Tag Archives: fantasy

A Peek Into the Creator of Rise of the Jumbies

Hi Mixed-Up Files Readers,

I’m thrilled to introduce our next author guest and share her brand new book with you! Some of you will remember her from The Jumbies, the first book in her creepy middle grade series.  Let’s hear a warm welcome for Tracey Baptiste!

Hi Sheri! Thanks so much for doing a feature on the series.

It’s my pleasure. So excited to chat! Let me ground the readers by starting with an element of the first book – without giving anything away. In the first book of A photo of Tracey Baptiste's book, The Jumbiesthis series, The Jumbies, your main character Corinne is a confident girl for the most part; she’s afraid of nothing. But then she must learn how to call upon that confidence in the form of courage to save her island home. You’ve continued Corinne’s story in Rise of the Jumbies with her discovering she’s suspect to the story’s main plot line. That had to be hard for her, especially after she’d found and used her courage in book I.

Did she go through self-doubt and questioning? How else did she react to this? What will young readers gain by exploring this with Corinne?

There are always going to be moments when a person does all the right things, and people still aren’t on their side. This is Corinne’s experience at the beginning of the book, and it hurts her. It also propels her to go to extraordinary lengths to save the children of the island. I’m not sure she would have risked herself in this way otherwise since she had already done so much.

Such an important lesson for kids to learn alongside Corinne.

I absolutely love the culture and diversity of this book! The story world is rich and intriguing. I’m always intrigued when authors talk about stories they recall from childhood. How closely did you follow those stories you were told as a child and how did you weave in your imagination to create such a unique tale?

At their core, the jumbies have the same traits as the ones in stories I listened to as a child, but I did let my imagination run wild. For one thing, the jumbies are all somewhat unified, and in the stories I heard, it was always one jumbie on the prowl, or maybe a few douens together, but they never worked together the way I have them in this series. And Severine was entirely my invention—a jumbie who unified those on land. I needed her to focus Corinne’s anger/sadness/loss, but also to make it a bigger story because all the jumbies under Severine make for a more dire situation for the island.

What’s the most important message or lesson readers will find in this book?

That individual groups have more in common than they realize. That squeezing any group to the fringe is cruel, and a recipe for disaster.

How would you describe Rise of the Jumbies in either five descriptive words or 140 characters?

Exciting, magical, gorgeous, brutal, frightening.

These really are perfect.

A fun question: if Corinne could be any character from any fairytale, who would it be and why?

Corinne falls firmly in the Cinderella trope. The dead mother, the evil stepmother (in this case wannabe stepmother), the magical trees (one of which is near the mother’s grave), the need to overcome the stepmother in order to get to a “happy” ending. This was all deliberate. I love Cinderella stories, so when I read the Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree,” I recognized the same story bones as Cinderella, and that was the inspiration for the first Jumbies book.

How did you find writing a sequel different from writing the first book and what advice could you share with our writer friends about how to approach writing a ‘book 2’?

I had ideas for a book 2 when we sold the first Jumbies, but it wasn’t bought as a multi-book deal, so I dropped those ideas in favor of making book 1 stand alone. Then book 2 became a possibility so keeping the consistency was very difficult. I struggled a lot. I knew I needed to up the ante on the danger Corinne and her friends were in, but that I also needed to deepen the emotional story. The mermaids were always in my thoughts for a book 2, so I was thrilled to bring them in, and I had a very specific agenda for them—they would tell the most harrowing emotional story in the book, that of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Their story was the most crucial and difficult for me, and moving some of the focus away from Corinne helped to drive the second book. This was a deliberate strategy to keep things fresh and unexpected in the sequel.

Oh wow, this is such a powerful part of the story. So glad you were able to bring it to readers in book II.

What do you see as the most challenging aspect of growing up ‘middle grade’ in today’s world of books? How can authors make a difference in these middle schoolers lives?

Middle grade readers are watching a world where hate is once again bubbling to the surface, and that’s all in the spotlight because of social media, which they all have access to. Books that accurately represent different cultures and different stories are crucial now so that there isn’t an ingrained sense of “otherness” about people who don’t look the same, or who live differently. I am a strong advocate for Own Voices stories because who better to tell stories than the people who live them? Unfortunately, there are still more books published about [insert non-white culture/ethnicity here] than written by people within those groups.

Care to share what your readers can expect from you next? We’d love to hear!

I’m working on two books of historical nonfiction. One is about the civil rights movement, and the other I’m still researching, so I can’t say much about it yet.

Ooh, secretive … we like that! Best of luck with both projects. We’ll anxiously await their releases. And thank you for sharing yourself and your work with the Mixed-Up Files.

Tracey Baptiste is a YA and MG author, former elementary school teacher, and freelance editor. For more on The Jumbies series and the author herself visit her website.

