Category Archives: Interviews

Interview with Louise Spiegler

Today I’m chatting with Louise Spiegler, author of two great speculative books that aren’t traditional fantasy or science fiction. They’re—well, I’ll let her explain.

CE: Tell us about your books.

The Amethyst Road is a fantasy set in an alternative Pacific Northwest where Serena, a mixed-race girl, must fight hardship and racial hatred to find and reunite her scattered family. In this world, the Gorgios, a settled people, control the power and money. The Yulang are travellers who are regarded with contempt by the Gorgios. Within the Yulang, there are tribal divisions and strict rules and expectations. Serena is cast out of both groups when her sister Willow has a child out of wedlock. She ultimately succeeds in reuniting her family and discovering her own path in life, but not without a lot of struggle and heartbreak. The book was a Junior Library Book Club selection, and a finalist for the Andre Norton Award (Hugo-Nebula award scheme).

The Jewel and the Key (due out August 29) is set in the present day, as the U.S. is embarking on yet another war in the Middle East. Addie, a stage-struck girl, frustrated in her dream of becoming an actress, becomes deeply involved in saving a derelict theater called The Jewel from demolition. Her best friend Whaley has just been expelled from school and is obsessed with fighting in the war. An earthquake and the discovery of an antique mirror unleash forces that jolt Addie out of her time and into 1917 Seattle, just as America enters World War I. Here she finds a world in as much turmoil as her own. However, in this past era she finds fulfillment working at the Jewel in its hey-day, and in her relationship with its owner’s son, Reg, who in his own way is as much a trouble-magnet as Whaley. As she unravels the connection between the two times she discovers that in both, the Jewel is under threat, war is looming and someone she cares about is determined to fight. In the end, only Addie holds the key to saving the Jewel and her friends’ lives.

CE: Your first book, The Amethyst Road, was set in an alternate reality in the Pacific Northwest. Your new book, The Jewel and The Key, involves time travel between two realistic eras. What draws you to this type of almost-realistic speculative fiction?

I’m drawn to the imaginative and the fantastic—there’s nothing I love better than a good ghost story—but am also deeply involved with the world around me. When I was about seven or eight, I believed there was always something magical just out of reach, around the corner, in the other room, in the old house up the hill. You had to creep up on it and surprise it. I still can have that feeling, especially in places which are old and have a lot of history. So that’s the psychological, ‘it all goes back to my childhood’ explanation.

Nonetheless, I find the struggles of the real world completely compelling. I’m fascinated by the nitty-gritty of how people live, what they have in their pockets to pay for their food, what they do when they can’t pay, what stories they tell about themselves, what they dream about, what they do when the world they live in is dangerous or unjust. For me, fantasy needs to engage all of this. In fact, I think it’s the true substance of good fantasy, no matter how much it bends the rules of time and space.

The Jewel and the Key

CE: What inspires you? Do you start with character, plot, situation, or an issue you want to explore?

In The Amethyst Road, character came first. Serena was so real to me from the very start that I could almost feel her tapping me on the shoulder.

With The Jewel and the Key, I had a vague idea of a time travel novel set in a theater, but it never came together until the day the U.S. started bombing Iraq: “Shock and Awe”. I’d gone to demonstrations, talked to people, emailed my Congressional representatives, because I saw us hurtling towards this conflict I was sure could be avoided. I was convinced from the get-go that there were no weapons of mass destruction. And then, to see the bombs falling!

I’ve mentioned that I teach history. If you teach, you’re also learning all the time. So I’d been studying World War I—inspired by Pat Barker’s amazing novel Regeneration—and had developed a real empathy for the generation who fought in the First World War, a war with such horrifying casualties. The appalling sacrifice just didn’t seem justified by the reasons given for fighting. I saw my own students going off to fight. And then, later, I started having students in my class who were veterans, returning with PTSD—what my World War I characters would have called “shell shock”. Not to mention the effect on Iraqi civilians. I felt there was a powerful mirror between World War I and Iraq and I wanted to explore this in fiction.

I wanted the place that was the conduit between the two times to be a theater, because theaters are so magical in and of themselves, and because of the transformative power of the stage. And Seattle has gorgeous old theaters, many of which have been ‘brought back to life’ as the Jewel is in the story. I saw this theme of rebirth as a strong and positive counterweight to the theme of war.

From these starting points, the characters just started leaping out at me: Addie with her intense imagination and intoxication with the theater, her best pal Whaley, so troubled but so good-hearted, wanting to go off to war for all those idealistic reasons. And then the inhabitants of the Jewel in 1917: Reg, that intense and talented boy, who Addie falls for almost at once, Meg, the director, and the fugitive Wobbly, Gustav Peterson, on the run from the law after the Everett Massacre. I knew there would be a connection between two boys, Reg and Whaley, trying to go off and fight two different wars for their own reasons and there would be others seeing the war quite differently, and passionately trying to stop it.

