Have you ever wanted to see inside an author’s head to understand how they created their story? Maggie Stiefvater and ciritque-partner/author friends Tessa Gratton and Brenna Yovanoff offer the chance to do just that with their collaborative new book, The Anatomy of Curiosity. The book contains a short story by each author, as well as an explanation of how the story was built and discussions on topics such as ideas, characters, revision, and doubt.
This book seems mostly geared toward aspiring writers, who would love some advice from some of the most successful fantasy writers in YA. I am not a writer however, merely an avid reader, and I still found this book fascinating. I’ve always wondered what parts of a book got written first, what changed and developed over time versus what sprang from the author’s mind Athena-style, fully formed. I read this book primarily for the short stories it contains, and found all the introductions and margin annotations about the writing process to be an awesome little bonus.
The book opens with the three authors contrasting their different approaches to ideas, characters, and world-building. Then comes Maggie’s story, “Ladylike,” with an introduction to describe how she took a seed of an idea and turned it into a full-blown story. Without spoiling anything, “Ladylike” is about and insecure young woman named Petra with an amazing talent for performing poetry, who is hired as a companion to a enigmatic and dignified older woman named Geraldine. Despite the slightly ominous hints that Geraldine is not quite what she seems, time spent with her helps Petra find her own inner strength. One of my favorite parts of the story is that one of the first signs that shy little Petra is coming into her own is when she stands up to a cat-caller who harasses her on her way home from work. Like everything Maggie writes, this work is definitely worth the read.
The second story is“Desert Canticle” by Tessa Gratton. It tells the tale of a bomb squad in a fantasy world and a duo from two different peoples who come together to dismantle beautiful but deadly explosives planted throughout the desert. I can’t really talk about my favorite parts of this story without discussing a major plot twist, so: **spoiler alert** My favorite thing about this story is that it features a trans character, and while this is a major part of the story, it is not the whole point. This is not a story about a trans woman, but rather a story about the desert and two people who can hear its music, and the feelings they have for each other that get confused and complicated when Rafel discovers that Aniv was not born a woman. Another thing I liked was that in one of the societies of this created world, women hold the power. Tessa mentioned in her intro that gender was not a major consideration when first forming her ideas and characters and I was happily surprised to see that she chose to deal with the more complicated aspects of gender and gender dynamics in her story. **end spoiler**
Lastly, Brenna’s story “Drowning Variations” was the most transparent manifestation of the writing process. It was not one cohesive story so much as several seemingly distinct stories that had similar overarching themes. Brenna showed how certain traumatic events from her childhood kept cropping up in her writings, and displayed the different plots and perspectives she tried out to try and process them. I found the final version of the story most interesting, as it was most mature and subtle, but reading the previous inspirations definitely enhanced my enjoyment of the final cut.
The Anatomy of Curiosity will be published on October 1, 2015 by Carolrhoda books.
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