Tomorrow Beautiful Creatures opens in theaters with an all-star cast, so this Valentine's Day you'll find me stuffing my face with chocolates in a dark movie theater (and how many of you will be joining me?). The Castor Chronicles (there are four books in the series) is one of my top recommendations for people asking about the next big YA series--it hooks you from the very beginning and has all the ingredients of a blockbuster. Beautiful Creatures is a little bit Anne Rice's The Witching Hour, a dash of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, and a whole lot of delicious Southern gothic. A small town with a dark history, a family curse, magic, and star-crossed romance--not to mention all the twists I can't even hint at without a spoiler alert. If you're new to the series I'll offer you this word of warning: Beautiful Creatures may cause you to stay up all night reading, followed by an obsessive need to start the next book, Beautiful Darkness.
It's hard to believe but the first book was written on a dare from seven teenagers close to the authors who wanted something different, a strong and magical female protagonist--who doesn't narrate the story--a specific setting (and in my opinion there is nothing like the South for visceral atmosphere), and no vampires or werewolves. This is just one of the anecdotes Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl shared when they answered questions from our Facebook fans in the exclusive Q&A below. You can read the rest after the jump. And let me know what you think about the movie!
[Kami Garcia]: We wrote Beautiful Creatures on a dare from my students and Margi's daughters and my sister. Seven teenagers who wanted to find a book that was a little bit different than what they were reading. They wanted a female protagonist who was very strong and magical. And they wanted to hear a story that was from a boy's point of view instead of a girl's. And they said, no vampires, no werewolves, and we had to find a really specific setting for the book so that it didn't feel generic. We did not write it to be published, we wrote it for them. We wrote it a few chapters at a time until at the end of the 12 weeks, we had the entire book.
Q: How did you come up with the names in your books?
[Margaret Stohl]: Kami's family is from a small town in North Carolina. My family is from a small town in the West. They both happen to have genealogists for their families. We are from a very small town community background where there is a lot of storytelling and a lot of familiarity about your own family so the stories get handed down generationally. Thus, as Kami always says, we plundered our family trees and we stole many names from Kami's family, from my family, also French Creole names which are a part of the region, and we stuck to sort of specific names for each that would appear within each family. But the most famous name comes from Kami's relative Anna Gatlin Harmon. And we stole her name for Gatlin, our town.
Q: Are any of the characters based off of real people?
[KG]: The only other characters that are based off of real people are all of the real people; the Castors are all completely made-up by Margi and me. The real characters in the book, the funny characters, the postman is based off of Margi's grandfather, the great aunts are based off of my great aunts. We kind of used real characters to populate the town from our own families which is funny because some of those characters and their antics seem even more outrageous, like opening up everyone's mail and reading it before you deliver it, but that is actually what Margi's grandfather actually did. But don't tell the postal service.
Q: How did you come up with all of the twists in the story?
[MS]: We plotted out everything in a conversation before we started and then we kind of went with it. I think one of the things that happened is that we had an overall outline for the story but we would surprise each other when we handed chapters back and forth to each other, because that is how we worked since we are two people. So, it is kind of like that game where you all take turns adding on to a story and it changes with every person. So sometimes, we would just pull stuff out of the blue that wasn't in our outline and we would be like dun-dun-dun! And then the other person would have to deal with it. But I think we kept surprising each other and I think that kept surprising the reader quite often in the process.
[KG]: We like books with twists. So I think it's natural for us to write things with twists.
Q: How was the idea of the Castor world born?
[KG]: Well, we didn't want to do vampires or werewolves or anything that kind of had its own mythology. And Castors really aren't witches; they're more of like a hybrid between a witch and something like the X-Men, because each Castor has a very specific set of powers that are different. Margi wrote video games for a couple of years and I love comic books so actually thinking up types of Castors, types of magic, types of powers was the fun part. That part was really easy. And some of them are more classic and some of them like palimpsest--Aunt Dell can go into a room and basically see everything that has happened in the room from the moment that she is standing there into the past as well as sometimes the future. Some of those just evolved from discussion and play on words or concepts that we thought were really cool coming from fantasy backgrounds.
