Tamora Pierce

Hi Tammy,

Remember that time you laughed at a badger meme I posted? You probably don’t, and I don’t blame you. You probably see a lot of badger memes. But I remember, and I was proud of myself for that for, like, a whole day afterward. Not to get too sappy, but bringing some small amount of joy to someone who had brought me gobs and gobs of it was a really good feeling.

The first book of yours I read was Wolf-Speaker.

I know, I know, it’s a weird place to start: a second book of a second series. I didn’t even have the decency to start at the beginning of the Immortals quartet. I was thrown into a story already begun, meeting a protagonist who had already begun her arc, spending time with characters who had already been introduced and elaborated on.

I regret nothing. Part of this is because of your writing, Tammy. Despite coming in partway through a 4-book arc, starting with Wolf-Speaker just felt like another entry point into the story. You weave in the salient details of past events without belaboring them, hint at larger happenings in the world, and further develop your characters all within the confiens of a single story. Wolf-Speaker doesn’t feel incomplete, though I would also argue that it fits perfectly into its niche in Daine’s timeline.

I also don’t regret my decision at all because being introduced to a protagonist who can communicate with animals, and having her first major interactions be with a wolf pack was the perfect point to enter a story for my 12-year-old self. Regular readers of the BWP blog may recall that I wrote of the Redwall universe that a universe full of talking animals was everything I wanted. I may have to slightly tweak that statement, because even better was the possibility of a universe where animals were still animals — not living in buildings and farming the land, but living as animals do — but some people could talk to them. Rather, some people could talk to them, and they would answer.

From Wolf-Speaker, I finished the Immortals quartet, and then went back to read your works from the beginning. Over time I got to meet all of your heroines, and I am so glad I spent time growing up with all of these women. From bull-headed temperamental Alanna to calm unyielding Kel, to snippy people-averse Tris — it would take too long to describe them all, but suffice it to say, that when I try to determine a single favorite, it’s nearly impossible.*

There are many things I can be thankful for in your writing, Tammy, but the greatest thing is that you showed me unequivocally that women in fantasay could be as real and varied as the women I know from reality. They could show full ranges of emotions, had their own ideas, and made their own decisions. They could be sad, angry, brave, quiet, brash, thoughtful, giddy, and everything in between. Thank you for their stories.

-Louisa

*Nearly. (I’ll give you one guess).

Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie,

Howdy. You are really awesome.

That’s all, basically.

I could spend several hundred words telling you how freaking amazing The Raven Cycle is and how much I adored The Scorpio Races.

I could write you an essay about how incredibly skilled you are at blending fantasy with reality, at reminding your readers of the magic that already exists in our world.

I could write a whole letter on your use of mythology in The Scorpio Races and how much this religious scholar just ate that up.

I could write you a book about how following you on various social media platforms has taught me that the world is unfair and that the level of talent you have in the variety of areas you have it is just unreal.

I could go on and on and on about why I went and got a raven tattoo after the release of The Raven King (and yes the biggest raven is named Chainsaw).

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But at the end of the day the most important thing for me to say is that I am grateful for you, and all that you do.

Thank you for being really awesome.

Seriously.

Really, thank you.

-Rebecca

Neal Stephenson

Dear Neal,

I’m sure all readers have had that feeling when you read a book and think, “It’s like the author wrote this book just for me!” For me, that book was Snow Crash. Though the book covers a variety of topics, the main focus is technology and language. As an aerospace engineer with a minor in linguistics, you can see why I might have thought this book was personalized. Snow Crash was epic in scope, fast paced, and even featured a pun-named main character.

The word epic is thrown around a lot these days, but your books really live up to the word. What other author would create a religious order that reveals itself ever 1000 years? Or chronicle the cataclysmic end of human society on Earth? And even still, we feel personally invested in your characters and care about what happens to them within the larger scope of your story.

Last week, I thanked Ursula LeGuin for showing science fiction and fantasy can be used to challenge our own prejudices and social conventions. Today, I thank you for showing something that speculative fiction better than any other genre: stories, societies, and even civilizations that space vast reaches of time and space. Even as it inspires us, it reminds how small and fragile we are in the larger context of the universe.

Finally, I end this note with an apology: I haven’t yet been able to make it more than 100 pages into Cryptonomicon, and I’m sorry. I promise I’ll try again, maybe as New Year’s Resolution. In the meantime, thank you again for the vast amount of story I’ve read, enjoyed, and been inspired by.

-Christopher

Gail Carson Levine

Dear Ms. Levine,

When I was a kid, there were three things that I knew about myself: green was my favorite color, I ate too many things deemed inedible, and that I had an unhealthy want for adventure. This unchecked desire often got me in trouble and my early elementary years were full of time outs from recess and being chased by kids I had pranked. I wasn’t a bad kid, but I was bored and this boredom got me into trouble. Often. Then there was a day, I think in 3rd or 4th grade that I found myself forced to choose a library book in school. I happened to pick up Ella Enchanted, and I honestly believe that I was never the same.

