Posts Tagged fantasy

Interview with Diane Magras, Author of Shadow Beasts

Photo of author Diane Magras

credit — Michael Magras

We’re excited to have Diane Magras on here today to talk about her new release. Let’s start with learning a bit more about you, and then we’ll talk more about Shadow Beasts.

Did you have any childhood dreams for when you became an adult? If so, did they come true?

I’ve always wanted to be an author, so the publication of my first book, The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, was the fulfillment of that dream. I’d been telling stories for most of my life—beginning with the re-telling I treated my father to every time he attempted to read me a bedtime story—and wrote my first novel when I was in 7th grade. Seeing kids that age reading my books and finding fulfillment in them in an addition to that dream, one I didn’t expect when I was young.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I would ask my younger self to write down ten things that she loves about herself, things that she’s proud of, and save that piece of paper to look at each year as she grows up. When you’re young, the world is wide open. The creative juices are flowing and you feel ready for anything. That’s a wonderful time in a kid’s life, and the enthusiasm they can muster about themselves would help a future self immensely.

Did you love to read as a child? Can you tell us some favorite books?

I’ve been quite an avid reader all my life. As a young child, I loved any story of magic and monsters (friendly monsters ideally, though). When I was in 2nd or 3rd grade, my favorite book was No Flying in the House by Betty Brock (I adored the idea of being able to fly, but I especially loved Gloria, the tiny white dog, who spoke and took care of the protagonist and was her beloved friend). When I was little older, my favorite book was The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. The opening scenes on Will Stanton’s farm were so much like my own life in a rural place, and the magic and lore drew me in entirely. (I still think the climax in the woods with the hunt is one of the best scenes of its kind.) The Dark is Rising also inspired me to start writing longer and longer stories, which led to my first novel!

What was an early experience where you learned that written language had power?

I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t know that written language held power! I grew up in a remote, isolated place, and books—written language—made me feel so much bigger than my surroundings. Movies felt more distant to me and seemed out of reach of my own life; written language, however, was a direct link, and utterly real. That’s probably because the story was all in my own mind, a dialogue between me and the author.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I seriously thought about this as a career when I wrote my first novel in 7th grade. My English teacher, Ms. Plourde, had challenged to write a full-length novel (she’d read many of my stories), telling me that there were other people my age who had published books. It felt truly possible to me at that moment.

Have you had any careers besides writing?

I didn’t publish anything until many, many years later. I realized in college that it was nearly impossible to make a living from writing alone, and so I sought other work that could sustain me—yet not rob my imagination—while I wrote my novels in the mornings and evenings on weekends. I’ve worked in fundraising for most of my career, writing the stories of programs that I care about for letters and grant proposals. For almost two decades, I’ve been doing that for a nonprofit that brings books and discussion to marginalized communities around my state. I still have that day job (there’s no way I could make a living from writing alone, unfortunately), but I do love being involved in that kind of work.

Why do you write?

I write because it gives me a chance to escape from the world and create a world where I can do anything: model what I wish my world would be, conjure a fantasy world, meet amazing kids and watch them struggle and experience joy. But also, just to tell a story. That instinct has never left me.

It’s always nice to get to know a little about an author’s personality. So we asked Diane to answer a few fun questions about her writing habits.

What do you drink while writing?

Usually, it’s a nice cuppa. I am very big on strong black tea, and right now am a wee bit obsessed with the tea I’m buying from the Hebrides in Scotland (a special treat)!

Do you have any special things around your desk that help inspire you when you write?

I have quite a few things like that: four beautiful paper castles that my son designed and built; an incredible birthday card that looks like stained glass (he designed and created that for me this year); a pewter quaich from Scotland (a two-handed drinking bowl, meant to signify affection), which was a gift from my husband; and a small Lego sculpture with a golden flag that sits on a note: “Go Mommy!” When my son was in 3rd grade, he wrote that note and made that trophy for me to encourage me while I was working on my first book.

