Middle grade fantasy is always a favorite here at The Mixed Up Files so I’m really honored to be part of G.A. Morgan’s blog tour for her fantastic Five Stones trilogy which is launching its final book THE KINFOLK this week. Here’s how the small press publisher describes the title.
In the dramatic conclusion of The Five Stones Trilogy, G.A. Morgan’s THE KINFOLK (Islandport Press; October 25, 2016; hardcover; $18.95), Chase, Evelyn, and Knox must gather together disparate forces to save not just Ayda, but their own world. The three young people have returned through the fog to fulfill their promise to the Keepers on the island of Ayda, whose four realms are in turmoil. But in Exor, Dankar s evil forces continue to grow as he corrupts and coerces all in his domain, with the final intent of gaining total control of Ayda so he may take his battle to the world beyond the fog our world. THE KINFOLK closes this award-winning trilogy in a book that teems “with adventure and philosophical richness.” (Kirkuk starred review).THE KINFOLK will appeal to a wide audience from middle grade to YA readers, ages 10-14, and their parents.
Hello Genevieve, Greetings from the Other Portland. One of the things I love about my home town is that we have a bunch of local presses from the boutique literary Forest Avenue Press to the comprehensive and ultra hip Dark Horse Comics. I was thrilled to see your book’s published by a local press. Tell me a little about your hometown and Islandport Press.
Hi Rosanne and thanks for talking with me today! I lived on the West Coast for awhile before moving to Portland, Maine, and I think both our Portlands have a lot in common. My town is a mid-sized city on a peninsula that juts out into Casco Bay. Depending on where you live, you can see the water at the end of the street—and you can always smell it. Gulls caterwaul in the morning, and often we wake up to foggy mornings when the smell of the ocean mixes with the smell of woodsmoke in the air. Even though its a city, there’s still something homey about it. And, of course, it has awesome food! It also has a thriving arts scene, including great music, galleries, and several independent bookstores. Those long winters create good readers. Islandport Press is located just outside Portland, and it is a true locally owned, independent press. It has been in business about sixteen years, and was started with the publication of a book called Hauling By Hand, which tells the story of seven generations of lobster fishermen. Very appropriate! Since then, it has been publishing all kinds of books that evoke the sensibilities of New England. I was thrilled when they wanted to publish the trilogy because my book, at its heart, celebrates the magical summers I spent here as a kid that forever connected me to the landscape and people of Maine.
Ooh! foggy weather, gulls, awesome food and avid readers! Sounds a lot like Oregon. I have to say that Genevieve is one of my all time favorite names. I love the story of St. Genevieve who is the patroness of Paris and a teenage shepherd and blockade runner credited with turning the Huns back from their siege of the city. (Wouldn’t that make awesome YA historical fiction?) Were you named for her? Is there a story behind your name?
There is! My great-grandmother’s name was Genevieve Morrill. My mother loved “Grandma Gen” very much, and named her only daughter (me) after her. I have vague memories of the original, and a huge wooden Noah’s Ark she used to let me play with. When I was born, my mother gave me a little statue of Ste. Genevieve, that I still have, and I was very familiar with the story. It is the transformation of Ste. Genevieve from an ordinary shepherdess to an extraordinary warrior that created in me a belief that a hidden power lies latent in all of us, and it only takes circumstances for it to be revealed. This is a big theme in my trilogy. Later, when I was grown, I wrote a book about saints that was inspired by my childhood fascination with Ste. Genevieve. However, a lot of people nowadays are more familiar with my name because it is also the name of Madeleine’s dog. I love my name, but it was hard to carry as a little girl. Most people called me Gen-Gen in those days.
I totally think that the dog Genevieve in the Madeleine stories is a reference to the saint because she is the patroness of Paris. And seriously you should think about writing her story. There are so many powerful young women in the canon of saints, it’s a shame that Joan of Arc gets all the glory.
But back to your story of the moment. I think one of the strengths of your work is the blending of action in the ongoing war on the island of Ayda and the more philosophical underpinnings of the conflict. So first about the action scenes— I find combat really hard to write clearly. Did you do any research into the fighting methods used in the book? How do you choose a focus for a fight scene that captures the chaos of combat without being a confusing blur?
I love this question because for some reason the battles were so vivid for me, and I don’t consider myself a particularly violent person. I did do some research—quite a lot of research, actually—about weaponry and the different kinds being used before the advent of the pistol. There is only one gun references in the first book, at the very beginning of the Prologue, which takes place during the Napoleonic Wars. The rest of the battle scenes occur in Ayda, where fog has stopped technology around the early 1500’s. Once I had this timeline in mind, I dove into the different weapons that might have been available, and I even practiced some sword stunts! I have several swords in my office. I also watched my two boys mock-fight with plastic light sabers and was able to translate their movements into my books. I think the key to writing battle scenes is to keep the POV very tight, from one character’s perspective, on the ground. If you write it the way that character sees it and is directly experiencing it, the action becomes more fluid and tense. This can be hard to do at first because movies and TV have taught us to view battles as onlookers, but it’s worth it. Otherwise battles can become a mosh pit. I had to break this rule somewhat in the finale of The Kinfolk, because the battle was just huge. The Exorians destroy a city, and that was hard to depict without seeing it from afar. But, even then, I tried to return as quickly as possible to the impact of the battle on specific characters and their individual experiences of it.
I so agree. Point of view is everything in an action scene. I once asked my husband if for our weekly date we could go paddle a canoe under some bridges so I could envision what it would be like to throw somebody off a bridge. Because I’ve seen people fall off of bridges in the movies, but it’s not the same without the smell of the water and the sound of something smacking the surface and the creepy darkness of things you can’t quite see underwater when you wade in to rescue somebody. When you pull back from that tight view, so much is lost!
