Epic stories have never been more popular—or more epic. Except today’s epic heroes often start out their journeys as regular kids or teens, and grow to bear the awesome weight of their stories. We talked to four authors of some of the best contemporary epics about what makes someone an epic hero in 2019.

Tony Adeyemi

Children of Virtue and Vengeance is the follow-up to the blockbuster Children of Blood and Bone, going deeper into the adventures of Zélie and Amari, and introducing a whole new cast. We talked to Adeyemi about how her heritage affects her writing and the advice she gives to young writers.

On how her Nigerian heritage informs her writing: It’s really gratifying for me because I get to make magic out of the wonderful culture I was born into. The kingdom is obviously named after the Orïsha of West African religion and mythology, but seas and mountain ranges are named after my late grandparents. The characters wear dashikis, geles, and headdresses as they eat jollof rice and fried plantain.

Her advice for young writers: Read, read, read! The best way to learn how to write well is by reading the work of great writers. It’s the most fun way to learn how to become a good storyteller yourself. Write, write, write! No matter what it is! I didn’t think my 300 pages of Naruto fan fiction would amount to anything, and now I realize how incredible that training was for me. It doesn’t matter if it’s good, it doesn’t matter if it’s finished, it doesn’t matter if it’s fan fiction or original ideas. Just do it!

Favorite books as a teen: The Outsiders and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Favorite books now: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir and Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo.

Favorite Word: Pico de gallo. I’m not joking—it’s very fun to shout.

“Epic YA: Tomi Adeyemi, Jason Reynolds, Julie Murphy, and Cassandra Clare” 3:30–4:30 p.m. // Main Stage

Leigh Bardugo

Bardugo’s Shadown and Bone and Six of Crows series have won her legions of fans. She talked about her new book, Ninth House, and more.

On what she hopes readers take away from Ninth House: I hope the lines between our real and imagined worlds will blur a bit for them, that they’ll see magic and power in a different light. Deep down, I hope they’ll want to visit New Haven [Conn.] and that they’ll fall in love with it, too.

On what a 2019 epic hero looks like: The real heroes look the same as ordinary people—mainstream culture is just starting to acknowledge them. Adventure and romance and magic don’t just belong to straight, white, square-jawed, able-bodied dudes who shut up sexy physicists while saving the world, and now our movies and our books are beginning to reflect that. Probably because the people getting to tell those stories to a wide audience are different now, too.

Favorite book as a kid: As a little kid, I was obsessed with a book called Catwitch by Lisa Tuttle and Una Woodruff.

Favorite books as a teen: My touchstones were probably Frank Herbert’s Dune, Stephen King’s It, and everything by
Louise Erdrich.

Favorite word: Toothsome.

“Leigh Bardugo in Conversation with Jeff VanderMeer” 12:45–1:30 p.m. // Room 1E14

Soman Chainani

Chainani’s series, the School for Good and Evil, follows a pair of students dropped into a magical school populated by characters from fairy tales. We talked to him about watching his heroes grow up.

How the world of the School for Good and Evil has changed: In Book 1, they’re young teenagers. By Book 5, they’re old enough to be running kingdoms and planning marriages and moving beyond their years at school into their real-life fairy tales. It’s a delicate balance writing a series that has to satisfy both new eight-year-old readers bingeing through the series, as well as 17- and 18-year olds who have grown up with it, year by year. By the fifth book, there’re 145 characters, 30 kingdoms, and 70 plotlines. Sometimes it feels like I’m managing a fantasy corporation, or at the very least living two lives in two worlds. One of the decisions I made, early on, was to divide the series into two trilogies: the School Years and the Camelot Years.

His advice for young writers: Often with young writers, they’re told “Keep writing.” It’s my least favorite advice. Writing 10 mediocre stories won’t get you any closer to being better. Instead, I urge writers to focus on one story and keep revising again and again. Show it to friends, to teachers, to your parents: push yourself far past your original level. Then when you start your next story, that higher level will be your new baseline.

On what a 2019 epic hero looks like: The epic hero of 2019 can look beyond the cult of “me” and the moment and see that the present is just history in disguise. It’s why the greatest epic heroes are timeless.

Favorite book as a kid: From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basel E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.

Favorite book as a teen: Interview with a Vampire, by Anne Rice.

Favorite Word: Diva.

“The Very Best in Middle Grade: Soman Chainani, Meg Medina, Raina Telgemeier, and Tracey Baptiste” 1:30–2:05 p.m.
// Choice Stage

Cassandra Clare

YA superstar Clare is the author of the Mortal Instruments and Shadowhunter series. She talked about her new series, collaboration, and more.

On how Chain of Gold fits into the Shadowhunter universe: Chain of Gold is the first book in the Last Hours trilogy. It’s set in London in 1903 and is a companion series to the Infernal Devices trilogy, which took place in Victorian London. I’ve always loved writing historical fantasy, and once the Infernal Devices wrapped up, I missed it. I’ve been looking forward to writing about Shadowhunters in the Edwardian era.

On how she researches her books: I read a lot of nonfiction about the eras I’m writing in, and I also read fiction that was popular at the time, to get a feel for the nuances of language. Whenever possible, I travel to the setting and walk around, taking photos and notes.

On what a 2019 epic hero looks like: She’s on her way to the polls, and she’s gonna kick ass at the voting booth.

Favorite books as a kid: The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Favorite books as a teen: I was obsessed with Jane Austen.

Favorite word: Crepuscular.

“Spotlight on: Cassandra Clare” 11 a.m.–noon // Main Stage