By Ekta R. Garg
August 20, 2020
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
Release date: May 19, 2020
Genre: YA dystopian fiction
I don’t know how many people grow up wanting to be a.uthor celebrities. That is, writers famous for their work. We have them, of course. Stephen King is the most obvious one. J.K. Rowling also makes the list. Agatha Christie and, by extension, Mary Higgins Clark. John Grisham to the degree that he made legal thrillers incredibly popular.
To me an a.uthor celebrity is someone whose name you invoke and a person just knows. With just the name, anyone has a general sense and feel for who that person is in their writing. Writers are often encouraged to think of their work in terms of an elevator pitch—one to three sentences, about 30 seconds, of what their books are about. But these a.uthor celebrities don’t need elevator pitches. They own the entire building that houses the elevator.
Truth? It would be amazing to reach that level of success, although I don’t think about the money. The longer I work in my corner of the publishing world, the more newsletters and industry information I read, the more I realize just how difficult earning substantial amounts of money from one or two books can be. And money is great and all, but I want something that’s worth so much more than currency.
I want readers.
I want people to light up when they hear the titles of my books. I want them to start babbling, almost to the point of incoherency, about what they love about my work. I want my work to become a part of pop culture.
A tall order, I know, and an almost impossible one. Because in order to do that, an a.uthor can’t just write one book and be done with it all. S/he has to produce a body of work that hits and sticks.
I know that Suzanne Collins wrote several books before The Hunger Games. Full disclosure: I haven’t read them. I just didn’t know about her before I read the original trilogy. Now, though, having reread those books and reading The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, I know she’s an a.uthor celebrity.
It’s a tall order, too, and much more complicated than what, say, J.K. Rowling did with Harry Potter. Rowling was always writing a series; she knew that Harry’s story would go through a number of books before coming to an end. No a.uthor can say with certainty when they’re first starting to write a series how long that series will be, but they definitely have a framework in mind, a trajectory, and the story is complete when the trajectory is.
I don’t know if Collins set out to tell Coriolanus Snow’s story when she first wrote about Katniss Everdeen’s experiences as tribute. There’s a good chance she might have mapped out rough ideas so she knew where the history of the Hunger Games for herself. No doubt, the world of Panem feels lived in as the best books always do, so she probably spent a lot of time (and words and pages) exploring the war, the country, and all that happened. But she may not have had a crystal clear thought of sharing Snow’s story as a novel when she set out to write the original trilogy.
If that’s the case (and I couldn’t find any interviews to contradict it,) then it must have been somewhat of a daunting task to decide to write this book and put it out there for readers. After all, the original series has legions of fans, and the movies are loved worldwide. I keep seeing mentions of a possible theme park, although I don’t know that that’s necessarily a good idea. The point, though, is that the books have made an impact. And they’ve made such an impact that readers clamored for more, and Collins gave it to them.
That truly is a writer’s d.ream, but, again, a daunting task. Because no matter what happens, how many readers love the new work, there will always be people dissatisfied with it too. There will always be critics accusing the a.uthor of giving in to commercialism or politics or the pressures of money.
It’s so easy for those critics to say those things; they don’t understand the challenge a writer faces when going back to a beloved work and trying to tease out something new. Writing, like most arts, is an emotional endeavor, and even a prolific a.uthor most likely experiences fatigue when trying to add layers to something s/he thought was complete.
I suppose it’s the great paradox of those of us who are still d.reaming about reaching that level of success. We want to be widely read, we want readers to love our work and to demand more. But we also want to do it on terms that satisfy the creative process, not drain it.
As I work toward my own writing d.reams, I know I’ll have to be mindful of that balance. In the case of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, I came away fully satisfied with the book itself and wanting to know more about Panem and what came before. I don’t know if Suzanne Collins will write more about that world, but if she decides to do so she’ll have one fan ready for it.
After all, that’s also part of the w.riting d.ream, for a.uthor and reader alike.