Interview with Claudia Newcorn
Shalako Press (2012)
Reviewed by Susan Violante for Reader Views (1/13)
Article first published as Interview with Claudia Newcorn, Author of ‘Firestar: Krisalys Chronicles of Feyree: Scroll 3′ on Blogcritics.
Claudia Newcorn’s passion for writing started early in life. In 5th grade she won a poetry competition, and continued to have stories and poems win school magazine contests. She earned her undergraduate degree from Wellesley College in English & Psychology, and graduated with an MBA from Northeastern University. In her corporate career, she was instrumental in numerous major product launches. She broadened her writing skills with packaging copy and marketing materials, and taught college-level marketing and advertising courses for several years.
Feeling something “was missing in her life,” she launched her own marketing and communications firm, Acorn Enterprises, which enabled her to get back to the business of writing full time.
An experienced public speaker, Claudia writes regularly for a variety of publications, has been a magazine editor, and is a popular newspaper community columnist for “The Modesto Bee.” Her published short stories include “A Cat’s Gift of Faith,” in “Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover’s Soul,” and “The Christmas Tree Nobody Wanted” in “Stanislaus Magazine.” She lives in California, and is now working on a new book.
Tyler: Welcome, Claudia. I’m excited to talk to you today about your new book “Firestar,” but since this is the third book in your series, will you first tell us a little about the series itself and what we need to know about the first two books before we get into discussing the third book?
Claudia: This award-winning epic trilogy began as a short story idea that popped into my head as I was commuting to San Francisco. It was a beautiful spring day, the hills were cloaked in flowers, and I imagined it a perfect place for mythical creatures, including fairies. I found myself wondering, “What if a fairy wasn’t born with their wings, and had to earn them?” That became the premise for the series.
“Crossover,” the first scroll in the Krisalys Chronicles of Feyree saga, won a 2008 Reader Views award, and is a gripping adventure that weaves a fascinating saga in which feyree struggle through increasingly difficult Rites in a quest to earn their wings, even as shadows of a forgotten prophecy gather to change their realm. It is a “feyree tale” of friendship, betrayal, love and dreams. It is a fairy tale beyond your imagination.
Young feyree, known as sprytes, are born without wings and must earn them by surviving the dangerous initiation Rites of Krisalys. Under the stern guidance of Mentors and their highest Loremaster, the Dolmen, the 27 sprytes, collectively known as a pod, must acquire the skills and magic to crossover and become full-fledged feyree. Among them are Danai and her best friend, Pook. Danai is unaware of the old legend that a feyree of silver skin, hair and emerald eyes is always a harbinger of great change. Pook cannot know that the fire daemiani have prophesied his arrival to save them before they are extinguished by their own way of life.
“Dark Fire,” Scroll 2, is the winner of the 2012 Eric Hoffer and the 2010 Written Arts Awards, and is a riveting tale of magic, danger, plots, dreams, and ultimate betrayal that will engulf two realms, forcing feyree, dwarves and elves into a perilous struggle to discern truth from trouble as two ancient prophecies pit friends against each other in a battle of beliefs.
Pook, lured into Nonetre, the realm of the fire daemiani, is fascinated by their completely different realm and way of life. Crossing over, he sets in motion events that will transmute him into the daemiani’s Firelord, the Tvashtar Tizon. He returns as the Rites conclude to petition the Lord and Lady of Feyree for an alliance, secure in his knowledge that all Nonetre has to offer will benefit both realms, and enable Feyree to break free of their stagnant traditions. Or so he believes.
But Danai and Joson are increasingly suspicious of their former friend – and so is the Lady of the Lake. Few heed their warnings, and when the dragon attacks, even the elves and dwarves dismiss the threat of Tizon’s fire daemiani. But the Tvashtar’s fiery realm of Nonetre is withering, and Tizon’s scheming Herald, the daemon Eshel, has many other plans, ones that will change the course of Nonetre and the realm of Feyree forever.
Tyler: And will you set the stage for the start of “Firestar”? I understand a big battle has just been fought between the Feyree and Daemianis.
Claudia: Having accidentally murdered the Feyree Lord Andamion in his quest to destroy the Dolmen, Tvashtar Tizon decides to break treaty with Feyree and invade on winter’s longest night with his battle-trained daemiani troops. It has been over 1000 years since Feyree has had to defend itself, in the genocidal battle of Sagad, and the Chief Guardians of the Guardian Guild know that they are in no way prepared to defend Feyree. Forewarned by Danai, Toron, who assumes the mantle of Chief Warlord, decides to abandon Revelstoke, the High Seat of Feyree.
