Saturday, December 29, 2012

Author Interview: Morgan Keyes

Today on the blog I have Morgan Keyes, author of Darkbeast, a middle grade fantasy, answering a few questions about her inspiration for her new novel. But first, check out the synopsis.

A girl’s love for her raven may put her life in jeopardy in this gripping tale.

In Keara’s world, every child has a darkbeast—a creature that takes dark emotions like anger, pride, and rebellion. Keara’s darkbeast is Caw, a raven, and Keara can be free of her worst feelings by transferring them to Caw. He is her constant companion, and they are magically bound to each other until Keara’s twelfth birthday. For on that day Keara must kill her darkbeast—that is the law. Refusing to kill a darkbeast is an offense to the gods, and such heresy is harshly punished by the feared Inquisitors.

But Keara cannot imagine life without Caw. And she finds herself drawn to the Travelers, actors who tour the country performing revels. Keara is fascinated by their hints of a grand life beyond her tiny village. As her birthday approaches, Keara readies herself to leave childhood—and Caw—behind forever. But when the time comes for the sacrifice, will she be able to kill the creature that is so close to her? And if she cannot, where will she turn, and how can she escape the Inquisitors?

1. Where did the idea for Darkbeast originate?

Darkbeast, the novel, grew out of a short story that I wrote for a Canadian anthology for "reluctant readers" – all of the works in that volume were fantasy stories about children and animals. At the time I wrote the story, I'd been thinking a lot about "cost" – about what we're willing to do for the people we love. I decided to test Keara's devotion to Caw in the most direct way I could think of – challenging her to sacrifice her beloved friend so that she could achieve everything her society expects of her.

2. Why a raven?

I had originally hoped to write a short story about a griffin, but that animal was already chosen for the anthology! Ultimately, I settled on a raven because of their "split personality" in traditional literature. Ravens can be wise, and they can be witty, but they are also often harbingers of doom. I liked playing with those images as Caw developed.

3. I love the name Keara. (It was actually one of the top names my mom had picked out for me when I was born.) Where did you come up with the name? Was she inspired by someone specific?

In the original short story, all of the names were based on Middle French names. When I shifted to a novel, though, I decided to shift the "palette" of names. Gods and goddesses were drawn from Latin (much as the original concept of my pantheon was taken from Olympus.) Human names were drawn from Celtic tradition. I wanted names that were somewhat familiar to my readers, ideally ones that people identify with strongly (and I succeeded with you – yay!)

Keara is not based on one person; she's an amalgamation of all of my friends from when I was twelve (one person's rebellious streak, another person's willingness to stand up for what she thought was right…) In the end, Keara is a unique character, not directly tied to any one real person.

4. How was writing Darkbeast different from your adult novels? Was it easier? Harder?

I didn't focus on the specific age of my readers as I wrote Darkbeast. A lot of authors will say that they created their middle grade books with those particular readers in mind, adding in a lot of fart jokes and other favorites of tween kids, but that's not the way I work.

Instead, I thought back to the books I loved to read at that age – A Wrinkle in Time, the Narnia series, The Hobbit. Those books had great ideas, strong characters, and superior writing, but I never felt like they were written by adults who were specifically targeting kids. My favorite authors didn't dumb down their ideas or their vocabulary – and neither did I.

Therefore, it wasn't easier or harder to write Darkbeast, compared to my other novels. (There were a few authorial choices I made based on the age group – I didn't include any love scenes, for example. And I didn't add swear words. But my story didn't require either of those, so there was no sacrifice involved!)

5. Are there plans for a Darkbeast 2? Any ideas for other middle grade books?

Darkbeast Rebellion will be published in 2013; it's a sequel that picks up shortly after Darkbeast ends. I have several ideas for stories that continue in Keara's world (but no set plans to write them yet.) I also have ideas for other middle grade books – including one about a boy who lives in a giant library. That one includes dragons. And magic. And … well, I don't have all the details worked out yet!

6. Without giving spoilers, is there anything you'd like to go back and change in Darkbeast?

I love the novel, and I really would not change any part of it. I also love the cover – I am constantly told by readers that they identify with the picture of Keara and Caw. My one concern is that some boys won't read Darkbeast because it has a girl on the cover, but I'd be hard-pressed to give up the beautiful artwork I have.

7. Do you read reviews of your books? Have you ever commented on a review that you disagree with?

I read some reviews of my books, most often the ones that are published in the first couple of months after a book hits the market. It can be exhilarating to discover where I've truly connected with readers (although it's also disappointing to see where I fail to build bonds…)

I never comment on reviews, positive or negative. Reviewers are entitled to their opinions, and I feel as if I'm invading reviewers' "space" if I write a response.

8. Where is your favorite place to write? Do you write the first draft by hand or do you type it?

I write in my home office, on the ground floor of my townhouse, sitting at a computer desk, in front of my iMac desktop computer. I use a software program, Scrivener, that helps me to organize chapters and keep track of research.

One of my major challenges as a writer is tuning out distractions, focusing on the chapter at hand and completing my word count for the day. For that reason, I don't write in coffee shops, libraries, or other public spaces.

9. What are some of your favorite middle grade books?

The most entertaining middle grade book that I've read in the past couple of months was Jonathan Auxier's Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes. It is a very imaginative novel that balances the macabre with traditional quest fantasy. (One of the earliest images in the book is an infant boy whose eyes were pecked out by ravens! He grows up to become the finest thief in the world…)

10. What were some of your favorite children's books while growing up?

I read voraciously when I was in school. In addition to the fantasy novels mentioned above, I was always a big fan of animal stories – Albert Payson Terhune's Lad books, Jim Kjelgaard's Big Red books, and Rascal by Sterling North. As I grew older, I read a lot of traditional fantasy series – Katherine Kurtz's Deryni books, anything by Patricia McKillip, early David Eddings… I also read a lot of biographies; I enjoyed learning details about people who lived in different times and places.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to answer such interesting questions!

Thank you, Morgan!

Visit Morgan Keyes at her site and follow her on Twitter. And don't forget to add Darkbeast to your Goodreads.


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