Writing Quest Stories

  My fascination for quest stories began when I was in middle school.  At the time, our bespectacled young boy named Harry Potter wasn’t born yet. However, because I lived in India, I had the exposure to fantasy quest stories based on Indian culture. I read  Ramayana and Mahabharata epic novels, and stories from other Hindu texts. Those fantasy stories have been in the world for centuries, even millenia in some cases.

I often compare what I grew up reading to the middle grade quest novels of authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling. My brain is hardwired to pay attention to the common themes in the characters’ growth, and appreciate the similarities and deeper meaning in the journeys of the characters.

 

Quest stories make the characters seek something, and we as readers get to join them on the ride. In her book, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones describes a quest as “a large-scale treasure hunt, with clues scattered all over the continent, a few false leads, mystical masters as game-show hosts, and the dark lord and the terrain who make the quest interestingly difficult”(153). Therefore, the hero leaves her comfortable, ordinary surroundings to venture into a challenging, unfamiliar world where she encounters conflicts with antagonistic, challenging forces before achieving her goal.

In this post, we will take a look at two fantasy quest novels:

Where the Mountain Meets The Moon by Grace Lin    

and 

The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz by Frank L. Baum

We will focus on some of the common themes around plot, conflict and change that made these quest stories timeless reads.

Plot:

If you’ve been writing fiction for even a short while, you have probably heard or used the word “plot” in your critique conversations. In his book, The Plot Thickens, Noah Lukeman writes that “plot is not just about having a single great idea; on the contrary, a good plot is an amalgamation of many ideas or elements of writing, including characterization, journey, suspense, conflict, and context” (xv). Therefore, while an idea is important, a plot doesn’t exist without the supporting elements that make up the story.

In Where The Mountain Meets The Moon, the main character Minli sets off on an extraordinary journey of adventure and folklore to find the Old Man on the moon to ask him how she can change her family’s fortune.

In the Wizard Of Oz, Dorothy and her dog Toto are swept away from a Kansas farm to the Land of Oz by a cyclone.

Minli’s quest is to find the Old Man on the moon. Dorothy’s quest is to return to her home in Kansas again.

In both the stories, Grace Lin and Frank L. Baum spend considerable amount of time at the beginning of the book establishing their main characters’ normal life before they take off on their journeys. The authors introduce the readers to the secondary characters and set up the cultural context. The settings create a vivid contrast with the strange new worlds Minli and Dorothy enter. All these elements together make strong plot structures for the stories.

Conflict:

Story plots must always involve conflicts.  Philip Athans writes in his book, The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction that “unless your protagonist comes into conflict – in the broadest sense of the word – with someone or something, you have no plot, no story, and no novel” (25). Therefore, it is exceedingly important to put the characters in difficult situations that cause conflict.

In Where the Mountain Meets The Moon, the central conflict for Minli is that her family’s fortune is very weak. So she goes on an adventure to have a better fortune, make friends and bring green to the Fruitless mountain.

In The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, the main conflict is that Dorothy thinks that life will be better someplace else (i.e. over the rainbow). She runs away from home, gets caught in a tornado, and ends up in another world. Finally, she is desperate to find her way back home.

Baum and Lin put their characters in conflict arising circumstances, and raise the stakes to increase the importance of their story goals. How Dorothy and Minli deal with the conflicts show us a great deal about their traits and personalities. They force the reader to take sides and keep reading.

Change:

In Where The Mountain Meets The Moon, Minli has a lively and impulsive spirit that is different from her parents. She makes friends along the way in her journey. She even befriends a dragon. But when Minli finally reaches home from the Never-Ending Mountain at the end, she realizes that all her questions are answered. Minli’s village is prosperous again, and she is thankful for her family.

In The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, there’s an inherent change in Dorothy’s character when she meets other characters like the scare crow, the Tin Man, the lion, the wicked witch of the west and the wizard. In the end, Baum shows the change in Dorothy by having her realize that the special world of Oz must eventually be left behind if she has to get back to Kansas. This marks her decision to return to her home where Uncle Henry and Aunt Em live. The quest becomes meaningful when Dorothy returns to Kansas with a lesson from Oz. Dorothy finally returns to Kansas with the knowledge that she is loved, and that there is no place like home.

Even though The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz and Where The Mountain Meets The Moon were written and published at different time periods (1900 and 2009) and have different cultural references and symbolisms, Baum and Lin have made their characters embark on profound journeys that eventually lead them to self-realization and change from within.

Minli’s and Dorothy’s quests sum up themes that center around courage, coming of age, exploration, and family. The novels take us on fascinating journeys that emphasize similar quest elements of plot, conflicts, and change, which in turn give the characters growth and meaning.

And now, to jump into the world of quest stories, here’s a quick list of some recent books:

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Fish by L.S. Matthews

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake

My Side Of The Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Fog Magic by Julia L. Sauer

What are your favorite quest novels? What do you like about them? Share with us in the comments below.

 

How Do Writers Get Ideas?

question-mark Every time I do an author visit, I get asked this question, and I always stumble as I try to answer it. Most writers I know dread this question. How do we explain what happens in our brains? How do we describe the way everything we see, read, hear, and do generates story ideas?

