I’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Hi, S.L. Dwyer to Layered Pages today! S.L., thank you for visiting with me today to talk about your B.R.A.G. Medallion Book, The Fantasmagorical Forest. Please tell me about your story.
The story centers on 15-year-old Katelin who has not been able handle her grief over her father’s death. She is devastated when told she will be spending part of her summer, along with her younger brother, at their great-grandmother’s home in the Appalachian Mountains. With no malls, no TV, and no cell phone service, she not only brings her physical baggage, but her emotional baggage. Thinking her life is a total mess now, she fights the beauty of magic they find in the forest that surrounds Nana’s home. But not her brother Simon, who drags her along, willing or not, on his adventures exploring the wonders of the land. Faeries, talking birds, and gentle trolls fail to bring Katelin out of what her brother calls her “baditude”. When Nana is kidnapped, Katelin must organize a race to save her using all the magical beings they met even though she has been rude to all of them. It’s a story about how a teen reacts to the death of a parent and the road she must travel to realize she still has the love of the rest of her family and it’s okay to grieve.
Describe Katelin and Simon’s great-grandmother’s home in a valley in the Appalachian Mountains.
Nana’s home sits alone in a valley surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains and a lush forest. The house is wood with a large front porch and a smaller back porch facing the forest. Although the house seems small from the outside, once you step inside it appears much larger due to Nana’s personality, with a living room filled with family pictures and a rocking chair next to a large window looking out onto the valley, a rarely used dining room and a cozy kitchen where everyone spends most of their time. There is always fresh lemonade on the table and the aroma of fresh baked goods. Near the house is a shed made from the remnants of the original log cabin her parents had built and the old well where, as a child, she drew water. Although alone in the valley, the house is cozy within the environment it sits.
How did you come up with the name, Fantasmagorical?
The original title was Nana’s Enchanted Valley, but the more I wrote the story the more I didn’t like the title. I wanted the title to reflect the main characters. During one of my writer’s group meetings we threw some words around to get an idea of a new title. The Fantasmagorical Forest was born and it fit great with the young characters. Simon always makes up words (baditude, awesomity, fantasmagorical) so it fit with the story.
What is the world of Dhumfeld like?
The land of the gentle trolls, where everything is big, is bordered on three sides by tall, formidable mountains, cut in half by a river filled with giant snakes, and covered for as far as you can see with tall, golden grass. Warm with a mild breeze, it has subtle beauty intertwined with danger. Green, cool woods shaped like circles plunked down in the plains are inviting but deadly in the truest sense. There are no houses or villages as the trolls live in a huge cave within a mountain. Their mountain is the portal between the two worlds.
What is the mood or tone your characters portrays and how does this affect the story?
Katelin is consumed with grief and it shows in everything she does and says which plays well off Simon’s, happy personality. They bump heads at every turn with Katelin’s need to take her pain out on all those around her and force the story by creating situations that they must work together to resolve. As with all opposite personalities, they come to a point where they must confront each other and say what is in their hearts – good and bad. This becomes the turning point in which the story goes from fighting with each other to joining together, heart and soul, in their race to find Nana.
Often times the best inspiration comes within us. How do you flesh out your characters to drive the plot?
I become each character as I write their actions and dialogue, especially in this book and my previous book, Dirt. Writing about young characters gives me the opportunity to forget about how adults would react to situations and go back to how I dealt with emotions as a teen. It’s amazing how our mind never forgets all those years spent becoming an adult. Emotions are like freckles; they may fade but never really go away. I can’t believe I just thought about freckles, they bothered me as a teen and I couldn’t wait for them to disappear. Memories tend to show up in our writing without us being aware of it. Back to the question… as I become that young person, I get to say what I want and do what I want and not care or worry about what anyone thought. The abandonment of thinking about doing things right (or being PC) sets me free. I go back to when I was a teen and think about how I would react in the same situation, or at least how I thought I would react, if I want to be angry and not care who got hurt, or be a daredevil and never think about the consequences. I become that character.
Personality helps to drive the plot because as I know my character I am able to put them in positions that require some action, whether it be passive or active. They become three dimensional by using good and bad traits. I love writing young adult stories. Young teens have such a great way of dealing with situations. They are so “in your face” with their emotions. I try to make the characters as real as possible and hope I get it right.
