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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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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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Hero Interview Part 2

More with Suzanne Perry of Secret Garden Books in Seattle:

Spec: Is there any other recent spec-fic for young readers you’re enthusiastic about?

SP: I’m really excited about I AM NUMBER FOUR. It’s going under the name Pitticus Lore, but it’s really from James Frey and a recent Columbia graduate. It’s amazing. It’s really a father/son story wrapped in this huge package with shape-shifters and explosions and epic battles. It has all these elements that I shouldn’t even like; I don’t read that kind of thing. But it’s pretty brilliant. It’s a great father son story. A great parent/child story. And there’s a love story in it, too. It’s quite wonderful. And it’ll pick up steam when the movie comes out.

[Cranky Spec editorial note: Suzanne’s recommendation not withstanding, readers who are authors should be aware of Frey's fiction factory and treatment of other authors.]

Spec: How about spec fic for younger readers? Picture books, for instance?

SP: Oh! The picture book I’m the most excited about right now is probably still MONKEY WITH A TOOLBELT by Chris Monroe. Does that count? I love Oliver Jeffers, too.

Spec: How do you like working with authors on events? Any tips?

SP: I find authors, especially kids’-book authors, to be the most highly evolved people on the planet. I really do. They totally get it. They don’t have raging egos, for the most part. They want to do what they can to help, and they do help.

We recently did an event with a bunch of self-published people, and I find that world difficult to traverse. I would say that self-publishing it not the way to go. It’s a tough road.

Spec: Give us a little secret Suzanne insight. Do you believe in ghosts, ESP, or—

SP: Yes, yes, everything, all of the above. Last summer we sold our house that we’d been in for the last 12 years, and there was an entity in it — definitely a black entity, but I wasn’t scared of him. It was just a blackness, an absence of light, and many times he would be in the closet or the front corner of our living room. I didn’t like him there, but I got used to him. Why am I saying he? But it clearly was gendered.

And I kind of expected to see him in our new place, which is only a block away. But no. Nothing at our new house. That was an old house, and our new house is brand new. It doesn’t have anybody. Fancy that!

But I believe in all that, oh, yes. When I was nine I saw a UFO, and I will never, ever forget. Ever. These two mercury-silver circles were off in the distance at the top of a hill, and then they just took up and hovered a while, and then boom! They were gone. So fast! I have never forgotten and I never will.

The only thing that really scares me is alien abduction. I don’t want anybody to even think about coming to get me because the idea of being powerless to stop them really skeeves me out. I’m not interested in that!

Thanks, Suzanne! We’ll look forward to your next event and promise not to bring alien guests! (But readers in the Seattle area should check out the Secret Garden Books awesome events calendar.)

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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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Interview with a Hero: Professor Watermelon (part 2)

More of our interview with writer, librarian, and writing teacher Chadwick Gillenwater, a.k.a.Professor Watermelon. (Read part 1 here.)

Spec: Who is Professor Watermelon?
CG:
Professor Watermelon is a character I created to teach creative writing to children. Many children feel stifled by the rules of writing (grammar, spelling, style, etc.). From the get-go I want my students to see that I am ready to have fun with writing. My character shows that I am not taking writing too seriously. I am not there to cross out and scribble over their writing with red ink. I am there to show them how writing is an outlet for creative self expression — just like drawing, painting, and building things with popsicle sticks.

Spec: Does Professor Watermelon have any supernatural abilities or unusual traits?
CG: Of course! He is in close connection with many magical people and creatures from this world and beyond. During every creative writing class, we receive a letter and artifact from one of these friends. We call this the MuseBox. These artifacts often become the jumping off point for many stories the students create. For example, we may receive a letter and a jar of honey from Herbert the Fly. Even though Herbert is a fly, he makes the tastiest honey on this planet. Herbert may ask the creative writers if their character can do something that is extraordinary to his or her species.

Professor Watermelon is also connected to the people and creatures that live inside the moon. There is a special bakery inside the moon called the Lunar Spooner. This is where Moonbean the Clown bakes Imagination Pies. Creative writers often get these as snacks. They magically cure writer’s block!

Spec: We might need a few of those for a giveaway! What’s the most rewarding thing about working with young writers?

