'Beautiful Darkness' authors Garcia, Stohl in tune with complexities of teenage life
The story of how Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl became authors is as unique as the characters and story lines in their paranormal series the Caster Chronicles.
When the friends were dared by Stohl's teenage daughters to write a book, they had no idea it would turn into a New York Times best-seller or that Warner Bros. would option its film rights.
The two never really planned on getting their book published in the first place. They just wanted to prove they could follow through and write it.
Stohl's daughters didn't back off either. Garcia and Stohl wrote the novel, then called "Sixteen Moons," like serialized fiction, giving the teens, who pestered them constantly, a bunch of pages or a new chapter every couple of days. "We were writing as fast as we could," Garcia told the Deseret News. "And when we finished, it was virally going through two or three high schools."
"After 12 weeks, we had accidentally written this 600-page book," Stohl said. "We were so happy to have won the bet, we didn't really care what happened after that."
The pair decided to put the entire novel on a website so more people could enjoy it. But Stohl's oldest friend, middle-grade writer Pseudonymous Bosch (The Secret Series), put the kibosh on that. Instead, he secretly sent the book to his agent, and the rest fell into place.
Soon the book, and its yet-to-be-written sequel, were up for auction, and a number of publishing houses were bidding. The authors couldn't believe their luck. They signed with Little, Brown, and "Beautiful Creatures" became a full-fledged reality. … and it became the Amazon top teen novel of 2009, and a New York Times best-seller, and the winner of the American Library Association Morris Award.
It was one shock after another for the debut authors.
"Every time they'd call us with something like that, we'd get off the phone and I'd be like 'Don't get excited, it could be a mistake,'" Garcia said. "We never believed it. It was too ridiculous. How could we possibly get all this good luck when we weren't even trying to publish the book?"
The duo kept preparing themselves mentally for when the luck ran out, but by the time Warner Brothers optioned the books the day before their release date, Stohl "just gave up and started to roll with the snowball. I remember checking e-mail every morning to find out what new country had bought the book while I was asleep. For a while, it was that crazy, every single day."
Now, less than a year after "Beautiful Creatures" "Beautiful Creatures" flew off the bookshelves, its sequel, "Beautiful Darkness" "Beautiful Darkness" — part gothic romance, part paranormal adventure — is making its way to stores. And the authors are confident that readers will embrace it.
"We're always nervous in the sense that now we have readers," Garcia said. "We have people who have fallen in love with 'Beautiful Creatures' and we don't want to disappoint them."
That's why the authors still turn to teens for help during the writing process. "When we turned in our final revisions of 'Beautiful Creatures,' I kept my middle-schooler home for three days to edit the book with us," Stohl said.
"Now we tend to keep more of the process to ourselves, but we do have two or three early teen readers … whose opinions are invaluable. Teens are such critical readers. If something feels fake, they're the first ones to point it out. Kami and I have always said we don't write down to teens, we write up to them."
The Caster Chronicles is all about consequences, Stohl said. If you pull one thread, the whole universe begins to unravel. And because of that, "Beautiful Darkness" is by necessity, Garcia says, darker in tone. It's the natural evolution of the world the two created.
Consequences found within the pages of Stohl and Garcia's books are mirrored in the real world, and that's why they appeal to young readers, they said. The ideas of family and the complexities of those relationships, and the complexities in the world outside those relationships are universal.
"Our books really deal with the idea of being yourself and being brave enough to be yourself in a community or world where you might be different," Garcia said. "Everybody can remember that, as an adult. With kids, teens are going through that all the time right now. … They're trying to be themselves and be their own person but at the same time, everybody wants to be part of a community and fit in also. It's a really difficult thing to do."
Stohl and Garcia also admit that their books' paranormal setting is a big draw, allowing readers to escape reality for a bit. But Stohl is quick to point out that being a "clean read" — "of course we are, since we were handing the pages directly to my daughters!" — broadens the appeal. The books have been embraced by schools and libraries and taught in classrooms in high schools and colleges.
When the authors finish their book tour in Utah this week, it will be like coming home. Stohl grew up in Richfield and her parents now live in Park City, where she writes during the summer. "When I close my eyes in the chaos of a book tour," Stohl said, "I can hear the quaking aspens and feel the mountain breeze. Most of my relatives live in Salt Lake, so for me it's a wonderful way to end the tour, with my own family."
"I sometimes think our books are about finding your own way and becoming your own person, while holding on to your family and your community," Stohl added. "When I think of my family and my community, it's all right here, even though Los Angeles is my town."
If you go:
Who: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
When: Wednesday, Oct. 20, 7 p.m.
Where: West Jordan Barnes and Noble, 7157 Plaza Center Drive
When: Thursday, Oct. 21, 7 p.m.
Where: The King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East
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