Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Event Recap: Marie Rutkoski in Conversation with Kristin Cashore

I was fortunate enough to see Marie Rutkoski and Kristin Cashore again at an event on Friday, April 8th at the Harvard Book Store. Not only is Harvard Book Store one of my favorite indie book stores to visit for events, but Marie and Kristin always have some of the most insightful conversations. I focused more on what Marie mentioned due to the fact that I have not read any of Cashore's novels and because of that, I am unable to fully understand her answers regarding her books.

Marie Rutkoski talks about how she was influenced by the Roman empire and the conquering and enslavement of people in the past when writing The Winner's Trilogy. It's interesting how Kestrel is an atheist and Arin is very religious and is a Polytheist. The passage Marie ended up reading from The Winner's Kiss is one of my favorites. Arin tells Kestrel about Name Day and how important it is in his culture. The mother of the child determines when the Name Day occurs; it is more important than day of the child's birth.

The imagery that Marie constructs in her books describes the characters' feelings very well. One example is how Roshar offends Kestrel but many people don't know why. Kristin asks Marie, "When you're writing, is that what your first draft looks like?" Marie responds that when she writes, it's not just the words on the page that are important; the absences are equally crucial. What is beneath the surface and the subtext are reflected in the character. It's like two hands going at the same time, similar to how one plays the piano. One is conscious on the page and the other one is not.

Kristin mentioned how she took about two years to write her novel, Bitterblue, and it took one year or so to revise it. The writing process is so messy and it's an overwhelming experience that is hard to explain. It's a web pretty much.

One reader asked what inspired the authors to write the main characters in their novels. Marie responds that "Kestrel is not me and I am not her." Marie claims that both like games since they are a way to socialize. There are emotional connections and disconnections when playing games. It's clever and strategic. Kristin mentioned how she wanted to write about kick ass girls. Tamora Pierce is definitely a strong influence in her writing Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue.

In terms of games, there are two in The Winner's Trilogy. Bite and Sting is a tile like imperial game which is poker meets mahjong. Borderlands is an Eastern Dacra game that resembles chess. This is one of Marie's gestures to showcase different cultures.

How did Marie decide what instrument Kestrel should play? Marie had Kestrel play an instrument but not just any instrument. She wanted to choose an instrument that cannot be carried so easily. A piano is perfect because it is a strategic choice. The Valorian emperor wants to command the known world. In Valoria, females are often asked to either join the military or to get married to give birth to children who will later become part of the military. The piano symbolizes the road block between Kestrel and her father. An instrument that is not portable is essential. If the instrument is let's say a flute, it doesn't create that roadblock. Also, by having the piano, Kestrel can only play the instrument in one location. When Kestrel is in a moment of illness, Arin carries her to the piano.

Another reader asked Marie how she wrote the battles within The Winner's Trilogy. What was the thought process? Marie did extensive research about how battles were fought in the industrial times. What can canons and guns do around that time? Her husband was in the military and was required to be enlisted when he was in high school. Often, Marie would ask for her husband's advice about the battle scenes for her books.

Friendship is very important in The Winner's Trilogy. While Arin's friendship with Roshar grows, Kestrel's friendship with Jess wanes. In The Winner's Curse, Arin is eager for friendship. It is imperative for friendship to exist for him because of trust. However, the diminishing friendship between the ladies will not repair itself because in life, some friendships don't last.

One reader asked about what the authors thought about the whiteness of their books. With fantasy novels, it's the marketing or perception compared to how you perceive the character. Marie wrote about a tale of colonialism. There is a lack of diversity in the main character because there is a default to white ruling characters; white is the colonizing race. She hopes in the future, there will be more diverse characters in publishing. In order to promote diversity, there needs to be a representation of diversity in main characters, authors and publishers. The industry needs to change first.

Kristin talks about whitewashing and how it is the reader's default when reading. She talked about how she saw fan art of her characters depicted as white. Fire was seen as white in the fanart. Kristin explains how she blames it on herself for not being explicit enough in her books about the characters traits.

In fantasy, world building is necessary. A reader asked, "How do you create an interesting world to draw the reader in?" Kristin talks about how before Graceling, she never wrote a fantasy novel and she wrote a realistic fiction novel prior. She gives landscape a mood. Characters from Graceling came together with powers. She wanted to write character and emotionally drive novels.

Marie writes fantasy novels that feels real. The social dynamics and the politics need to be authentic. Her high fantasy trilogy bears no magic. Nature is highlighted and dreams are echoed with plausible deniability about the Gods. Arin often talks to the God of Death. Is it real or not real? Is there a God of Death or is Arin lonely and needs a voice?

The last question that was asked piqued everyone's interest. What are the authors writing next? Kristin is currently revising her next book which is on the fifth draft. It's a novel about growing up in grief and is about a young woman who is an orphan. She is at a house on an island and there is something weird going on in the house. The novel comprises of five stories of different genres. The genres that I remembered her mentioning includes mystery, fantasy and sci-fi.

Marie on the other hand mentioned how she doesn't know exactly what will come up in the future. Only time will tell. Maybe she will write a book about the future or past of The Winner's Trilogy. Maybe she will write a spin off about Roshar. I root for the Roshar spin off!

After the conversation, Kristin and Marie were happy to meet readers for the signing. I had a fabulous time and I am so glad I was able to see Marie again. It snowed last year, so unfortunately, I missed her at Harvard Book Store's The Winner's Crime event. However, I was able to meet her when The Winner's Curse was launched. How fierce are Marie's tights? Also, I love Kristin's dress!

I hope everyone enjoyed the recap of the event. I am always a big fan of attending author talks because I enjoy listening to the authors talk about their books and answering readers' questions. Their conversations are priceless. It adds more depth to the books they wrote when learning why they wrote certain things and learning about their thought process.


  1. Great recap! :D I love your picture with Marie! Got those awesome tights in there :) And I am so down for a Roshar spin off. I told Marie that I need an uncle Roshar short story hahaha

    1. I wouldn't mind a novella about Roshar :D.