Q: Who wrote what with regards to the books or was it mostly joint decisions and ideas?
[MS]: Yes, it was mostly joint decisions and ideas. Everything with Kami and with me begins with a conversation and then it was a pretty collaborative process but also the way we worked is we passed chapters back and forth to each other with one rule which is that we always move forward not back. So we would mercilessly cut each other's writing and add to it. So really, there is no one chapter that's a Kami chapter or a Margi chapter. It really just weaves together and by the time we gave it to our editor it was sort of this wonderful mish-mash and that's kind of how we liked it. Also our voices naturally for this worked really closely together. We just sort of meshed the way sometimes two instruments do in an orchestra.
Q: Did one of you ever want to take one character one way but the other one wanted to take it in a different direction?
[KG]: Not really. By the time we were a few chapters in, our characters' personalities and traits are very detailed early in the first book. Sometimes we wanted to write a character doing something but it would be very obvious that they wouldn't. So it would be like Ethan wouldn't really do that or Link would never really say that. Sometimes you would do it, but it would always end up being cut. And generally whether you cut it yourself or the other person cut it, you kind of knew it didn't belong. That is one thing about doing a lot of world building and writing a very specific fantasy world is that the characters do have to be very differentiated so there are certain things that they will or won't do. We could pretty much tell you how Ethan or Link would react in any given situation.
Q: What do you miss the most about working on the Castor Chronicles universe?
[MS]: Kami and I have both moved on to our solo projects. My first book Icons is coming out May 7th and Kami's series, which is called Legion, with the first book, Unbreakable, comes out October 1st. I have actually written the first two books in the series in a draft form and it's taken me that long to sort of realize how I am going to go forward by myself. I have had some of the ghosts of Kami in my head. We trained each other how to do what we are doing. And so, it has been fun to explore different storylines and different voices and ideas but still I miss those characters because they're like friends, They are like our family and I knew them for 5 years. So, the movie is really fun because it lets us revisit Gatlin even though the book part is closed to us. It is great to see all those characters come back to life again.
Q: How much input did you have in the film?
[KG]: Well we weren't on set the entire time so we couldn't give feedback constantly. We also didn't want to be on set the entire time because we also had work to do also, we have to write books. But, Richard [LaGravenese] absolutely asked us what we thought about things. We also didn't want to be super involved. From the beginning, we were still writing the books while Richard was doing his screenplay. Then they started filming and we trusted him and we felt like, we're not screenwriters and we don't know how to write a screenplay and as long as the screenplay that was presented to us captured our characters and our universe we were going to be happy. And then, when we got the kind of cast that they selected for the movie, we were floored. If you get a cast like that on top of a great script, then what do you really have to complain about? I think sometimes when authors become overly involved, what can happen is the script can kind of turn in a way that tries to follow the books too carefully and not everything that you read translates well visually. And if you don't understand that then you shouldn't be a screenwriter and you shouldn't be messing around with a screenplay.
Q: Are you happy with how the direction of the story went and the casting of the actors in those roles?
[MS]: We view Richard, our director, as a kindred spirit. He understood how smart our teenagers were, how important they were to us, how much respect we had for our teenage characters and our teenage readers. He wrote one of the smartest, funniest, most romantic scripts that I have read in a long time so we knew we were in good hands from the very beginning. The cast, obviously, is unbelievable to us. Kami, half of the time when she heard we would get a new actor signed on, would think it was a joke and people were playing tricks on her. Jeremy Irons is actually who we had in mind when we were writing the book. Emma Thompson is so brilliant it is just unbelievable in the film...Viola Davis, sort of the soul of the piece. Alden and Alice, our teen leads, were able to hold their own with the other more storied actors. And really, we couldn't be happier.
Q: How do you feel about the changes made for the movie?
[KG]: You know we feel like the changes were going to have to be made. You have 120 pages of a script and our book is 601 pages. So things have to be cut out and I wasn't sure how Richard was going to figure out how to put all of that, even just the main points of the book, into 120 pages. So, we were happy that he figured out a way to do it. We love the end. We feel like the romance is fantastic and the magic and the performances. And you know, although it is not a literal translation, we feel like if people who have read the books and love the books go in with the attitude of seeing it as an extension of the universe, they'll actually get a lot of bonus material that isn't explored as thoroughly in the books as it is in the movie.
