Everett: Okay, Danika, first let me thank you for serving as the editor on my own novel which shall not be named—you did a great job, despite what reader Debbie said on Goodreads about there not being enough “pauses” in the story, which I suppose I should just be accountable and own as my personal failure, I mean honestly there was only so much you could do with that manuscript. I really appreciate your work!
Danika: It was a pleasure to work creatively with you, Ev. I really do enjoy story editing and wish I had more time for it. And to all possible future story editors of Ev’s out there – you would be lucky to work with someone as eager and amenable as he is. (The mutual admiration society now adjourns.)
E: So as a writer I on occasion have a story idea or a character or a scenario wander into my mind, and then an urge to explore it and write about it grows from there. Can you tell me how you came up with the idea for the faeries, or Narine, or the world they’re in?
D: Characters definitely wander, pop, float, push, tickle, and cajole their way in. I like to fall in love with characters, especially if I’m going to spend any amount of time with them. To fall in love with them they have to feel real, which to me means complex.
About 13 years ago (previous to the MG/YA fantasy explosion), I was assisting in a lovely shop full of things like incense, divination tools, Renaissance wear, dragon statues, crystal balls… At one point I realized I was surrounded by faeries. I blame it all on them, because I suddenly had the urge to write a quest story featuring faeries. But I didn’t want a Tinkerbell story. I wanted the faeries to be as complex as humans are. I wanted them to be believable.
A week later, I was stirring something on the stove and the characters of Brigitta and her sister Himalette spontaneously materialized, together, in my mind. I knew exactly what their relationship was about. It’s interesting, because I get a lot of comments about how readers love Briggy and Himmy’s relationship.
Narine – – she crept in over time, like a ghost growing more and more corporeal, as the backstory unfolded.
E: How much back story do you have on the objects in your world—are there any drawings at your house of scepters and rings or Standing Stones? Or do you describe these things in words? How much do you visualize everything that’s going on in the story?
D: In real life, I literally talk to things: plants, animals, objects. I perceive emotion and personality (or maybe I assign emotion and personality) in them. I try to do this in my world-building as well. And some of the plants and animals in my stories actually do have emotions and personalities.
I don’t create any “place” without thinking about its story, and oftentimes whenever any object “wanders in” I immediately start asking myself questions about it: what does it look like, smell like, taste like? How do you use it? What are its properties? Where did it come from? Where else would you find one?
I am more of a wordsmith than a visual artist, but some things bid me to draw them. In particular, I really like to draw maps and reference them. I have also drawn dozens of faerie wing symbols (each faerie in the White Forest receives a destiny mark on his/her wing). I’ve drawn Gola the Drutan’s tree home, the stone fortress from Books 1 and 4, a few scepters, the River That Runs Backwards from its source in Noe Valley. Some things are for reference and some just for fun.
I am by nature a visual thinker. If I get stuck describing a scene, I close my eyes and visualize it happening. I don’t know if this is a result of years of screenwriting or if I was drawn to screenwriting because of the way I think in images.
E: I find myself identifying with Thorze, but I think you’ve given Narine and Mabbe a lot of nuance and they’re well crafted, impetuous, impatient, bright, earnest younguns. I appreciate that you’re writing post-Potterverse and that you’ve found a way to deliver a unique story. How well do you keep up with other well known stories and series in YA speculative fiction? Do people ever respond to your work with things like “make Thorze more like Dumbledore” or “I wish Narine was more like Katniss”?
D: Thanks! I find it interesting you related to Thorze. His relationship to his daughter, Narine, was very clear to me from the initial draft of Book Four.
When I first entered the children’s fiction arena, 90% of what I read was Middle Grade and YA fiction. I thought of it like studying. I posted a weekly middle grade book review with Middle Grade Mondays. After a while, a lot of the YA stories started sounding too familiar (though there were plenty of inspiring ones). I made a clear decision to go back to reading a wider range of material and to always be reading non-fiction, literary, and genre. I want to be a diverse writer and thinker.
I’ve never been asked by anyone to make any of my characters more like any other character … although I did have an agent once ask if I could make Himalette a little brother instead of a little sister. I said no, I couldn’t. lol.
E: You create a beautiful world for these darling faeries and then threaten it so obliquely at first, and later, so absolutely. What was your message in having such a complicated antagonist to this universe and this family?
D: Creation comes from chaos, birth from death, life is cyclical, and the Ancient Faeries’ time was up. The apocalyptic nature of Book Four was inevitable, as it had already been established in the first three books, however, when I first started writing the series it was just ancient history (backstory). It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized I needed to tell the origin story as well.
Humans may yet destroy ourselves, but the world will survive. It will continue with or without us. What I wanted to do was to destroy everything, but still leave hope, and from that hope create the next generation of caretakers for the planet.
E: What was it like to write the prequel? Did you feel a lot more pressure in terms of maintaining the world you’d already built? How much of this universe story had you already sorted out and where there any surprises when you wrote NARINE OF NOE?
D: For many months the prequel was the “suckiest piece of suck that ever sucked” because I didn’t know the story as well as I thought! And yes, writing a prequel after the first three books in the series have been published is not anything I highly recommend (there are a total of six books, btw). I was insanely worried about continuity. I read the first three books taking copious notes to make sure I didn’t miss anything. And I caught some pretty substantial errors and omissions along the way.
I’ll confess, there are a few continuity issues I finally just left in because I didn’t want to force anything else. I used the excuse that, hey, the rest of the story takes place 1,000 years later and how much of OUR history tells the exact truth?
E: So what’s your next project? What new character has started playing in your writer’s mind?
D: I am into the second rewrite of a new YA literary novel called Winterspring and Summerfall. Not autobiographical, but definitely echoes of personal experiences and components of actual people I’ve known. It’s about an extremely sensitive, socially awkward girl growing up in the 80’s whose first intimate experience is with another girl who later turns to bullying her. I’ve considered pitching it as The Perks of Being a Wallflower for queer girls.
E: What books are on your nightstand? Please tell me you own a nightstand or this question won’t work.
D: More like what’s piled around my nightstand. This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, Beasts of Tabat by Cat Rambo, Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon, The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin, and a few books of poetry by Linda King.
Anyone interested in writing a review for any of the White Forest books may contact Danika at firstname.lastname@example.org for free ebook copies. Mention you saw this posted on Ev’s site. 🙂
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