On Fantasy: Anne Ursu

Anne UrsuFor 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. Today, I’m pleased to host Anne Ursu, author of The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs, which was featured on the NPR Backseat Book Club.

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

A: I’m not practical in the least. I’ve spent my life daydreaming as opposed to paying attention to how things work, so the very practical aspects of making a coherent world is really hard for me. I have to work hard to remember that people need, for instance, food and material to build their houses and make their clothes and stuff. And I generally can’t be bothered with things like terrain and climate and any other thing people who have any observational ability at all notice about the world. For my high fantasy, I needed to come up with a specific place in the world (eastern Mediterranean) and year (1675) to build the world around so I always had real world references.

The Real BoyQ: 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 always think all stories are magic in their own way—Karen Cushman’s whole career is proof of that. But I think magic allows us more power to talk about reality, to use all the marvelous tools of the fantastic to deal with real world issues, whether epic or intimate. So I need to keep my sense of metaphor on high alert, to take emotional and societal issues and make them abstract and then concrete again. The real whispers underneath the fantastic, and you have to pay close attention to what you’re whispering.

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

A: When I was a kid, I was in plays of The Phantom Tollbooth (I was Humbug) and A Wrinkle In Time (I was Charles Wallace!). The structure and language of those books are deeply embedded in my psyche. Still, I was more of a realistic fiction reader then. In my adult life I fell in love with Harry Potter and then found Phillip Pullman and was hooked on this kind of story. Recent favorites include Hoodoo by Ronald Smith, The Toymaker’s Apprentice by Sherri L. Smith, and Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. For all time favorite, I think I have to go with Phantom Tollbooth—that, Star Wars, and the Muppets pretty much formed the storytelling part of my brain.

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: I do really miss Philonecron, the villain of my trilogy. He was a half Greek god, half demon who longed to rule the universe and wear really nice tuxedos. Though I could not possibly serve a meal fine enough for him (and I’m guessing he wouldn’t be amused by my vegetarianism) I would enjoy hearing about his plans for world domination.

Thank you, Anne, for answering these questions with such candor. Do read all of Anne’s books, including The Chronus Chronicles, a wildly popular series in which Charlotte and Zee save the world from certain destruction and Greek myths gone wild.  Learn more about Anne Ursu 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. School Library Journal said “Young fans of magic will revel in delving into this new world with its cast of unique characters.”

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.”