“Is it too much to ask for this to be a normal author interview?” I ask Kat as we walk into the mall. We’re meeting Leigh Bardugo at a shop in LA to try on Keftas, the colorful robes worn by the Grisha in her debut novel, Shadow and Bone.
“Are you trying to jinx us, woman? Nothing is ever normal when it comes to these interviews!” she says.
I roll my eyes, refusing to dignify that with a response. ‘Cause obviously my day just isn’t complete unless I’m getting attacked by a murderous ghost, getting teased by a hot merman or crashing a space ship. As if.
“Anyway, I’m so happy we’re going shopping,” she begins. “I’m going to try on so many hot clothes and shoes…” Oh, here we go.
“Oh, look! Smoothies!” I say, noticing the smoothie shack, conveniently cutting Kat off from her impromptu monologuing. I pay for our drinks and hand Kat her smoothie. I get lost in the deliciousness of the fruity heaven as we begin walking again and I almost miss what Kat’s up to.
“What the hell…” I start. I’m stunned, but should I really be surprised she’s pulled her flask out and pouring a generous amount into her smoothie? After all Kat drinks exactly twice a year. When it’s her birthday and when it’s not. “Woman, this isn’t happy hour.”
She side eyes me and grins. “Don’t be ridiculous. Every hour can get a little more happy,” she replies, chuckling in between sips.
I smile despite myself. Drinking, swearing, questionable morals? I’ve told her this before, but she’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a friend. “Oh, hey. Here’s the store.”
We stop in front of a store with an elaborate sign that reads Keftas “R” Us and Kat gives a tiny squeal of excitement. Even though the female shopping gene has mysteriously skipped me, I can’t deny I’m ridiculously excited too.
We walk in the store past the beautifully colored robes and a few customers to the back where the fitting room lounge is. I see Leigh Bardugo sitting in a plush armchair and immediately it feels like mating season for the butterflies in my stomach.
Bardugo stands as we approach her and Kat quickly says, “Hi Leigh!” She smiles, gives us both a hug and I think I die a little from happiness inside.
“T-t-thanks so much for meeting to agree w-w-with us. I mean, agreeing to meet with us!” I stammer. Kat stares at me like I have three heads, but by the look of her empty smoothie cup, to her I probably do. Real smooth, I scold myself. She’s probably wondering how you managed to read her entire book with that blunder.
We all take a seat and Leigh being as cool as she is just smiles at me and says, “Thanks for the invitation and thanks again for the lovely review. It made my week.”
My eyes go wide and Kat snaps her fingers at me to no avail. She liked me review! I can die a happy book blogger now! And while I’m momentarily stuck in a fangirl daze, Kat takes over. “Right, we should probably get this over with before winged monsters attack or the Darkling turns up and tries to seduce me… well, actually, no rush. Let’s just chat for a bit, yeah?”
I glare at Kat, shaking my head in disapproval.
“Fine. First question! Shadow and Bone tells the story of Alina, a feeble girl, who in the end shows great strength. But more importantly she’s incredibly relatable. While writing were you thinking about any messages you wanted young girls to take away from your story?”
“1. Go easy on the champagne,” she begins, winking at Kat, who’s giving off an impish grin. “2. I think the message at the heart of the book is that the things that make you different, the things you fear most in yourself are also the things that make you powerful. Alina’s true transformation comes when she stops trying to fight who she is,” she finishes.
I nod my head taking in every word. Now that I’ve gotten myself under control, I’m in business mode. “Alina spends most of her life unnoticed by society, but when she is found out to be a Sun Summoner her entire life changes and she goes through an intense emotional journey. Was her characterization organic or planned out?” I ask.
“A little of both,” she says pausing. “I always knew the arc of Alina’s story, but as the pieces of her past began to come together, I got a better understanding of where she came from and the depth of her isolation. Alina isn’t just a clumsy girl with self-esteem problems. Her sense of displacement (even from herself) is a very real thing. She’s an orphan and a refugee. She was raised out of the peasant class, but just barely. She has no home, few skills, and has been drafted into a position in the army where she’s floundering. It’s going to take more than a makeover for her to get right with the world.”
