Monday, August 25, 2014

Child of Two Cultures, by Lou Anders, Author of Frostborn


It's my pleasure to introduce our readers to Lou Anders, Hugo award winning editorial director of Pyr Books, and author of Frostborn.  

Child of Two Cultures

Your mammas not American. She doesnt look American.

Those words were said to my son by another little boy on his little league team. I didnt know until afterwards, or I would have had a few things to say. About how long my wife worked to become American. About the interviews, the exams, the travel, the expense. About how maybe working your tail off for something counted more than just being handed it at birth. But really all I should have addressed is that absurd idea that theres a single American look.

When the President was elected, a family friend, who Im pretty sure voted against him and doesnt like his politics very much, nonetheless wrote to say how glad she was that my children had a biracial man in the highest office in the land to inspire them. I appreciated her words, particularly her choice of the word biracial. Not just a black man, which was historic enough, but a biracial man.

Frostborn is my first book, so you can imagine it means a lot to me. But mixed in with all that debut author excitement is my happiness at being able to give a gift to my children. I wanted to write a story that my kids could see themselves reflected in, a story for boys and girls both. My son is an obsessive gamer, and so, too, Karn Korlundsson is a gamer. You dont have video games in the year 986 AG in the land of NorrΓΈngard, so he plays a board game called Thrones & Bones every chance he gets. My daughter is a tornado. Shes the youngest by several years, but I frequently have to order her to quit pounding on him. For her, I wanted to write a girl a strong female character, someone who was absolutely a co-lead, not simply relegated to the role of sidekick. And while Karn is a blond haired, blue eyed lad of what wed equate with Scandinavian stock, Thianna is a child of two cultures. Her father is a frost giant, and her mother hails fromwell, thats actually a secret in book one, but her dark hair, dark eyes, and olive complexion hint at what wed call a Mediterranean heritage.

Thianna is also seven feet tall. Which you might think is pretty big for a twelve year old, but in the frost giant village where she lives, its actually pretty short. Her darker appearance and her size mark her as different from her peers, and several of themone in particularmake her life miserable as a result. How she deals with this, as well as her own struggle to appreciate the differences she has always despised, is why I think so many readers are already embracing her so fiercely. I think struggles to fit in, or not to, resonate with all of us, whether our eyes are blue or brown. And as I write this Im realizing I didnt just write Frostborn for my own kids. I wrote it for that little boy in Little League who thinks theres only one kind of American. I hope Frostborn is a better response than the one I would have given that day.



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Lou Anders's research on Norse mythology while writing Frostborn turned into a love affair with Viking culture and a first visit to Norway. He hopes the series will appeal to boys and girls equally. Anders is the recipient of a Hugo Award for editing and a Chesley Award for art direction. He has published over 500 articles and stories on science fiction and fantasy television and literature. Frostborn, which Publishers Weekly described as thoroughly enjoyable (starred review), is his first middle grade novel. A prolific speaker, Anders regularly attends writing conventions around the country. He and his family reside in Birmingham, Alabama. You can visit Anders online at louanders.com and ThronesandBones.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter at @ThronesandBones

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Interview with Mary G. Thompson, author of Evil Fairies Love Hair

Today it’s my pleasure to interview fellow Enchanted Inkpot member, Mary G. Thompson, about her latest novel, EVIL FAIRIES LOVE HAIR!

Here’s a brief description:
What if you could get your fondest wish? You could be gorgeous, brilliant, a star athlete, or a great singer, or you could put a hex on your worst enemy. And all you have to do is raise a flock of two-inch-tall fairies. Easy, right?
            Wrong.
            Ali learns this the hard way when her flock starter fairies get to work. Raising them means feeding them, and what they eat is hair. Lots and lots of human hair.
            Where to get the hair is Ali’s first challenge. What about the beauty salon? Easy, right? . . .
            Before long, Ali’s friends, classmates, teachers, sister, and parents are entangled with the evil fairies, who have their own grandiose and sinister agenda. It’s up to Ali to overcome these magical troublemakers and set things right.


Hi Mary! First, let me tell you how much I loved EVIL FAIRIES LOVE HAIR! What a unique spin on fairy lore.  We have seen many types of fairies in children’s literature, but none like this one! The fairies were deliciously evil, yucky and hysterical – and I don’t think I’ve ever used those words to describe the same thing before! Where did you come up with the idea of these sneaky, hair loving fairies praying on the deepest hopes and wishes of children?

Like most of my ideas, the fairies sort of popped into existence out of nowhere. I was on the subway one night and the title “Evil Fairies Love Hair” popped into my mind. I wrote the opening scene in my notebook on the way home. The idea of growing fairies by feeding them hair seemed perfectly natural to me, and who wouldn’t do it for their fondest wish? I’d probably do it for nothing.

I would too! And I love the title by the way!  

I was immediately captivated by the richly painted fairy world, with all of its rules – including a contract and a rule book!  How did you create this fairy society?  What was your world building process like?

