I am thrilled as all get out today to present Sage Blackwood, author of the excellent middle grade fantasy, Jinx (my review). Jinx is the only book I have re-read this year, and I can easily imagine happily reading it a third time. Since re-reading is the highest level of personal favor I can give a book, this is saying a lot.
So when Sage Blackwood asked if I might be interested in hosting her for her first interview, I said yes, with quick conviction! My questions are in bold.
The most important question first: Will there be a next book, and can you tell us anything about it? I want to know what happens next! I am hoping for more about Sophie and her world...
Yes! A sequel, Jinx’s Magic, is due out from HarperCollins in January, 2014, and yes, there will be more of Sophie and her world. Jinx will go to Samara and, of course, get into all kinds of trouble. And Sophie… well, you’ll see. (She said annoyingly.)
And speaking of Sophie, one of things I loved about Jinx was the sense that there is lots of backstory to her, and to others in the book, that is very nicely implied without being spelled out. Because the characters give such a full feeling of lives lived outside the pages of this particular book, I'm wondering which people from Jinx actually became known to you first, and in what imagined context(s) did they first appear?
Oh, great question! The characters wandered into my head at different times, over the course of several years, before finally hooking up with each other. The first character was the Urwald… the fairy tale forest which I think is inside each of us. I wanted to evoke it, hopefully in a way that begins on the page but ends in the reader’s imagination. Then came Elfwyn… a girl in a red hood who was smarter than history has given her credit for being. Elfwyn would not have any difficulty distinguishing her grandmother from a wolf.
Next was Simon Magus, a legendary figure about whom we know very little… and from what we know, it’s not really clear if he’s good or evil. Simon Magus had a wife named Sophie. Or possibly Helen. But Sophie seemed like a better name for the character. I forgot that it was also the name of the protagonist of Howl’s Moving Castle.
I was on my front porch drawing pictures of these characters when another one showed up—Jinx. There’s a rather enigmatic comment in the Simon Magus legend: that he got his power from a boy who had died a violent death. (The boy in the legend doesn’t actually seem to be dead, though, violent death notwithstanding.) So I planned for the first scene to be Simon strangling Jinx. When I actually sat down to write the scene, though, Simon refused to do that. So I had to figure out what really happened, as it were.
So I doodled some more, and eventually drew a picture of a boy, a troll and a wizard in a forest. And there the story begins.
Jinx is a book with tons of appeal for those of us adults who still sincerely love reading (good) fantasy for kids. Are you yourself one of those? When you were writing Jinx, did you consciously recall books you loved when you were the target audience? Or to put it another way, what books helped shaped your writerly experience? And are there any favorite books of yours that you could recommend to the reader (young or not so young) who enjoyed Jinx?
Oh yes, I’m definitely one of those!
My favorite author is Diana Wynne Jones. My memory insists I have loved her since childhood, when I came across a copy of The Magicians of Caprona at the village library. Unfortunately the publication date doesn’t back me up on that. Apparently I was 15 when the book came out. Anyway I sat down on the little bench in the children’s section, opened the book, and was hooked.
You know what’s different about Ms. Jones? It’s that her characters live in a real world. They’re not too noble to be irritated by life’s little annoyances. They’re not too concerned with truth and justice to care who gets the last brownie. And that makes her heroes more heroic, not less.
Books I’d recommend: All of DWJ, but especially Drowned Ammet (sheer brilliance), Cart & Cwidder (especially to writers), The Homeward Bounders (more brilliance), The Lives of Christopher Chant, The Magicians of Caprona… I feel as if I’m forgetting something important, so everyone please insert your favorite DWJ book here.
I highly recommend Terry Pratchett too, but to your blog readers, that’s probably like saying I highly recommend breathing. Of his children’s books, The Amazing Maurice is my favorite.
I know that my personal representative of the target audience (in this case, a 9 year old fantasy loving boy) enjoyed the adventure/danger/questy part of the story most, whereas I (and I bet more of the other grown-ups who've read Jinx), enjoyed the more personality-driven first half (although I could be wrong!). Which part of the book was more fun/more challenging to write?
I’m so glad to hear he enjoyed the book. I really enjoyed writing the first half, with its focus on character and everyday life. I think a lot of people like reading about everyday life, which is why Alexander McCall Smith’s Botswana books are such a hit.
It was a lot of fun creating the Urwald, and creating Simon’s house, both of which are somewhat archetypal so it was largely a matter of writing my way into familiar places. And of course it was fun getting to know the characters. Then of course the story developed out of who the characters are.
My impression so far is that children like the idea that Jinx can do magic. They would like to do a bit themselves. They like the action, the monsters, the scary stuff at Bonesocket, and they think it would be pretty cool to live in a wizard’s house.
And just dragging Sophie back into it, I don't think I'm alone in feeling that if you ever felt like writing Sophie and Simon stand-alone stories they would be welcomed....
Simon’s and Sophie’s backstory! I’d love to write that. Not sure if I’ll ever get the chance. It’s a bit darker than Jinx’s, so it might not make good middle grade material.
If there are any questions that I didn't ask, that you have answers to all ready to go, do feel free to ask them of yourself!
Oh, thank you! I do have one of those, and no one is ever going to ask it. So here goes:
Some have called Jinx’s ability to learn foreign languages a form of magic. But isn’t it an application of second language acquisition theory, meaning that pretty much anyone could do what Jinx does, and isn’t this a rather loaded question?
Thank you so much, Sage, for the fascinating answers to my questions! I'm so glad there isn't going to be a long wait for the next instalment.
The winner of the giveaway was alibrarymama.