Book cover of Shadow Beasts

art by Vivienne To

And now that we know about more about Diane, let’s find out about more about her wonderful book, Shadow Beasts.

What inspired you to create this story and the unusual problem Nora faces?

I came up with the premise—near-invincible monsters that destroy human beings with their venom—as a response, in part, to the environmental degradation I was seeing around the world at the time. In one of my brainstorming moments, I asked: “What if the earth spawned something that would get back at people for all the horrible things we’ve done to it?” I wanted to make my monsters nearly invincible, so they’re shadow beasts—creatures that transform from solid to shadow in less than a second, and then back again when they’re beside their prey. Only kids can defeat them—my monsters falter before children, for reasons no one knows—and they turn into mist when they’re destroyed. My protagonist, Nora Kemp, came to mind right away: a rural girl on a sheep farm who was immune to the shadow beasts’ venom and wanted to train to fight them, but who was kept home by her father instead. I wanted to create a portrait of a kid who really struggled with that: knowing that she could be a hero, but being held back by someone she loved until much later.

Your book has been compared to Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee. In what ways is it similar? And how is it different?

It has a similar fast pace and techno-fantasy vibe. And they both feature a conspiracy. The themes are different, though, and there’s a lot of pure evil in Dragon Pearl (which works really well for the story); Secret of the Shadow Beasts, though, looks at how bad choices from the past can fester within a society, and how individual people can make huge mistakes, but still try to do good. None of my characters—monsters included—are purely evil. And our fantasy cultures are quite different: Yoon Ha Lee’s is layered with Korean mythology, while my story has a Scottish tinge.

Did you base your characters on anyone you know?

Nora is based a little on bit me, actually! I was like her in many ways when I was her age: She has a huge imagination and a lot of talent, but is bullied for being different and weird, and doesn’t have a lot of friends. One friend sustains her, though, through their mutual love of gaming. I didn’t game much as a kid, but these days, I’m a casual gamer, so I totally get that part of her world now! And, like Nora, I knit strange caps (not as strange as hers, though) and I always need a cuppa (black tea with a splash of milk).

Have you had any experiences like those of your book character? I hope you haven’t any encounters with Shadow Beasts? But please let us know if you have.

Nora has memories of playing chasing games with her dogs. I was very close to my childhood dogs, and I based much of Nora’s knowledge of dog behavior on things I’d seen. In fact, when she screams voice commands at the Lupus umbrae, the wolf-like shadow beasts, she’s doing something that I’ve done with aggressive dogs!

After a scary encounter, Nora has to decide whether to find ways to make her life safer or step out or to take actions that might prove even more dangerous. How did you give your character the determination she needs to make her life-changing decisions?

This ties in with that psychological burden that Nora’s been carrying: wanting to train to fight the shadow beasts, then being prevented to by her beloved father. He told her that she wasn’t “that kind of person,” the right kind of person to be a knight, as they’re called—which she interpreted as meaning that she wasn’t good enough. She’s been carrying that belief for years—from age seven to 12—and so when she’s offered the chance to become a young knight, it seems like a wish come true. It’s something she longed for, lost (deservedly, she felt), and then regained because she’s worthy after all. Once she’s at Noye’s Hill, the headquarters and training grounds, she’s determined to be the brave young person that she’d always wanted to be, so that plays a big part in her decisions afterward.

But she’s also still a bit unsure of herself; that blow, of being told by her father that she wasn’t good enough, has stayed with her. Little kindnesses and signs of confidence from others—like her senior knight, Amar—make a huge difference. 

Do you have any advice for readers on how to face similar situations when they’re afraid?

I think the biggest parallel that readers might have with what Nora encountered was going to a new place where they don’t know anyone, like a new school or a summer camp. And that’s hard, and scary, especially when you feel that you’re totally different from everyone around you. I want those kids who are struggling with that to remember what they’re good at, and remember to value themselves. I hope they also realize that we’re all alone at some point in our lives until we find the people who will value us. And we will. Those people are out there. Just keep looking, and be yourself, and be proud of who are you.