CE:  You started writing The Jewel and the Key shortly after the US invasion of Iraq, but because of publishing delays it’s just now coming out. Did you have to change the story because of the delays? Do you still feel this is a timely story?

As far as I know, we’re still at war. And even if the wars had ended, I would still feel that story was timely. We are a country which has enormous military might, many strategic and economic interests. War is endemic in our history. We need to think about it more, not just accept it as a natural part of our national life. I’d love to see people question if it has to be this way and be willing to stand up and be counted if they think we’re embarking on a war of aggression.

Another plot thread in the book has to with the Wobblies—the raucous, rip-roaring union whose real name was the Industrial Workers of the World. Part of the backdrop of the events at the Jewel in 1917 involve the conflicts between workers in the timber industry here in the Pacific Northwest who wanted to gain bargaining and free speech rights and the corporations and politicians tried their best to stop them. I.W.W. members were demonized, incarcerated and (if foreign-born) deported, in the Red Scares following the war. If you look at what’s happening right now in Wisconsin and other states, where the governors are attempting to strip unions of bargaining rights, the book couldn’t be more timely.

CE: Do you outline? How clearly do you know where your book is going before you start? Do you surprise yourself along the way?

I never outline! Or at least, not until I’m half-way through the book. At that point I might jot some notes for myself about where I’m going. The story is generated on the page. That’s why I end up with so many storylines and have to be ruthless about cutting. My process is messy. But you have to use what works for you. I love it. It’s like rummaging around in an attic full of boxes full of strange and wonderful objects.

CE: The Amethyst Road—your first bookwas a finalist for The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy. How did that feel?

Amazing! Exciting. I felt incredibly honored.

CE: If you could live in a sci-fi or fantasy world, which would it be? Why?

One in which time travel is possible. Need you ask!?

CE: What would readers find surprising or interesting about you?

I’ve seen a ghost, attended a Korean shaman’s funeral and been arrested for civil disobedience. Even more astonishing, I don’t own a functioning television!

Thanks for visiting The Spectacle! The Jewel and the Key is due out from Clarion Books on August 29 . You can pre-order it now.  Louise is currently constructing a new website. Until it’s functional, you can visit the Amethyst Road site, which will soon have a link on it to the new site.

Leave a comment to be entered in the ARC give-away for The Jewel and the Key. (U.S. and Canada only, please.)

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Interview with Sara Grant, part 2

Today we continue the chat with Sara Grant, whose YA dystopian novel DARK PARTIES comes out later this year.

Tell us about your writing journey. How have publishers reacted to your work?

DARK PARTIES started as a short story, which I submitted to the SCBWI British Isles (www.britishscbwi.org) UNDISCOVERED VOICES anthology (www.undiscoveredvoices.com). I let a writer friend and my niece read a very early draft. They both wanted to know what happened next and encouraged me to write the rest of Neva’s story. I told myself that if my story was selected, then I would write the novel. And, luckily it was included in the anthology.

The anthology was sent to UK-based editors and agents who focused on children’s fiction. I received calls and emails from editors and agents who were interested in what they’d read. I signed with an agent from Andrew Nurnberg Associates because we hit it off immediately and within moments I knew she understood my work and would be an amazing partner in the crazy world of publishing. And I was right. We worked together for about a year before she submitted my novel and about five months later I accepted an offer from Little, Brown in the US.

Another benefit of writing dystopian fiction is the ease with which it can cross borders and appeal to readers around the world. I intentionally didn’t identify the country in DARK PARTIES. In my mind, it’s a mixture of my two homelands – the US and UK, but it could also easily represent other countries. DARK PARTIES has sold to the US, UK, Germany, Poland and China.

How about readers? Have you found any special challenges reaching people with this genre?

My book isn’t released in the US until August in the US and October in the UK but I have started to be approached by book bloggers who have read advanced copies of DARK PARTIES. Because DARK PARTIES is my first novel, I must admit it’s a very strange experience to have something you’ve written out in the world. What I’m most fascinated by is watching this story take on a life of its own. It’s very gratifying to have people read something you’ve written and even more exciting to learn what they’ve discovered in the pages of your novel.

DARK PARTIES was published in March in Germany under the title NEVA. I was lucky enough to visit Germany for the launch and attended the Leipzig Bookfair where I got to meet my very first readers. It was an overwhelming experience for this small town girl to be signing copies of her book in a country she had never before visited and being so graciously welcomed by enthusiastic readers.

What are some of your favorite speculative fiction books for young people?

I love The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The first book in her trilogy is a master class in deftly creating a world but not letting the world take over. She blends a compelling love triangle with page-turning action.

I’ve also recently discovered China Mieville. I’ve heard him speak and read a few of his short stories but he’s definitely an author I intend to read more of and study.

If you could live in a sci-fi or fantasy world, which would it be? Why?