But the decision to leave Revelstoke does not mean the feyree are surrendering. Warlord Tizon, Lady of Feyree Atelai, and Argentyne, the Lady of the Lake refuse to concede defeat, and desperately rally their folk to resist. Devastating battles threaten to extinguish all hope, and Feyree faces the appalling future of having to abandon Lampion or submit to slavery.
Tyler: Will you tell us a bit about Firelord Tizon, who I believe is the main villain in the story?
Claudia: One of the things that I think makes characters “real” – a common compliment I receive about my books – is that they are not black and white, good or bad, but flawed beings like ourselves.
Tizon was Danai’s best friend, and his real feyree name is Pook. Clever, fascinated by magic, impatient with traditions, tending to see only his side of the story, his restlessness leads him to become intrigued by Nonetre and what he perceives as an ideal way of life. A lovely daemon seduces him to the realm, and he is “persuaded” by the Herald Eshel to believe he is the prophesied one. And the truth is, there is a daemiani prophecy, and Eshel believes Pook is to be the Tvashtar – as long as Pook obeys.
At the outset, upon becoming Tvashtar, Pook genuinely believes that by melding Feyree and Nonetre, he will be bringing necessary progress to the pastoral realm of Lampion. And he becomes increasingly frustrated, not only with Feyree, but Danai’s refusal to agree with him – because he has fallen in love with her, and is determined to convince her to become his Tvashtaras.
Is Tizon the villain? How many civilizations have been overrun by cultures that believe their way was the right one, and imposed it on those already dwelling in that realm. There is a saying that history is written by the victor… the outcome of the war between feyree and daemiani will define Tizon’s role as villain or hero.
Tyler: That’s a really good point to make, Claudia. Who else are the main characters in the story?
Claudia: As Tizon is the anti-hero, Danai is the hero. Two friends, faced with similar choices who take different paths. Much of today’s fantasy tends to center around the male hero. I wanted both a strong female and male lead characters – rather like a binary sun system. I felt that this would add depth and complexity to the story that readers of all ages would appreciate. Given the number of fellows who tell me they didn’t think they could enjoy a book about fairies, and couldn’t believe how good the trilogy was, I guess the idea worked.
Danai starts off as a shy unsure spryte, convinced she will fail the Rites. When she earns the distrust of the Dolmen and the confidence of the Lady of the Lake, she becomes a focal point for dissension, conflict and trouble. Through the tale, she has to overcome all this, as well as betraying her good friends, deceiving her beloved Aunt Triasa and Warlord Toron, and joining with Pook in his objective to rule Feyree.
Danai’s close podmates and friends are the brave Joson (who has a thwarted crush on Danai), the gentle Rhytha, and the cheerful Siddiqui. Each plays a critical role in the tale’s genesis. As does her beloved Aaron, who suffers a terrible fate, and yet helps Danai discover so much about life.
Lady Argentyne is the Lady of the Lake, the Blessed One of Feyree who helped save Feyree from destruction during the Battle of Sagad. Skilled in magic, protective of her realm, she bears the burden of seeing the past resurrect itself – and discovers she no longer has the ability to protect Lampion.
Handsome, strong-willed Chief Warlord Toron is tasked with assuming leadership of Feyree after Lord Andamion’s murder. As he struggles to guide an increasingly fractured realm, he doubts his own capabilities – and it is Joson who provides him with the aid he needs.
Tlarg and Shamarig are two Troich (or dwarves) that are pivotal to the story. Tlarg is a crusty gem-miner, his brother Shamarig is the High Harpist. Ael (elves) Owsley and Lumia join them on their quest to aid Danai and Feyree in the battle against Nonetre, for if they allow Tizon victory, their own folk will suffer as well.
And then there is Khyllgohr, the powerful ice dragon whom Danai befriends… but how much can you trust a dragon?
There are many other essential characters to the trilogy. Like “The Lord of the Rings,” this complexity is vital to create depth and believability to the tale.
Tyler: What would you say is really the main thing at stake for these characters? Is it for the Feyree to overthrow their oppressors?
Claudia: Much more than that. It is really a journey of self-discovery for all the characters, a story that holds up a mirror to them and forces them to see their strengths and weaknesses and to adapt (or not) if they are to survive. It challenges them to look at their beliefs, their loyalties, their whole approach to life – and the decisions they make really do mean life or death.