I never thought I would fall in love with a book based on Cinderella . The funny thing is, I never liked Cinderella, but I love your version of her. I mean, I guess Cinderella was okay as a Disney movie, but I just didn’t get it. She was just so darn nice, and then everything kind of magically worked out for her. I felt distant from Cinderella as a character. Reading about Ella, who was so painfully real, who experienced the world around her as I might have in her position, made me able to accept and immerse myself in the magic from fairy tales. Your book captivated me in a way that I had never experienced before. I remember reading about Ella’s curse, seeing her similarities to Cinderella, both knowing her story and having no idea what would happen. There wasn’t a character in Ella Enchanted that I didn’t feel personally connected to, and you made it so easy.

The truth is, if I hadn’t picked up Ella Enchanted randomly in the library that day, I don’t know if I would have become hooked on reading. It was because of your book that I dove into literature hoping to find characters like Ella that could show me what it means to be a heroine. Now, years later with an English degree and several years of teaching under my belt, when my baby sister was looking for a bed time story I knew exactly which one to start her on. Oh, and she is addicted to reading now too. I don’t think ‘thank you’ will quite cover it, Ms. Levine, but I’m going to say it anyway. Thank you for everything.
Your biggest admirer,
Ayesha

Patricia C. Wrede

Hi Pat!

I just want to take a second to thank you for the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. I know, I know, they’re not your only books, and certainly not your most recent, but they were staple reading of my childhood, and staple rereading well beyond.

I actually read Searching for Dragons first, not out of any kind of strange desire to read books out of order, but because it was one of the books featured in my middle school class’s “Battle of the Books,”  where we were put into teams to collectively tackle a list of novels and then answer trivia questions about them (yes, I went to nerd school, which is for nerds). From BotB’s latest list, it looks like they have since corrected their oversight, and are including Dealing with Dragons instead. Phew, glad they figured that one out.

Still, Searching being my first encounter with your work was hardly a negative. After all, who’s to say the best introduction to the enchanted forest couldn’t be meeting its king (and his steward, of course), followed by a host of varied, lovable, and not-so-lovable characters?

Speaking of characters, I need to thank you particularly, Pat, for your female characters. I was going to make this section of my note exclusively about Cimorene, but upon reflection I think that would be a mistake. Don’t get me wrong, Cimorene is a great character — a girl who rejects entirely and repeatedly what society expects of her? who pursues her own wants and needs? who makes her own decisions and advocates for herself?!? yes, please, I’ll take fifty! — but she’s hardly your only one. There’s Morwen: practical and unapologetic; and Kazul: a responsible but fiery (har har) leader, among others.

Thank you for all of them, from giantesses to fire witches. Thank you for making so many other YA fantasy novels disappointing when the ladies in them fell flat by comparison.

-Louisa

J.R.R. Tolkien

Mr. Tolkien —

Greetings.

Will I ever forget these epic lines of yours?

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Thank you for helping begin the proliferation of the modern fantasy genre

Thank you for getting me started in constructing languages and religions and maps

Thank you for showing me how a true leader ought to act — like a king such as Aragorn or Théoden

Thank you for the writing highest model of friendship — Sam and Frodo

Thank you for the beautiful tribute to love in the tale of Beren and Lúthien

Thank you for the Silmarillion, whose tragic beauty (“it has passed from the high and the beautiful to darkness and ruin”) will haunt my soul forever

Thank you for your warning on human folly and hubris, when you wrote about Númenor

Thank you for reminding me, before anyone else did, that “day shall come again” (Silmarillion); and that “faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens” (The Fellowship of the Ring); and also that:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost. (The Fellowship of the Ring)

And thank you for inspiring the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy that my brother and I must have watched over 50 times. This is still my adrenaline pill.

Many thanks, good sir. You are a most admirable man — a gentleman, war hero, and scholar of the highest caliber. I’m not blind to some of the criticisms of your works: its moral absolutism, the portrayal of non-Western humans, or of orcs, its excessive focus on description and travel, and so on. Or perhaps that criticism that too many works of fantasy were imperfect rip-offs of your work. These arguments all have validity. But on balance, admiration and appreciation win out.

Thank you.

-Akhi

Melina Marchetta

Dear Melina,

I have stayed awake all night reading a book exactly three times in my life. This is not because I don’t become engrossed in many of the books I read, but rather because I have actual anxiety about the amount of sleep I get. As someone who has been suffering from a particularly ugly kind of insomnia (difficulty falling asleep and the inability to stay asleep for more than 2 hours) since she was eight years old, bedtime is sacred to me. If I’m going to be even halfway functional as a human I need to be in bed for at least ten hours every night, and I do not push that.