Oh, this is a difficult one. I will have to go with my earliest influences in TV and film – Star Wars and Star Trek: the Next Generation. I suppose I couldn’t resist a trip on NCC 1701-D. I love the idea of being able to be beamed anywhere. I would also spend endless hours on the holodeck. Oh, and of course work with Jean Luc to bring peace, love and justice to the universe!

What would readers find surprising or interesting about you?

If I thought the last question was difficult….hmmmm…I find personal questions like this even more tricky to answer. Am I honest and tell you that I think the most perfect food in the universe is mashed potatoes and I will eat them for any meal? Does that make me sound too bland? It’s true but is it interesting? Maybe I should mention that I can say my alphabet as quickly backwards as forwards. Surprising but is it too trivial?

A relevant fact: I remember writing my first story at eight years old. It was written on notebook paper and tied together with three pieces of string. It was dedicated to Farrah Fawcett Majors. (Um, yeah, I was writing under the influence of an extreme obsession with the TV show Charlie’s Angels at the time.) Too weird?

What if I shared that I quit my job as director of communications for one of the biggest foundation in the US and moved to the UK to be with a British man I met standing in line for a ride at Universal Studios in Florida?

Maybe that’s interesting but it certainly isn’t the whole story. So maybe I’ll just say that I wrote my first story for children when my niece Megan was born and I got my first book deal the year she turned seventeen. Oh, I don’t know. I think I should just stick with something simple so how about I just say: orange is my favorite color.

Thanks, Sara! Best wishes for the success of Dark Matter.

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Interview with Sara Grant

Today I’m chatting with Sara Grant, whose debut novel comes out later this year.

Sara, please tell us about your book.

DARK PARTIES is a dystopian novel for young adults.

Sixteen-year-old Neva was born and raised in an isolated nation ruled by fear, lies and xenophobia. Hundreds of years ago, her country constructed an electrified dome to protect itself from the outside world. What once might have protected now imprisons. Her country is decaying and its citizens are dying. Neva and her friends dream of freedom. A forbidden party leads to complications. Suddenly Neva’s falling for her best friend’s boyfriend, uncovering secrets that threaten to destroy her friends, her family and her country – and discovering the horrifying truth about what happens to The Missing…

DARK PARTIES will be published this year by Little, Brown in the US on August 3, Orion in the UK in on October 20.

Why did you choose to write in this genre? What inspires you?

It may sound strange but I didn’t choose the genre. I found an issue and characters that interested me and I let the story evolve. I’d just moved to London, England, from Indianapolis, Indiana. I was immersed in the paperwork of immigration and uncovering news stories on both side of the Atlantic about who and how many should be allowed to enter a country. That got me thinking….what if a country closed its borders to people and ideas?

This question led to more questions of national and personal identity. The citizens in my fictitious country grew more and more alike. Their population dwindled. How would a teenager rebel in this closed and homogeneous society?

DARK PARTIES started as a short story about Neva and her best friend Sanna who host a party for their friends in the pitch black and secretly plot a rebellion. I was intrigued – some might say obsessed – by this idea. I spent the next three years writing and revising DARK PARTIES.

What inspired you to tell the story of a society cut off from the rest of the world?

As I mentioned above, I had just moved from the US to the UK and wanted to explore issues of national and personal identity. You don’t have to look far to see countries, cities and individuals questioning how to maintain their cultural identity in a global society. What does it mean to be American or British when the cultural make up of your country is changing? I definitely believe that diversity of cultures and ideas makes a country stronger. DARK PARTIES was my way to explore all these issues.

I also think DARK PARTIES was influenced by growing up in a small town where it often felt as if I was living in a fish bowl. Everyone knew everyone else – which has many benefits but if you are a teenager, it makes it next to impossible to rebel.

Are there special challenges in writing speculative fiction? How do you deal with them?

I love the freedom of writing speculative fiction – not only the freedom to imagine the future and make the rules, but also the freedom that I can afford my teen protagonist. In contemporary novels, teens are confined by so many rules, and the adventure is limited when the protagonist can pick up a cell phone, search the internet or turn to a responsible adult to solve problems. In speculative fiction, you can break all the rules, raise the stakes, and allow your teens a greater sense of action and adventure.

But the challenge of writing speculative fiction is also the freedom. You create a world and make the rules, but changing one thing can have a nearly endless rippled effect. For example, closing the borders influences how my characters think, speak and act. It’s exhilarating to have that kind of freedom but also daunting. All you can do is think and analyze and ask questions about this world you’ve created and construct it in a way that’s believable to your readers.

I believe less is better. I have to know more about the world than I share with my readers. It’s tempting to write a lot of ‘look at me’ passages where you share with your readers all the weird and wonderful things you’ve imagined, but I believe the world you’ve created must serve the story. You must give your readers enough detail to navigate the world, but not so much that it detracts from the story.

Great advice! We’ll continue the interview tomorrow, so stop back to learn more about Sara’s writing journey, along with some fun facts about her.

