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Once Upon A Bookshelf

Where Fiction and Reality Meet

Interview: Maggie L. Wood

We Canadians who are big readers have things good. We’re right next to the USA so get most books published in the States as they’re published, without having to wait before they come out in our country. We get certain books from elsewhere in the world long before those in the USA (thinking of Catherine Webb’s Horatio Lyle books here among others), plus we have some positively fabulous Canadian authors ourselves.

One of those many talented authors is Maggie L. Wood, author of the Mistolear trilogy. Willow is just an ordinary 14-year-old girl in our world when the first book (The Princess Pawn) starts out, but soon is brought to Mistolear – the land that she learns she is originally from. What Willow soon realizes is that it’s up to her to save this realm she didn’t know really existed, as well as a royal family she didn’t know she had, from an evil elf who has enchanted Mistolear into a magical chess game.

In The Princess Mage, Willow is again playing games with the elves – but this time on their turf. For breaking one of the rules to the Elf Council, Willow is forced to into a game with the Goblin King, if it can be called a game when not everyone participates freely of their own will. It is, once again, up to Willow to keep Mistolear safe from the unfair games of the elves.

Maggie is currently working on The Princess Heir, the third book in the trilogy.

For the O’ Canada One Stop World Tour, Maggie has allowed me the opportunity of interviewing her.

Where did you get your inspiration for your trilogy?
The inspiration for the first book “The Princess Pawn” came to me while looking at an “Eyewitness” book on knights. I came across pictures of the Isle of Lewis chess set (where the pieces are carved to represent actual chessmen) and was just mesmerized by each piece’s wide-open eyes. I couldn’t seem to look away and kept returning to the picture to study it. I kept thinking the pieces’ eyes looked alive and next thing I knew I was playing the what-if game. What if someone was playing a magical chess game? What if people could get trapped inside the pieces? What if … What if … Next thing I was writing a book.

Did you have an idea of where each of the books was going before you started writing the trilogy, or have you just been letting your story take you where it will?
A little bit of both, actually. I always start out with an idea of where I want the story to go, but it’s usually pretty vague. For instance, in the second book “The Princess Mage,” I knew I wanted Willow to go to the faerie world of Clarion, but until I started writing the story, it was a mystery what would happen to her there. For me, letting the story take you where it will is one of the greatest pleasures of writing. Every day the excitement is tense and fresh, because it feels as though I’m living the adventure right there with my characters. (Of course, the pot load of green tea could have something to do with it too. Heh. Heh.)

Any word on the progress of the third book? Can you give us any hints as to what is happening in this installment?
I’m in the home stretch of “The Princess Heir,” as I’m starting to see glimpses of how it will end. Hints to what’s happening? Hmm. Well, this book is definitely different than the first two. The conflict in the first two books has been more outside Willow in the form of magical games, elves, goblins, etc. This third book, though, the conflict is more within than without, with Willow having to battle a terrible disease that makes her a pariah on Mistolear and mentally unhinges her. The disease, though, ends up being the key to how she can fight the Balance. But, it also becomes a light that shows Willow the inequality of power on Mistolear that, in being a protected princess, she has not noticed before. Honestly, I’m very excited to see how it’s all going to end. I have vague pictures of it, and I think it’s going to be satisfying.

If you could spend the afternoon with any one of your characters, which one would it be and what would you do?
What an interesting question! Who would I want to spend an afternoon with and what would we do? Hmm. Well, of course, I love Willow and Brand, but I feel like I already know so much about them. I think I would spend time with a lesser known character. I’m really intrigued by the faerie twins Dacia and Theon. There’s so much back story with them concerning their nefarious brother Nezeral that I would like to know more about. Yep, I think I’d take them both to a Starbucks and sit and chat about their sibling rivalries.

After this trilogy is done, what do you have planned as far as other books go?
Once this book is done, I am all set to start a new series. My two favourite genres are fantasy and historical, and this time I’d like to write a story that lets me explore both these passions. So think lush Italian Renaissance backdrop. Think brooding artists and powerful Medicis. Throw him some romance and a pinch of religious fervor. Then drop in a gypsy/angel girl and, voila, a recipe for an I-can’t-wait-to-write-this-book idea!

