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Book review: Daughters spur pair to write novel

'Beautiful Creatures' is penned by writers with ties to Utah

Published: Sunday, Dec. 13 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Beverly Shaw, left, Lynda Arnell and Rita Beck visit with the novelist duo at a recent book signing.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

Garnering the attention of Warner Brothers Pictures for movie rights, landing on Amazon.com gift guides and receiving a book review in The New York Times, the success of teen fantasy book "Beautiful Creatures" makes sense.

After all, the Southern Gothic young adult fantasy story was inspired by, written for and even edited in part by its target audience, after author Margaret Stohl's 13- and 16-year-old daughters dared her to turn her dream of co-authoring a book with friend Kami Garcia into reality.

Stohl, a former video game designer and English professor at Yale and Stanford universities, and Garcia, a third-grade teacher and reading specialist, took on the dare, gearing their book toward Stohl's daughters and their romance- and Twilight-loving friends ranging in ages from ages 12 to 25.

Soon the two were churning out chapters as fast as they could under the demanding text and Facebook message requests from a growing fan club of teenage girls around their hometown in the Los Angeles suburbs.

"We knew the story was really taking off when some girl named Joyce in Pasadena texted me at 2 a.m. saying, 'I need chapter 8!' " Stohl said. "I didn't even know a Joyce ?— the chapters were just being passed around among these teenage girls."

Stohl's daughters and friends soon became "Beautiful Creatures" toughest critics, offering advice on how "real" teens would talk and act and on how the story should end.

After 12 weeks, Garcia and Stohl finished the book and were ready to put the whole story online to share with the world.

"We felt like the whole thing was finished because we had won the bet," Stohl said.

But with a widening audience for fantasy novels due to the Twilight saga's success, Stohl's friend and author Pseudonymous Bosch knew the story had greater potential.

He urged the authors not to put the story on the Internet, sent it to a few publishers, and within a few months, the book was snatched up by Little, Brown and Company, the big-time publisher behind the Twilight series.

The book seems to cater to an existing Twilight fan base because, like Twilight, the plot focuses on a fantasy high school romance between a mysterious supernatural and an apathetic social misfit.

Also like Twilight, the authors have Utah connections, with Stohl's parents living in Park City and Garcia's parents inhabiting a neighboring home for a few months each year.

But unlike Stephenie Meyer's books, the girl in "Beautiful Creatures" is the mystical newcomer, while the boy is the unsatisfied mortal.

Further differing itself from the vampire series, the story contains no vampires or werewolves and is told from the perspective of Ethan, the male counterpart in the romance.

"We liked the idea of the girl being able to see the boy feeling nervous," Garcia said. "And we wanted him to be more than the boy who meets the girl. He has the qualities of the boy we wished we could've met in high school."

Garcia and Stohl said they wanted to show a powerful girl, with a boy working hard to learn her secret.

Lena, the beautiful girl with a family curse, is meant to be a reflection of — and inspiration to — the young women in Garcia's and Stohl's lives, they said.

"The story is about non-conformity, being yourself and making your own decisions," Garcia said. "You don't have to be that person who is doing what everyone else does."

Consequently, "Beautiful Creatures" is a clean teen novel, free of sex, drugs and explicit language.

"The characters are like the teens we know. They aren't doing drugs or having sex — they're reading books and playing "Guitar Hero" and sports," Garcia said.

The co-authors are avid readers themselves and first bonded over a mutual love of young adult fantasy books when Garcia was an elementary school teacher to Stohl's daughter.

They said a Southern Gothic young adult fantasy story was natural choice for their debut novel, as they both have ties to the small town culture of the South: Garcia's Southern grandmother and great-grandmother lived in her outer-Washington, D.C., childhood home, raising her on sweet tea and loads of bacon grease, and Stohl's mother brought her up on similar ideals because of her upbringing in the small town of Richfield, Utah.

Because of their longtime friendship and similar backgrounds and interests, writing a book with a partner was less of a challenge than people expect, Stohl said.

"We have so much trust in each other, and very little ego," Stohl said.

Naturally possessing similar writing styles, the pair wrote the book by first outlining the story, then dividing the scenes between each other and trading writing back and forth until they were both satisfied.

"Writing together is almost like erosion — we just chip away at the parts we don't like," Stohl said. "Sometimes we love a line, and we can't even remember who wrote it."

The authors are already working on the sequel to "Beautiful Creatures," and call themselves "universe builders" who will have fun creating characters and conjuring up the clothes they wear, food they eat and music they might listen to for as long as fans are interested.

"We've been talking about imaginary people for two years — it's great for people to finally know what we are talking about," Stohl said.

e-mail: bbrown@desnews.com

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