Tag Archives: fantasy

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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Fantasy: fact or fiction?

I had an interesting conversation with a nonfiction author the other day regarding a manuscript about chakras.

The nonfiction author’s viewpoint: It had to be fiction. And most likely fantasy.

My viewpoint: Millions of people believe in chakras as fact. Who says it couldn’t be nonfiction?

Which makes me think there’s a discreet category of work that is not clearly fantasy, not like magic-and-dragons fantasy, but we’re not sure what else to call it because we don’t agree on how “real life” it might be. You don’t have to go as far as ghosts. Think of stories revolving around auras, intuitive or energy healing, reincarnation, remote viewing, etc. —  much of which is the typical stock-in-trade of New Agers (in the Western world) and Most Everyone (in the Eastern world). Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction depends on who you ask. And so does whether it’s fantasy or could fit right into a contemporary story.

The word “paranormal” used to have a definition that fit here pretty well. As in paranormal activity. But I think that, thanks to recent market trends, most people can no longer hear “paranormal” without associating it with 1) vampires, werewolves, or other supernatural creatures and 2) Romance (for teens or adults). I don’t often hear the term used with middle-grade work, and certainly not picture or chapter books.

I started to wonder if “occult” or something like that could work. Then I remembered the knee-jerk reaction that word causes among certain faith communities. (Speaking of which: would the same people consider a story about the devil fantasy? Or not? How about angels?)

Hey, I know — how about “speculative?” But that’s already got a much broader definition, at least here at The Spec. Too broad, maybe.

Is there any other word or characterization that would work? I’d especially be interested in hearing from someone with time in an Eastern culture or background. Or is it goofy to try to distinguish anyhow?

— Joni, who resisted the urge to give non-kidlit examples of “are they fact or aren’t they?” stories ranging from Holocaust denial to conspiracy theories to the lives of the saints. Almost resisted, that is.

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The Long-Awaited Sequel to A GAME OF THRONES

Big news: A Dance With Dragons, the fifth and very long awaited book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series, has a publication date–July of this year.

Last year, I posted on the topic of “What does a series writer owe to readers?” and mentioned that George R. R. Martin has kept his fans waiting several years for A Dance With Dragons. A lot of our readers said they could wait patiently for the release of the book, while some said that Martin owes it to his fans to finish the series in a timely manner (supposedly this fifth book isn’t even the final installment).

A Dance With Dragons isn’t actually finished yet, according to Entertainment Weekly, but the novel is expected to run over 900 pages and will bring back some favorite characters. Assuming the story is as good as the other books in the series, I bet fans will forget all about how long they waited once they’ve got the book in their hands. Instead, they’ll be worrying about how long the next book will take.

But I wonder if Martin’s fans will be eager to read any new series he may come out with. Knowing that he isn’t afraid to take his time to write each installment, readers could decide that they’d rather not put themselves through another long wait. While a popular series likes A Song of Fire and Ice will have fans coming back to buy the next book–even if it’s five or six years later–is the author damaging his reputation by forcing fans to wait? Is he hurting sales of futures series, or does a name like Martin sell a book no matter what? I have a feeling that fans will return for any book he writes, but I’ve seen more than one disgruntled comment on the web to make me wonder.

Would you read a new series by Martin, knowing that he might take years and years to finish it? Are you loyal to your favorite authors no matter how long they keep you waiting for their next book?

Parker Peevyhouse is afraid to get attached to this series


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Chatting with Leah Cypess, author of Mistwood

Today I’m chatting with Leah Cypess, who is offering a book giveaway of her new fantasy, Mistwood!  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 Monday’s post to see the winner.

Chris: Hi, Leah – Please tell us about your new book.

Leah: Mistwood is the story of an ancient shapeshifter bound by a spell to protect the kings of a certain dynasty. And of a confused girl found in a forest who is told she is that ancient shapeshifter, even though she can’t remember anything about her past. Possibly they’re the same story… possibly not. She’ll have to figure it out while protecting the current prince, navigating his intrigue-filled court, and making sure nobody finds out that she has lost both her memory and her powers.

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

Leah: Fantasy has always been my favorite genre.  I grew up reading science-fiction (mostly 60s pulp novels, which my father had stored in boxes in the garage), but the moment I discovered fantasy, I was hooked.  I think Mercedes Lackey’s Arrows of the Queen trilogy and David Eddings’ Belgariad series were the primary culprits.