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? And not just any kind of writer, but specifically a fantasy writer?
As a kid, I wanted to be a comic book artist. I drew and wrote my own comics all the time, but the art to me was always more important than the words. It wasn’t until I was 28 that I knew the words were going to be more important. My stepson and I liked to play/read the “Fighting Fantasy” game book series, which is sort of like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” where all the paragraphs are mixed up in the story/game. After playing about 40 of the game books, the thought just struck like lightning that *I* could write one these. And that’s exactly what I set out to do. So the first two books I wrote were game books that never got published. But a couple of editors said they liked my writing and if I wrote a ‘regular’ fantasy they would take a look. Oddly enough, though, the first novel I tried to write was a middle grade murder mystery, as, at the time, fantasy was not a very popular genre for most Canadian publishers, and I thought I’d have a better chance at getting published if I wrote more to what the publishers wanted. This, of course, did not work out at all, as I have no passion for murder mysteries. So, when that novel garnered enough rejections, I decided to write what I love best, which is fantasy, and “The Princess Pawn” was born.

Which authors have been the greatest influence on your writing?
Content-wise and genre-wise, I would say my biggest influences would have to be fairy tales and Sword and Sorcery comic books. Both these story mediums enthralled me as a child and seeded my love for reading fantasy-adventure type books. Style-wise my greatest influences would have to be contemporary writers. I remember when I first started to write seriously (with an eye to being published), the books I wanted to emulate were written by Canadian YA authors like Kit Pearson’s “A Handful of Time;” Welwyn Wilton Katz’s “The Third Magic;” Margaret Buffie’s “Who is Frances Rain;” and Martine Leavitt’s “The Dragon’s Tapestry.” I loved the immediacy and the realism of the main characters’ voices and the thrill of their adventures. For some reason, I don’t remember regular novels as being that exciting or as relevant to my own experience when I was growing up, which may be why I chose to read comic books more so than novels. But when I read those YA books, I knew that *that* was how I wanted to write.

And because this interview is in honour of the One Stop World Tour, it would seem silly to have it without a few questions about Canada. How do you think being a Canadian and living in Canada has had an effect on your writing?
Being Canadian hasn’t really affected my writing (yet). I think it’s because of the fantasy aspect. I actually avoid mentioning specific locations in my books, as I feel Willow could be any girl in North America and not just a Canadian girl. And it looks like my next books won’t have any Canadian content either. Maybe because I’m so used to living in such a wonderful country, I’m not as eager to write about it. Instead it makes me curious to explore others that may not be so wonderful. Hmm. Maybe being Canadian has affected my writing after all.

Why do you think, when we in Canada get so much exposure to American authors, is it so much harder for Canadian authors to penetrate the US market?
Numbers. The fact of the matter is that American authors and the American population in general so outnumber us that we’re like little sharp needles in vast haystacks. The Canadian authors that penetrate the U.S. market have American agents and sell simultaneously to American and Canadian publishers. But even that’s no guarantee of success. They still have to write books with broad marketing appeal, and, for a lot of writers that means taking out or diminishing their Canadian content. I’m not sure why this is so, as the American YA market seems to like other country’s stories (Australian and British spring to mind) but not so much Canadian stories. The only YA exception I can think of off the top of my head is Susan Juby’s “Alice, I Think” books, which, despite their *so* Canadian Smithers, B.C. location did quite well in the States.

Any other awesome Canadian authors you recommend us to read?
There’s so many! I love, of course, Susan Juby. I love Kenneth Oppel, Barbara Haworth-Attard, Martine Leavitt, Janet McNaughton, Karleen Bradford, Arthur Slade, Alyxandra Harvey-Fitzhenry, Carrie Mac, Richard Scrimger and Tim Wynne-Jones to name a few. I know there are a lot more too. Those are just the ones I can see on my book shelf at the moment.

Posted by Courtney Wilson @ 6:55 am March 26, 2008.
Category: Author Interview