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Happy Earth Day with Janet Lee Carey

Happy Earth Day! And welcome to day three of Janet Lee Carey’s interview. Yesterday we promised to look into how world building can bring about change on our own planet earth.

CE: What is your process for world-building?

JLC: The fictional world has to be put to the real-world “sludge and roses” test. It should be as wild, beautiful, dangerous and messy as our own world.

Building from the ground up, I use what I know from the natural world, from natural history and human history to create a believable world and complex society. The setting usually plays a large role, challenging the characters in some way. For Stealing Death, I created a country, Zolya, decimated by ongoing drought. I studied drought-ridden Africa where I saw how arid farmlands, thirst, and lack of clean drinking water can shape a whole society. By page one the drought has already pushed my main character, Kipp, to the very edge of existence. We sense the Death Catcher is not far away.

World-building for The Dragons of Noor began with book one The Beast of Noor, but creation/recreation is ongoing. In the second book, Noor is threatened by the loss of the ancient forest and by the storms brought on by the splitting worlds.

CE: For Earth Day you promised to share how world-building for fantasy worlds can lead to change in our own world.

JLC: The Dragons of Noor have an environmental disaster on their hands. The ancient Waytrees retain deep history in their roots and bind the two worlds of Noor and Oth together. The dragons have been guarding the last Waytree forest for generations:

When the Waytree bridges fall,

Roots die binding all to all. ~ Dragons’ Song

When men come to cut down the trees, the two worlds split farther apart. The splitting worlds unleash quakes and horrendous storms, and the old magic sends a wild wind out that steals young children. Miles and Hanna join with the dragons to try and stop the devastation before the two worlds completely split apart.

I did a lot of research about the state of old growth forests to write the tale and was appalled at what I learned. According to Eco Evaluator “Almost 80% of the world’s old-growth forests have been exploited or completely destroyed. . . Each year, about 25 million acres of ancient and endangered forests in the world are being cleared.”

I usually do some kind of charitable outreach with each book release so I already knew I had to link myself and my readers up to some solution. I chose the Nature Conservancy’s Plant A Billion Trees Campaign.

Plant a Billion Trees goal: to restore one billion native trees to Brazil’s highly endangered Atlantic Forest over the next 7 years. “Tropical forests are the lungs of the earth, filtering out ten million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. Every day these valuable trees help reduce global warming.”

Growing up under towering redwoods, I’ve always been close to trees. I believe trees are vital. Our bodies, hearts, and brains need their silent majesty, green boughs, and shade. Trees are rooted in humankind’s childhood. When we cut them down we sever ourselves from our wild past and chop down our most ancient playground.

I’ve been celebrating Earth Day, educating readers about Plant A Billion Trees on school visits, and donating 10% of my school visit fees to PABT since the launch of The Dragons of Noor in Oct. 2010. Together with readers we’ve planted 250 trees in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest! We’ll continue our efforts through next school year after the paperback comes out Oct 2011.

Blog readers here who want to help restore the forest can swing by the website page or go directly to Plant a Billion Trees campaign.

Janet under a Banyan tree

~Feel the ground beneath your feet as you walk. Heart to root; remember the ones who hold you up.~ Evver the tree spirit of Noor

Thanks, Janet! Readers, post a comment to be entered in a drawing for The Dragons of Noor, the sequel to The Beasts of Noor.

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Janet Lee Carey interview: part 2

Welcome to day two of Janet Lee Carey’s interview. Remember to post a comment tomorrow to be entered in a drawing for The Dragons of Noor, the sequel to The Beasts of Noor.

CE: What are your writing days like?

JLC: I start my writing day as if I’m going on a climb and I need to bring provisions with me: a thermos of hot tea on cold days, plenty of water on warm ones. I daydream and write in my journal a while to get the ideas flowing. Soon I light the candle in my Aladdin’s lamp, switch on the computer, and journey into the story world. I’m lost in there until lunch time when I emerge ready for a bite to eat and a walk. After the walk, I’m back to the writing. Of course this is my “ideal” day; I also spend a lot of time with the busyness of the business, all writers do, but I begin to feel story-starved if I stay away from writing for too long.

Janet Lee Carey

CE: Tell us how you create and develop your characters.

JLC: I create the character’s past before they step into the story so I know his/her loves, losses, longings and secrets. I highly recommend stealing acting exercise and treasure from other art forms to help with character creation. Movement can really help you get into character.

I loved reading The Creative Habit: Learn it and use it for Life by the famous choreographer, Twyla Tharp. She got me to move into character. I began to do what I call Positions. Simply put, this is moving about until I find three body positions for my character: a First Position for the opening of the story, Second Position for the middle, and Third for the end.

For example I ask, “What body position expresses Hanna at the beginning of The Dragons of Noor?” I dance until I find it. Hanna stands with her right foot forward, left foot back, right arm extended forward with an open hand, left arm extended back with an open hand (something close to warrior pose in yoga).

