Karen Cushman

Karen Cushman

Newbery award-winning children’s book author

Karen Cushman

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.


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.”