People who read closely will realize that the lead characters often precipitate the situation – however unintentionally – that they don’t want to happen. A domino effect of events that they then must struggle to halt or reroute. That is the heart of tragedy and triumph – the ability to recognize and overcome flaws or mistakes, and march forward.
Tyler: That’s an interesting point, Claudia. Would you say then it’s as if they are in some way fated to make mistakes or create these situations? Does destiny play any part in the stories?
Claudia: Great question! Technically, implicit in a prophecy is destiny – that somebody is fated to do something. At the same time, the outcome of their destiny in my books is not fated, but rather determined by their choices and decisions. There is an old Chinese proverb I firmly believe in: we are responsible for our decisions of action and of choice.
Both are prophesied (or destined or fated) to change their realm, which they both irrevocably do, for the realms of Feyree and Nonetre can never go back to what they were. Pook and Danai are largely faced with similar decisions. But their choices determine different paths and a final outcome that is as opposite as can be. I have had readers ask me what Tizon was going to say to Danai in those last moments, or if he would have changed his ways. The answer is up to the reader’s interpretation of him as a person.
Tyler: I know a lot of your readers refer to your stories as “epic.” Do you strive to make them epic, and if so, how do you do that, and why do you think it is important?
Claudia: Crossover started as a 37-page short story. When I went back to it 5 years later, I realized it had enough complexity to evolve into a book. I did not intend it to be more than one book. But the story took on a life of its own. I literally ceased being a writer, and was more a chronicler of the events, so pulled into the story that I felt I was actually there, seeing, hearing, smelling…. I would “come up for air” hours later, and wonder where I was. So the book became an epic based on its own momentum.
I think the power of epic stories is that the writer can fully develop a realm and characters that enable them to connect with the readers, to have a multi-dimensionality that allows readers to join in the adventure, however vicariously.
The tale did not turn out as I had expected, which made the book even more challenging to write – and yet incredibly fulfilling. I confess I cried when the trilogy was finished; I did not want to leave my friends from Lampion. It was hard to step away from the realm of Feyree and return to “everyday life.”
Tyler: Will you tell us a little about your writing process? I understand you estimate that you spent over three thousand hours writing this series, and you even created basically a whole language for the stories. How do you create and keep straight all your characters and fantasy worlds, especially from one book to the next?
Claudia: Actually, that was 3000 hours only for Firestar – the book took two years to write. I kept a tally of hours, which included 7 edits and 5 complete rewrites. I literally wore out a keyboard – the letters disappeared!
I did create multiple languages for the book, because in the realm of mythology, while there is often a common tongue, most groups also have their own language. There is Troich (dwarvish), Ael (elvish) and Daemiani (the language of Nonetre). Even the dragon has his own language, although not much is used in the books. You should see the pile of language dictionaries I have, as well as an 1857 thesaurus, all of which gave me root concepts for language development.
To keep everything organized, I first took a page first from Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Tarzan books. He always drew up a map with places. This helped him create a sense of distance and position. I created maps of Lampion and Nonetre. I then developed an index of words (which is at the back of Dark Fire and Firestar) to ensure consistency of language across characters. And then, I created and maintained a literal road map of characters and events that I would update with each chapter to ensure I kept everything straight. I never wanted a reader’s sense of magic to be fractured by an error.
The roadmap served an additional purpose – it helped me monitor the tempo of my books, and spot “flabby” places that lacked energy and momentum. This was pivotal in plotting and fine-tuning the story to ensure the reader is carried along.
Tyler: Claudia, I’m fascinated by all that because earlier you said you would come up for air and wonder where you were as if the story carried you along, but then you describe how much work it was to create this world. How much would you ultimately say was perspiration and how much inspiration? Did you ever feel like the characters were writing it for you, or ever experience severe writer’s block?
Claudia: Writing in a way is like exercise – the more regularly you do it, the easier it is to “get into the mode” of writing. I used to write every morning for at least two hours, getting up earlier before work to do so. I am most creative at that hour, still in many ways in touch with my dreaming mind. Plus there are no interruptions!
But it is largely perspiration. You have to have the imperative to complete your book come from within, the desire to make it happen. I would tell myself I was training for the Olympics, for the gold medal, and that there was no way I could win it if I didn’t discipline myself every day to “exercise.” It was a huge motivator for me.
