Archive for the ‘Books and reading’ Category

Scott Westerfeld, the Texas Book Festival, and the creation of Uglies and Leviathan

October 21, 2010

Scott Westerfeld is one of my favorite authors.  I read the Uglies series — Uglies, Pretties, Specials, and a fourth stand-alone novel, Extras — a few years ago and they became instant favorites.  The premise: Imagine a world that, when you turn 16, requires its citizens to get radical plastic surgery.  Before age 16, you are an Ugly; after age 16, you are a Pretty.  That basic premise forms the foundation for a fascinating series that address superficiality, government control, coming of age, and lots more.  After I read the books, my sister read them, then my mom, and then, to my infinite surprise, my dad read them.  This is significant because my dad grew up on (and still subsists on) a steady diet of hard-core science fiction.  Asimov, Heinlein, etc.  So for him to voluntarily read a young adult series meant the series had to be phenomenal.  And it is!

This past Saturday, Westerfeld spoke at the Texas Book Festival about his latest book, Behemoth, the sequel to Leviathan.  The Texas Book Festival is basically like Austin City Limits Festival for books.  One weekend in October all sorts of authors come and give talks on their books.  This year The Onion was there, Holly Black, Meg Cabot (author of The Princess Diaries), Karl Rove, and a bunch of others were there.  Authors give talks, answer questions, and sign books afterward.  Unfortunately I only got to see Scott Westerfeld, but he was my top author there, so that worked out.

Westerfeld spoke in the sanctuary of the United Methodist Church on 12th and Lavaca.  The place was PACKED.   This guy is a New  York Times-bestselling author several times over, so I was not surprised, but it was really neat to be in a room with so many other people who have read the same books I have.  He made a fantastic slideshow to go along with his talk.

He opened with the story of how he came up with the idea for Uglies.  His friend moved from New York to LA, both very important but very different American cities.  Eventually the time came for him to go to the dentist for a checkup.  At the dentist’s office, the dentist leaned over him in the chair, made some faces, and said, “I’d like to see you in my office.”  The friend was understandably nervous — no one likes to be called to the office at school, work, or a medical establishment.  He sat down across the desk from the dentist and she said, “What is your five-year plan for your teeth?”  Taken aback, he said, “Five-year plan…for my teeth?”  She said, “You have a coffee-drinking New Yorker’s teeth.  Look around you.  You’re in LA now.  You should have Tom Cruise’s teeth.”  He said, “I’ll think about it.”  He emailed this amusing story to friends, including Westerfeld, who thought, “What if life really was like that, and you were required to have Tom Cruises’s teeth?  What kind of society would require you to be perfect?  Why would they require physical perfection?  And what if you were required to get radical plastic surgery when you turn, say, 16?”  That became the premise of the Uglies trilogy, which became New York Times bestsellers and are FANTASTIC books that you should read.