Hanna is pulled in two directions; by the need to stay home and protect her younger brother (left foot and left arm back), and the need to rescue the Wind-taken children (right foot and right hand forward). Once her little brother is Wind-taken, she is launched forward into the heart of the story. Getting out of my writing chair and moving to discover the Three Positions helps me to get inside the character’s body and emotion.

Come back tomorrow for the Earth Day interview. What do the azure trees of Noor and the endangered rainforest of Brazil have in common? Tomorrow we look at how world building can bring about change on our own planet earth.

CE: And don’t forget the book giveaway! Comment on tomorrow’s post to enter.

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Janet Lee Carey Interview

Today I’m chatting with Janet Lee Carey, the author of a seven fabulous middle grade and young adult novels, including Dragon’s Keep (starred reviews in Booklist and School Library Journal) Stealing Death, and the Beasts of Noor series. Janet writes contemporary and historical fiction, but has most recently received critical acclaim for her fantasy novels. School Library Journal said, “Verdict: This is quite simply fantasy at its best–original, beautiful, amazing, and deeply moving.”

Janet will be visiting The Spectacle for three days, culminating in a special Earth Day post on Friday. We are also doing a book giveaway, so stop by every day, but most of all be sure to post a comment on Friday to be entered in a drawing for The Dragons of Noor, the sequel to The Beasts of Noor.

CE: Tell us about your book.

JLC: The Dragons of Noor is based on brokenness—two worlds breaking apart, the breaking of a dragon treaty that protected the Waytree forest, the breaking of a family when the youngest child is stolen by the wind . . . It’s my seventh novel for young readers, and the second Noor book. In this tale Miles and Hanna try to “bind what’s broken”. They join the dragons’ fight to save the Waytree forest—the ancient trees that bind the two worlds. If they fail and the last Waytrees fall, the worlds will split in two. All magic will go out of Noor, and their little brother will be forever lost.

The Dragons of Noor Teens Read Too Gold Star Award Winner

CE: Why did you choose to write in this genre? What inspires you?

JLC: People say my fantasy reads like novelized fairytales, though the tales are my own. I feel as if the genre chose me. When I’m lucky, a story idea hits me like cupid’s arrow. I’m shot with love and wonder and go into what my family calls a “Janet trance.” This happened with The Dragons of Noor. The idea started with a daydream of a Wild Wind blowing children up into the sky and over the sea like windblown leaves. I thought I’d write a fairytale about it, but, as usual, the story became a full-length novel.

Inspiration to write fantasy came early. As a child I climbed my “reading tree” with favorite books. In the branches I was swept into Narnia, Middle-earth, and other magical lands. I loved going on these journeys and wanted to grow up booking passage to faraway places for other young readers. I’m continually inspired by Ursula K. LeGuin, Juliet Marillier, Patricia A. McKillip, Kristin Cashore, Robin McKinley, Franny Billingsley…. I could go on and on.

CE: Are there special challenges in writing speculative fiction? How do you deal with them?

JLC: The most difficult challenge is to make the story fresh. A poet faces the challenge to write an original love poem. Fantasy writers are challenged to do something new with archetypal beings like dragons.

I enjoy the challenge to make my dragons fresh. Dragons are like nature unleashed. If a hurricane were an animal, it would be a dragon. Their age and size, their very otherness puts me in awe. Knowing they are both keenly intelligent and wild animals, I spend as much time and care on the dragons’ personalities as I do on my human characters.

CE: How have publishers reacted to your work?

JLC: After writing realistic fiction, I had a hard time breaking into fantasy, but I’m bullheaded, I kept persisting. I fought through rejection like the prince cuts through the brambles in Sleeping Beauty, writing and resending until my first fantasy novel was accepted. I still feel exhilarated about it as if I’ve stormed the castle to awaken my childhood dreams!

CE: How about readers? Have you found any special challenges reaching people with this genre?

JLC: I meet readers on school visits, on Facebook and through the contact email on my website. I try to answer all my reader fan mail and email. Last year a teen boy wrote me saying: “I want to thank you for changing the way I look at my life. After I read Dragon’s Keep, I thought about myself in a different way. . . . Dragon’s Keep inspired me to make a difference in my life.”

CE: If you could live in a sci-fi or fantasy world not of your own making, which would it be? Why?

JLC: Middle-earth hands down, but Middle-earth before the ring is found, or after Sauron of Mordor is vanquished. Why? Because Tolkien’s world is richly imagined, deeply green, both magical and practical, and humans are but a part of a wild tapestry of folk.

CE: What would readers find surprising or interesting about you?

JLC: I’m terrified of spiders. I used to make my older brothers suck them up with the vacuum. Then I started to fear the vacuum. What if the spiders were all in there planning a counterattack?

CE: Sounds like a writer’s imagination! Readers, stop by tomorrow for part 2. If you have questions for Janet, please post them in the comments.