She’s giving us good stuff and I suddenly realize I’ve gotten so caught up in her answers that I haven’t been taking notes. Glancing over at Kat I notice she has her notepad out. I guess that “smoothie” did some good after all. Huh. “Was that difficult for you to write?” Kat asks continuing the interview with a surprising intensity and professionalism.
“Prickly Alina was fun to write. Vulnerable Alina sometimes made me squirm. But I wanted to give her room to grow and that meant that she had to make some bad choices along the way. It was a little like watching a horror movie and wanting to shout, ‘Don’t go in there!’” Leigh answers, giggling and we quickly join in.
Kat’s pen is furiously moving and with uncharacteristic focus. “Alina has the chance at one point in the novel to take charge of her own destiny. Was this important for you as far as character development?” I ask.
“The whole trilogy is about Alina coming to terms with what it means to possess real power– for better or worse. Her world is not one in which a young, impoverished girl of little talent has much autonomy or choice. Even when her status changes, it takes her a while to understand not only what she can do, but that she actually has a say in her fate. It’s like she’s using a muscle for the first time. Shadow and Bone is just the beginning, the first phase of her evolution,” she replies.
Something’s finally caught Kat’s attention and she wanders over to a rack to inspect the Keftas. She has a look of fierce concentration on her face. It’s like watching a lioness on the prowl. I knew it was only a matter of time. Poor Keftas. They don’t stand a chance.
Now that I’ve got Leigh all to myself, I lean forward and ask, “Do you have anything in common with Alina?”
She seems unfazed by Kat’s abrupt departure and says, “I think we share a similar sense of humor, and I certainly felt like an outsider for a good chunk of my life. But beyond that, no, and I’m glad of it. If she were too much like me, I’d always want to protect her and send her on nice vacations instead of finding new and exciting ways to make her miserable,” she says laughing. I laugh too because, man, she’s so incredibly awesome and down to earth.
I hear rustling over to my right where Kat has disappeared. Garments of all colors start flying until she finds what she’s looking for. She emerges and bee lines it for the dressing room to our left and slams the door. Leigh looks at me and I give an apologetic shrug, which roughly translates as, “It’s Kat. What can you do?”
A moment later she returns wearing a black Kefta that amazingly accents her curves nicely, with long, sheer sleeves. There’s a gentle breeze blowing around her giving off the illusions that she’s stuck in a damn wind machine. Only Kat could pull off wearing the Darkling’s colors, I muse. Leigh sits back, folds her arms and cocks an eyebrow. I can tell that’s her “I approve” face.
Satisfied with her re-entry, she reclaims her seat and says, “Oh, this is just fabulous. The Darkling’s got killer tastes. Speaking of the devil, what was your inspiration for the Darkling?”
“Put on your 80s hats (and legwarmers),” she says gesturing to her head and I mentally blow the dust off my mullet wig. “Because honestly, I think he’s a little bit Flagg from Eyes of the Dragon and a little David Bowie from Labyrinth (but with better hair). He’s the boy king alone in his castle, the dark rider on a dark horse– brooding, removed, isolated by his own power. I was always drawn to those kinds of characters.”
“Oh, yeah. My kind of guy,” Kat says sighing and hugging the Kefta around her. This could be an indication of her “smoothie” finally taking effect so I move right along, bringing the attention back to the interview. “The Kingdom of Ravka is heavily inspired by Russian culture. What kind of research did you do while crafting Shadow and Bone’s world?”
