The Sunday Salon: Scott Westerfeld

When I heard Scott Westerfeld, author of the amazing Leviathan, was coming to my beloved Little Shop of Stories, I was delighted; until I discovered (or so I thought!) that his appearance was scheduled during tech week for a show I’m stage-handing. My howls of woe could be heard for miles. But when I ran into a friend of mine doing some work for that same show, she set me straight–it was last Thursday night, and we headed off to Little Shop of Stories, books in hand.

(I have to preface and explain this short report with the unpleasant information that, during Westerfeld’s Q & A, I was quite spectacularly sick and unfortunately had to miss most of it, although I was well enough to manage the signing.)

We headed down around 6:15 PM, where, after a scant moment of hesitation, I picked up copies of Leviathan and Behemoth. (I vastly prefer the original hardback cover for Leviathan, but the new covers match to a degree that overwhelms my phantom OCD.) I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in terms of turnout; it was a fairly small crowd, although most of Atlanta’s finest geeks showed up, including a pair of steampunk girls and the programming board for Dragon*Con’s Young Adult Literature track. (Decatur has been attracting lots of steampunks recently; I came across a whole passel of them in one of our pubs yesterday.) Once seven o’clock rolled around, we were invited upstairs to see Westerfeld.

He started off by answering the oft-asked question, “Where do your ideas come from?”. The idea for Uglies came when a friend of his moved to LA from New York, for which his social circle mocked him roundly. One day, this friend went to the dentist for a cleaning. Everything went fine, but afterward, the dentist asked to see him in her office. Concerned, he went with her, only for her to ask “Where do you see your teeth in five years?” with a completely straight face. Amused, his friend reported this incident via e-mail back to the New York crowd, and Westerfeld found it intriguing enough to build a novel around that concept, taken to the extreme–a world where a visit to a medical professional included discussion about body modification.

Unfortunately, that was when I had to bow out, but the friend who accompanied me told me about some other questions asked while I was gone–Westerfeld revealed to us that he’s a discovery writer as opposed to an outline writer; he has a concept, but builds from there. (Leviathan wasn’t envisioned as a trilogy at first.) Also, when he names characters, he doesn’t pick out meanings but focuses on connotation, hence the naming of the Smoke children in Uglies; they’re meant to evoke religious home-schooled children. When I returned, he was talking about his use of slang in Uglies, which, much as I suspected, focused on appending “-ie” to most words to evoke something childlike. A little kid asked about the absence of a map in Behemoth, so Westerfeld talked about the map as used in Leviathan. Keith Thompson, the gentleman who illustrated both Leviathan and Behemoth, had discovered allegorical maps, which are maps where countries take on the personality of their populace–for instance, if the countries are at war, they’re fighting on the map. Westerfeld thought it brilliant and that’s why we have this lovely map. Behemoth, however, is set almost entirely in Istanbul, so such a map is superfluous. Instead, they settled on a Turkish propaganda poster depicting Russia and Europe, which appears in the book. Westerfeld asked for a fan’s copy and flipped through to an illustration of Alek and Deryn in a Turkish café where the poster is on the wall. (The illustration is on page 203, for those of you with copies.) It would have been cool, Westerfeld said, except that he had to point it out to us.

The signing was quite orderly, thanks to the wonderful staff at Little Shop of Stories. The friend who accompanied me got her well-loved copies of Pretties, Specials, and Extras signed, and I got my copies of Leviathan and Behemoth signed. I told Westerfeld about how much I loved Leviathan, especially Deryn. “She’s my favorite underage and undercover airman!” I said, a line I had clearly rehearsed. Westerfeld, thankfully, laughed a little and agreed with me, and then asked if I’d read any more steampunk. Sudden amnesia hit; I said no. He recommended Boneshaker to me and I immediately remembered that I had read it (and loved it), so I left him with an apology for lying to him. When I opened Leviathan in Starbucks to see what he’d written, I saw that he’d signed it, “Deryn rules!”–and I smiled.

My week has been very strange! I’ve been dealing with papers, working on costuming, recovering from food poisoning, and rethinking my minor. (Conclusion: if econ doesn’t shake out, I can fall back on French or history.) And, of course, I’ve been reading. I finished Mansfield Park on Thursday, as well as Nothing Like the Sun. On Friday, I finished Robin McKinley’s Pegasus, which was certainly interesting. I have yet to start on Emma (I have to read The Merchant of Venice by Tuesday) and I’m a quarter of the way into Mr. Toppit, which is very interesting so far. Hopefully, I’ll be able to turn my attention to some of my library books soon–perhaps The Guns of the South or Ophelia. Today, I’m going to attempt to go see Margaret Atwood’s lecture at Emory (as I can’t make her reading and signing because I have rehearsal), but we’ll see how it goes. is giving away passes for steampunk conventions in Seattle, Santa Clara, and Philadelphia until noon today, so hustle if you’re around any of those cities! They’re also giving away Typhon Pact: Zero Sum Game until tomorrow. The newly minted fantasy book blog The Ranting Dragon is giving away a copy of The Hunger Games, The Adamantine Palace, and Warbreaker to celebrate its first week online until Tuesday. TJ at Dreams and Speculation is giving away an audiobook of Zombies vs. Unicorns until Thursday. Swapna at S. Krishna’s Books is giving away a copy of Extraordinary until Saturday. Penguin Classics is giving away gift bags–you must complete a small survey and agree to be e-mailed by them to enter, all by November 1st. HarperCollins is giving away a copy of the 60th Anniversary Edition of The Chronicles of Narnia until January 1st. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!

14 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Scott Westerfeld

  1. Glad you recovered in time to get your book signed. I keep meaning to pick up Leviathan and I think you may have convinced me. I’ll have to see if the library has it.

  2. Wow, what an interesting week! Love the name of the bookstore…Little Shop of Stories made me smile.

    I haven’t read any of Westerfield’s books, but now I’m putting them on the list. I love hearing authors speak and describe how they came up with the ideas.

    I am a member of a group blog that has regular posts from writers and an interview every Wednesday. This has been a lot of fun… (

    Here’s my salon:

  3. It’s too bad you had to miss some of it, but that still sounds like an amazing event! I was lucky enough to find a bargain copy of Leviathan just this weekend, and I can’t wait to get to it. I hope you’re fully recovered by now!

  4. Ugh, food poisoning…that’s no fun. I’m glad you didn’t miss the whole event!

    What show are you stage-handling, if I may ask?

  5. I’m behind, but this sounds like so much fun! I just finished Behemoth pretty recently, and it was great… I’d probably have been an incoherent pile of squeaking fangirl, myself, if I didn’t start quizzing him on the biology he sneaks into all of his books. 🙂

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