Well, being evil, the fairies had to have a scheming leader, in this case, the pompous and self-aggrandizing Bunniumpton, who likes to be called “Grand Miss Coiffure.” But I liked the idea that even though the fairies have magic, they don’t really control anything about the magical world. They are subject to rules just as much as the kids are, and the rules of the magical world are mysterious and nonsensical to us mortals. I wanted to create a world in which nobody can ever truly get the upper hand. If you think you have things under control, you will be humorously knocked off your pedestal. The adults have no idea what the kids are doing, the kids have no idea what the fairies are really doing, and the fairies are doing magic they don’t fully understand. So my world building was all about ensuring that everyone had just enough information so that all the right things could go wrong. The whole world is saying, “don’t take yourselves too seriously.”

I loved Ali, the protagonist, and I’m sure readers will easily relate to her and her insecurities. Who hasn’t lived in a shadow of a star sibling or friend?  And Michael was such a great contrast to her. All of the characters were so well developed.  Which character in the novel do you relate to the most?  And which one was the hardest to write?

It would be hard to deny that Ali is sort of based on me. Everyone who knows me exclaims that the cover looks exactly like me! Unlike Ali, I never had a problem with my grades, but my fondest wish would be to be smarter. You can never be smart enough, in my opinion. I wouldn’t say any of the characters were hard to write. Maybe the perfect little girl who torments Bunny. I hated her too!

In this book nothing as it seems.  The good kids aren’t really as good as you think, and the bad kids aren’t really as bad as you (and the adults!) think, and the adults that are supposed to be keeping an eye on the kids are clueless. There are so many twists and turns, and yet it is such a funny story.  I laughed out loud many times while reading this!  Was it hard to keep track of it all and weave the fantasy, humor and exciting plot together?

I wouldn’t really say it was hard. Humor, if it works, just sort of happens in the flow of things. Most of the adults’ cluelessness and the plot twists came from what seemed funny to me and what made me laugh. 

I loved watching Ali learn that she had to rely on herself and her own cleverness to foil the evil fairy plot. To me, the real magic occurs when she believes in herself.  This is far from a preachy book, but is there something in particular you would like readers to take away from the novel?

The truth is, I just want people to laugh. Yeah, believe in yourself, don’t believe magical creatures, be true to your friends … but mostly, laugh!

Well, I certainly laughed while reading the book, and I’m sure everyone else will, too! As the story progressed, the kids in the book re-evaluated what a wish is worth, what the price is, and if they really wanted their wish to come true.  The book explores the idea of careful what you wish for – you just might get it.  If those evil fairies gave you one wish, what would it be?

If I had to stick to the fairies’ list of options, I’d wish to be smarter. Like Ali says in the book, don’t go wasting your wish on a hex! If you’re smart, you can find a way to get all your other wishes.

Very good advice! What are you working on now? (if you feel comfortable sharing that)

I have many irons in the fire. Watch this space!


We will! Thanks so much, Mary!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Interview with Rosamund Hodge, author of Cruel Beauty

I am thrilled to welcome to the Inkpot Rosamund Hodge, whose debut YA fantasy CRUEL BEAUTY was released earlier this year. I am completely in love with this spectacular book. If you like fairy tale retellings, complicated heroines, unique worldbuilding, or tough romances, this book is for you. (Even if you don't, it might still be for you. It's that good!)



Cruel Beauty read to me like a re-telling mash-up of Bluebeard, Persephone, and possibly some other fairy tales as well. Did you plan it that way? If so, which legend was the spark that started the story?

Oh, yes, the mash-up was completely intentional—crazy potpourri is one of my favorite styles of writing—and the spark was realizing how some of the legends were connected.

True confession time: when I was a child, I actually was not a big fan of Beauty and the Beast. I liked it just fine, but it felt like nothing special to me. (Heresy, I know.) What I did love was the Greco-Roman myth of Cupid and Psyche. Briefly—an oracle tells the king he has to sacrifice his daughter to a “monster.” But the daughter, Psyche, isn’t devoured by a beast as she expects; instead, the wind carries her to a strange palace with invisible servants who tell her that she is a bride. And every night her husband comes to visit her—but he forbids her to see his face. When her jealous sisters persuade her light a candle anyway, she discovers that he’s Cupid, the god of love. But because she broke his command, he becomes a prisoner of his mother Venus, and Psyche must complete a series of impossible tasks—ultimately going to the Underworld—in order to free him.

As much as I loved the story of Cupid and Psyche, I never planned to write a retelling of it. In a way, it felt too perfect: what could I add? Then a few years ago, I read the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon, which is basically a half-and-half mix of Beauty and the Beast with Cupid and Psyche. (The girl marries a polar bear, who turns out to be an enchanted prince trying to escape the princess of trolls.) Suddenly I realized that all three stories were the same story, working itself out in different ways. That was when Beauty and the Beast became truly interesting to me, and that was the birth of Cruel Beauty.

I didn't even realize East of the Sun, West of the Moon was in there! That's another of my favorite fairy tales.

The world-building in Cruel Beauty is really unique (side note: seriously, everyone, you will not find anything like it anywhere). Its basis, though, is ancient Greece. How did you decide to base your world there? What kind of research did you do?

