreed on were…

–White washing

— Sugar Coating

— Self-censoring


— Forgetting the other senses

Some other tips they offered were to ignore linguistics until line edits (though they also mentioned no recognizable English would have been spoken in many of their settings, so remember you can take liberties). N-grams Google will tell you when a particular phrase originated.

I found the panel to be very entertaining and informative, even though I don’t write historical fiction. I love reading historical fiction though! One day I may delve a bit into the Trojan War, but for now, I’m happy in my contemporary zone.



Writing on Wednesday: Creativity, Fear, Jealousy and Success

As you all know, I attended #YALLFEST last weekend and I thought I’d share some notes on the first panel I attended. At the first panel, Gayle Forman, Marie Lu, Libba Bray, Margaret Stohl, Daniel Handler, and Scott Westerfeld talked about creativity, jealousy, fear, and success.

A bit about the authors:


Scott Westerfeld is the second reason I was there (Brandon Sanderson was my first). He wrote the Uglies series, the Midnighters series, The Leviathan series, Peeps, So Yesterday, Afterworlds and Zeroes. He’s one of my all time favorite authors, and one of the few (who I read) who has been writing YA fiction since before YA fiction exploded after Harry Potter. He adapted beautifully in a way that many other writers weren’t able to. One of the notable things he said in this workshop is that a lot of times when he’s reading he’ll see a particularly good concept or sentence or way something was done and try to figure out how to do something similar himself. Now that he’s famous enough, when he can’t figure out how to do it himself, he steals the author for a collaborative project so he can try to learn from them directly. After all, great writers steal. The way he described reading a book and stopping to go “ooh…” is so much like me. It was crazy listening to these writers interact because they sounded so much like my writer’s group. It was really great to see them interacting, not just with fans, but with writers, because online I get so much of their fan persona, but listening to them geek out with each other and get all excited about the way this author did this, or that author did that, just let me see an entirely different side to them, and that side is something I can identify with so much more.

Also, because Scott Westerfeld is awesome, he hung around afterword to sign my copy of Uglies and to sign my writing journal. His advice: Read lots. Write lots. Listen to everyone.


Libya Bray wrote The Diviners, Beauty Queens, Going Bovine, and the Gemma Doyle Trilogy. I recently discovered her through Beauty Queens and then when I pulled an all nighter reading The Diviners. She was the moderator of the panel, so while she asked great questions, she didn’t actually give much input because the focus was on the authors answering. She did stick around to sign my writing notebook though.

Her advice: Take Risks. Read Everything. Let your freak flag fly. Revise. revise. Revise. Oh, and have fun!

gayle forman

Gayle Forman is the writer of If I Stay and Where She Went. I didn’t get a chance to get her autograph, though I did see her after the panel. But…she was deep in conversation with her eight year old and it just felt too rude to interrupt. She had some interesting notes on the book to movie process, along with Daniel Handler and Margaret Stool about how basically authors have nothing to do with how the movie is made, and the best way to approach hollywood is to take the money and run.


Marie Lu wrote the Legends series and the Young Elites series, which I am now adding to my TBR pile, because she seemed pretty cool. She, Libba Bray, and Margaret Stohl went off on an interesting tangent about feminism and how one of the things she’s jealous of is how guys can interact on a publicly different level than girls can. They can poke fun at each other or maybe not congratulate one another on release days or not over analyze every word they say to make sure it’s not misinterpreted. Watching the guys handle that discussion was interesting because it put them in a kind of awkward situation where they couldn’t do the standard panel interrupt and share their thoughts without being the guy cutting off the girl. It was an interesting discussion.


Margaret Stohl wrote the Beautiful Creatures series and elaborated a bit more on going hollywood and how weird it is to be kind of behind the scenes of your own creation. She admitted to being jealous of the way some authors seem to flawlessly project themselves through social media. She also said the year her book was being made into a movie was the worst year of her life.


American childrens author Daniel Handler aka Lemony Snicket pictured at The Guardian Hay Festival 2006

I didn’t realize that Daniel Handler was Lemony Snicket, and now I feel ashamed and like I squandered an opportunity to hang on his every word. One of the other authors noted that they were jealous that he (and he quickly pointed out and his wife) donated a million dollars to planned parenthood. He was jealous of a wine bottle.

The wine bottle story needs further elaboration, but I’ll never be able to match the way he told it. So he was checking out somewhere that there was a huge tower of wine bottles when one suddenly fell from the top of the pyramid. The guy checking him out caught the wine bottle and set it down without so much as breaking his sentence. No one else stopped, no one else stopped or acknowledged how awesome that was, leading Handler to assume this kind of thing just happened all the time. He wishes that he knew someone could catch him that effortlessly and with that much grace and confidence.

I’m racking my brain for more tidbits from this awesome panel and coming up dry. I hadn’t settled into the note taking yet and this panel began what was a very long and very amazing day. I keep hoping a video of these panels will pop up on youtube so I can jog my memory. But mostly, I just sat in awe of the fact that I was in the same room as Scott Westerfeld. Great way to begin a day. But the biggest tidbit I got from the panel is that it’s okay to use your jealousy. Use it to become a better writer. Use it to motivate yourself. Just don’t get petty or disheartened by it.