Meeting Markus Zusak - A Story in Two Parts

Monday, March 28, 2011

Photo Credit: Marie Teemant
Part I: Treats of a Fantastic Keynote Address, in which I learned much about writing and Mr. Zusak

Actually, he requested that we call him Markus. But I digress.

My husband arrived at the Provo City Library about twenty minutes before we were required to be in our seats and were only able to get a seat in the back row, which demonstrates the anticipation Provo Library-goers had for this event. The second Markus came in, the room erupted into cheers and whistles, quite possibly because he is young and has an Australian accent. I note this only as an observer, of course - I have eyes only for The Husband. ;)

Markus immediately drew us as an audience in with his humility and personality. He seemed so overwhelmed at the amount of people there and the love they had for him. He spoke to us comfortably, as if we were friends he had known his entire life. He told us about the "bleak times" of his early writing career, including giving a reading where no one was in attendance but the librarian (she made him read to her), and stalking a bookstore just to see his first book on the shelves. He also told his "absolute favorite" story, which is recounted in a video that I'll embed at the bottom of this post (thanks Suey Says for taking the video!). What impressed me most is that he told this hilarious personal story, and then he taught us all, explaining to us how to be a good writer by a) mining your own life for material, b) make things realistic with small intimate details that show you know it, c) engage your audience with original, unexpected twists, and d) tell it over and over again (aka rewrite it over and over again). He said the first 80 pages of The Book Thief were rewritten 150-200 times.

I think the most valuable thing to me was his advice to writers. He reiterated over and over again that he was not extremely intelligent and that he did not have a superior imagination. Instead, he knew where to find the good stories. He took stories from his parents' childhoods in World War II to tell some of the most poignant stories in The Book Thief. He mentioned how in all his books, the more he wrote, the more problems he found, and that the process of writing is solving those problems (and creating new ones in the process). This is quite comforting to me, as I've been working on my book for about two weeks and I'm already up to my neck in problems to be solved! I loved his description of his struggle with Death as the narrator for The Book Thief. He said at the beginning, death was very creepy and macabre, and it made the story dark. He wrote the following sentence in the early drafts of The Book Thief: "This is a story about a young girl. Do you like young girls? I do." Yes, that sentence had to go. But it was very funny to hear him recall it. He also mentioned that he gave up on Death as the narrator for a short time and tried to write it from Liesl's point of view, but that she was "the most Australian sounding girl ever to be in Nazi Germany."

He said to be a writer, it must be your top priority. You have to be willing to give your soul to it and fail and fail and fail. He said you can consider yourself a writer when you know that even if this story will never ever be published, you still have to tell it.

He also read a short bit from the chapter "Confessions" in the book. I almost started crying, and I think he did too. The Book Thief is a very powerful story, and I think it was even more powerful hearing it in the voice of its creator.

The speech was a great experience, and afterward, we all knew there would be a book signing. Little did we know it was to be a book signing marathon spanning about 6 and a half hours.

Part II: Treats of a bizarre and occasionally delinquent adventure, which ended with a book signing

Because my husband and I arrived late (aka 30 minutes early, as opposed to two hours), we were in one of the last signing groups. I expected the wait to be about two hours. My husband, who is very impatient with lines, waiting, and sitting around doing nothing, went to his old roommate's apartment, which was just around the corner, while I settled in with my Lord of the Rings. After about an hour and a half (it was about 8:30), with no end in sight, I realized that I was not going to get through the line and have time to go to dinner with my husband, so I called him and we went out to dinner.

We then came back to the Provo Library, thinking if people were still there maybe we could catch the tail-end of the book signing before our movie at 10:15. People were still there, in full force. We waited until 10:00 and still there were four groups before ours. A librarian came into the auditorium and told us that once people got in line, it was still about an hour and a half wait. We shrugged our shoulders and decided to just go to the movie, since we had already bought tickets.

The movie ended at about 12:30. My husband suggested that we drive back to the library. I shook my head, thinking there was no way anyone would still be there, but I was wrong. As we drove by, we saw a light in the upper room with crowds of people. The signing was still going. We parked and tried to enter, but the door was locked. My husband, who is a very stubborn man, started knocking on the door. I said, "Honey, stop, no one can hear us," but a disgruntled security officer came to the door and said sternly, "We're closed." My husband then told him we were there for a book signing and held up the ticket, and the officer reluctantly let us in. Hooray, we broke into the Provo Library after midnight!