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Lois Ruby, author of The Secret of Laurel Oak

Today I’m chatting with Lois Ruby, who is offering a book giveaway of her ghost story, The Secret of Laurel Oak!  Post a comment on this interview, and we’ll randomly choose one lucky winner to receive a copy. Please be sure your post links to your e-mail or website so we can contact you, or check back on Sunday’s post to see the winner.

Lois, tell us about your books.

The Secret of Laurel Oak is a gen-u-wine ghost story – my first.  Daphne was born an African slave around 1830 and sent to spirit after a violent death at the age of fifteen.  She’s modeled after a girl named Chloe whose brief life was spent at Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana. Myrtles is on the Smithsonian list of the ten most haunted houses in America.

What’s come down through history is that Chloe poisoned two little girls at Myrtles. Whether by accident or design, or if she even did it, we do not know, but her ghost has been spotted by dozens of visitors to the plantation. Nor does Chloe herself (Daphne in my book) know what happened that horrific night.  For 160 years, she’s waited patiently for the right person to show up to solve the mystery.  Now Lila has arrived, and all the spirits of Laurel Oaks are quickened.  The book’s written in alternating voices, half in Daphne’s and half in Lila’s, as the shocking story unfolds both from the here-and-now and from the other side. Will Daphne’s spirit finally be released to eternal rest?  Maybe.

The Secret of Laurel Oaks

I’ve also done another novel, yet to find a publisher, set in the early years of spiritualism, the 1850s. Two intrepid girls fake séances, enthralled by the popular new belief that we can all talk to dead loved ones in the realm beyond.  It’s just a profitable game for them – until they discover that one of them actually has the gift and begins to hear the wails of  six children murdered by their mother.  Based on a true story of Polly Frisch, who poisoned her children with arsenic-laced bread and butter.  Cold, hunh?

Are there challenges in writing in this genre?

Let’s be honest.  In my normal life, I do realistic fiction for middle graders and teens. I’m so steeped in realism that my toes are growing roots like trees.  But as I’ve gotten more rings around my trunk, I’ve hungered for flashes of the visionary life.  So, I’ve begun studying about other realities, in hopes that some day I’ll experience what now is only wide-eyed speculation.  The challenge for me is to escape from the bonds of having to explain every phenomenon in some logical way.  It doesn’t have to make sense; it only has to sense. But that’s hard for a prove-it girl like me to reconcile.  I’m working on it!

[Chris’s note: Lois’s powerful realistic novels for middle grade and young adult readers include Miriam's Well, Skin Deep, and the humorous The Moxie Kid. Her historical novels include Shanghai Shadows, Journey to Jamestown, and Swindletop. Two of her previous books also cross between the past and the present: Steal Away Home and Soon Be Free. Learn about them all on her website.]

Skin Deep

Have your loyal readers followed you down this new path?

They’ve led me down this path.  It’s where young readers already are.  Now that Laurel Oaks is in Scholastic book fairs, I hear from kids around the country who never would have opened my other books.  They take speculative fiction very seriously and clamor for more.

What are some of your favorite speculative books for young people?

I love classic science fiction.  The old Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury books are among my favorites, probably because they’re strongly written, character-driven novels about  brave new worlds, and they don’t depend on super technology and flashy special effects.

I like some time-travel books, especially Jane Yolen’s wonderful The Devil’s Advocate, which catapults a contemporary girl into the milieu of the Nazi Holocaust, then gets her safely home again.  I’m not interested in magical, fantastical books or vampires or elves and faeries, either in medieval or urban settings.  I’d rather read post-apocalyptic, dystopian novels such as Rosoff’s How I Live Now, Beth Pfeffer’s Life as We Knew It, and Haddix’s Among the Hidden series.  Of course, I join the zillions of fans of the Hunger Games trilogy – unmatched for heart-thumping excitement coupled with contemporary satire.

However, in my estimation, as a librarian and author, the finest book for young readers in this genre (maybe any genre) is Lois Lowry’s The Giver. That’s a book I can read over and over, holding my breath all the way through the quiet, understated horror of a world without color, art, music, blemish, passion, memory – and the awakening of Jonas, who is given the gift of these forbidden emotions by the one dying old man who safeguards them all for future generations.  Magnificent book.  Fifth graders can read it for sheer story, seventh graders get the subtleties and begin to think about the implications.  Adults are devastated by it.

Why do you think young people are drawn to dystopian novels?

Some say the 21st century high school is the quintessential dystopian society.  It can be a cruel and hostile place with its social stratification, intense bullying and hazing, and its refusal to accept those who are “different,” however that difference is defined from within a clíque.  Other people say that we live in a gloom-and-doom world that is totally out of control.  The young heroes of dystopian novels find and earn ways to out-smart and overcome the doom of their worlds and change society for the better.

Once you read your way through the muck and joylessness of those post-apocalyptic worlds, you see hope at the end of the dark tunnel.  Young people want to know that there are ordinary kids just like them who summon the determination and courage to triumph over incredible obstacles, foes, and threats, and come out whole on the far side of the adventure.