What is your favorite part of the book?

That’s really hard. I love the battle scenes, the emotional bonding scenes, the discoveries, and humor. But I’ll talk about the chat scenes, because I love those too. For one, they were a lot of fun to write. They are literally the chat between Nora and her gaming friend Wilfred, which take place on Warriors of the Frozen Bog, the video game they play together. Nora is at Noye’s Hill, the headquarters, and she’s not supposed to have any possessions, but sneaks in Warriors of the Frozen Bog on a remote player. This allows her to remain connected to home through her contact with Wilfred. They were best friends, but he was always on top, being older, being cool, and having been a competitive gamer for a long time. Nora mattered to him, but he was kind of her mentor. When she becomes a knight, though, she’s suddenly far more important than Wilfred ever was or could be, and he struggles with that. And so their relationship strains. I really enjoyed showing that though a video game chat, and especially the last chat, after they’ve argued horribly, when Nora shares something incredibly vulnerable.

What do you hope readers will take away from the story?

While I hope that readers take away a fun, exciting story with characters who stay in their minds for a long time, I also I hope they think about questions in their own lives—about environmental threats in their areas and the truth behind history. I also hope they realize that you never know what kind of burden someone else is carrying. Near the end of this book, some of my characters share stories about their burdens. You may never hear those stories in real life, but everyone has one.

Please tell us about your other books.

My other two books are The Mad Wolf’s Daughter and its companion novel, The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter. They follow a girl named Drest through an adventure in medieval Scotland. In the first book, after her war-band family has been captured and taken to a castle to be hanged, she sets off to rescue them through a dangerous and unfamiliar landscape, hauling along an injured enemy knight to trade for her beloved brothers and father. In the second, she’s being chased by the same knights who captured her family, because someone’s framed her for a murder, and she has to decide if she’ll run away forever, or find a way to defeat this threat. They’re both fast-paced adventures with medieval insults, lots of swordplay (Drest carried a massive sword during both books), a colorful war-band of her brothers and father, and two traveling companions who become found family for her—the wounded knight and the quirky son of a so-called witch.

Can you share what you’re working on now?

I can’t share specifics until I’m done, but I can share that there’s a lot of warmth in what I’m working on now. Warmth, tension, and vivid characters you’d want to know in real life: I always love that combination in a middle grade novel!Shadow

I’m sure we’ll all be eagerly awaiting the next book once we finish Shadow Beasts! Thanks so much for joining us, Diane. And we look forward to seeing what you come up with next.

World Building with Bestselling #Kidlit Author Lisa McMann

Author Lisa McMann stopped by The Mixed-Up Files Of Middle Grade Authors to talk about hew new middle-grade fantasy, THE FORGOTTEN FIVE: MAP OF FLAMES; world building; and what goes in to writing a series. Here, she shares her process on beginning a new series and what to do about readers who don’t start from the beginning. 

Mixed-Up Files: Tell us about your new book.

The Forgotten Five: Map of Flames by Lisa McMann

Lisa McMann: THE FORGOTTEN FIVE: MAP OF FLAMES is the first book in a middle grade fantasy series. It’s about five supernatural kids, raised in isolation, who enter a hostile-to-supers civilization for the first time to search for their missing criminal parents…and the stash they left behind.

MUF: Let’s talk about world building. How does the shape of a series come about? Do you come up with a single story first, or a world you want to flesh out?