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

Leah: I think one of the challenges in writing speculative fiction is that there’s so much to juggle. You want to have a believable world, but you don’t want to overwhelm the book with world-building details that aren’t relevant to the plot.  You want to be able to give a sense of that world without pages and pages of description.  You want your characters to be believably situated in their culture – not just 20th-century people who somehow got dropped there – but you also want them to be relatable to your readers. You want to play with new ideas, but to keep your focus on telling a story.

My solution is to write a messy first draft into which I throw everything that crosses my mind, and then revise often and extensively.  A large part of revising, for me, involves deciding what is important and needs emphasis – often, more emphasis than I originally gave it – and what I need to cut despite the fact that I think it’s really cool.  I am lucky to have an editor who is not afraid to simply cross out multiple pages of my manuscript. (Really, I am! Even though I sometimes don’t feel it when I first look at the revision package…)

Chris: Has  finding a publisher been difficult?

Leah: I sent my first manuscript to a publisher when I was 15 years old, and got my first novel contract when I was 32 years old.  So yes, there have been some challenges!

To be fair, that first manuscript was not actually publishable. However, I think the four that followed probably were; each of them got me at least one revision request from an editor and multiple requests for future manuscripts, plus one of them went to the acquisitions committee at two different houses.  In the end, no matter how much you work at your craft, there is an element of luck involved: the right manuscript has to land in the hands of the right editor at the right time.  I feel very fortunate that I finally got to that point.

Chris: Answer the following question, or post another comment on this interview, and we’ll randomly choose one lucky winner to receive a copy of Mistwood.

What book(s) have you read that opened new worlds of interest for you (as a writer or a reader, or even for your career or hobbies)?


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Blurry edges

What defines “fantasy” for you? Many of us think of things that are “not real” — from fire-breathing dragons to vampires.

But there are very fuzzy edges on such a definition. There ARE people who drink blood, you know. (It’s often considered either a medical condition, a psychological issue, or a fetish. And, um, I was going to provide some web links, but I think I’ll spare you.) There are also people who think ghosts and some paranormal abilities are perfectly real. Time travel is real at the quantum particle level; maybe we just haven’t worked out the technology for the macro level yet. And a number of fantasies revolve around dreams, dream control, or dream abilities such as communicating, “for real,” with someone else through a dream. Dreams are one of the least understood workings of our brains, so there’s very little to argue that such fantasies aren’t perfectly possible.

Maybe this is part of the reason the term “paranormal” has become so popular lately; it seems to imply more leeway for what is or is not real or normal. And of course, as with airships or nanotechnology or cell phones,  today’s fantasy is tomorrow’s reality.

What do you think? And what “fantasy” stuff do you hope is currently in the blur and that tomorrow’s technology will give us?

— Joni, who lives for that blurred zone


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Chat with Laura Sullivan, author of Under the Green Hill

Today I’m chatting with Laura Sullivan, who is offering a book giveaway of her brand-new fantasy, Under the Green Hill! 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.

CE: Laura, please tell us about your books.

LS: Thanks so much for having me on The Spectacle!

Under the Green Hill is an upper middle grade fantasy about fairies, sacrifice and the fate of the world. When a group of American children are sent to England to stay with relatives they find themselves in the middle of a fairy war. Their great-great aunt is the Guardian of the Green Hill, the last bastion of the fairy courts. Rowan, the eldest, is chosen to fight to the death in the Midsummer War against a mysterious opponent. His sister Meg is determined to save him. But everything that lives and grows depends on the Midsummer rites. Will she risk her life and the world to save her brother?

This is my first novel, and will be released October 26 from Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. The sequel, Guardian of the Green Hill, comes out Fall 2011. After that is a bawdy young adult historical, Ladies in Waiting, set in 1660s England.

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

LS: I hope this doesn’t sound too corny – or psychotic – but my life is a fantasy. There’s never a time when there’s not a story playing in the back of my mind, not competing with the real world, certainly never confused with it, but providing a backdrop. Possibilities are always there, if you know what I mean. You meet a person, see a tree, and you think, what if? And of course that what if can be anything – glorious anything! Sometimes it translates into a book, but the plots create themselves, building, brewing, regardless. Some of the stories are fantasies in the genre sense, but they are all fantasies in the traditional meaning of imagination unrestrained. So I’m inspired by everything around me.