Steal Away Home

Is the same true for ghost stories?

It’s different.  I think people of all ages wonder about what’s beyond life.  Very religious people think they know, but most of us see death as a mystery, and life as something we don’t want to let go of.  So, we speculate about reincarnation and a vibrant spirit life after we shed our bodies.  Besides that, young people just love to be scared witless and then to be reassured that things will be set right again when the nail-biting, heart-racing story ends.

Anything else we should know about you?

I have a wonderful husband that I met the first day of college at Berkeley, three sons, three daughters-in-law, and five grandchildren.  I’m older than permafrost, but I made the decision way back when that I’d never totally grow up if I wanted to write stories for and about young people.  You could say I’ve stayed blissfully immature.  I have the pleasure of visiting schools all over the country and have encountered some awesomely good teachers and librarians.  It’s the kids, though, who make it so much fun.  Oh, one more thing.  I  collect pigs, though not live ones.  Yet.  Please follow me on Facebook and visit my Website.

Post a comment on this interview, and we’ll randomly choose one lucky winner to receive a copy of The Secret of Laurel Oak!

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Book Winner: Beth!

And the WINNER of THE HEALING SPELL from the post about “Magical Realism by Kimberley Griffiths Little” is . . .

Beth (Bethfred.com)
(Beth, please email me at kglittle at msn dot com so I can snail mail it to you!)

Thank you to everyone for reading, entering, and commenting!

Hope to see you all again in October for the release of CIRCLE OF SECRETS!

Happy Reading and Writing!

Kimberley

http://www.kimberleygriffithslittle.com

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Magical Realism…Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary!

Guest Post and Book Giveaway by Kimberley Griffiths Little

Gosh, I love that term, Magical Realism. Magical Realism added to a story brings to mind all sorts of delicious and unusual story twists, whether delightful, creepy, or just plain enchanting in a unique and unexpected way. Unexpected being the key term here.

In today’s climate of publishing, especially the children’s and young adult realm where vampires, werewolves, fairies and mermaids have been the staple for several years, a reader might say that any book with a supernatural twist falls under the category of “magical realism”. You might even put ghosts into that category, as well as super-powers, and creatures raised from the dead.

I beg to differ. Magical Realism was coined several decades ago, but began to be more widely used in the 1990s to describe a certain type of book that hadn’t been published very much before. Up until that point, bookstores and libraries were filled with well-defined categories such as, “Contemporary” “Mystery”, “Romance”, “Western”, “Science-Fiction”, etc.

The definition of “Magical Realism” is, to me, a story where the author creates a very normal, regular world, populated with ordinary, regular people (no Vampires or Centaurs, Klingons or Doctor Octopus) but adding a touch—mind you, just a touch—of something surreal, fantastic or bizarre that turns the story upside down while staying very much grounded in that regular world setting. Magical Realism is added as an element, NOT in huge doses—but often that one magical realism element turns an otherwise regular story into something entirely different because it affects the characters and the plot in such a unique way. That one element ends up bringing an edge or slant that doesn’t line up quite right with the real world. Instead of looking at the story straight on, it makes the reader look at things in a whole different light—where the story bats its eyelashes and looks askance, perhaps almost coy, and helps the reader understand the truths of the story in an entirely different way. This is not your average contemporary edgy YA.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some edgy contemporary stories and read them a lot. I also read widely in the paranormal genre and am currently reading mermaid stories like the Forbidden Sea by Sheila N. Nielson, as well as dystopian like Across the Universe by Beth Revis, or Possession by Elana Johnson (S&S June, 2011), which I’m very much looking forward to reading. But these are not stories using Magical Realism in the Classic sense. Here’s another great link defining Magical Realism.

Reaching into the depths of my often fuzzy mind, I would have to say that the very first book I read that contained magical realism was, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, a novel that celebrated its 18th birthday this last September and is still selling well in hardcover as well as paperback, audio, Kindle, and you name it. Esquivel mischievously appropriates the techniques of magical realism to make her heroine of the story, Tita’s, contact with food sensual, emotional, and often explosive. Love, food, and magical recipes in a kitchen where the character’s emotions and fate are determined by the emotions of the cook. If Tita’s sad, then everybody who eats her food is melancholy and weeping. If Tita is happy, then her dinner guests are joyful. Who would have thought you could do something like this in a novel? And it’s done brilliantly.

A few years later, we got the scrumptious novel, Chocolat by Joanne Harris, performing similar dreamlike plot twists through a chocolate confectioner who works her magic on an unsuspecting  French village.

Hmm, all this food talk is making me hungry. (*Takes break to pop a few chocolate truffles left over from Valentine’s Day*).

I personally believe that time travel books could fall into a sub-genre of magical realism. You may agree to disagree, but time travel books are grounded completely in ordinary or historical events, but then turn the story upside down by throwing their characters into a vastly different time period from their own where they must often cope with explosive events and try to get back home in one piece.

