Wacky Wednesday: An Interview with YA Fantasy Author Ellen Jensen Abbott
January 27, 2010 in Abbott Ellen Jensen, Wacky Wednesday, Writing Skills, Young Adult Novels Tags: Author Interview, book club guides, Ellen Jensen Abbott, teachers' guides, Watersmeet, young adult fantasy novels
Yesterday, several people commented on the post about Ellen’s YA fantasy book, Watersmeet. There’s a discussion going on about the book cover and how Ellen talked to the publisher about the look of her main character on the cover–a conversation that’s been had a lot lately. Check it out here, and leave your own comment for a chance to win a copy of Ellen’s book. (You can also leave a comment or question on today’s interview.) Today, Ellen talks with us about Watersmeet, writing YA fantasy, and about a sequel.
Margo: Hi, Ellen! Welcome to Read These Books and Use Them! What gave you the idea for Watersmeet?
Ellen: The main character, Abisina, came to me first—and this was so long ago, it gets a bit fuzzy. I knew she was an outsider. I also knew what she looked like—brown skin and long dark hair (actually modeled after a Latina student I taught years ago). When I asked myself what made her an outsider, the outlines of Vranian society came to me, and then it’s antithesis—a society where she would be at home. Watersmeet. It grew from there, as fantasy has to, into a place with a geography, climate, belief system, economy, legends, culture, and plot.
Margo: That’s so true what you’re saying about fantasy and all its elements, and that’s why fantasy writers fascinate me. (I’m jealous!) Your ability to create a believable world that I want to visit is amazing. What are a couple challenges of writing fantasy for teens?
Ellen: In the case of fantasy, I don’t think the challenges are different whether you are writing for teens or adults. I alluded already to the central challenge: world building. A fantasy has to have a three-dimensional, believable and fantastic world. It has to hang together with a logic that comes not from any society that actually exists but from your own imagination. It is really, really exciting to build this kind of world—and very challenging.
In a similar way, fantasy—and maybe especially teen fantasy—has to be believable and recognizable, even if your characters are dwarves, fairies, and centaurs. Although we don’t know any of these creatures, they have to feel authentic and relatable. Like the worlds they live in, each creature needs to have a personality that hangs together and is consistent. At the same time, they can’t feel hackneyed—and this is tough because virtually all of the creatures used to populate Watersmeet have been around for as long as human beings have been telling tales!
Finally, you have to keep the adventure and excitement up. This is fantasy after all! There needs to be some magic or mystery or weaponry. A monster or two never hurts, either!
Margo: So true! But some of your monsters are down right scary! I won’t give away anything here; but let’s just say between you and me, I’m glad that I don’t have to worry about my toes! Egads! Are you currently working on a sequel? Can you tell us a little about it?
Ellen: I am working on a sequel which is scheduled for a Fall ’11 release. Hmmm. What can I say about it? I get asked two questions frequently about the sequel: 1) Is there romance for Abisina? 2) Does Abisina become a shape-shifter like her father? I will say that both of these questions are answered in the sequel—but I won’t say how!
I can also say that I am having a great time writing it. Today, for instance I have a reunion between two characters—Abisina and her best friend, the dwarf Haret. I started to write about Abisina hugging Haret; and suddenly, he was swaying on his feet, barely able to stand. I had no idea why! What happened to Haret since the last time he appeared? I usually go with these moments—if a character does something unexpected, I try to find out why by writing a rough back story. More often than not, it leads to something good.
That’s also why it can be dangerous to talk too much about the book you’re writing. Nothing is sacred in my early drafts. Suddenly, I’ll decide to cut out an entire character or a scene that I just blogged about. And that’s before my editor gets involved!
Margo: I love gruff-ol’ Haret! Glad to see he’ll be back. You have extensive guides on your website to go with Watersmeet. Please post the links here and who would benefit from reading/using them.
Ellen: I have two central guides–one that is written primarily for teachers, or homeschooling parents, and one that is written for book clubs. The teachers’ guide offers lots of discussion questions and a long list of related activities and projects with cross-curricular tie-ins. I have also labeled how each of the projects addresses each of Howard Gardener’s eight multiple intelligences. For example, a project investigating herbal remedies that the dwarves and healers in Watersmeet use targets the Naturalist intelligence in Gardner’s theory.
The book club guide is written for teens to use as they hold a book club. It will also be useful for mother/daughter book clubs, or parent/child. I even have a recipe from one of the dwarves in Watersmeet included in my book group guide: Hoysta’s root-flour brownies with badger cream topping! Some of the ingredients are hard to get: badger butter, quail eggs, and particularly tasty kinds of soil. But if you don’t milk your badgers at home, I’ve provided substitutions. It would be fun to munch on these brownies while having a book discussion.
Links are below:
Teacher’s Guide: http://ellenjensenabbott.wordpress.com/teachers-guides/
Book group guide: http://ellenjensenabbott.wordpress.com/book-group-guides/
Margo: Thanks, Ellen, for sharing all of those insights with us. I love the book group guide idea. In April, I am going to have an author on here, talking about mother/daughter book clubs. That seems to be a big trend right now! Good luck to you; and readers, don’t forget to leave a comment or question for a chance to win a copy of Watersmeet!