LM: I usually come up with the immediate setting first—where are we when the story begins? In MAP OF FLAMES, it’s a criminals’ hideout on a beach with no electricity, no technology, just a handful of cabins in a lush setting that’s isolated from the modern world. Next I came up with the destination—where are these kids going and what does that look like. I wanted a big contrast between the two things here, so I went with a NYC or Chicago-type of city. When I imagined how the kids would get from one place to the other, the map of southern Europe factored in—I pictured the hideout at the boot heel of Italy, and the big city of Estero at the bottom of Spain (though I brought them closer together so it wouldn’t take so long to get there). So that map was in my head, as well as the contrasting locations. In one of my other series, THE UNWANTEDS, the hidden magical world of Artimé is designed to look like a place where my mother grew up, along the shore of Lake Michigan. I took that real life location and added magic to it.

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMannFor me the shape of the series comes from two things: developing flawed characters and their relationships, and introducing a plot in which the antagonists push the protagonists too far, forcing these main characters to take action. Both things drive the series, with all kinds of setbacks as the heroes attempt to overcome evil and build strengthening relationships at the same time. The bigger the world and its problems, and the more troubled the characters and their need to fix themselves, the longer the series can run.

MUF: What are the biggest challenges in writing a series, and how does that compare when you write a stand-alone novel?

LM: Now you’ve got me looking back at my career and realizing I’ve only ever written three stand-alones out of 28 books. So maybe my biggest challenge is being able to write a book and actually tie up all the loose ends!

With a series, you are writing a story arc within each individual book, but also a story arc for the whole series. That can be tricky to get the hang of—parts of the plot need to resolve while other parts need to become more conflicted. It’s definitely something that my editors have helped me see and understand in past series’. It really takes a conscious effort to recognize the two different arcs.

Author Lisa McMann

Lisa McMann, author. Photo by Ryan Nicholson

MUF: Do you expect that readers will always read in order, or do you find that many people jump in in the middle of a series? If that’s the case, how do you provide back story for new readers without turning off anyone who’s started with book #1?

LM: I absolute wish I could force everyone to read the books in order—I’m a bit controlling this way, haha. But I know this doesn’t always happen. In the early pages of every sequel, I try to weave in key elements of things that happened in the past, kind of the same way TV shows give you the recap of important scenes from the previous episodes. I don’t want this to ever feel heavy-handed or annoying for those faithful readers who read the books in order, though. So it’s a delicate balance to inform or remind but not overdo.

MUF: How much collaboration is involved with your editor on a book series?

LM: I think this depends more on the editor than the writer. Some editors want an outline ahead of time that they can contribute to or approve of. Others are fine with letting an author do their thing and being surprised with the way a book turns out. Both ways work. I prefer not having to write an outline, because I feel like doing that takes something away from the creative process of writing the story—it feels limiting. But if that’s what the editor needs, I’m happy to provide it.

MUF: How do you keep track of your characters and their environment so you don’t forget details?

LM: I keep it all in my head. I might jot down a few notes on my phone app—notes about a key sentence that will carry through to the next book. But it’s also not too difficult to search for the information I need in previous books if I can’t remember something. I know many writers keep copious notes and use other means to track everything—they are likely cringing right now. I just work a different way. I can see a picture of things in my mind. I think my book details take up most of the space in my brain because I can’t remember what I had for breakfast.

MUF: If you would like to share any recent/new-ish middle grade books you’ve enjoyed, we’d love to hear your recommendations! 

All Thirteen

LM: I love Kelly Yang’s Front Desk Books. And Christina Soontornvat’s non-fiction All Thirteen. On my nightstand I have A Comb of Wishes by Lisa Stringfellow and The School for Whatnots by Margaret Peterson Haddix—excited to dive in!

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can find Lisa at @lisa_mcmann on Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram and /McMannFan on Facebook

THE WOLF’S CURSE ~ Interview with Author Jessica Vitalis + #Giveaway

Welcome to my interview with author Jessica Vitalis, where we chat about her debut middle grade fantasy THE WOLF’S CURSE.

