On Fantasy: Linda Sue Park

lsp_72dpi_rgb_200pxFor a few weeks, in celebration of my new fantasy novel, Grayling’s Song, this blog is featuring a few of my favorite fantasy authors answering four questions about their own writing. Today, you can read Linda Sue Park’s answers. She’s the author of many fine books, including the Newbery Medal-winning A Single Shard.

Q: What was (is) the hardest aspect of building a fantasy world for you?

A: Making the magic consistent. I love reading fantasy novels, but frankly, in a great many of them I simply have to overlook the holes in the logic of the magic. It takes superb writing and strong characters to carry me over those bumps.

Forest of Wonders Wing & ClawAn example: At the very end of the third Lord of the Rings movie, with the terrible mission accomplished, an enormous eagle shows up to carry Frodo and Samwise to safety. Whaaa??? Where were you eleven minutes ago, when we were in far more desperate need of winged transport!?? NO reasonable explanation for why the eagle appears when it does.

It was very important to me that the magic in the Wing & Claw trilogy be logical and consistent. That meant limiting the magic to a very specific set of conditions: There are a few plants with magical capabilities that can only be released when they’re made into concoctions by skilled apothecaries. I believe that this kind of consistency is much fairer to the story and the readers!

Q: What do you feel is different for you, particularly, as a writer about creating a fantasy novel rather than writing a realistic or historical novel?

A: For me, writing fantasy is quite *similar* to historical fiction. With both, the world building is very important because the setting is unfamiliar to the reader: In fantasy, a world that never existed; in historical fiction, a world that no longer exists. You have to spend time and space on the page dealing with the setting. With contemporary realism, you can use a kind of shorthand because of assumptions you share with the reader. For example, if I write “kitchen” in a contemporary novel, I can be reasonably sure that my readers will picture something close to what I have in mind, or close enough, anyway. For both historical fiction and fantasy, I have to describe the kitchen in more detail—I can’t rely on those shared assumptions.

Q: Did you read fantasy novels before you wrote your book? If so, what’s your favorite fantasy novel and why?

I didn’t read fantasy specifically before writing Forest of Wonders; it’s just a natural part of all the reading I do. I have an awful lot of favorites. A short list:

The Bartimaeus Trilogy, by Jonathan Stroud

Dogsbody, by Diana Wynne-Jones

Prophecy, by Ellen Oh

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin

The Lie Tree, by Frances Hardinge

Q: Is there a character in one of your fantasy novels that you wish you could invite over for dinner? What would you talk about?

A: Well, of course, I’d love to have Echo the bat visit—even knowing that the conversation would be rather limited. Sometimes that’s exactly what I need!

Thank you, Linda Sue, for sharing your thoughts and your book recommendations. I encourage you to read Linda Sue’s new Wing & Claw series, The Long Walk to Water, Keeping Score, and so many others. (She writes terrific picture books, too.) Learn more about Linda Sue Park on her website.

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bk_grayling_180pxGrayling’s Song will be available on June 7th from Clarion Books and your favorite bookseller. This story about Grayling’s quest to save her mother is a selection of the Junior Library Guild and is recommended by Columbus Parent.

On Fantasy: Gennifer Choldenko

For the next few weeks, in celebration of my new fantasy novel, Grayling’s Song, this blog is featuring a few of my favorite fantasy authors answering four questions about their own writing. Next up, Gennifer Choldenko, whose book No Passengers Beyond This Point is set in an original fantasy world.

Gennifer CholdenkoQ: What is the hardest aspect of building a fantasy world for you?

A: The most challenging part is developing a completely original fantasy world. There are a lot of novels based on fantasy worlds that seem closely aligned with previous works. While you can make a case that a familiar trope fantasy can still be engaging, it isn’t what I am interested in writing or in reading. But how do you create something totally original? I believe fantasy worlds are a gift. I don’t think you can “try” to write a fantasy, so much as open your mind and your heart to the possibility.

Q: What do you feel is different for you, particularly, as a writer about creating a fantasy novel rather than writing a realistic or historical novel?

A: In some ways, writing fantasy is remarkably similar to historical fiction. In both, you create a place and a sensibility which is not in a reader’s frame of reference. In both you have to give your reader a lot of carefully selected details that make the world come to life for him or for her. With historical fiction you can depend on research to feed your process at every stage of the game. There may be parts of your fantasy world which are fed by research—and if there are, lucky you—but that is not a given. The pure creative idea generation is at its most powerful in the fantasy genre.

No Passengers Beyond This PointQ: Did you read fantasy novels before you wrote your book? If so, what’s your favorite fantasy novel and why?

