Gwenda Bond (Librarians are Rockstars!)

 

[Alison Tran] We are here in Chicago at the ALA Annual conference speaking with Gwenda Bond. She’s the author of the upcoming The Woken Gods and Girl On A Wire and her first novel, Blackwood, is in development as a television series on MTV. So that’s pretty cool. Thank you so much for being on the show Gwenda, this is awesome.

[Gwenda] Thanks for asking me to do it, I love you guys and all librarians actually.

Thank you. We’ve got a lot more questions about that very topic for you.

Excellent.

Let’s get going.

[Steve] What is it about a librarian conference, I know this your first one, what about that gets you excited as an author?

Honestly, the, I love our, our library in Lexington where I live is such a great part of our community. We are there honestly daily, you know, even though I still buy a lot of books, have a book habit, I still discover a lot of new authors through the library and have always been friends with librarians and I just think there’s nobody who knows more about books, is more passionate about them, who sees how important they are to people, especially children and teens on a daily basis and so getting to hang out with people who are excited about, you know, the books that we’re all writing and books in general, man there’s really nothing that would be cooler, better, a more fun way to spend a weekend, right.

Right.

It’s good times. Your debut novel Blackwood is a mystery surrounding the infamous lost colony which, that’s a story that always fascinates me. So did you have to do a lot of research to get all those historical details? And if so, did you happen to use your local library for that research?

I did do a lot of research about Blackwood. I’ve read a lot about the history of this period and I also read a lot about the area now because it is a tourist region. Actually guide books were an excellent resource as well as all the, the great, like all the great historical books that are about the colony and then some directly about the mystery and in fact I would say 50-60% of those books were books that I checked out through the library, or got via inter-library loans, especially the ones that were out of print, or hard to find and, you know, one of the things that’s in the book is the lost colony theater and so I was able to get, even the original copy of the play text from the first version of the show, through inter-library loan I was able to get some special publications that the theater company had done over the years and read about kind of backstage stuff and it was invaluable actually.

I think that was the first time, you probably don’t remember this, this is, that’s the first time we chatted on Twitter actually because my sister was in that.

That’s right, your, yeah and I’ve heard from so many people who have worked in the show or vacationed there when they were kids, like Sarah Tzar I think remembers going when she was a child and completely sort of forgotten about it until, you know, she saw that that was in the book and it, it reminded her and actually the very first event I did ever for, for the book was at the Roanoke Island book store, Downtown Books and they brought a couple of actors from the show came in full Elizabethan period costume.

Wow.

And the interns, the current interns who were basically, one of the main characters in the book and then a side character also came and were huge fans of it and it, it really couldn’t have been a coup of fate. You know like I was so nervous that they would feel that I’d gotten the theater wrong and they were all, they all just, they were really supportive.

So we mentioned that you have a deal with MTV to produce that as a series. How exciting was that?

It has been very exciting, so we’re in the midst of the development season, depending on when this airs we may know or not know whether it will actually become a show, but it’s definitely been a real honor to work with the company that found the book and really like came to us as a, Kelsey Grammer’s production company, Gramnet which works with Lionsgate and, you know, I think most authors assume, one, nothing like that’s ever going to happen, it’s certainly not going to happen with your first book and that even if it does happen, nothing will ever come of it. So when they sold the pitch to MTV and they put it into development, honestly I still can’t believe it happened and you know, like I’ve gotten to read the pilot scripts and the writer has done an amazing job of like inventing, but still really using all the stuff from the book so fingers crossed, you know, that that happens. But we should know very soon.

Very cool.

Oh, that’s exciting, well I’m rooting for it, I can’t wait to see it on my screen, that’s awesome. Oh wow, I mean to just seeing the costumes would be so exciting.

Yeah, yeah, and they, I mean, really they’ve done some, it’s a pre- it would be an amazing show. It would totally be the kind of thing I would watch as a viewer, be addicted to, so.

Of course. It would be the best show ever.

Let’s knock on wood, right?

Yes, absolutely. So you’re pretty active on Twitter. Do you find social media to be a good way of connecting with your audience and librarians?