We still waited another forty-five minutes before our books were signed. In that time, someone fainted because they were hypoglycemic. It was very dramatic. Mr. Zusak looked exhausted, but still had a smile on his face and was very kind. I don't really remember what we said to each other, but it wasn't much, because I don't usually function after 10:30 pm, and he had been writing in books for 6 hours straight and was probably jetlagged as well. However, it definitely made the night very memorable. I am full of respect for this author, who was so giving to his fans and so humble despite his success. I was telling my friend Emily, who also came to the event, that I was excited that I hadn't read all his books just because it will be so great to experience them after meeting the author. Yes, we do look tired, don't we?

For your viewing pleasure, Suey Says compiled a great video with some of Markus's stories and his reading from The Book Thief.

Also, check out my review of The Book Thief.
And the awesomeness that is the Provo City Library.
And Utah bloggers - many of them also had a recap of this author event!

Um, time for bed. Good night.


  1. Thank you so much for posting this! I absolutely loved The Book Thief and would love to meet Zusak. Sounds as though you had a fabulous evening. Rest well.

  2. The Book Thief is amazing for sure! I'm super jealous of you getting to meet him. I used to think that meeting/knowing an author would somewhat ruin reading their books but I was so wrong! It makes reading them like five times better :)

  3. wow that's so cool that you got so see him speak and read, and he stayed signing books for so long. I've only ever seen him on the TV, but he always seems so sweet and humble. Sounds like he had some great advice for aspiring authors too.

  4. Lorren this story was awesome! I was so sad I couldn't go. And I have to say, I'm super impressed you're writing a book at the tail end of your undergraduate work. I was so busy my last semester, there's no way I could possibly have tried to start something like that too.

  5. Hi Lorren!

    This is Courtney from the Library! Thanks so much for your awesome blog about Markus' visit! I'll make sure to forward the link on to Markus and his publicist!

    Thanks for always supporting the Library. We really appreciate you!

    Courtney Lowe

  6. Wow-thanks for posting this. I don't know how I missed that Mr. Zusak was coming to Utah. I'll have to meet him in another life! :) I'm glad you had a good time.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your experience of this event! What an amazing story...all the way to the end. I can't believe people were STILL there after midnight and that you got in!! I'll admit, I'm jealous...I LOVED The Book Thief and would LOVE to see Markus Zusak live. How cool!!

  8. Thanks for such a thorough recap! I loved The Book Thief, I read a lot of WWII novels and I think this one is one of the best, it's so unique. And thanks for sharing his great advice to us, despairing:) authors.

  9. That is an awesome story! You got your date and your book signed. Good night, I'd say! The Book Thief was a fabulous book and sounds like Mr. Zusak is quite inspirational. Keep up your writing, I believe in you!

  10. @picky girl - I hope you get to meet him some day! He is awesome.

    @Chrystie - Yes I love meeting authors! I'm starting to get a little addicted, which leads to hours in line, haha.

    @mummazappa - Yes, he was exactly as you said. And full of inspiration.

    @A Mitton - If writing a book means writing a few pages every so often... haha. I'm only in two classes right now, which helps.

    @Courtney Lowe - Thank you for stopping by and hosting such an amazing event. The Provo Library is my second home. :)

    @Christy - He said he loved us in Utah and wants to come back, so maybe you'll get the chance if he's around here again!

    @Erin - I know! It gives me faith for the future of humanity that people will stay past midnight at a book signing.

    @Pepca - I'm with you on the despairing writers. :) We have to support each other! :)

    @Kathryn - Yes, it was awesome! It means a lot to me that you believe in me, if I ever finish a story I know I have a book lover to send it to. :)

  11. Just now seeing your awesome Markus post! :) What a crazy story you have to tell, huh? Going to dinner THEN a movie and STILL getting your books signed? Definitely one to remember for a long long time!

  12. What an awesome story. I got to meet Zusak back in 2007 when he came through town for a signing. It was one of the best and most memorable experiences of my life. He spent a long time talking with me and was just so sweet and down to earth. I'll never forget it. And I cherish those books!

  13. This is very cool. Love Markus Zusak. Reading the Wolfe Bros. books right now. Funny, but I can't help but think about Cameron and his losing battle to keep his hair from sticking up!

    Dawn @ Read Love


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