In what Booklist calls a “striking debut,” Vitalis’ novel is a vivid, literary tale focusing on family, friendship, belonging, and grief, wrapped up in the compelling narration of the sly, crafty Wolf. Fans of award-winning titles like “The Girl Who Drank the Moon” and “A Wish in the Dark” are sure to be captivated by “The Wolf’s Curse.”

One intriguing side note about Jessica before we begin. Jessica’s journey to publication is an inspiration to readers, to writers, and to anyone working towards reaching a goal. This is taken directly from her press release: “After 13 years writing, debut author Jessica Vitalis lands six-figure, two-book deal.” 👏👏👏

THE BOOK

THE WOLF’S CURSE by Jessica Vitalis

The Wolf is not bound by the same rules as you are.

The Great White Wolf is very, very old. And she is very, very tired. For hundreds of winters, she has searched for someone to take her place. But she is invisible to most people. In all those years, only three have seen her. One died young. One said no. One is still alive — a 12-year-old boy named Gauge. Everyone in the village thinks Gauge is a witch. He’s been in hiding half his life, all because he once saw the Wolf — and right after that, the Lord Mayor’s wife died. Now his only protector, his beloved grandpapá, is dead, too. The Wolf visits the boy again, this time with an offer. She can save him the pain of growing up. Now that he’s all alone in the world, it may be the only way to escape the bounty on his head. If only his grandpapá’s last words hadn’t been, “Stay away from the Wolf.”

“Thoughtful, creative, and engaging. … Accessible and intriguing worldbuilding, particularly around the Wolf’s backstory, will pique readers’ interests, as will larger questions about life, death, truth, and tradition.” — Kirkus Reviews

“A lyrical tale of loss and survival, tradition and belief, in which tension and secrets build like a towering wave. The Wolf’s Curse is a story of many layers. Young readers will treasure this beautiful debut and hold it close to their hearts.”  — Diane Magras, author of “The Mad Wolf’s Daughter”

 

THE INTERVIEW

Hi Jessica! It’s wonderful to have you drop by. I have to tell you that I’m so excited for this book! Care to give our readers a quick peek inside THE WOLF’S CURSE? Maybe five words to give us an inside view?

Macabre, sweet Grim Reaper retelling

🖤💀🖤💀🖤

CHARACTER

The boy Gauge’s beginnings surely tug at the heart. If you would, share a thought or two from his heart with our readers.

Hello, readers––I’m a boy of twelve winters who would like nothing more than to invite you into the living quarters behind my grandpapá’s shop; there, we can sit by his feet in front of the fire as he whittles and tells stories of his travels far and wide.

Oh wow! Now that sounds intriguing and peaceful, yet adventurous.

Tell us. What about Gauge makes him unique and relatable to young readers?

I think part of Gauge’s appeal is that, despite his young age, he already possesses an impressive skill set in terms of his carpentry and whittling. At the same time, he’s relatable because he’s uncertain about the world and his place in it; young readers will recognize his longing to live up to his grandpapá’s expectations and make the old man proud.

What do you hope young readers of Gauge’s story take with them about death and the process of grief?

Childhood can be a frustrating time; kids want to have agency but sometimes feel trapped or like they don’t have a say in their own lives. This is especially true of kids living with or experiencing trauma; without the foresight that age and maturity brings, it can feel like things will never change. My hope they’ll walk away from this story with the sense that no matter how bad things feel, there’s always room for hope and healing.

A very important take-away.💚

Portraying the Grim Reaper as a Great White Wolf is clever. 🐺  Share how you capitalized on the darkness of a reaper contrasting with the ‘lightness’ of a white wolf to create such a wonderful character.

I’m glad she resonated with you! When I started writing the story, I didn’t have any sense of what kind of character she might turn out to be, so I was delighted when she revealed herself as something other than pure evil. That said, I knew before I started writing that she wouldn’t want to be doing her job––giving her a tangible and relatable personal goal helped create a nuanced and compelling character rather than a stereotypical Reaper. As to her coloring, I was troubled by the trope that Reapers are typically represented by black—this drove me to create a Great White Wolf, which doesn’t actually exist in nature (the closest thing is the Artic wolf, which are sometimes referred to as white wolves).