Absolutely, you know, what I love Twitter, I think of it as like an endless kind of cocktail party, or just an ongoing conversation that people wander in and out of and, to me, that is way, you know I, I blogged for a long time, you know, I, and I have known a lot of, like some of my dear friends are librarians who also have blogs that I’ve known for years and years online, some of whom I’ve gotten to meet in person for the first time this weekend, which is amazing. You know, just because we’ve known each other for so long, really have become friends over blogging and social media and I, you know, writing is so isolating, you know, a lot of the times where you’re just in your head and you’re cranking things out and so to be able to connect with people very easily when you come out of that sort of, also, you know, I don’t know about you guys but we’re lucky because we live in a city, Lexington has a really robust literary community, we do have really active great librarians, we live a couple of blocks from and we have great book stores and so there is like, you can have conversations with people, but like most writers I tend to be a bit of a hermit and so social media’s a way to have those conversations and be connected to those things, even when you’re not leaving your house that day cause you’re on a deadline [laughs].

So it can be like a cocktail party in your pajamas.

That’s right.

Which is the best, right?

That’s the best cocktail party ever, right? Right, or coffee, or a coffee clash, like depending on the time of day. Right, if it must.

Well your book is written for the YA audience. What about the audience makes you, what do you enjoy writing about, the YA audience?

So I came to YA really, I missed, I kind of discovered young adult novels in the early 2000s, like I would say when Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier, Andrew Osion, MT Anderson was publishing his first books and just immediately the voice and the, the way that the types of stories, the tightness of the writing and really the immediacy of the books and also how clever they were. Really just, I just knew that that was the sort of gate, you know, I had always written and I knew I was a writer and I tried to start a few novels with adult protagonists. Once I had discovered those books it really just felt like a natural thing, that this is where, you know, my voice kind of goes and so I went to Vermont, College of Fine Arts, which has an MFA program in writing for children and young adults that’s very well known and, ’cause I felt like I wasn’t enough of an expert, like in children’s and YA books, ’cause I really only read Christopher Pike, was about the only actual YA I’d read.

He was big, right?

He was awesome, those books are crazy, cracktastic, amazing. I’m, I’m afraid to go back and read them, but I also sort of want to do a Twitter book club reread ’cause I know so many.

Do it.

I know so many actual librarians, other authors and booksellers who also consume those books like crack when they were teenagers and I mean it’s like teenagers committing like crazy crimes, they’re like murdering people on stage during plays, I mean.

Yes, super creepy, real true horror.

Yes. I know.

It’s real, for real horror.

Right, right, like I have trapped you in a house and I have purchased poisonous snakes and I will release them in the basement with you.

Like when we were like, somebody set fire to a house and didn’t the girl like hide in the bathtub and so she filled it with water. So that’s my plan if I’m ever in a burning house.

Yes, right.

I’m running for the bathtub. Christopher Pike could save your life.

Thank you Mr Pike.

Thank you Chris.

So yes, the things we learn from literature, so thank Gwenda Bond for reading from this body of literature, we can learn so much about everything.

Right, now I’m trying to tell people what to do if you ever, if people ever suddenly go missing and then return and they’re not quite right.

That’s a problem.

You need to know they might be alchemists.

That is a distinct possibility.

The more you know.

The more you, yeah. Okay, so we’ll, bringing it back to your writing: you have a new novel coming out in September, The Woken Gods. Tell us a little about that.

Okay, so The Woven Gods is set in, it’s an alternate version of our world now where five years earlier all the gods of ancient mythology awoke all around the world and they decide it’s no longer a secret, that the Society of the Sun came forward, they had been collecting relics, things with magical power because humans really don’t have magic in this, in this world and some of the gods are sort of dangerous, it’s just, you know it’s a completely different world than when the gods went to sleep thousands of years ago, right, and so it’s set in an alternate DC where the Society’s headquartered in the Library of Congress, I’m not kidding, like I was like where would be the best possible place if I were a, a secret society that had been collecting powerful objects, I would want to be in the coolest library on Earth. And so actually all the other world headquarters of the organization are in famous libraries, like the British Library and, you know, so my husband and I, we were like immediately settled on and I almost actually got kicked out of the Library of Congress cause I was like trying to go into like kind of backstage areas to take reference photos.