CG: I have the opportunity to inspire a child to find the joy in writing every single day. I get to show them that even adults have the ability to act silly. And I love that I get to use my own imagination.

Spec: When teaching teachers how to teach writing, what are your top tips for doing it right?

CG: If you’re a writer, you know it’s important to write with your writer’s hat on and edit with your editor’s hat on. If you try to wear both at the same time, you will have a tendency not to believe in your writing. Your editor’s voice will keep your imagination from flowing, and you will most likely not finish the project.

If you’re a writing teacher, please separate writing time from editing time – maybe move them to completely separate days. Also, if you have not found the joy in writing yourself, how can you inspire a child to find that joy? It works the same for reading. I have parents ask me all the time how they can motivate their child to read at home. I ask them, “Do you read at home?” They often say that they are not much of a reader. BINGO! We must model the behavior if we want to teach it.

Spec: What writing project are you working on now?

CG: I’m working on a middle grade novel in which Professor Watermelon is one of the characters. The setting is Seattle; Lillyville, TN; and the moon! The protagonist is an eleven-year-old boy who lives in a cemetery with his pet crow. That’s all I’m saying right now, heehee.

Good luck with that moon story, and thanks for stopping by, Chadwick! Please give our regards to the Professor!

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Interview with a Hero: Professor Watermelon (part 1)

Librarians, booksellers, and teachers who spread the love of reading are among the heroes of specfic writers and fans, and in 2011, The Spectacle is pleased to bring you interviews with a few of these special folks.

Our first hero is Chadwick Gillenwater — how’s that for a superhero name? But he’s got an alter ego, too: Professor Watermelon. (Read on for more.) In addition to being a writer himself, Chadwick is a school librarian, creative writing teacher, and instructor of writing teachers. Welcome, Chadwick!

Spec: What age readers are you serving as a librarian, and what fantasy titles are hot in your library now?

CG: My library serves kindergarten through 8th grade. My students love the Fablehaven series and The Lightning Thief series. Harry Potter remains popular, along with the Eragon books.

Spec: How much interest do your readers show in sci-fi vs. fantasy?

CG: To be honest, I think my library lacks in regards to middle-grade science fiction. I would be interested in recommendations from some of your readers in the comments.

Most of my students enjoy realistic fiction and magic realism. That could be because I seem to push those genres, since that is what I like, wink wink.

Spec: As a librarian, what do you wish you had more of?

CG: TIME! I have a hard time keeping up with my reading. There are so many books on my “to read” list! I also need more parents volunteers to shelve books. Actually, I am pretty happy, really!

Spec: As a writer, your work often involves fantasy elements — Why? What do you like about the genre?

CG: I like this genre for the same reasons I like to teach it. I seem to have a better outlet for my wild imagination. My favorite genre is magic realism. I’m able to keep my story grounded in the “real” world but give it the magical twist to keep it different and interesting. This is also my favorite genre to read.

Spec: Why do you think fantasy is a good or common entry point for young authors?
CG: Children love to create new worlds when they write. They like to draw the maps of these worlds and the different kinds of people and creatures that live there. With fantasy, children are allowed to create their own rules. This is important in a child’s life, since their “real” world is ruled by adults.

I often ask students to use their “Third Eye” when writing. With their Third Eye, a chicken egg can become larger than a house. Maybe the egg becomes a planet or a mode of transportation. Can you imagine a chicken egg spaceship? What is steering this ship? Where are they going? What do they want more than anything in the universe? They can find all of this information by using their Third Eye!

Spec: What’s been one of your favorite reads lately?
CG: I’m reading SLOB by Ellen Potter right now. It’s realistic fiction written through the perspective of an overweight middle-school boy. I find myself rolling with laughter but turning the page to something that simply makes me want to cry.

Spec: What’s the most rewarding thing about working with young readers?

CG: I am very grateful for the opportunity to inspire children to discover their love of reading. This love will last them their whole life. I remember the adults that inspired me, and I’m happy to pay it back!

Tomorrow: More from Chadwick’s alter ego, Professor Watermelon, about teaching writing, and teaching teachers how to teach writing.

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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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