What do you get when you cross a smart mouthed Tibetian orphan from Kansas with a spooky boarding school set over a rift of paranormal activity?
We'll let author, historian and free spirit, J. A. Beard tell us.
1) Where did you get the idea for The Emerald City?
I happen to like musicals. A few years back, I was fortunate enough to have the Broadway touring version of Wicked roll into my town. For those unfamiliar with the musical or the book that it's based on, it's a revisionist take on the Wonderful Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West.
It was a great show and I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. After leaving though, I also found myself a bit more interested in Oz in general. I decided I wanted to write a YA book in the setting, an age demographic which is, I suppose, older than the original target audience for the Oz books but younger than the target audience of Wicked. I didn't want to do a straight adaptation. Instead, I liked the idea of more playing with the archetypes in a contemporary setting. Thus, The Emerald City, a sort of Oz-in-a-modern boarding school story, was born.
2) Interesting. I can only imagine. But tell me. You're a man, a husband and a father. How did you come to write in the voice of an adolescent girl?
Well, this is kind of my loose take on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Although my central character is a bit older than Dorothy, an Oz-inspired story still calls for a female lead. I also had in mind a certain arc with the character involving her interactions with others that further all but demanded the main character be an adolescent girl.
3) Any kissing scenes?
4) You don't have to tell us, but who in your life did you pattern Gail after?
She's not really patterned after anyone in particular. As you noted above, I'm certainly not a teenage girl, so it's not like she's directly patterned after me. We do share growing up as racial minorities and members of a minority religion in our areas in common, but Gail is a Tibetan-American Buddhist, whereas I grew up a black Baha'i, so even that's pretty different.
Various pieces of Gail are taken from a variety of sources or just made up. It's actually fairly rare for me to explicitly base a character off of someone in my life.
5) I can't help but compare The Emerald City to Harry Potter. I mean, there's the principal, sinister teachers, allies who turn out to be otherwise. Yet others compare it to The Wizard of Oz. What's your opinion?
It's in-between those, I suppose. In Harry Potter, Harry's brought fairly quickly into a supernatural society that though hidden from the muggles, is otherwise fairly open to those already in the know. In fact, people actively court Harry's attention from early on.
It's not like that for Gail. The magical characters in The Emerald City are explicitly trying to keep magic under wraps even from other characters with magic. Once magic enters the picture more openly, there's very little whimsy. TEC, I suppose, starts out in tone roughly equivalent to something like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Magic, in The Emerald City, comes with incredible responsibility.
This book is inspired by the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but it isn't a direct copy with updated characters either. You definitely have a girl from Kansas along with her brainless, cowardly, and heartless friends dealing with "witches" and their "winged" allies, but the shift between the old existence and new isn't as dramatic. Gail has to pursue the adventure much more and dig through clues.
6) Describe a scene in your book where you would have liked to be in. Which character would you be?
I can't describe the scenes without spoiling them, but I think I would have liked to have been a character in a scene near the final showdown at the end of the book. Although some very frightening things are going down in those final scenes, there are also some beautiful sensory stuff that accompanies what's going on. I guess I'd want to be Lydia, Gail's roommate, in one of those scenes. Again, I can't really explain why without spoiling things, but let's just say Lydia has some challenges she has to deal with, but they are far less heart-wrenching than what Gal has to go through.
One big aspect that makes the book a lot more like Oz than Potter is the aforementioned principal. Principal Osland is a remote figure that rarely deals with students. Much like the Great and Terrible Oz, she has secrets and hides her true self for a reason. She's most definitely not a mentoring Dumbledore figure.
7) Ha, ha, just don't ask me the same question. Ahem... At least your work is suitable for young adults. Now, what do you like to do when you're not writing?
Spend time with my wife and kids, read, and listen to podcasts (mostly history). Honestly, between work, my family, and writing, I don't have a lot of time for anything else.
8) What is your greatest fear?
Well, on a practical day-to-day level, heights. In a more remote sense, every family man worries about something happening to their family.
9) Any advice for upcoming authors? What is one thing you wish you knew before you began this journey.
Seek objective feedback on your work. Writer's circles and critique groups are great for this sort of thing.
The one thing I wish I knew is how addictive it is. Once you start seriously writing, it pervades your every thought. Depending on one's viewpoint that might either be a good thing or a bad thing.
10) So, what's in the cards? Another young adult paranormal book or some other unique genre?
Well, The Emerald City is the first in a planned trilogy, but my next two books I plan to immediately release are in different genres.
I'm currently editing A Woman of Proper Accomplishments (AWOPA), a slightly alt-history Regency paranormal romance. In AWOPA, the discovery of a magical power called spiritus has subtly changed the world. The Napoleonic Wars are now being fought with the aid of wooden and metal men. The American Revolution was thwarted.
Most of this doesn't matter to Helena who, like most young middle-class unmarried women in 1811, is concerned with finding a compatible husband. Long fascinated by spiritus, she's excited when Mr. Morgan, a handsome and unmarried spiritus practitioner, comes to visit her home in rural Bedfordshire. When she's attacked in the woods by a mysterious masked man, the evidence begins to point to Mr. Morgan, a most unfortunate turn of events for both her potential safety and her romantic future.
The book started out as me trying to do something vaguely like Jane Austen with magic (not that I could ever match the wit of her work) but ended up more something like Georgette Heyer with magic.
I recently finished receiving feedback from my writer's group on the manuscript that forms of the basis of my next planned release after AWOPA, a fantasy story about a young telepath mage caught up in a deadly conspiracy by a genocidal cult.
I'm also in the midst of doing research for a thriller set in the Heian era of Japanese history.
Wow, Jeremy, you have some real eclectic interests and a far-flung imagination. I get what you mean about writing being all consuming. Sometimes my characters are more real to me than real life people, if you know what I mean. Well I hope you enjoyed visiting.