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. 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.
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 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.
Grayling’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.”