You can’t be awful at everything.
That's the motto that Margaret Stohl, co-author of the Beautiful Creatures book series, used as the subtitle for one of her speeches to schoolchildren.
“Just because you’re terrible at one thing doesn’t mean you are terrible with everything,” Stohl says.
Co-author Kami Garcia echoed Stohl in a recent interview by adding that teens today feel too much pressure to excel or be amazing at everything, which is impossible.
And whether they meant it to or not, that motto became a message within their books that has resonated with their readers on a global scale. The idea that it’s OK to be who you are — to claim yourself and express your individuality — has reached some 7 million readers in 50 countries and has been translated into 39 languages.
“We don’t set up to write those kinds of things ... but I think we really identify with that feeling of wanting to be brave enough to be comfortable in the person you are. So it bleeds into the story,” Garcia said.
Stohl and Garcia are no strangers to the feeling of not quite fitting in or being “a little weird” among their peers in school.
When Stohl was in the first grade, she said, unbeknownst to anyone, she climbed out the window of her classroom, walked five blocks home, locked herself in her room, got out a pile of books and started reading.
“I was not a conformity person. I couldn’t sit in the classroom and do the work. I just couldn’t take it,” Stohl said.
Garcia often found herself in the same predicament, though rather than leaving school, she opted for reading “The Lord of the Rings” under her desk in math class. “I would get caught ... and they would have conferences with my mom and say maybe I would be doing a little bit better in math class if I would actually pay attention and not read under my desk,” Garcia said.
Reading books was such a big part of their lives that it may not be surprising they both became authors. But to them, it was one of the biggest surprises of all.
“I just loved to read. It never occurred to me in a million years that I would become a writer ... Margi (Stohl) was the one really writing,” Garcia said.
And Stohl was writing. “I would write anything I could get my hands on,” Stohl said. She even wrote the script for an Imax movie — not to mention a lot of first chapters to books that never got finished.
“I was afraid to write a book because it was the thing I most wanted to do, and I didn’t want to fail,” she said. The Beautiful Creatures book series only came about because Stohl’s teenage daughter dared her and Garcia to write one. “And that’s really only because you’ll do things for your kids that you wouldn’t do for yourself.”
It took only 12 weeks for the pair to write the first book in the popular Beautiful Creatures series. The rest is history.
Although the Beautiful Creatures story is over, both Stohl and Garcia felt compelled by the urge to tell stories. So they set out to write books individually. (Stohl's "Icons" was released a year ago, and Garcia's "Unbreakable" was published last fall.) But a recurring fan request to have a spinoff about favorite side characters bad girl and siren Ridley Duchennes and her "adorkable" boyfriend, Wesley “Link” Lincoln, set an idea in motion.
It was while the authors were in Italy for the "Beautiful Creatures" movie that they began talking about how fun it would be to write another Beautiful Creatures book.
“But that story arc was over, and so we came up with the idea for a spinoff,” Garcia said. “Margi was like, ‘This should be a gift to the fans. To all the people who loved this series and supported it ... we should just do it.’ ”
And so they did.
The new spinoff series, tentatively set to be four books, starts with "Dangerous Creatures" (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $19) and follows Ridley and Link to New York City Caster underground — a place that is Dark in every sense of the word. And even though Link arrived with big hopes and dreams to make it with his music, someone else has other plans for both of them that don’t involve happy endings.
“Part of the evolution of bringing a side character into the foreground is that everyone can be a hero, and nobody is ever a lost cause,” Stohl said. “And that is what we are working on. That there is no such thing as only a bad girl.”
Readers will get glimpses into Ridley’s past and learn how she became the girl who was claimed by the Dark, and they may see that everyone’s favorite wicked princess isn’t all bad all the time.
“Link has always been the sidekick,” Garcia continued. “At different points in the story, he has to face who he really is and what his real gifts are and how to embrace who he is instead of trying to be someone different.”
While Beautiful Creatures had the small-town feel of Gatlin in the South, "Dangerous Creatures" has more of a rock ’n’ roll, city flavor.
“(‘Dangerous Creatures') will be about them striking out on their own. There are a lot of fun real places in New York mentioned, and references, and the underground Caster Club scene. So you get a little more music and band stuff,” Garcia said.
Their latest book tour is called “Club Beautiful Creatures” because each event is more of a party, with a live band, rather than a traditional book signing.
Stohl described the process of writing Beautiful Creatures and Dangerous Creatures as fun, but the experience has also given her and Garcia a humbling view of the world.
“It’s one thing to write a book about free will and being able to make their own choices and hand it to a Western child,” said Stohl. “It’s really different handing it to someone in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) who is going off to an arranged marriage, which has actually happened to us.”
Stohl and Garcia have given their books to soldiers, prisoners and people from countries governed by strict governments or religions, and though those exchanges have not changed the way they write, it has made them more aware of their freedom and the importance of being able to tell a story in a certain way.
“They can identify with things in the book even if they apply them differently,” Garcia said. “A lot of people just want to be themselves, and maybe instead of being hindered by a small town, they are actually hindered by government. It’s the desire to be yourself and express the person you are.
“They pick up the story and they bring to it their experience, and it is fascinating. We had to become aware that the world is such a big place,” she said.
From small towns to big cities, Stohl and Garcia are prepared to take their readers on a new journey with "Dangerous Creatures." But Stohl has a warning for readers: “No one really leaves Gatlin behind forever.”