The Morris Award Committee on Beautiful Creatures: “Sixteen-year-old Ethan has lived all his life in Gatlin, South Carolina, a town that hasn’t changed much since the Civil War. While coping with the loss of his mother, a father who spends all of his time in his study, and high school, his world turns upside down with the arrival of Lena, a new girl with whom he seems to share a psychic connection. As they grow closer, Ethan discovers that Lena and her family share a dark secret and that she is headed for doom on her sixteenth birthday.”
YALSA Blog: Congratulations on Beautiful Creatures being on the Morris Award shortlist! Where were you when you found out you’d been shortlisted for the Morris Award? And who was the first person you told?
Margaret Stohl: I was sitting on the curb down the street from my brother’s house, because his actual house gets no cell reception, and Little, Brown – our amazing editors, Julie Scheina and Jen Hunt, along with the dazzling Victoria Stapleton – was trying to call us. We assumed we were in trouble. I think I walked into the house and told my sister-in-law, Ashly. Who said something like, that’s great, get in the car, we’re late for swim team. As you can see, I lead a very glamorous life.
Kami Garcia: I rushed home from my teaching job so I could make the call with Jen, Julie, and Victoria. I shut myself in my bedroom because it’s the only quiet place in my house – although you could still hear my five-year-old son’s pirate music blaring in the background.
YALSA Blog: Gatlin, South Carolina is as much a character as Ethan or Lena. By the time I finished Beautiful Creatures, I didn’t want to visit Gatlin because I felt as if I had already visited it! Is there a real Gatlin? How did you create your book Gatlin?
Margaret Stohl: That’s the beauty of writing about the South, a sense of place just jumps off the page. Our Gatlin is a fictional town set outside the real town of Summerville, near the real Lake Moultrie, just north of the real Charleston, in the real South Carolina. Our Gatlin is a combination of the tiny towns our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers are from, as well as the fishbowl feeling we both had of growing up in a tightly knit community. My family is from the west, Kami’s is from the South—but we both are from what we call the casserole belt!
Kami Garcia: Gatlin reminds me a lot of the small town in North Carolina where my grandmother and great-grandma grew up. But the thing about Gatlin is that it really describes a lot of small towns, all over the country. Because pie baking is pie baking and porch gossip is porch gossip regardless of where you’re baking the pie and dishing the gossip.
YALSA Blog: Ethan and Lena are discovering secrets, including the secrets of Gatlin and the people that live there. When you started Beautiful Creatures, did you know those secrets?
Margaret Stohl: When we started the book, we knew only a few things: that we were spinning a sprawling Southern Gothic yarn, that it would be told from a boy’s point of view, and three words. Casters. Sixteen Moons. So I guess you could say, we knew that there were secrets, but not what they were…there are so many!
Kami Garcia: The thing about secrets is they don’t stay secret for long, especially in a place like Gatlin. Once we started writing, the secrets were the easy part. Because, let’s face it, we all have them.
YALSA Blog: Between two authors and multiple stories (Ethan’s and Lena’s, plus the secrets they uncover), how did you keep track of it all?
Margaret Stohl: Massive white boards. Color coding. A shared office in my house. Two libraries. Two editors. An agent who reads like an editor. A family genealogist. A thousand cases of Diet Coke. A million post-its. And our Caster Girls, the teens we originally wrote the book for, who still read what we do and keep us real.
Kami Garcia: The characters are real people to us. So their problems and their secrets are real too. It’s like asking how we remember the things that have happened to our best friends –their happiness and heartbreak or their flaws and fears.
YALSA Blog: You have a strong online presence: both of you blog (Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia) and are on Twitter (Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia), plus there is your website for the book, and there is Little Brown’s website for the book, and I just discovered another website tie in – the Caster Girls website. What started you blogging? Was it before or after you’d sold Beautiful Creatures? Is there anything that is off-limits when you blog? And what inspired all the additional online material (the playlists and Caster Girls website)?
