As part of my ongoing launch this week, I’m going to be interviewing guest authors here and on the Facebook page. This will be a great way to discover new and exciting authors, and possibly win free copies of their work! My first, most distinguished guest is the one and only Nancy Chase, author of the fantastic fairytale The Seventh Magpie. Read on to learn more!
Q. What do you write, and what inspired you to start?
I write speculative fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, and fairy tales, usually inspired by myths, dreams, or my own twisted curiosity about “what if?” I like to mingle some darkness with the beauty, some beauty with the darkness. Magic, transformation, loss, and every now and then an unexpected glimmer of humor.
Most of my work falls a little outside of the expected norms for its genre, and that’s intentional. I want to play with ways for my stories to be unexpected and original while still moving somewhat within the tropes of that genre. I compare it to the process of writing form poetry. If, for example, you’re writing a sonnet, you have a set of rigid guidelines about rhythm, line length, and rhyme scheme. But to express yourself with originality and honesty within that structure, that’s the exhilarating challenge for the writer. That’s how I feel about writing genre fiction.
As for what inspired me to start, wow, I don’t even know. I’ve been writing stories since before I could write. Literally, I would make little books out of stapled-together pieces of paper and draw pictures and scribble “words” in them, when I was still too young to be able to write real words.
The first actual stories I remember writing were in second grade—a series of ghost stories—though I may have written others before that that I’ve since forgotten. I can’t remember a time of my life when I wasn’t somehow creating stories. I learned to read pretty young, I think by about age four, and books quickly became my favorite thing in the world. So I guess I started writing simply because I loved reading so much.
Q. We all know writers love to drink—coffee, tea or worse! When you’re writing, what’s your poison?
Tea all the way, for me. I never drink coffee and rarely drink alcohol, but I drink tea nearly every day. I probably have almost 50 different kinds stocked in my kitchen. My go-to type that I never get tired of drinking is Twinings English Breakfast, but most of my other varieties come from Harney & Sons Fine Teas. I’m drinking a cup of their fabulous Chai right now.
Q. Do you have a favorite line that you’ve written? If so, what is it?
It’s nothing all that special to the outside eye, but the line, “Quick as a shadow, the Magpie darted over fields and woodlands. Nimble as moonlight, the horse followed.” from my book The Seventh Magpie is my tiny homage to the great Peter S. Beagle. As a teenager, I read his wonderful book, The Last Unicorn and found myself inspired by his lavish use of extravagant similes and metaphors.
At that time in my life I was just starting to be more serious about improving my writing craft. I was a quiet, careful, somewhat repressed youngster and I’m sure it showed in my writing. But lines from The Last Unicorn wowed me with their exuberant, over-the-top imagery, like (my favorite): “Outside, the night lay coiled in the street, cobra-cold and scaled with stars.”
You can’t get away with that style of writing in every book, but I wanted to include just a hint of it in The Seventh Magpie. A couple of others I included: “Her heart lurched like a netted salmon.” “Small, bright flowers of pain bloomed among the thorns of her spine.”
Q. What are you most known for amongst your friends and family?
Among my friends and family? Probably for my farming, not (sadly) for my writing! For the past twelve years, I’ve lived on a small historic farm. I’ve raised horses, cows, sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens. I’ve milked cows, sheared sheep, made homemade cheese, soap, bacon, and yogurt. I’ve spun wool and woven fabric. I’ve fixed fences, collected eggs, plucked chickens, assisted births, treated wounds, cured illnesses, and attended deaths. It’s a great lifestyle, being so close to the land and the seasons, raising your own food, and caring for the animals. But it’s a hard life too, and not a profitable one. I’m not as young as I used to be, and a knee injury finally let me know I couldn’t do the hard physical labor 365 days a year any more. So right now I’m in the process of moving off the farm and into a new house closer to where my husband works, so he will no longer have to commute so far every day. I’ll miss some aspects of the farm, but I’m eager to move on to the next stage of my life where my writing will be able to be my first priority.
Q. Have you ever seen a movie that you thought was better than the book?
I don’t know if it was empirically “better” from a critical standpoint, but I did enjoy the movie Inkheart more than the book of the same name by Cornelia Funke. I saw the movie first, and really enjoyed some of the visual aspects. And of course, I fell in love with Great Aunt Elinor’s splendid library and was properly horrified when it was destroyed. The movie was a fun, magical adventure, but when I read the book later, it fell a little flat for me, perhaps because it was obviously written for a younger age group. It just didn’t engage me as much as I had thought it would.
I would contrast this with, say, The Golden Compass, which was also a visually appealing film, and also an exciting magical adventure. But the His Dark Materials trilogy of books by Philip Pullman (of which The Golden Compass is the first) is so much bigger, grander, and more thought-provoking than anything the movie could possibly portray, so the books are clearly better, deeper, broader, and wiser.
Mostly, though, you just have to be happy when a movie doesn’t ruin a favorite book of yours, be satisfied when the film makers do their best to keep what’s important to the original work and don’t make too much of a mess with the things they have to change or leave out. For example, The Lord of the Rings movies ruined only about three small aspects of the books that I loved. Out of all that huge trilogy of books and all those long, intricately produced movies, to only wreck three small things that I had loved in the books was quite an achievement, so I loved the movies too.
Another one I can think of like that, from years ago, was Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. I read the book first, and when I later heard they had made it into a movie, there was a certain part of the book I just couldn’t see how they could produce in a way that didn’t turn out completely weird and wrong. But the film makers must have seen that too, because they changed the scene to something different that worked on film and stayed true enough to the gist of the overall story. So I ended up being impressed that they had made a good choice for the integrity of the film there.
More often, though, when you see a film of a book you enjoyed, you have to brace yourself for a disappointment. (I’m looking at you, Bag of Bones, by Stephen King, and Horns by Joe Hill!)
Q. Is there a message in your writing that you would want your audience to grasp? If so, what is it?
I explore different themes in different works.
In The Seventh Magpie, for instance, one of the themes is that sometimes things happen that shatter your world apart, and while it’s perfectly natural to grieve and resist and struggle to put things back the way they were, sometimes there’s just no going back. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ever be whole and happy again. It just means you have to allow yourself to let go of the old and be transformed by the new.
Life is messy and painful and beautiful. Sometimes, you don’t get the result you want or expect. Sometimes what you get instead is a new insight or wisdom. That can be a very hard lesson for most of us to learn, but it can open up possibilities we never would have dreamed of.
Q. Seven is a something of a ‘power’ number in The Redemption of Erâth; it crops up rather frequently. Is there any similar symbolism or talismanic aspect to your own writing?
Well, as you know, seven is a pretty important number in my book The Seventh Magpie too! For starters, that’s how many magpies there are in the traditional English magpie-counting rhyme that planted the first seeds of an idea for my book. So I didn’t originally choose seven because it is a power number, although of course it is one.
In fact, we all instinctively expect fairy tales to be structured in cycles of three. Three little pigs, three bears, three attempts to solve a problem before the right solution is found. It turned out to be quite challenging to work with the structure of seven for my book. But even though three is what people expect, three would not have been sufficient for my story.
In my book seven represents the sum of reality, the totality of one’s perspective: up, down, north, south, east, west, and center. It represents the necessity of persistence, of not giving up, of trying ALL your options and looking at a problem from every angle until you find the right one.
The Seventh Magpie can, of course, be read as a simple fairy tale adventure story. But for those who enjoy exploring layers literary symbolism, this book is rife with it!
Thank you for your thoughtful answers, Nancy—and I can’t wait to have you over on Facebook today!