Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Fangirl Experience: Meeting Leigh Bardugo

The Fangirl Experience is a monthly column suggested by Jaime Heller, featuring contributions from both our staff and our readers. Everybody has those moments when being a fangirl feels like the world has become perfectly balanced. It's those moments when you feel a stir in your heart that maybe you've made the right decision in falling down the fandom vortex. When, in the words of my good "friend" Zachary Levi, your "unbridled passion for something, or things, defines who they are as a person without fear of other people's judgment." It's that moment you want to share with the whole world, scream to the rooftops, about what happened. Maybe it's a small moment, maybe it's a big one. But every fangirl has one--or will have one--and we would like to share ours with you.
Because our Initiative would be nothing without the Experience.

By Jaime Heller

A few years ago, I picked up a YA high fantasy book series at the recommendation of an acquaintance: the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. I was wonderstruck by this series because it was fantasy, but it took a different turn than the typical Western European-style world-building; it was based on a Slavic--or Russian/Eastern European--setting. It was refreshing to read something different and something that went deeper than other books. There was a lot of real-world issues brought to light within the story, and it was incredible to read a fantasy novel that led me to understand the real world more. (Just add that to the list of reasons I love fantasy.) Thus, when Leigh Bardugo scheduled an author visit within driving distance of where I live, I immediately messaged Kelly and demanded we go to this event.

A week ago, we had the privilege to hear Leigh Bardugo speak and also meet her face-to-face, and yes, get our books signed! (*fangirl squee*) The host library was about an hour and a half from where we live, so it was quite the adventure going (though we didn't get lost). We left early to avoid traffic and to scout out the library beforehand. (We needed to know exactly where and when and how we were going to see her.) We went to a mall to waste time and find something to eat, and then we headed back to the library with too much excitement for one car!

The whole trip there and while we waited I kept asking, "What should I say? What should I say?" because, of course, last time we met an author I completely blanked and didn't say one word. *facepalm* I had determined to mention at least three different things when I talked to her, but we'll get to that in a moment.

We returned to the library to find a line had started to purchase books. Since I didn't own any of her books, I had to buy both books for the Six of Crows duology: Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. I took them in my hand and just kind of sighed. I had read Six of Crows before, but Crooked Kingdom was brand new and I couldn't wait to read it. But I held off. (Because I knew if I started I would want to just read it all in one sitting.)

We still had about a half hour until the event started, so we found a seat and tried to work on our own world-building projects. It didn't last long because as the room filled with fangirls and, yes, fanboys, we were distracted by other discussions about books, writing, and fandoms! There were two people who sat in the same row as us that were also very excited to be there, and we talked to them about all types of things. It's hilarious to get a group of fangirls in a room together. We can be complete strangers yet find plenty to discuss and have absolutely no shame doing so.

Finally, finally, seven o'clock rolled around, and the teen librarian introduced Leigh in all her gorgeousness (silver hair, black dress, cane and all). It was great. The interviewer started off with a few of his own questions about her writing and the new book, and it was wonderful. Leigh was hilarious. She just nailed it on some of her responses. She also had a lot of good advice about writing and the writing process and how to be an author, and I'm grateful I was able to hear her speak. They opened up questions for the audience, and she answered from anything to everything: whether cereal is just cold soup, what are some intricate details about world-building and outlining, who her favorite OTPs are, which character is she the most like, and also things she couldn't answer about upcoming projects, including a Wonder Woman novel.

It was a blast to hear her talk, and I was quite entertained the entire time. Then we got in line for the book signing. We were near the back of the line, which was fine by us, so we had a lot of time to spend talking 'fangirl' with more people. Another fantasy author, Cinda Chima Williams, came to the event to see Leigh and get books signed (!!!!), so we obviously took a picture with her too. After about an hour and a half or so of waiting, it was my turn to meet her. (Kelly made me go first!)

I was still a little unsure what I wanted to say to her. I had wanted to mention the Wonder Woman project, but so many people brought it up during the Q and A and she wasn't allowed to say anything that I didn't want to be annoying. I also couldn't think of anything on the spot, though of course now I have like a dozen questions running around my brain.

So I stepped up and set the books on the table, and she said hi and asked if I was Jaime (the name on the sticky note), and I said yes. She asked if I'd ever been to one of her signings before and I said no. She asked if I had a favorite character, and I said no. (Though in hindsight I should have said "No, but I definitely relate to so-and-so the most" because she writes a quote for one of the characters.) She said that was fine. I did tell her my favorite character from the world was Nikolai, but he's not in Six of Crows. She signed my books, put "No Mourners, No Funerals" (a saying from the story), and was very sweet the whole time. I wish I hadn't been so nervous because I could have actually said something intelligent! We got a picture, and then, my time was over and it was Kelly's turn.