Interesting ideas are all around us and seem to hop into our heads all day long. As John Steinbeck said, “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them and pretty soon you have a dozen.” Maybe the key is not how we get ideas, but what we do with them. Perhaps taking a peek into an author’s brain might clarify this process.

Say we walk into the grocery store and see a scruffy-looking girl with a backpack struggling to reach for a box of cereal. Nonwriters might think, “Poor girl, she looks a mess. I’m surprised her parents let her out of the house looking like that.” Or maybe, “I wonder where her parents are.” Some might judge her choice: “I can’t believe she’s picking that sugary cereal. Kids her age should have healthy breakfasts.” Caring souls might ask, “Do you need help reaching that cereal box, honey?” Suspicious people might wonder: “She doesn’t look like she can afford that. I hope she’s not planning to shoplift.”

dogWriters may think those thoughts too, but then their brains start racing. Hmm…what if she’s a mess because her family’s homeless, and this is their only food for the day? Where might they be living? In a homeless shelter? In their car? What would it be like to live there, and how did they end up there? What would a little girl like that want or need if she were living in a car? And the writer is off, plotting a new story or maybe even two. Perhaps all those questions might lead to a story like Barbara O’Connor’s How to Steal a Dog, where a girl living in a car is lonely and wants a pet so badly she decides to steal one.

Or the writer might think: That girl looks sad. What if her mom left, and her dad doesn’t pay much attention to her? Maybe she’s lonely and needs a friend. What if a stray dog wandered into the grocery store, and the girl tried to save it? Maybe similar thoughts ran through Kate DiCamillo’s head as she plotted Because of Winn Dixie, the story of a girl who misses her mother and adopts a stray dog.winn-dixie

Perhaps the writer notices the girl looks neglected. Her next thought might be: What if she looks so scruffy because her parents are dead. Maybe she lives with mean relatives who don’t take good care of her. But what if the relatives don’t realize she has secret powers? Hmm… what if she goes to a magical school and… Oh, I wonder if it would be better if it were a boy, and he goes to wizard school. The plot could easily turn into Harry Potter.harry

Another writer might think, That girl’s all alone. What if that older lady choosing a carton of oatmeal befriends her? Maybe the two of them could form an unusual friendship. Or wait… What if the old lady is a kidnapper, and when she sees the girl alone, she pretends to help her and she invites the girl back to her house and…

Or maybe the girl’s only pretending to look at cereal, but she’s really been stalking the older lady… Why would she do that? What if she thinks the lady is the grandmother she’s never met? Is it really her relative? If so, why wouldn’t she have met her grandmother? Maybe her mother ran away from home as a teen? So how did the girl discover the grandmother’s whereabouts? Will the grandmother be overjoyed to discover she has a grandchild? How will the mother react when she finds out?

And once again, several story ideas have formed in the writer’s mind. He can’t wait to get home and jot them down. Or if he carries a small notebook, as most writers do, he’ll scribble some notes in it. The whole way home, his brain will be whirling with what-if questions.

A fantasy writer might look at the girl and think: What if she took that box of cereal home, and a fairy popped out when she was having breakfast? Maybe the fairy could grant her one wish. I wonder what she’d wish for. It looks like her family needs help. Oh, but what if she has a brother who’s deathly ill? Would she give up her wish to save him?

Or the writer’s thoughts might run in other directions. What if the fairy was bad at spells and messed up the wishes? Wouldn’t it be funny if… Or What if that isn’t a backpack, but a jet pack? She could fly off with that cereal. But where would she go? And how did she get that jetpack in the first place? Once again, the writer has the seeds of plot or two.

We could keep going with story ideas just from seeing one girl in a grocery store. Now imagine living inside a writer’s head. Everything sparks ideas for stories. We’re always asking questions about what could happen. Or wondering why people do things. And everyone we see or meet becomes a potential story. Yes, even you. So beware when you’re around a writer. You never know when they might make up a story about you.

But what about you? Can you think like a writer? As you go through your day, ask yourself: Who is this person really? Why is she doing what she’s doing? What would he be like if he lived in another country or on another planet? What if that person is only pretending to be a teacher? What if she’s a superhero in disguise or a kid (or animal) who switched bodies with an adult? What if something magical or unusual happened to her? What if this person got into trouble? Who would save him? What does that person dream of? How could I make her wish come true in a story? What does that person need? What’s the scariest idea I can come with about this person? The most unusual idea?

Ideas are all around us. You don’t need magic to create a story, only a little imagination, a lot of curiosity, and many, many questions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A former teacher and librarian, Laurie J. Edwards is now an author who has written more than 2300 articles and 30 books under several pen names, including Erin Johnson and Rachel J. Good. To come up with ideas for her books, she people-watches and eavesdrops on conversations in public places, which starts her brain racing with questions. To find out more about Laurie, visit her website and blog.