So when I tell you that you wrote one of the books that I stayed up all night to read, I need you to understand that this is a huge thing. The only other books that have this distinction are Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, which is my all-time favorite novel and the subject of my undying love and devotion, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I read immediately after its midnight release largely because my brother was going to spoil the ending for me if he finished it first (and also I’m from the generation that grew up with Harry Potter, so that was a major life event for me as well).

Essentially what I’m trying to tell you is that your Lumatere Chronicles really blew my mind. I picked up Finnikin of the Rock during a stage in my life where I had a complicated relationship with YA literature, especially YA Fantasy. I was a graduate student with fairly limited time to read for pleasure so I was drawn to YA Fantasy books because they were shorter and easier reads than their adult counterparts. But I was growing increasingly frustrated because they also lacked a lot of the substance and heart that drew me to most of the fantasy stories that I adored. I was worried I was outgrowing the genre, potentially losing some of my identity as a reader. I was disillusioned with myself and the stories I was consuming. Finnikin of the Rock was my light in that dark time. While I did not read it in one sitting, I did read it in two, and it was the first book in probably years that had me longing for it when I was away from it, that had me thinking about it all day and arranging my work such that I’d have ample time to read it when I got home from classes.

I was so excited about it that I bought copies for my roommates and forced it on my boyfriend at the time (who has since married me, for whatever that’s worth). I immediately purchased both Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn, and I read Froi in one sitting that Saturday and stayed up until 6 am on Sunday to finish Quintana of Charyn.

I then proceeded to re-read the series three times over the next month. They left me deeply satisfied on an emotional level and had my brain firing on all cylinders. Several of my own darker fantasy projects are more than slightly influenced by The Lumatere Chronicles and it is the first series I recommend to anyone who wants to read a good fantasy.

So thank you for restoring my faith in literature and for reminding me what it was like to be an avid reader, to be some consumed by a story that it became the only thing that mattered. You are amazing, truly.

Much love and gratitude,
Rebecca

Jennifer Donnelly

“I tried to be goodly. I tried to be godly. But I got so tired of being ignored. Cry your grief to God. Howl to the heavens. Tear your shirt. Your hair. Your flesh. Gouge out your eyes. Carve out your heart. And what will you get from Him? Only silence. Indifference…Because God loves us, but the devil takes an interest.”

Dear Jennifer Donnelly,

2014 was a strange and tumultuous year for me. When I read your book, Revolution, I had only just learned that the full-time job I was in was not going to exist by the end of the year. That I was soon to be 23 and unemployed, unmoored in life, and suffering inside. It was an emotional maelstrom, and then suddenly, while audiobook-surfing my library’s website at midnight, I found Revolution. I found this novel I knew nothing about, but that presented me Andi and Alexandrine, two young women fighting against hatred, inaction, despair, and the ever-elusive search for hope.

I suddenly felt alive, torn apart one thread at a time by the glorious harmonic dissonance of your writing — as if you had transcribed the beauty of the diabolus in musica and minor keys into words. The angry splatters of red blood was my own roiling confusion and rage; the swooping blackness of these characters’ true despair was my own disillusionment and self-loathing. It was beautiful and terrifying all at once.

It was the full-colour spectrum of my emotions displayed out before me: taken apart and then, as if by magic, put ever so slowly back together. Because what you wrote, Ms. Donnelly, rang so profoundly true to real life that I had never at that point been so cathartically and emotionally wrung-out in a long time, and it was everything I needed in that moment. It was ecstasy, in all the pain and joy that word implies.

I suppose that means you were the “devil” of this story — who broke the painful silence and, just by writing this book, took an interest.

And so, thank you for writing this. For giving me a novel that, even thinking back now, reminds of the pain it put me through — how it amplified my own darkness and forced me to stare into the void in order to confront it, to deal with it in a healthy way: through fiction, through Andi and Alexandrine by proxy.

And thank you, also, for writing stories of young women trying to be themselves when the world or even their own mind tries to sway them otherwise. Young women like myself greatly appreciate everything you bring to us.

Sincerely,
Madeleine, who also wears a red ribbon

Diana Wynne Jones

Hi Diana,

I have a confession to make: I’ve never read Howl’s Moving Castle. I’ve never even seen the Miyazaki film.

I’ve had both the book and film recommended to me countless times by friends, family, acquaintances, and posts on the Internet where I’ve recognized a reference without the benefit of knowing the full context, but somehow I’ve never gotten around to it. So, while many people I know have always first and foremost associated you with Howl, I still don’t know much about him or Sophie (her name is Sophie, right?), apart from his being a wizard with a tiny fire demon (is the fire demon in the book?), and a strong association with crows (or is it ravens?).

