January 17th, 2012

  • anesbet

Interview with Sarah Prineas about WINTERLING!

Sarah, thank you so much for visiting The Enchanted Inkpot, where I think you'll find many long-time MAGIC THIEF fans happy to greet you (see those waving white handkerchiefs over there? and the trays of freshly-baked biscuits there on the other side? and the home made dragon posters every which where?). I have been looking forward to WINTERLING for a long time, and, sure enough, it was a true pleasure to read. Deeply grounded in the natural world, WINTERLING is also an unabashedly magical story, the kind of tale an adventurous kid can sink into happily. What's more, it may be the only unabashedly magical story ever to have kind things to say about tofu casserole!

Here's the official Goodreads description of WINTERLING: "With her boundless curiosity and wild spirit, Fer has always felt that she doesn’t belong. Not when the forest is calling to her, when the rush of wind through branches feels more real than school or the quiet farms near her house. Then she saves an injured creature—he looks like a boy, but he’s really something else. He knows who Fer truly is, and invites her through the Way, a passage to a strange, dangerous land.

Fer feels an instant attachment to this realm, where magic is real and oaths forge bonds stronger than iron. But a powerful huntress named the Mor rules here, and Fer can sense that the land is perilously out of balance. Fer must unlock the secrets about the parents she never knew and claim her true place before the worlds on both sides of the Way descend into endless winter."

And now some questions for you, Sarah . . . .

INKPOT: The lyrical voice of WINTERLING is (of course) very different from that of the sassy, first-person MAGIC THIEF. Was it hard for you to change gears? Did you ever find yourself writing a MAGIC-THIEF-ish paragraph and then having to retune it?

Sarah Prineas: They are two very different voices, but that part of changing gears wasn't hard at all. Conn is Conn, and he never showed up when I was working on WINTERLING. The hard part was switching points of view. When writing first-person Conn, I could slip right into his voice, see and describe his world as he does; I felt very close to the character. Changing to the third person opened up some nice stylistic possibilities, but I felt a lot further away from my protagonist, Fer. Because the third person POV felt more distant, I had a much harder time getting into her head, figuring out what motivated her.

INKPOT: The landscape Fer (Jennifer) has grown up in and knows very well mixes tamed, agricultural spaces and sudden ravines deep enough and wild enough to conceal not just streams and pools, but magical passageways. Are there particular landscapes you had in mind when you were describing Fer's home? Do you think there may be many places left, even in built-up places like the United States, where magical pieces of nature can be found hiding where we may least suspect them? Have you found such places yourself?

Sarah Prineas: At first, when looking at the landscape of Iowa, it's easy to see how beautiful it is--rolling hills, the tawny colors of winter, the deep-blue skies.

Now that I know more about it, I see that Iowa farms are engaged in agriculture on a massive scale--despite its beauty, it's a truly industrial landscape. But even though Iowa's natural spaces have been transformed by human needs, places of wildness remain. Yes, there are the ravines and gaps between corn and soybean fields. But Iowans are also invested in preserving the natural character of the land--the woodlands and the prairies--or returning tapped-out farmland to its more natural state. I spend a lot of time (with my wild-animal children) wandering around in those places. Just this week, on one of these unnaturally warm days we've been having, we discovered a piney woods full of silence and old spiderwebs, which will make a fine setting for a scene in this book I'm working on.

INKPOT: Much of the magic in WINTERLING is based on herbs--and what lovely names those herbs have: "Loosestrife and lavender, mugwort and harewort... " That line wants to be a folksong! Were you a botanical sort of person before writing WINTERLING, or have you had to give yourself an herbal education while writing this story?

Sarah Prineas: Haha. Um. Thank you, Wikipedia? I did enough research to be sure readers wouldn't poison themselves with the herbs, and to be sure the herbs actually do what they're supposed to, but that's about it. After the book was done, my homeschooled son and I did a "unit" on herbology and we made some lavender oil, lemon-balm tea, and walnut-juice ink, and some other stuff. But we're no experts.

INKPOT: The theme of the wildlings--people growing into their animal alter-egos, until in the end their very human-ness is threatened--reminded me some of George MacDonald's goblins, with their sometimes human, sometimes animal, hands/paws. In your more wildling moments, what animal is it that you find yourself sinking into (if you do)?

Sarah Prineas: My children and husband would agree that in my worst (best?) moments, I am a dragon. And I have the tattoo to prove it.

INKPOT: I know spring's pretty nice and all, but surely magic runs very deep in stories about winter. What are some of your favorite books about winter?

Sarah Prineas: My (awesome) editor at HarperCollins wrangles the C.S. Lewis estate, so I should say Narnia, but I was never really much of a fan. Homeschool boy and I did a weather "unit" last year and reread Laura Ingalls Wilder's THE LONG WINTER, which we loved. My all-time favorite winter book is A WINTER'S TALE by Mark Helprin. His politics are icky, but the first part of that book is a gorgeous homage to winter and New York City.

INKPOT: I love Fer's patchwork jacket and her rambunctious hair (she's called "Jenny Fur-head" by the meaner kids at school)! What gave you the idea for the patchwork jacket? Did you have a real-life prototype in mind?

Sarah Prineas: Some touchstones for me as a writer are names, food, and clothes. In THE MAGIC THIEF, Conn has some big moments with the student robe he gets from Nevery, and with the sweater Benet knits for him. I'm trying, and failing, to remember where the WINTERLING patchwork jacket idea came from. I do remember that one of the book's first readers, Rae Carson [www.raecarson.com], suggested the "quilt with sleeves" line, and pushed me to make the jacket more important.

INKPOT: Fer is a vegetarian. That is not very common in fantasy, is it? I think back on all the Narnian feasts and so forth, and I'm pretty roast beasts of one kind or another are usually involved (even in Oz children gnaw on drumsticks). What inspired Fer's vegetarianism, and how do you think it relates to the deeper themes of the book?

Sarah Prineas: One of Fer's defining character traits is that she cares deeply about the land and its creatures, so it makes sense that she won't eat meat. I'm a wavering carnivore (totally bacon's fault), but both of my children have been vegetarians since they were around seven years old, and their commitment has been a further inspiration for Fer's beliefs. When you think about ecology and sustainability, meat becomes a really problematic source of protein. That does tie back into some of the nature themes of WINTERLING, and even more to its sequel, THE SUMMERKIN, which I am working on/obsessing about now.

Incidentally, the animal characters in Brian Jacques' REDWALL books are vegetarians. He even did a vegetarian REDWALL cookbook.

INKPOT: Tell us more about that sequel to WINTERLING you're working on & obsessing about! Could you give us some hints about SUMMERKIN? Will we be going on adventures again with Fer and Rook?

Sarah Prineas: SUMMERKIN has been hugely fun to write--I'm working on revisions now, and as you know from following my Facebook account, it's involved a lot of cackling. There are two big plot/character arcs in SUMMERKIN. One is that Fer has to prove herself as the true Lady of her land, which involves some rigorous testing and some revolutionary moves on her part. The other big arc is that of Fer and Rook's friendship. Rook is a much bigger character in this book--more of a co-protagonist--and he's pulled one way by his loyalty to his brother-pucks, and the other by his ties to Fer. His capacity for true friendship is really tested. Fer also makes some new friends. One of them is named Gnar and is a fire-girl who rides a dragon and is ridiculously fun to write.

INKPOT: I think we can safely predict that a fire-girl who has been ridiculously fun to write is going to be ridiculously fun to read! Thank you so much, Sarah, for writing this lovely book and for chatting with us at the Inkpot!