Q: How do you feel about Anna being the keeper instead of Merit?
[MS]: That was probably the most nervous moment, learning that Richard was going to have to combine those characters. We feel like possibly only Viola Davis could have pulled it off so brilliantly and only Richard, who is probably the most respected book adaptor of all of the writers in Hollywood. So, we love how it turned out. It was a bit of an adjustment and it's been a bit of adjustment for some of our fans, but we really stand behind that decision.
Q: Which actor/actress do you think best brings their character to life?
[KG]: I think that all of them are really spot on, but for me I think that Alden is...Ethan is the heart of the story in both the movie and the book and if Ethan wasn't cast correctly, if that person wasn't able to pull it off, the movie wouldn't work. Alden was perfectly cast. He embodies Ethan perfectly. I feel in a lot of ways, he was the most crucial casting choice and I think he did an amazing job. Lots of girls are going to love him.
Q: Which scene in the book were you most excited to see occur in the film?
[MS]: We loved a bunch of different scenes in the book. It's a wonderful moment when Lena and Ethan meet in the rain and it's a wonderful scene in the film as well. I think we all knew that the showdown between Mrs. Lincoln and Macon in front of the school board was going to be a scene to remember and it is one of my favorite scenes in the movie.
[KG]: It is absolutely an insane scene. It was one my favorite scenes in the book and it's definitely one of my favorite ones in the movie.
[MS]: When they were filming, the extras actually burst into applause like they were watching a play. That's how good it is to watch Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson go at each other.
Q: What are your favorite parts of the story of Beautiful Creatures? And what has been your favorite part about the process (inspiration, writing it, seeing it published in stores, seeing it filmed, etc.)?
[KG]: Parts of Beautiful Darkness, I really love because the characters really change in unexpected way, but I love Beautiful Chaos as a book because things go awry and I like to destroy things. The writing process is really painful and horrible for almost every writer, but it is also really gratifying when you finish and you know, you have finished your draft and it's done and you feel like you have done a good job. But it is also really awesome to hear from all of these readers around the world. Because we have 48 countries and readers tweet us and write to us on the Facebook pages and write us email. It is so cool to see that people are able to relate to the books in so many different places and that the books are meaningful to so many different people.
Q: What are you both working on now?
[MS]: I am working on my new series; it's called the Icons Novels. Icons, my first book comes out May 7th. It is a near future love story set in Los Angeles and each book takes place on a different continent and my second one I just got back to finishing in SE Asia. Alcon, the people who did Beautiful Creatures are also doing this movie so I am excited about that.
[KG]: My solo series is called The Legion; the first one is called Unbreakable. It comes out in October. It is also a paranormal romance. It is kind of like a supernatural meets The Da Vinci Code. It's about five teenagers and a girl whose mother dies and basically she finds out that her family hails from a secret society that is tasked with protecting the world from a demon and dangerous spirits that he controls. So, it is some adventure and some ghost hunting and some romance.
Q: What advice would you give people who have a passion for writing?
[KG]: I think the most important advice is that you need to read a lot. There is nothing more horrific than people who say that are writers or that they want to be writers but they don't have time to read. You need to read a lot and you also need to finish a draft. You have to start something and finish it because even if it's terrible you have nothing to work with and nothing to fix unless you finish it.
[MS]: I agree with everything that she said. I also think that you need to notice yourself. Notice what you think about things. Read critically. Watch television critically. Watch movies critically. Notice what you like and what you don't like. Notice the details of your life and your friends' lives and what's going on around you. And then, the second thing that I would say is write things down. I carry a notebook around with me and the difference between a writer and someone who is not a writer is writing. So, one of things that you can do is start writing. Writes notes to yourself about bits of ideas or details or things you find interesting.
[KG]: And also be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break. You wouldn't believe how horrible a lot of our drafts are before they get all gussied up in the end.