This is going to sound terrible, but I didn’t actually do much research. That’s because the world-building in Cruel Beauty isn’t intellectual so much as aesthetic. It’s an alternate Earth, but it isn’t the kind has a rigorously worked-out alternate history (like in Kate Elliot’s marvellous Cold Magic, for instance). Instead, the purpose of the world-building is to provide an appropriate atmosphere for the story. 

I knew the world had to be vaguely Greco-Roman, because of the Cupid and Psyche elements. But I also knew that it had to be vaguely Victorian, because Cruel Beauty is a mad, passionate melodrama, and you can’t do that properly without corsets and brooding Victorian houses. So I just threw all those elements in a blender. My “research” was basically a core dump of all the Greco-Roman material I had absorbed through a childhood obsession with mythology and a high school/college career that spent a lot of time on the Classics.

It doesn't sound terrible at all - it sounds refreshing! I tend to agree that the primary purpose of world-building is to serve the story. (And by the way, I've heard Megan Whalen Turner say more or less the same thing...)

I absolutely love your fierce main character. How did you manage to write a character simultaneously so full of hatred and so likable?

That’s kind of a funny question to me, because when I was writing Cruel Beauty, I actually tried very hard not to make Nyx too likable, and I ended up breaking my original outline to do it! But I did still want her to be sympathetic, and I guess the main thing I did was try to make her aware of when she was being hateful. I ended up drawing a lot on my own teenaged experience when writing her. I had a very happy childhood and my parents hardly ever sold me to demon princes. But I did have a bad temper, so I had a lot of experience with being furious while knowing I had no right to be furious. Back then, I would have loved to read about a heroine who struggled with her anger the way I did. So I tried to create that with Nyx. 

I think you did a great job. I also love the character of the sister, especially the way my perception of her changed throughout the novel. Any insight into her?

I have issues with the “sweet young innocent” character archetype. It used to be that a lot of authors and readers idolized them because they were too preciously good for this world. (Think of almost any 19th century novel.) Now a lot of authors and readers seem to hate them because they’re too stupid and weak for this world. (Think of how most people talk about Fanny Price in Mansfield Park.) 

I dislike both approaches, because they both assume that being innocent and kind means you have no interior life. You’re just a symbol, either of purity or stupidity, and either way you’re not a person. And that’s pernicious nonsense. Being innocent and sheltered does not make you less of a person. It also doesn’t mean you escaped psychological damage, or that you have no capacity for darkness.

So when I wrote Nyx’s sister Astraia, I wanted to create a character who was not only innocent in many ways, but who had been treated by her family as the precious, sacred innocent to be preserved at all costs—and who had been damaged by that protection almost as much as Nyx was damaged by trying to give it. 

Finally, I know you're working on a new book -- are there any hints about it you can share?

The new book is called Crimson Bound, and I just finished edits on it last week! It’s not connected to Cruel Beauty at all, except that it’s another fairy tale fusion. In this case, it’s inspired by Little Red Riding Hood and The Girl With No Hands. The heroine is a girl who trained all her life to fight the dark magic overtaking her world, only to end up bound to it instead. Then she gets one last chance to fight back.


I can't wait! Thank you so for a fascinating interview.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer Shamelessness

Well, Inkpot fans, it's officially summer!  That means hot days, reading by the pool, and a whole new batch of shameless news from your favorite Inkpot writers!

National Book Award winner William Alexander has a new book out and GHOULISH SONG is already racking up some award nominations of its own: it's a finalist for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature!

Speaking of new books coming out, P.J. Hoover's new book TUT: THE STORY OF MY IMMORTAL LIFE (Starscape/Macmillan, September 16, 2014) got an awesome Kirkus review!  Here's my favorite line:
"the tension between Tut and creepy Horemheb is a well-placed and -paced plot driver.  A pyramid history buffs and fantasy fans will delight in excavating."
Awesome.

Not done yet!  Elizabeth Bird released her Newbery/Caldecott 2015: The Summer Prediction Edition and you might just recognize #5 on the list: THE GREENGLASS HOUSE by Kate Milford!

And last but very much not least, Laurisa White Reyes has a new book coming out this week! CONTACT, a YA thriller about a girl who uploads people's psyches with a single touch, comes out on June 23rd with Hallowed Ink Press. It will be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble & Indiebound.

I can tell you personally - this book is amazing.

And that's it!  Go grab your favorite book and enjoy the summer sunshine.  I'll be back soon with more!

Monday, June 2, 2014

TOTW: Beginnings, Middles, & Ends

"Which part of a book is hardest to write: the beginning, middle, or end?"

I was on a panel at Wellesley Books a few months ago, and when the events coordinator asked this question, I thought the answers would be boringly uniform. Obviously, the middle is the hardest part to write!

But apparently that's just me. For some writers, it's the beginning -- especially in fantasy, where you need to establish your world while avoiding the dread inof-dump. For others, it's the ending, which has to satisfy the reader -- and which will establish their lasting impression of the book. Or, yes, the middle, where you have to connect that beginning and end while keeping all the strands of the characters, plot, and world-building straight. (Or twisting them exactly the way you want!)

How about you? Which is hardest for you to write? (And don't say, "All of them." It may be true, but it's still cheating!)