A: I love to read. I especially love reading (and listening to) middle grade fiction. Generally, I read everything I can before I start writing. But I stay away from books I think might be similar to what I’m planning to do. I don’t want to inadvertently plagiarize. As for a favorite, I never like this question. Who has a favorite book? I adore: The Phantom Tollbooth, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Oz books, A Wrinkle in Time and Charlotte’s Web. These are all books I read as a child. One of the reasons I write for kids is because I believe books you love during the ages eight to fourteen become a profound part of who you are. Certainly that is true of me.

Q. Is there a character in one of your fantasy novels that you wish you could invite over for dinner? What would you talk about?

A. Kids always ask me what is my favorite of my novels. Generally I say: “the one I’m working on right now” which is true. On the other hand I have a special place in my heart for No Passengers Beyond This Point. Partly this is because writing it was such an incredibly intense experience. The ideas came to me as if I were looking through a kaleidoscope: a thousand different pictures I couldn’t write down fast enough. One of the characters in the novel is named Bing. He is the imaginary friend of the character Mouse. Since I had an imaginary friend when I was little who was named Bing, I would really like to invite him to dinner. I would ask him why he came to me. And why he left.

Thank you, Gennifer, for answering these questions with such candor. Do read all of Gennifer’s books: the historical Al Capone series, the contemporary If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period, and her recent and exciting historical thriller Chasing Secrets. Learn more about Gennifer Choldenko on her website.

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bk_grayling_180pxGrayling’s Song will be available on June 7th from Clarion Books and your favorite bookseller. Lena Dunham wrote, “Like all Karen Cushman’s gorgeous novels, Grayling’s Song delves into the past to let us know what we must ask of our future. I want Cushman’s books to raise my children for me: that way I can be assured they’ll grow up witty, vastly knowledgeable, and tough as nails.”

On Fantasy: Will Alexander

For the next few weeks, in celebration of my new fantasy novel, Grayling’s Song, this space will feature a few of my favorite fantasy authors answering four questions about their own writing. First up, Will Alexander.

Will AlexanderQ: What is the hardest aspect of building a fantasy world for you?

A: Getting lost. I’m not sure that I build fantasy worlds so much as grow them in secret. Margaret Atwood compared writers to magpies. Or maybe ferrets. Both creatures collect shiny things. A pet ferret will hoard forks, coins, paper clips, and bits of foil underneath your couch.

My fantasy worlds start out as similar piles of strangely shiny ideas. I hoard them under the couch in the back of my mind. Each pile grows until it becomes a place, and then I go exploring. It’s a fun process, but inefficient. Sometimes I get lost.

Q: What do you feel is different for you, particularly, as a writer about creating a fantasy novel rather than writing a realistic or historical novel?

A: I can only guess! None of my fiction is realistic. My brain lacks the knack for realism. Goblins and/or ghosts will show up no matter what kind of story I set out to tell.

I do believe that there is a significant overlap between fantasy, history, and the two sets of fiction that use either (or both) as raw material. Ursula K. Le Guin describes that overlapping territory in her introduction to Tales from Earthsea, so I’ll defer to her wisdom:

The way one does research into nonexistent history is to tell the story and find out what happened. I believe this isn’t very different from what historians of the so-called real world do. Even if we are present at some historical event, do we comprehend it–can we even remember it—until we can tell it as a story? And for events in times or places outside our own experience, we have nothing to go on but the stories other people tell us… When you construct or reconstruct a world that never existed, a wholly fictional history, the research is of a somewhat different order, but the basic impulse and techniques are much the same. (xiv)

NomadQ: Did you read fantasy novels before you wrote your book? If so, what’s your favorite fantasy novel and why?

A: Lots. Endlessly. Especially when I was eleven. The books we read at that age change everything—maybe because we’re about to change ourselves. We can see puberty coming, and we’re justifiably scared, so we need to gather resources, explore possibilities, and explore impossibilities to figure out the sort of person we want to become.

When I was eleven I read Ursula K. Le Guin, Lloyd Alexander, Jane Yolen, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Susan Cooper. I don’t think I can choose any one favorite from that magnificent pile of books, but I will say that Le Guin’s Earthsea taught me the most about the grownup that I wanted to turn into.

Q. Is there a character in one of your fantasy novels that you wish you could invite over for dinner? What would you talk about?

A. Semele the goblin playwright. I suspect that we would swap backstage ghost stories. Maybe she knows why all theaters are haunted. I’ve often wondered.

Thank you, Will, for sharing your thoughts with my readers. I hope you’ll read all of Will’s masterful books but especially his most recent, Nomad, and his National Book Award-winning Goblin Secrets. Learn more about Will on his website.

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bk_grayling_180pxGrayling’s Song will be available on June 7th from Clarion Books and your favorite bookseller. Kirkus Reviews gave it a star, “The eventual revelation of just who unleashed the destructive power manages to be simultaneously unexpected, plausible, and thought-provoking. Despite her self-doubt, Grayling is cut from the same cloth as the author’s other sturdy heroines, but she is also an entirely original and endearing character that readers will cheer on as she seeks to save her mother and return her world to rights.”