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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Questions From a New Reader

Every now and then I hear from a new reader so enthusiastic with either The Gateway Chronicles or BREEDER (or both!) that they come to me with a plethora of questions, and sometimes those questions are blog-worthy because I feel there might be more people out there interested in the same information. This is one of those situations! The following questions came in last month from a new reader of The Gateway Chronicles... 

1) Okay, I can't stand it anymore. I must know. What addictive substance did you hide between the lines of your books?? 

Fairy dust. That addictive substance is fairy dust. 


Actually, in all seriousness, I've worked quite hard over the years to make sure my books follow established literary patterns without being cliched. I believe the human brain looks for patterns subconsciously,  and because of this, there are certain storytelling techniques that will always feel more fulfilling in the end than others (or than a story written with no plan at all). This is one reason why I also beat on the "plan ahead!" drum when I give seminars on creative writing.

2) Ever since my first read-through, I've been trying to figure out how much of yourself you put into a character, if not more than 1. So, obviously Darcy is from your town and went to your camp. I tend to think you put some other parts of you in her, too. When at camp, did you have those magical feelings about the camp? Did you feel that perhaps you were meant for a different world, not fitting in? Or have you so aptly captured those aspects from other things you've read and from hearing it from others? Or are you more like Lewis, always carrying around a backpack full of journals? Did you have a friend - or were you the friend - like Sam, who was always by your side, never giving up on you even when you were mean-ish to her? 

Darcy is definitely the character into which I poured the most of myself. I did use my hometown (from my teen years) as Darcy's hometown, and the camp they attend in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is the real camp I attended every summer of my life from birth until college (with the names changed). There was absolutely something magical and different about that camp, and not in a mystical, creepy, I-can't-seperate-fantasy-from-reality, delusional sort of way, but in a total separation from the rest of the world, from the rest of civilization, sort of way. The real camp, which I'll just call Cedar, was a constant for me in an otherwise changing world. Every summer when we went there, it was virtually unchanged. Obviously the flowers and trees and sun and water and rocks and sky didn't change, nor did the smells or sounds or sensations of being there, but even the camp itself went through very little change. For 18 years, I don't even remember the quilts on the camp beds being replaced with new ones, or the carpet being torn up and replaced. The furniture and artwork was always the same. There were small changes made here and there, but nothing big was done until I was an adult. I know the forest trails out there like the back of my hand, and it's so achingly remote and beautiful. When the sun comes through the trees, or glimmers in off the water, at just the right times of the day, it really is a magical place. It was an escape from reality, and it did make me feel like I was meant for another world. I really didn't fit in well in my "real world" life, at least I didn't feel like I did much of the time, so going to Cedar was like an escape into a fantasy world for me. It revived my spirit. In writing The Gateway Chronicles, then, I wanted to cause the reader to have this same sort of revived sensation by "visiting" the camp - and Alitheia - through the pages of my books.

I was (still am) a bit like Lewis, too. I don't carry a backpack around full of journals, but I'm rarely without one! I keep a small journal in my purse, and I probably have ten to twelves scattered around my house that are full of story ideas, notes, sketches, names, sample chapters... you name it! I put that aspect of my personality into Lewis's character. 

I definitely was not the loyal Sam-friend, although I wish I could have been! I've always been a bit too self-centered to be a Sam. But I had a Sam-friend, who is still one of my closest friends today. Even when I grew exasperated with her and did mean-ish things to her so I could go off and have "me time," she never gave up on me. And she always saw (sees) the good in everyone. That combination of loyalty, optimism, and overall goodness is so rare. I knew I had to write in a character like Sam who had those same traits. A Darcy needs a Sam. (And the parallel in names to Sam in The Lord of the Rings is not entirely unintentional! :) ).

3) Did you make up narks, or are those an across-the-board fantasy creature? 

I made up narks! They are entirely unique, although I tied them loosely to Tolkiensian elves to give people a frame of reference (I believe I say in the first book that they are in the elf family, or something like that). Every successful fantasy series, in my opinion, has to have a unique fantasy creature that has been created just for that particular universe. Lewis has his marshwiggles and dufflepuds, Tolkien his hobbits, and Rowling her house elves. I went with narks, which was a word I pulled from a form letter at Cedar (apparently a "night nark" is actually just a counselor who enforces night curfew). I came up with the concept of having night narks and day narks sharing one body, and the physical and social characteristics fell into place from there. I was super nervous about it before the publication of the first book, though, because I felt that of all the things in the story, the narks were what could flop the worst. Either people would love them, or people would think they were terribly cheesy and hate them. Thankfully, some of the first feedback I got on The Six was that people loved the narks - specifically Yahto Veli. I was relieved!

4) You mentioned teenagers as your target audience. Do you hear from male teenagers about the books? Are they drawn to the battles and strategy?

Yes! Surprisingly, I hear from lots of male teenagers - actually, I hear from lots of males, period! I wasn't sure how The Gateway Chronicles would be received by boys since it's written around a primary female protagonist, but the boys who have read it have responded overwhelmingly positively. Some of my biggest fans are boys, especially boys between the ages of 11 and 14. After the publication of book 4 (I think), I had 8th-grade boys (who were my students at the time), coming up to me the next day, bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived and red-nosed, saying things like, "Thanks a lot, Mrs. B. You made me cry!" or "This is your fault, you know. Your fault!" It was great. I've also recently had a lot of grown men reading them and giving me positive feedback. That's blown me away. I think part of it is that they like the battles and strategy, but I really think that's only a small part of it at the end of the day. Some themes are just universal. If you write a story that speaks to the human condition, you're going to have a crossover story on your hands. 

5) Any tips on where I can look up the names/places?

Baby name books or generators online, lol. But it's the truth! I have a big book of baby names that includes names from all around the world with country of origin, meaning, variations, etc., and I've relied heavily on that for choosing names with specific meanings I wanted for The Gateway Chronicles (and all my writing). A Greek translator online would help with many of the Alitheian names, too, but not all of them! Some of the nark names incorporate Finnish and Hebrew and Native American languages. If you ever really are desperate to know what a particular name means, though, and can't find it online, just shoot me an e-mail at and ask me, and I'll spill the beans. :) 

6) Is it tough to switch gears to your teacher-hat?

Yes and no. At this stage in my career, it's really more about the time crunch. My writing and teaching career have coincided for about eight years now, so I know more or less how to balance things. There are times of the year when, as a teacher, I just have to focus on getting teacher stuff done, but then there are other times where I have more energy and it's easier to come home and write for a couple of hours at night. But because I teach history at a classical school, which means I'm not bound by a textbook or a curriculum some government suit put together, I basically get to stand in front of my students and tell stories - true stories, but stories - all day long. I get to dramatize historical stories for a bunch of teenagers every day. And I get to read to them from primary source material that is hundreds of years old, and I get to talk it out with them, and gnaw through the tough bits, and study them and their reactions to things... It's kind of fantastic! As an author of Young Adult material, it feels like the other side of the writing coin, if that makes sense. I do wish, however, that I just had more time. But I think we all wish for that! And as Gandalf says, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

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