Cat Chant is a different story. My copy of Charmed Life is worn from years of reading and rereading. For a long time it was the only piece of your work I’d ever read, and I went back to it whenever I wanted to reenter that world, or rather those worlds, the richness of which you only get a small peek during Cat and Gwendolen’s story. Charmed Life sat on my shelf among a mishmash of other novels, fantasy or not, and I well remember several times walking up to that bookshelf having finished a new book, looking for the familiarity of an old friend, and pulling that slim purple volume out from between The Gammage Cup and one or another teen angst novel.

I don’t know why it took me so long to branch out — maybe it’s because I am very much a rereader at my core — but it wasn’t until I was probably 16 or 17 that I realized you’d written other books, and that I could obtain those other books, and read them. I found the collected volumes of the Chrestomanci series in a bookstore and snatched up the first two, devouring The Lives of Christopher ChantThe Magicians of Caprona, and Witch Week immediately. And while I loved all of them, I kept going back to Charmed Life.

Every time I pick up that tired paperback, Julia spreads far too much marmalade on her toast. Every time, I re-encounter the word “widdershins,” and remember again what it means. Every time, I am reminded of the cat who was a fiddle and the dragon who is, well, dead and not-dead. And every time, all these things are comforting and comfortingly strange. I hope I go back to The Lives, because I love Christopher dearly, and I hope I meet Howl sometime in the future, but I have a feeling I’ll be rereading Cat’s story for a very long time.

Thank you for everything,
Louisa

Jonathan Stroud

Mr. Stroud,1

I was 12, I believe, when I first picked up The Amulet of Samarkand on a whim2 during a school book fair. I didn’t know anything about it save what little it told me on its back cover — curiously enough I noticed something a little different about that description.3 I’d seen footnotes before, sure, but never in so…snarky a fashion,4 and certainly not in fiction. I was curious; I was intrigued. I was also pretty much sold the moment I saw “A London run by magicians” on the back cover.5

And, sure, your book absolutely gave me a London run by magicians6 and an Amulet of Samarkand,7 but it and the rest of the series was so much more than that.8

Through the absurdly delightful and absolutely brilliant Bartimaeus,9 you introduced an almost-teenager to probably the first antihero that made me laugh,10 while also making me think long and hard about enslavement and the role of government and power.11 Combining Bartimaeus’ spirituous wit with Nathaniel’s stubborn ambition gave me a dynamic antihero duo who were equal parts understandable, relatable, and at times even hateable.12 But, come the conclusion of the trilogy…I was left speechless.13

Totally bittersweet, with characters oftentimes teamed up for reasons of convenience as opposed to genuine feeling for each other.14 The multiple sacrifices made by every character at the end of the final novel rang out incredibly true, even moreso now, I think, as I listen to yet more vitriolic rhetoric in this world. The beautifully flawed characters of your trilogy were perfect for me when growing up, and perfect for me even now as a “grown up.”15

Thank you for writing these characters who, in their very imperfections, are damn near perfect.16 My adolescence, my teenage years, and my so-called adult life are all the better for it.

Sincerely,
Madeleine


Footnotes

  1. I don’t think we’re on a first name basis yet, given we’ve never met, but this does sound terribly formal.
  2. Can you blame me? The cover was blue and had a shiny piece of jewelry as its centrepiece.
  3. I’m sure you can guess…hint: I’m poorly imitating it right now.
  4. Bartimaeus is now my posterchild for prime “snarkentary” in novels.
  5. What can I say? I’ve got a type.
  6. Eyyy, Natty boy.
  7. Shiny!
  8. Augh, this is where I get a little sappy. Feel free to shield your eyes.
  9. Bartimaeus of Uruk, Sakhr al-Jinni, N’gorso the Mighty and the Serpent of Silver Plumes who rebuilt the walls of Uruk, Karnak and Prague; who spoke with Solomon and ran with the buffalo fathers of the plains; who watched over Old Zimbabwe till the stones fell and the jackals fed on its people. Yes, that Bartimaeus.
  10. He gets all the good one-liners.
  11. Don’t get me wrong: obviously slavery is wrong and I knew this. But it made me reconsider it on a fantastical level — the idea that the spirits were slaves and that they experienced physical consequences from their time on Earth. That they might be friends or enemies outside of their masters’ biddings. That was a new one for me. And, of course, with the events of 2016, thinking about the role of government and power is more pertinent and important than ever.
  12. Oh, Nathaniel. You really needed to learn that both humans and spirits had bad things about them.
  13. Okay, that’s a small fib: I was actually sobbing, but let’s pretend that indignity didn’t happen.
  14. Although I like to think that maybe Nathaniel earned a few points in Bartimaeus’ book for his actions in Ptolemy’s Gate, it was both entertaining and illuminating to see these two band together because it was necessary…even while they actively disliked each other.
  15. I’m still fairly certain being a “grown up” is a myth.
  16. I have a feeling Bartimaeus would be objecting to me even considering he has “imperfections.”