Seattle Public Library
Sponsored by Secret Garden Books
October 10, 2011
Short Version: "Scott Westerfeld is not the adult who tries to relate to younger fans by acting their age. Westerfeld succeeds by being an adult who holds a youth’s attention by being interesting. He certainly had mine tonight."
Here is something adults complain about, not enough adolescents read these days. Well they should have been here this night
A few years back I attended a writer’s conference in Canada and Scott Westerfeld's novel "Leviathan" was hailed by this particular literary agent as the premier novel on the Steampunk genre. Well goodness me anytime the premiere anything is in town it is time to make an appearance. I confess this was an eye opener.
By the time I got in the door to the Seattle Downtown library I didn’t know what the hell to think. Kids. Loads of them, showing up on a Friday night with books to be autographed and dressed in costumes resembling the characters Westerfeld had created.
As a lone adult I had neither a costume nor was I escorting a teenage fan and so I stuck out like a sore thumb as the crowd lined up.
One group of young ladies (Age 13-15 )were dressed up in outfits straight out a scene from a Monte painting. Actually they didn’t look so out of place as they did, well, cute. They were clean cute clean polite proper girls who read books and are into the characters. Moms stayed an appropriate distance away of course but it was heartwarming.
Then there was the smallish prepubescent boy (13?) sporting the Duran Duran Haircut who wore a shirt that said “Step into the Dork Side” What was funny about him was every time another adult appeared his dad would look around with that expression of ‘Please God don’t let anyone I know see me.’
Steam punk is hard to define. Think of alternative universe where automation and technology have no bounds but everything is new and takes place around the turn of the last century. Confused? Think "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" as an early Steampunk adventure novel.
Inside the library I get a good seat when a young man fired up on what seems a lethal combination of Red Bull and hyper-enthusiasm jumps the seat next to right and asks me “Are you pulling a Malone?” Huh?
Malone it turns out is a reporter in the Westerfeld novels and this kid thinks my note pad and tape recorder are part of my costume. I am just playing a character. The young man is old by the crowds standards, (19) and he is fully decked out in military surplus gear (complete with Aviator Goggles of course) and explains to me that he is dressed as a “Clanker” from the novel.
I don’t know what a Clanker is but as the kid prattles on (Let’s call him Wes) I now realize I have a Sherpa to take me inside the world of the Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy.
HOLD YOUR BREATH THIS IS THE DYSTOPIAN BACKDROP OF LEVIATHAN.
According to Wes, Charles Darwin discovers DNA. This allows counties known as Darwinist, (Britain, France, Russia,) use their advanced technology to create an advanced weapon system dominated by gene splicing. This means their weapons are hybrid animals with special powers to be used in warfare.
The Darwinist nations are opposed to the “Clanker Nations” (Germany, Austria-Hungary) who have developed high powered creative War machines operated by Steam and other fuels existing before the age of Nuclear power. The Clankers are at philosophical and technological differences with the Darwinist. The Arch Duke Ferdinand gets assassinated, World War I has breaks out and it is up to the two sides to settle things once and for all.
Get it? I don’t either because IT’S STEAMPUNK but I am hoping Scott Westerfeld will explain as his author reading is about to start. “Wes” is done with me and finds costume company on the auditorium floor.
It’s hard to hold the attention of someone across the room but holding the attention of one hundred fifty kids? The atmosphere is that of a high school pep rally and I am dying to see how this middle aged author is going to pull it off.
Westerfeld is tall and comes across gentle even shy, as if he has never yelled at anyone in his life. Rather than stand off stage waiting for the big entrance, Westerfeld sits calmly at the front of the stage taking pictures of the crowd and playing with his telephone. For a man who is here to speak to adoring fans I am shocked how the crowd streams in past him not giving him a second glance. I wonder if these kids know who he is because they ignore him like a substitute teacher.
Westerfeld looks bored, and if he reads like he looks this is going to be a wasted reading. What is the old saying about judging a book and its cover?
After he is introduced by the library staff Westerfeld a portable microphone where the author turns into part history professor and part game show host complete with a PowerPoint presentation.
Unlike the adult who is scared of children, Westerfeld refuses to hide behind a podium. He prefers the portable microphone for mobility and like any good novel, Westerfeld challenges the audience to not only follow what he says but to physically follow his movements on stage.
Now I understand his secret. Scott Westerfeld is not the adult who tries to relate to younger fans by acting their age. Westerfeld succeeds by being an adult who holds a youth’s attention by being interesting. He certainly had mine tonight.
What was so great about tonight? I complain that authors should talk about their novels and read from their books for the purpose of increasing book sales. Westerfeld is one of those rare birds who can sell books without uttering a word from his novel.
He did this through the visual images of his novel’s illustrations.
You see, tonight this was not a reading but a history lesson about illustrations in novels. The author spoke of the power of the illustrator and how they can shape and increase the pleasure of the written word. He talked about how the legendary image of Sherlock Holmes, complete with Deerstalking hat, was not created by the author, but rather an illustrator. Nowhere in the Sherlock Holmes books does it say Holmes even wears a hat of any kind; let alone a Londoner wearing a hat used when hunting in the woods but that first illustrator gave Holmes an iconic image for history.
With this background, Westerfeld began to explain to the audience how his illustrator, Keith Thompson, helped shape the world of the Leviathan series. Westerfeld heaped praise on Thompson’s work as a key component to the success of the series.
Westerfeld said that he would write a few chapters then Thompson would send back the drawings that came to his imagination from Westerfeld’s words. Often times Thompson’s illustrations shaped and changed the novels so that the two fit hand in hand.
Toward the end, Westerfeld, encouraged the young audience, or anyone who dared to write a novel to stretch their imaginations beyond what they think others will accept as normal.
It was an inspiring night even for an adult.