Who designed your book cover?
The picture is actually a photograph of a forest in Nettuno, Italy by Moyan Brenn. I came across it on the internet and realized this was my Fantasmagorical Forest and contacted the photographer. He is a great photographer and gave me permission to use it. Joleen Naylor did the title work. I guess you can say I designed it with a great deal of help by these two wonderful people. I’ve already picked out one of his photographs for the cover of the next book in the trilogy.
How long did it take to write your story and what was your process?
I took about a year since I wrote while taking care of my 91-year-old father 24/7. I really can’t schedule a specific time to write since I never know what will be happening that day. An idea comes and I think about it for awhile until a see a story forming then I take 3×5 cards and use one for each chapter writing the main scene and notes for things I want to include in that chapter. As I’m writing, if I find something I want to include in a previous chapter, I write a note on the corresponding chapter card in red and use them when I edit and rewrite. This system works for me because I don’t have to go back to previous chapters to put something in and end up losing my train of thought as I write.
Favorite food or drink while you write?
Anything I can eat or drink with one hand. When I’m on a roll and the writing is flowing, I don’t want to stop and fix something that stops my train of thought. Lots of water and yogurt. If I’m energetic, I’ll make a plate of cheese and crackers.
Are there any new writing habits you have developed with each book you have written?
Absolutely. As writers, we all hope to grow as we tackle each story, find new ways to work that produces our best writing. I never plotted or wrote an outline for my first two books. I sat down and wrote until I felt the story was complete. I knew the beginning, middle and end. This worked only up to a point. I ended up throwing out over one hundred pages and totally rewrote the first two chapters in my first book. It was a good learning experience. By the time I got to my third book, Dirt, I used the 3×5 cards for the first time and realized how much easier it was to keep the story on track and to go back and add things or take them out. When I wrote The Fantasmagorical Forest, I used the cards but left out the last chapter thinking I wasn’t happy with what I had envisioned at the start and waited until I was almost finished before deciding on the ending. The second book in The Fantasmagorical Forest trilogy, I used the 3×5 cards and left the last few chapters open. As it is, I’ve already deviated from my cards by chapter 3 and now I am catching up to the original story line. That’s the good thing about using the cards, I can move away and catch up without losing the story I originally envisioned. I never used to go over any of my chapters until I finished the story. I am now going back over the last chapter I wrote, rereading it and doing a little editing before writing the next chapter. This gets me into the story faster. I’m evolving.
Where can readers buy your book?
All my books are on Amazon. I’m getting ready to add them to Barnes and Noble.
What are you currently working on?
Book 2 of The Fantasmagorical Forest. I love this story because Katelin is now almost eighteen and her views of the world are a little different. She makes decisions and worries about the consequences later. It seems as if some of her brother, Simon, has rubbed off on her.
Thank you, S.L.! A pleasure to talk with you today.
Born in Connecticut and raised in Florida, I still consider myself a New Englander and miss the scenery. I’ve worked at several different professions from nursing to engineering to finance until I realized writing is what makes me the happiest. The joy of taking a single idea and turning it into a story people want to read is exhilarating.
People ask me where I get my ideas for my books. Well, as most writers will tell you, they come from observing life around you. I am a people watcher and find stories where ever I look. I am also a day dreamer – which sometimes gets in the way of my writing.
I am currently working on my third YA book and having fun staying in the heads of a fifteen-year-old and eleven-year-old. The freedom to shape these characters is enormous and I have fun going back in time and being that child again – without all the problems inherent to teenagers. I would never have thought this is where I would settle in my writing. My first book was action/adventure; shoot-outs and chases were fun along with exotic locales. My second book was mainstream drama and left me feeling drained from the emotional baggage that came with the story.
So, putting those books behind me, I have embarked on a wonderful journey writing stories with children being my main characters and finding all sorts of trouble for them to get into. And, I plan on sticking with teen and YA stories, at least for now.
A message from indieBRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview S.L. Dwyer who is the author of, The Fantasmagorical Forest, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, The Fantasmagorical Forest, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.