Such is my book, The Last Snake Runner where a contemporary teenage boy of the Snake Clan ends up in 1599 in the middle of a war—tries to stay alive while fighting next to his dying ancestors during the 3-day battle and meeting a girl that he can’t bear to leave—at the same time knowing he can’t remain in 1599 but has to get back to the future somehow. The events of The Last Snake Runner are based on actual, terrible events when the conquistadors entered the Southwest in the 16th century. The time travel as well as the visions of my main character could be called Magical Realism.

My new novel, The Healing Spell (Scholastic, 2010) is grounded in the very real but often spooky world of the Louisiana bayous with its murky waters and hidden alligators. The story is about a family in crisis and almost everyone is hiding a secret. A Cajun folk healer, or a traiteur, gives Livie, the main character, a nine-knotted healing string that will help wake her mamma from a life-threatening coma. The traiteur sends Livie on a journey to forgive and heal her relationship with her mother—even though Mamma is sound asleep and drooling in the living room. Guilt and secrets and sisters and a wedding and a pet baby gator underpin this story about family and forgiveness—but the ending has a bit of magical realism built in. How else could a nine-knotted healing string strung with tokens and memories of Mamma be otherwise??? (Can a tiny mustard seed of faith really move mountains? That is Magical Realism at its grandest!)

I love books like this! Loved them as a kid and love them as an adult.

In the comments, please share one of your favorite Magical Realism books. I’d love to get more titles for my own towering stack of Books To Be Read Soon!

Thanks to everyone at The Spectacle for inviting me to be their guest today!

One last surprise! You can win a gorgeous hardcover copy of The Healing Spell by commenting here and by visiting me at my blog through this link and commenting there, too, by February 23. Become my friend/follower! I love new friends!

Then mosey on over to my brand new website to view the very cool book trailer for The Healing Spell and download the Teacher’s guides and Book Club Guides.

Meanwhile, keep working on your own terrific speculative fiction, whether it’s a dystopian, some sort of outer-space zombie, or just an ordinary ghost with a terrible secret that lures you into the swamp to die . . . oops! That’s my new novel coming in October, Circle of Secrets . . .

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Interview with Christopher Golden

CE: Today I’m chatting with Christopher Golden. Christopher, please tell us about your books.

CG:  I’ve been a full time writer since 1992, but my latest, WHEN ROSE WAKES, is truly one of my favorites.  It’s a teen urban fantasy about a girl who wakes up in a hospital in Boston to find that she’s been in a coma for years, and she has lost her memory of everything except her two aunts, who are also her guardians.  As she tries to build a new life, hoping for her memories to return, she is menaced by a sinister figure and strange dreams, and slowly begins to wonder if she might actually BE the Sleeping Beauty of legend.

WHEN ROSE WAKES cover

I’m also really pleased that my first novel, OF SAINTS AND SHADOWS, has recently been reprinted, and the rest of that series (the Peter Octavian novels) are being reprinted as well, leading up to the release of a brand new installment in the series.

And my new YA novel with Tim Lebbon, THE SECRET JOURNEYS OF JACK LONDON: THE WILD is coming out March 1st, and is currently in development as a movie at Fox.
Why did you choose to write in this genre? What inspires you?

CG:  I’ve always loved fantasy and horror and folklore.  I find inspiration in the people around me, in dreams, in mythology and folklore, and in the strange synchronicities that seem to pop up in life.  As far as writing in this genre, it was never really a choice.  I like things that are dark and weird, but I also love stories that are about people, and the way we interact, and how much we depend upon each other.
CE: Are there special challenges in writing speculative fiction?

CG:  For someone wired like me, the challenge would be in writing something entirely mainstream.  Yes, there are days that are harder than others, and times when the spark isn’t as easy to find, but those days only make the others more rewarding.

The Secret Journeys of Jack London

CE: Have you found any special challenges in finding publishers? In reaching readers?

CG:  Always.  Publishing is a difficult business, now more so than ever.  It is constantly in flux, and writers have to adapt to the changes or wither.  But I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with so many wonderful editors and publishers.  As for reaching readers, with every passing year, publishers seem to rely more and more on the efforts of the author.  Facebook and Twitter and blogs and online interviews are all a huge part of reaching out to current readers and potential future readers.

CE: If you could live in a sci-fi or fantasy world, which would it be? Why?

CG:  To fantasize for a moment, sure.  I’d love to explore the Two Kingdoms, the setting of my dark fantasy trilogy THE VEIL, because it contains elements of so many mythologies and legends.  But in reality, the answer would have to be no.  I’m a father and a husband first, always, and most of the places I’ve created would be too dangerous for me to bring my family into.

CE: What would readers find surprising or interesting about you?

CG:  I’m a theatre guy.  In high school and college I performed in musicals, and in the last few years I’ve directed shows at my kids’ school.  I’ve seen RENT four times, WICKED three times, and more.  I also sang in a rock cover band all through high school.

Learn more about Christopher at his website.

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