Interesting fact about wolves.🔍

If the Great White Wolf had a life (or death) quote, what would it be?

Follow your heart. It’s as true as any compass out there.

Which character from the book do you see yourself in most?

I’m 1/3 the Wolf’s snark, 1/3 Gauge’s sweetness, and 1/3 Roux’s practicality!

WRITER’S CORNER📝

You share in your press release how writing the Wolf as an omniscient narrator kind of just happened, evolved as you wrote and edited. How different was it writing in this POV for you? What pitfalls should writers who would like to try it for themselves look out for?

I was having so much fun writing that I didn’t worry about the POV as I drafted; it wasn’t until the revision process that I realized how big of a risk I’d taken. Writing an omniscient, first person, present tense narrator presented some unique challenges in that I needed an explanation for how and why the Wolf knew what was going on when she wasn’t around. The biggest challenge in writing an omniscient voice (especially one that often dips into close third) is to avoid head-hopping; that is, to only switch when you have a compelling reason and to clearly signal when you’re switching characters (usually by using their name at the beginning of the transition).

 Writers go from one idea to another, gathering them until they eventually take shape into a story. But there’s usually material that doesn’t make it into the final cut. Would you share one thing about the story that didn’t make it into the book, but the readers might find intriguing?

I threw out the entire first draft of this book—other than a Wolf, a boy, and a girl, the second draft shared almost no similarities with the first. In fact, Gauge was named Kipling and Roux was named Nyx, and instead of living in Gatineau, they lived in a non-descript country called Bantym. (Early readers said these names didn’t fit with the French-inspired feel of the rest of the story, hence the changes.)

READER’S NOOK📖

For our reading educators: what advice could you share for encouraging reluctant readers? For our reading writers: what writing or life advice has been the most valuable to you?

Educators already do such tremendous work, I’m not sure they need my advice. But if I had one thing to share, it would be to examine any preconceived notions of what reading might look like—picture books, comics, and graphic novels are all great as long as they foster a love of stories. For the writers out there, the advice that has been most valuable on my journey came from Chris Grabenstein, who reminded me that our first job is to entertain readers––if they aren’t engaged in the story, they won’t stick around.

Thank you!

Thank you for having me!

Oh gosh, you’re welcome. But honestly, thanks goes to you for sharing this beautiful story with the world. It’s been such a pleasure chatting with you, Jessica! Much congratulations to you!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica VitalisJESSICA VITALIS is a Columbia MBA-wielding writer. After leaving home at 16, Vitalis explored several careers before turning her talents to middle grade literature. She brings her experience growing up in a non-traditional childhood to her stories, exploring themes such as death and grief, domestic violence, and socio-economic disparities. With a mission to write entertaining and thought-provoking literature, she often includes magic and fantastical settings. As an active volunteer in the kidlit community, she’s also passionate about using her privilege to lift up other voices. In addition to volunteering with We Need Diverse Books and Pitch Wars, she founded Magic in the Middle, a series of free monthly recorded book talks, to help educators introduce young readers to new stories. She was recently named a 2021 Canada Council of the Arts Grant Recipient. An American expat, she now lives in Canada with her husband and two precocious daughters. She loves traveling, sailing and scuba diving, but when she’s at home, she can usually be found reading a book or changing the batteries in her heated socks. WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | INSTAGRAM | YouTube: MAGIC IN THE MIDDLE

GIVEAWAY

Enter to WIN one of five swag packs for THE WOLF’S CURSE! (US Only.) Ends October 4th. Winner announced via Twitter.

Packs contain: 1 bookmark, 1 postcard, 1 glass bottle w/printed letter from the author, 1 lollipop, & 1 feather

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