An Evening with Andrew Smith and Michael Grant

So tonight I had the pleasure to attend a talk at the wonderful Waterstone's Piccadilly (honestly they hosts the best talks) to listen to Michael Grant and Andrew Smith reading from their work and answer Q&A's. (And yes, for the FIRST TIME EVER, I asked a question!) As usual, I did a little write up so all the fans who couldn't make it can enjoy the event as well!

First up, I have to admit that I've never read Michael Grant before, which I know is a sin in the YA community but I just never got around to it. So I probably missed a lot of the references he made to his own books due to my lack of knowledge. However, I have read Andrew Smith and LOVED Winger so I think I got most of his things down.

First the guys introduced themselves and it was immediately clear that 1. Michael and Andrew are great friends and 2. they are also very different. Michael called himself a high school and college dropout and talked about the wide variety of, not always legal, jobs he had before writing. Him and his wife eventually started writing together to start a career and he has written MORE THAN 150 BOOKS! And if you're like me and thought you've never read a book by Michael Grant, just be rest assured you probably have without knowing it. He wrote for Harlequin, Sweet Valley Twins and Disney (about "The Duck, which I can say now"), so the odds that you've ever read one of his books is pretty damn big.

Andrew on the other hand has written his whole life but hid it from everyone he knew. He actually finished several manuscripts without showing them to anyone, because he just always wanted to write. When his son was 9, he said he wanted to be an author and to be supportive, Andrew submitted one of his manuscripts to a literary agent. When did his wife find out? When he had already sold the book to a publisher in NYC - she said she was relieved that he wasn't spending so much time in his office having an online affair!

Then both Michael Grant and Andrew Smith read from their books and showed us why they call it the "Masturbation or Murder tour"  - Andrew read a part of Grasshopper Jungle that discussed masturbation while Michael Grant read a part of Messenger of Fear where someone catches fire - very graphically.

Andrew Smith reading from Grasshopper Jungle. 

Andrew Smith reading from Grasshopper Jungle. 

Then there was a Q&A and luckily, the audience had some great questions! This was quite a long Q&A so I'll just put little titbits of info both authors shared!

Both Andrew and Michael says that they don't write with a genre in mind, but unlike Andrew, who believes that he always writes YA ("YA is any book that deals with adolescent experience"), Michael Grant has written in almost any genre imaginable. He sees himself more as a craftsman and considers his early work the way he got the hang of it. This craftsmanship is also expressed in the way he goes about writing his book - Michael makes a "series bible" (he definitely prefers to read and write series) in which he figures out what will happen and actually picks head shots for all of his characters. He then sends this to his editor and he'll get money to write the story. Andrew said he never sells a story before he wrote it and just writes straight through them in a chronological order. 

Michael Grant reading from Messenger of Fear

Michael Grant reading from Messenger of Fear

For the kind of scenes they like to write, Michael thinks the gross action scenes are easiest  and doesn't like exposition or romance scenes too much. As any reader of Andrew Smith might know, he doesn't shy away from sex scenes and says he particularly liked writing the ones in Grasshopper Jungle since they involved bugs having sex. 

There was the question which character is most like them and Andrew said that all characters, good and bad, are a part of him, but he wants to be most like Robbie from Grasshopper Jungle because he is so fair and kind. Michael says he's most like Quinn from Gone because he makes a journey towards being a better person in his books.

And then I asked a question. For the first time ever. And I almost died. But I noticed that Andrew Smith is always praised for including a diverse cast in his book - often with good representation of homosexual characters. I wondered if that was a deliberate decision the authors made or whether it just kinda happened. Both answered that it's not deliberate, but it's just a reflection of the world they see around them. To not have diverse characters would actually mean they'd have to exclude people from their real world and that just wouldn't make any sense. However, they said that forcing diversity would never work and I was so happy to hear two authors say how easily a diverse cast comes to them - it's really inspirational!

That's the end of my little write up - there was LOTS more that was talked about, but as a writer, these were the highlights for me. It was great to meet Andrew Smith and find out he was just as wonderful as all of his books and it was also great to meet Michael Grant and get an introduction to his books - I highly suggest you read some of them if you haven't. (First on your list should be Winger, but I might be a tad biased!)