So that’s when you’re like, “Don’t you know who I am?”

Maybe they’ll let me have like a behind the scenes tour after the book comes out.

Yes.

You need like a badge as an author you can show them, I’m an author.

Right, right.

So it’s just like the Library of Congress is where the humans who are sort of running the show, like sort of intermediaries with the gods for humanity and then seven tricksters who have kind of embassy analogs in the city and a girl who gets pulled into intrigue with the gods and the, and the secret society when she finds out her dad is a member. So.

All right, sign me up for this right now. That’s awesome.

Well hopefully you’ll enjoy it, it was a really fun book to write and I really wanted to use some mythology that hasn’t been maybe used as much, so I mean I think there is Greek mythology, there is Norse mythology, but there’s also a lot of Sumerian mythology, West African mythology, and so a little bit of everything, which I now realize having done that as a writer, why people tend to pick one and stick to it cause it’s really hard and there’s so many rabbit holes you can fall down and the research alone, like I mean there’s just so many interesting things that you, you know want to blend, but ultimately, you know, I had to draw the line. But there’s also a great reference book called  A Trickster Makes This World by Lewis Hyde and so I’m, I’m guessing this probably the only young adult book that will be published this year that’s inspired by Trickster Makes This World. It’s like Trickster Makes This World as a YA novel.

Nice.

Yeah I think when I was a teenager I loved all of the stuff like that. I like that it’s getting so popular now, like Rick Riordan has written two different series about, an Egyptian one and a Greek Roman and, yeah it’s.

Right, right, oh I do have Egyptians as they, you can see from the cover, the main relic that features in the story is an Egyptian relic, it’s, that’s why we used that. I also really loved mythology and have already heard from librarians and teachers that, you know, I think that’s a universal thing. I think that, you know, all, I think pretty much any reader, you know, when you get into mythology those stories are like the first stories that are really unfiltered, right? A lot like history tales are, they’re some of the first stories that you get that are really weird and haven’t necessarily been massaged for kids. So you get this window into this strange adult world where you’re trying to describe how something works, it doesn’t make sense and you know, I just took that as like as universally cool.

And is this a stand-alone book? Or are you doing a series?

It’s a stand-alone for now, I definitely, I mean it’s definitely not outside the realm of possibility that there will be a sequel, I know what happens next, but I also feel like you know how it ends kind of explosively. I’m curious to see what people think. I think it does tell a complete story and the characters have a journey, so now I have another book already after this one, so, I’m not quite sure.

Very cool. Well the last question to bring it back to libraries, do you remember your experience getting your first library card?

Okay. So two quick stories, alright. The first one is, like, total infamy, and I hope that no one will hold this against me, but my hometown library in the very small town where I grew up, well actually I was really lucky because my parents were both principals and so I had access to our school libraries, but I was also on the academic team. We checked out some books for our, an academic meet on a certain number of topics, from the main library and I was the only person who had a library card, so they used my card and then a bunch of them never returned the books and I was afraid to even walk past the library because, because, you know, like you, I would get this letter and hide it from my parents and then. So like years later I actually sent them a check and like a letter of explanation, but, so that was like my, I was afraid to walk past the library because I thought there was a secret library jail. And so like I basically was afraid to go near a public library for much of my adult life and then my husband and I moved into the middle of our city, and he’s like you’re crazy, libraries are awesome, they’re not gonna like, an alarms not gonna go off when you walk in, it’s like we know when you were 12, we know what happened.

Oh my gosh.

You know there’s a Stephen King short story about the library police where a guy.

Oh my gosh.

I think it’s a horror thing.

I’ll have to look that up cause that’s what I was afraid of, but we, so I got a library card as an adult there and it was life changing, like honestly, like I’m totally addicted to our local library, the Lexington Public Library, just to give them a shout out, they’re amazing.

Woohoo. Well awesome, thank you so much for chatting with us, Gwenda, it was such a pleasure.

Thank you guys, yeah, it was a pleasure talking to you guys.