“It started with a Russian Imperial Atlas I found in a used bookstore– military campaigns, trade routes, exports, shifting borders. From there I focused on history, culture, and folklore,” she begins animatedly. I can tell she’s about to really get into this answer so I immediately begin jotting down notes. I look over to my left and surprisingly Kat is doing the same. “I always mention Natasha’s Dance by Orlando Figes, but his book on the Crimean War was excellent, too, as was A People’s Tragedy. Russian Folk Belief by Linda J. Ivanits, and The Bathhouse at Midnight by W.F. Ryan helped me get a handle on Russian folk and fairy tales, as well as these really interesting intersections of religion and superstition. I bought up old coffee table books, filled files with city plans, textiles, and illustrations by Russian Bilibin.”
I nod, fully engrossed, while Kat is studiously scribbling away. Huh, I’m actually really proud of you today, Kennedy, I think to myself.
Leigh continues, “But some of the work happened away from the page. There’s a huge Russian community here in LA and they proved pretty invaluable when it came to food and language. And I have to give another shout to my friend Erdene Ukhaasai. We worked out these little trades on Facebook where she would help me with Mongolian and I would help her translate lyrics into English. It was actually really fun.” She pauses for a moment and sighs. Seeing her so excited, telling us about her research, reminds me why I enjoy these interviews so much. I gesture for her to continue.
“Much as I enjoyed the research, I kept it fairly limited. I used Russia as a cultural touchstone, but it was always a point of departure, not the ultimate destination,” she finishes.
“That’s so cool. I’m so impressed with your research. Did you get most of that, Kat?” I ask. When she doesn’t respond, I glance over and see her caressing her notepad adoringly. I reach over, snatch it from her and check out what she’s been up to. I’m not impressed.
“Really, Kat?!” I exclaim.
“What?” She asks innocently. She sighs and sits back into her chair. “I just love the Darkling.” Because the heart drawing obviously didn’t give that away. >_>
Leigh, watching our exchange, clamps both hands over her mouth in sad attempt to hide her amusement. It completely undoes Kat and she throws back her head in a fit of laughter. And that’s when I notice that, apart from their hysterics, it’s grown a little too quiet in the store. All the other customers have left and I don’t even see the cashier. I’m getting a bad feeling so I quickly ask my next question, “How has the reaction from early readers been for you so far?”
Leigh, already composed, answers, “So lovely, so surprising. I still can’t quite believe my work is out there and that people are taking the time to read it. When someone says a part of the book made her laugh or cry, it just gets me completely giddy. The other day, I got an email from a girl who said, “Alina makes me feel brave.” Okay? Just. Yeah. I’m tearing up even talking* about it, so I’m going to stop before I embarrass myself.” She delicately wipes a stray tear from her cheek and I feel myself beginning to tear up as well. I can only imagine what it must feel like to receive such an email from a fan.
Kat, unaffected by our tender moment, loudly asks, “So on a scale of 1-badass, how awesome is the next book going to be?”
“Well, I don’t want to oversell it, but it’s going to take out your spine and play the entirety of Queen’s “News of the World” on it like a marimba. This book goes to 11!” She says, slapping Kat on her knee. “I kid. But honestly, I’m really excited about Siege and Storm (Book 2 in the trilogy) and I hope other people will be, too. There are going to be some big surprises and some very big changes. Plus, my favorite character of the whole series makes his first appearance. I think that’s about all I can say without my editor muzzling me.”
“Your favorite character?! Aww, you have to give us something!” I demand.
“Yeah, that’s so cruel, Leigh,” Kat pouts.
Leigh pretends to zip her lips further emphasizing her mandatory silence. I sigh inwardly, knowing it wouldn’t have been so easy.
“Well, perhaps you could answer this: If you were a Grisha, and secretly I’m betting that you are, what color Kefta would you sport?” I fire off.
“Red, of course. With black embroidery. I’m pure Corporalnik.” She says. Her answer surprises me because I expected her to say black. My surprise must register on my face because she adds, “Oh, I’d like to say that I’m the saving-the-world, Sun Summoner type, but really I’d just prefer to have power over life and death. Also, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to slow someone’s heart and send him into a coma? Have a nice nap, annoying coworker.” She laughs a rather sinister laugh that sends chills down my spine.