Though I don’t write this kind of fantasy I am a fan and one of the things I love the most is the philosophical or spiritual spine of a story. There are elements to the struggle over the control of the five stones that felt a little bit familiar from other fantasy and mythology I’ve read. Did you have a central inspiration for the core of the story? Your acknowledgment mentions a Haitian shaman and two of your characters are biracial Haitians. Was there an element inspired by Haitian culture?
I’m so happy you asked this because Haitian culture and the religion of Vodou is critical to the book, yet very few people have commented on it. The reason some of the elements feel familiar is because they are elemental to our experience as humans living on the planet. The idea of five essential aspects of creation has been around since I don’t know when; probably since we first gathered around the fire telling stories and looking down at our hands (a scene I recreate in The Fog of Forgetting). There are four main navigational directions, four basic elements, four seasons, four Beatles, even. The elusive element is the fifth element. The most elusive and unseen. To illustrate this, take my Beatles analogy a little farther,: John, Paul, George, and Ringo represent the four basic qualities, but the music they create is the magic. It is the fifth element.This mythological concept is very strong in any shamanic culture: Haitian, Native American, Druidic and it is rooted in nature. A lot of people think Voodoo is about zombies and weird, violent rituals, but that is a fringe element and not what the true shamans practice. Voodoo, and other shamanic religions, recognize that “holiness” is not gifted to us from an abstract deity, but is created and cultivated within us, as it is in all living things. I think we respond to these classic themes (and write and rewrite about them) because they are so deeply part of our DNA. In my books, I tried make it easier to understand through the idea of the Daylights. Daylights are the essence of who we are; they are bound to the four stones of power and through them we are connected to every other living thing. And the fifth stone, well that’s the magic. That’s the music.
I was happy to see your story include biracial children as they make up the fastest growing of the minority populations in the US. What are the challenges unique to writing a biracial character?
It’s funny, because I never think of Evelyn and Frankie as being biracial, or, actually tri-racial (Haitian and French-Canadian) because, to me, their characters are so strong they are just themselves. The challenge was in giving them a background suitable to their bravery and kindness, I was attracted to having them come from Haiti because of the tremendous dignity and fortitude of the Haitian people. The history of that island is rife with genocide, extreme cruelty and suffering, and devastation, yet her people staged the only successful slave rebellion in the West Indies (a good mirroring of what will happen on Ayda). In my world, skin pigment does not matter at all (the daylights are a person’s defining characteristic), and so I rarely brought it up in my books, unless it was important as a way to define a character, just as I would say they were tall or thin or beady-eyed. The only moment where I felt I had to address it was in the very beginning of the story when the boys first meet the girls. Maine is a very white state, and the girls have been adopted and come to live in a small village. They would notice that they didn’t “fit in” and so I had them talk about it…but I leave it open as to why they felt that way. I imagined that after living through an earthquake and being orphaned and transplanted, there are many things that would make one feel different, and so I didn’t want to overly simplify their feelings.
I have been a lifelong fan of Ursula LeGuin, in particular her Earthsea books. Among your fantasy favorites did you have a mentor text that inspired you in the writing of this trilogy?
I LOVE the Earthsea Chronicles, and LeGuin is a huge influence on me (Her sense of fairness just shines out in every sentence). My other favorite is Left Hand of Darkness. I was a huge Tolkien fan, and The Lord of the Rings inspired me to try to write a story on an epic scale and not be afraid of going deep and creating maps and mythology. I also wanted to write a story that both boys and girls would like, so I studied his balance of action and character. Another big influence was Philip Pullman and His Darkest Materials trilogy. Pullman does not shy away from taking on metaphysical and spiritual questions, and his books blew me away. All of these books have a similar theme that is at the crux of all great fantasy-adventures: the eternal struggle between free will and domination. It is our most basic conflict, both in the external world and in our internal evolution, and that is why we will be writing and reading about it as long as humans walk the earth.
And now the practical: how long did it take to write this trilogy from first glimmer of inspiration to the final edits of this third book?
Yikes, I’m embarrassed to admit that the first glimpses of this story began when my children were 6 and 9. It took me ten years from telling it to them as an extended bedtime story to the final corrections on the last book. I had no idea then what I was getting myself into. My office has a bulletin board layered with research notes, maps, timelines, and imagery, and I need to take it down and file it all away but I’m too attached. It’s my children’s youth. It is going to be a big day when I tackle the bulletin board.
What do you wish you’d known before embarking on the enterprise of writing a fantasy trilogy?
I wish I had known how easy it is to get thrown off course by feedback as you write a long series. The first book comes out and you have to be disciplined and not read reviews (good or bad) too often or take in too much of what other people tell you about the book, especially if you are in the throes of writing the next books. The voice you need to hear is your own. Only you know the full arc of the story, but everyone will give you their opinions about each book as a separate thing. And for every person who doesn’t like something, there’s another who absolutely loves that very same thing. It took me until mid-way through writing the second book to tune those opinions out and just write. For me, the story has been half-told up until now, anyway. Today, finally, it is out in the world, complete. Ten years later!! I’m excited to hear from fans who can read all three books in one sweep. That is incredibly exciting for me.
Thank you so much for sharing your books with our readers at The Mixed Up Files. All three titles in the Five Stones trilogy are available now. We are doing a giveaway of three signed copies of The Kinfolk and also a Fifth Stone necklace. Leave a comment below to be in the drawing for the goodies.
What a fascinating interview! Can’t wait to read these books.