Margaret Stohl: Because we wrote the book on a dare from the teens in our lives—the original Caster Girls—we hadn’t really thought about a publishing plan. So we thought about just putting it up online, and I think the blogging presence sort of spiraled from there. The Caster Girls site, which was originally meant to give the teens we wrote the book for a place to express themselves, has gradually evolved into our first official US fansite. The additional material is what comes from building a huge world with so many characters and personalities and interests. I guess you could say we didn’t really stop building our world when we stopped writing the book.
Kami Garcia: Blogging is just another way to have a conversation – a way to connect to our readers and other authors. We created a lot of material, like the playlists, that relate directly to the book because we needed to know who are characters were. What kind of music do they like? What do love to read? Those are the questions I ask myself about characters I love in my favorite books, so it felt natural to answer some of those questions for our readers.
YALSA Blog: Rumor has it that there is a sequel to Beautiful Creatures. When will we see it? And if we ask pretty, pretty please could you tell us something about that sequel?
Margaret Stohl: There is a sequel, and we’re just tweaking the final edits now. You will see it around this same time next year, and I can tell you that it makes me hungry just thinking about it. Aside from that—love, loss, darkness, danger, pie. All under the light of the Seventeenth Moon.
Kami Garcia: I think readers will be surprised when they read the sequel. The elements people seem to love about Beautiful Creatures are still there, but there are new stories to tell.
YALSA Blog: The Morris Award is for a “first time author writing for teens.” Why do you write for teens?
Margaret Stohl: As I have said before, teens are the more authentic versions of adults. The emotions we experience as adults are largely memories of the passionate, crazy desperation we felt every single day as teens. At least that’s how it is for me. So I write for teens, because that’s what the voice in my head sounds like. That’s the most authentic me. What would be interesting would to see me try to write for adults, because I have the suspicion I would sound exactly the same.
Kami Garcia: I write for teens because, as a teacher, those are the people I spend time with. Those are the people I know. I also believe that YA is the most important genre in literature because finding the right book as a teen– when everything is so lonely and frightening and out of control – can change your life. More importantly, it can remind you that you aren’t alone.
YALSA Blog: One thing I’ve heard authors say is that in revising and editing, they have to “kill their darlings,” that is, remove parts of the book they really love but that just don’t work or belong in the final book. Is there any particular scene or character you had to “kill” from Beautiful Creatures?
Margaret Stohl: I hate revising. I’m a fast drafter and a miserable editor. We’ve killed so many darlings it isn’t even funny. There was one scene in the beginning of Beautiful Creatures that was really hard to cut, where Link almost drives the Beater into a train. By the time we got to the sequel, we practically had the guillotine of lost ideas set up in our office, and our editor just pointed out that we (meaning she!) cut twenty thousand words off of this last draft.
Kami Garcia: The opposite is also true. Sometimes you have to write scenes you don’t want to because the story demands it. You’ve read the book, so I’m sure you can imagine the scenes I’m referring to.
YALSA Blog: What are you working on now?
Margaret Stohl: Last week we worked on surviving our debut week, which we managed to do with the help of a thousand family members and good friends, our loyal tweethearts, and the greatest blogging community of all. The whole YA community adopted us from the start and we would have been so lost without them! Now we are just trying to focus on getting the sequel out the door.
Kami Garcia: I’m trying to make it through a week of writing report cards, baking bread pudding for the teachers at preschool, and pinching myself every time I think about all the amazing things that have happened to us and Beautiful Creatures in the last few months.
YALSA Blog: What three books do you think are must-reads for teens?
Margaret Stohl: It depends on the teen. Sometimes I think having to read a book is almost as bad as not having a book to read at all. But, that said, for the Teen Me it would be: Fire by Kristen Cashore, because the way she writes makes me cry. Sunshine by Robin McKinley, because sometimes I lie in bed composing sequels to it. Everything is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis, because she has the most unique voice in YA today, as if Ramona the Pest was raised by Ellen Hopkins.
Kami Garcia: I think there are certain books that expose themselves in a way that is unforgettable. For me, those would be: Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, and The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman.
YALSA Blog: Thank you!