Even though I felt like I did the same thing when I met Marissa Meyer--blanked completely and looked like a complete buffoon for being shy--I still had a wonderful time going. I didn't have to ask her anything significant to enjoy the night. Hearing her talk, and laughing along with her and meeting her was enough to make the night worth it all.

But maybe next time, I'll think of something wonderful to say to her.

By Kelly Chaplin

You know that feeling you get waiting in line for an amusement park ride? You start to feel queasy, you lose all appetite, you overthink the situation, and you can’t stop thinking about what it’s going to be like when you finally get to experience it. Well, the build-up to meeting Leigh was in much the same manner of anticipation.

I was giddy, I was thrilled, I was...kind of nervous. In the end, it was spectacular, and here are the reasons why:

The Friends and New Acquaintances
Of course, it was a pleasure to hang out with Jaime for this big event celebrating the release of Crooked Kingdom. We had fun on the ride up and had an awesome time dawdling around the mall and library beforehand. It was also great to see a few people I knew. Waving a mutual friend over to sit by us and surprising the librarians I used to work with during my practicum were added bonuses.

It was also nice to see new faces and get to know those sitting next to us. In fact, I got to meet three lovely (once) strangers, all people who appreciated and respected Leigh. All people who had read her books and worshiped her writing just as much as I did.

The Interview
Before long, it was time for Leigh to make her grand entrance. Silvery, stylish hair, decked in all black, she looked stunning!! Now, I follow her on Instagram and Twitter, so I had a taste of how witty and hilarious she could be, but boy I was not prepared for her snappy, quick responses that kept getting smiles and laughs from the audience. She’s a true wordsmith, and I was absolutely starstruck to be in her presence. (Hence, the nervousness. She writes dark fantasy, and that's my favorite genre…)

There was even a surprise author in the audience: Cinda Williams Chima. She’d come to get her books signed by Leigh and, in response to this, Leigh exclaimed that there was a legend in the audience and made sure everyone knew who Cinda was.

After the interview, Jaime and I got to meet and take a picture with Cinda Williams Chima!! She was sweet and down to earth; she was amazing. And the best thing was that when I told her I’d received a job working with and for teens at a library, she HIGH-FIVED ME!!! Just goes to show that authors are the best people. They write for the good of their readers.

The Wait
Before we lined up to wait in line, everyone knew that there was something special waiting for them at the signing Yes! Playing cards. But not just any type of card, no these were special in that they had the Six of Crows crew beautifully illustrated on each one, and if you picked the Wylan card, you would receive a poster with all the characters. I mean, I was excited for any of the cards. If you’ve read the book, you’d know that all the characters are equally complex and lovable.

We ended up at the END of the line! THE END!!! Oh, it was glorious. Not only did everyone in our group have time to catch up (and get to know each other for those who had just met), but it was also nice because meeting Leigh would feel even more special without eighty people behind us.

As we approached her signing desk, I asked Jaime to get in front of me. Jaime was just as brave as a Gryffindor (and just as bookish as a Ravenclaw) as she agreed to go first. She approached Leigh’s desk like a dazzling white knight approaches a dragon (with the intention of sipping hot chocolate with the dragon, not slaying it).

In mere minutes, I would talk to Leigh, and I didn’t even know what I was going to say.

The Meeting
This was it. This was what I’d been waiting for.

I stepped up to greet her. She took my book in her hands, and I blurted out, “I’m so nervous right now.” Yup, I know. Sounded lame to me too.

But she paused and glanced up. Honestly, I can’t remember what she said but she made me feel at ease. It was then that everything else just came spilling out. I told her how much of an honor it was to meet her. I told her how much I adored Kaz and Inej, to which she promptly wrote an Inej quote in one book and a Kaz quote in the other. And lastly, I told her how I was writing my own novel. She smiled and told me to let her know how it went. Her request even sounded sincere. Tweet to Leigh in the future? Perhaps.

I picked from the scattering of cards and drew Jesper. Smirk, guns, and all.

Phew, it had been a long night but a good night. And in the end, I was just happy to have gone because it was well worth having Leigh write “No mourners. No funerals” in my book. A bit of luck (and a pleasant greeting) is always welcome, especially from such a talented author.

Have you ever had an out-of-this-world fangirl experience? The Fangirl Initiative wouldn't be complete without the help of you, our readers. We want to hear and feature your stories and tales. If you have a fangirl experience you'd like to share in this column, let us know!

For more of the Experience, check out our Instagram for daily Fangirl Experiences.


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