I consider myself so very lucky that daydreaming is my full-time job!

In the more literal sense, I was inspired to write my first book about the fairies of the British Isles after taking a folklore class taught by Alison Lurie at Cornell. Before that I had been more concerned with mythology, but that class opened me to the traditions and beliefs of the people in their hearths and homes and gardens, not in shrines and temples. The story lay dormant for almost a decade, but it finally sprouted.

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

LS: For Under the Green Hill and its sequel, the biggest challenge was how to combine fact, as it were – the centuries-old fairy mythos – with fantasy. I needed to create a world within a world, a fiction within an established folklore. I did tons of research on the fairy tradition, but I couldn’t let myself get bogged down in retellings. Finding the balance of accuracy and originality took a delicate hand.

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

LS: My book is just about to come out, so we’ll see how well I can reach readers! As for publishing, my book had two incarnations, one a crashing failure, one (so far) a smashing success.

When I first wrote the book years ago I couldn’t get any interest. I was sure it was brilliant (I was less modest in my youth) and decided if no one wants this, I must not be the writer I thought I was. After I failed to find an agent I actually gave up writing entirely (and remember, being a writer is the only thing I ever wanted to be) and determined to have an adventure. I became a deputy sheriff. It was wildly exciting, exposed a previously hidden facet of my nature… but I couldn’t do it forever. I fell briefly in love, had a baby, left law enforcement, moved to the woods, and began to write again. When I took another look at UNDER THE GREEN HILL I was pretty sure my original assessment had been right, and sent it out again.

This time the whole process from query to agent to signed book deal took just under two months. Why did it work this time? Who knows? I guess the market is ripe for fairies.

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

LS: Hmm… probably Narnia or The Neverending Story. They are favorites of mine, of course, but from a more practical perspective those worlds offer considerable variety, and since I have trouble even deciding what to eat off a menu, I should probably allow for a lot of mind-changing in my fantasy world.

If I can range into television, give me the Deep Space Nine setting of the Star Trek universe.

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

LS: The things that would truly surprise you have to stay secret!

You can learn more about me on my web site, http://www.lauraleesullivan.com, and I love to make new friends on Facebook. Search for Laura Sullivan – I’m the one with the pink fairy wings. I’ll be having lots of contests in November to promote Under the Green Hill.

CE: Don’t forget to leave a comment, for the chance to win a copy of Under the Green Hill.


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The Magical History Tour

I know many Rick Riordan fans were waiting with great anticipation for The Kane Chronicles #1: The Red Pyramid, which was released on May 4. No doubt some young readers have devoured the book multiple times by now. You can see my complete review for The New York Journal of Books.

You can also read an interview with Rick Riordan on Shelf Awareness, where he discusses the teaching elements of a book that draws on ancient Egyptian history and culture.

The Kane Chronicles premise — young people find out they have an important, mysterious lineage and magical powers — is far from original. Harry Potter, the Charlie Bone series, The Children of the Lamp series (about children who learn that they are genies), and Riordan’s own Percy Jackson series are just some of the Kane Chronicles predecessors. But it’s a formula that works, for who wouldn’t love to discover that they are secretly someone important, with magic powers? The Kane Chronicles doubles its kid appeal with the ancient Egyptian angle. There is something about ancient Egypt that speaks to kids (and many adults) all these thousands of years later.

Magic and history, history and magic… hmmm….

If you could have magic powers, what would they be?

If you could travel to an ancient culture, which one would be your first choice?

If you could take on the powers of a magician from an ancient culture, what culture would you choose? Does that change your answer to do the first two questions?

Chris Eboch with Haunted books

Chris Eboch with her Haunted books

Chris Eboch grew up in Saudi Arabia, which may be why she hankers for a magic genie lamp.


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Fantasy elements under the microscope

It looks as though I may be leading a fantasy-writing workshop later this year, and I’d like to be helpful. I’m planning to discuss world-building, paranormal/unusual characters, and integrating the fantastic with the ordinary and universal, but I don’t want to miss a good topic for discussion or practice. So I wanted to ask those of you who are…

Writers: What aspect of craft, specific to fantasy, do you struggle with most or wish you knew more about?

Readers: What aspects do you most often find lacking in the the fantasy books you read?

All suggestions or ideas welcome; thanks!

— Joni, who lives for plausibility but recognizes that not everyone cares about that


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