Kat chuckles nervously and I make a mental note to never to piss this author off.
Suddenly six figures dressed in all black appear out of nowhere. Based on my intense anime training I can tell they’re ninjas. Hooded ninjas. So much for a normal interview. Leigh, Kat and I jump to our feet. Unexpectedly, Kat wraps her arms around me in fear.
“Oh my god! Where did you come from and what do you want?!” Kat screams. Her bravado has failed. Ha! She can now never bring up the “Anna situation” ever again.
The leader steps forward and says, “Give us Siege and Storm and no one has to get hurt.”
“I know we are not getting robbed by a bunch of ‘gangsta’ ninjas because they can’t wait for book two like the rest of us!” I yell.
“Quiet, LMFAO!” he shouts back.
“Oh, no he—” I begin as I attempt to break free from Kat’s death grip. I have a half-baked plan to “party rock” him in the gonads when she grips me harder and whispers in my ear, “Are you trying to get yourself killed today?” I realize she’s right. My “to be read” pile is way to big for me risking my life just yet.
“Besides…” Kat adds, “they kind of have a point.”
“What!?” I yell as she releases me and I rub my arms attempting to get the circulation going again.
“An ARC of Siege and Storm, Steph! I NEED it! I don’t blame them for trying to Ninja it. I might go Crouching Tiger for it myself,” she says, giving Leigh a level stare.
In our panic we’ve almost completely forgotten about Leigh, who’s standing in a fighting stance. I know that pose. It’s the same one Po from Kung Fu Panda used to defeat the evil Tai Lung.
“Hang on. Leigh, do you know Kung Fu?” Kat asks, sounding worried.
Leigh give us a mischievous grin that suggests shit is about to get real and replies, “Is this about that Crouching Tiger crack, Kat? I know some Tae Kwon Do and some Krav Maga. Also?” She brings her two index fingers to her temples and her eyes flash white as she says in the creepiest voice I’ve ever heard, “Mind bullets.”
All six ninjas instantly drop to the ground with thuds. “Whoa. We’ve got ourself a badass over here!” I say.
“She just… she… mind bullets! Ninjas… dead!” Kat gasps, patting down her body to check she’s still alive.
Leigh just grins and begins dragging the bodies into a neat little pile. Oddly enough, it looks like the cashier has rejoined us. Figures. Realizing we should probably hit the road, Kat pays for her Kefta, we say our goodbyes and make our way for the exit.
“Hey, Kat and Stephanie!!” Leigh yells. We turn back and she says, “Just want to say THANK YOU for having me by the blog and for the lovely reviews.”
I grin and say, “No problem.”
Kat tugs my arm, “Quick, before she finds out…”
I stop and glare at Kat. “Finds out what, Kat?”
Kat holds up a credit card with Leigh’s name on it. “Before she finds out who really paid for this dress… AND for the shopping spree.”
“You’re mad!” I yell as Kat drags me into another store. Then another. Then another. “She’s going to kill you with her brain!”
“She has to find me first and I won’t be giving any of it back unless she trades it for a Seige and Storm ARC! Now let’s spend her money!”
And that was the day Cuddlebuggery almost lost a co-blogger.
*”writing” was changed to “talking” for the purpose of the story.
We want to give a huge thank you to Leigh Bardugo for the interview & saving us from the hooded ninjas!
Also, thank you to Macmillan for allowing us to be apart of the Shadow and Bone blog tour!
[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://cuddlebuggery.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/4575289.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Leigh Bardugo was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. She indulges her fondness for glamour, ghouls, and costuming in her other life as makeup artist L.B. Benson. She lives in Hollywood and can occasionally be heard singing with her band, Captain Automatic. Her debut novel, Shadow & Bone, is the first book in the Grisha Trilogy and will be published by Holt Children’s/Macmillan in June 2012.
Don’t forget to check out Shadow and Bone!
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.
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