I did have writer’s block, which I solved two ways. I would give myself time off occasionally – no more than a day. Or I would just start writing, and not worrying about what was coming out. That greases the skids and gets you going. The fact is a lot of your first draft hits the cutting room floor, so it doesn’t really matter if what comes out isn’t perfect. Firestar was nearly 1000 pages long, and is now 450; Dark Fire was nearly 800 pages and is now 250. All that writing was chopped out – so you become more accepting that even if you’re writing garbage as a result of writer’s block, there may be useful nuggets in it.
And yes, it became more common than not for the characters to be writing the story for me – and insisting on the way it would go. For example, in Crossover, the tragic scene with Aaron is one I tried repeatedly to edit out. But my characters were adamant about it remaining in the story. It wasn’t until five years later, when Firestar was completed, that I understood how critical Aaron was to the tale, and why the sequence of events had to remain as the characters dictated.
Tyler: People always ask authors what they read and what influenced them, but I understand that your childhood of extensive travels probably influenced you just as much as reading. How would you say that travel ultimately influenced your imagination and books?
Claudia: Very much so. I grew up poking around castles, ancient monuments, and roaming fields and exploring places that were ancient before America was discovered. This “layering” of civilizations and history fascinated me. Additionally, because there was really no TV where I lived at the time in Europe, my entertainment came from rabid reading and from my imagination.
I confess I’m very thankful for the lack of TV. While I enjoy a good show, TV defines everything for the viewer – what the character looks and sounds like, what’s going to happen; imagination is confined. Conversely, a reader defines the character and the story creates the groundwork for boundless imagination. For example, Tyler, how you “see” Danai or Tizon is naturally different from how I see them – and that makes a story all the more wonderful.
Tyler: I find that interesting because as an author myself, I’m not really big on characters’ physical descriptions and have had readers comment on the lack of them in my books, but I always figure readers will see the characters as they want to anyway—how much description do you use in your books and where do you draw the line for it being too much?
Claudia: I admit I love to paint with words. We have an amazingly versatile language and I read somewhere that twenty years ago, we used 10 percent of the dictionary; today it’s something like 5 percent. So I closely evaluate my words to see if there is a stronger one. For example, “trickled slowly” can be replaced by “oozed” – and sounds so much better. Yes, I keep a thesaurus handy, but am very selective about word choice.
At the same time, from a descriptive standpoint, I prefer to do a “progressive reveal” with my characters, which I think really intrigues the reader. I don’t open with a description of them, but rather let the reader discover them in stages, often through the eyes of other characters. You may not learn until later that Toron has jade skin, or that the Dolmen may not be able to fly.
There is a seduction in writing, I think. A seduction through description, rather like the dance of the seven veils, which lures the reader on to discover more about a character, and helps create the depth and resonance my characters have with readers.
Tyler: Claudia, I noticed on your blog that you collect antique fairy tale books. Since I’m a lover of fairy tale books also, would you tell us a little about your love of fairy tales and how have they influenced your writing?
Claudia: I studied Greek and Roman mythology in elementary school in Europe, and can remember reading fairy tales forever. Grimm, Perrault, Andrew Lang… the list goes on. I particularly like the older versions of tales because so much has been pared off or candy-coated over the past century as people lost the understanding that the fairy tales weren’t just for children but for everyone. Which is what led me to collect older books.
I love fairy tales because of their endless possibilities, their complexity, their underlying messages, and their ancient roots. They are like shattered stained glass shards reassembled over and over again into a fractured mosaic in which you can see threads of history and society disappearing back into Neolithic times.
I think in many ways that the genre we call “fantasy” is actually fairy tales, gussied up with a word that permits adults to read it without worrying about what people will think about them.
Today we tend to consign fairies and other mythological creatures to the realm of children. But that is so off the mark. We all have a certain degree of fantasy in us, if we don’t suppress it with the strictures of adulthood. Look at the success of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series – I believe that was in part because she “gave permission” to people of all ages to escape into the fantasy of magic, of good fighting evil. I’m hoping people will discover the same magic in my books.
Tyler: What is it about writing fantasy that appeals to you so much over writing other kinds of stories?
Claudia: People have asked me why fantasy and not another genre. Two reasons, I guess. One, while I read a myriad of genres, fantasy remains my favorite, and it was natural for me to write what I love. Second, I think we all need a place to which we can escape, where we can step away from the rush and ruckus of our daily lives, and rediscover magic and wonder. My hope is to write the kind of “fairy tales stories” that make readers think, long after they have finished the book. I consider the greatest compliment the one where somebody reads all my books – and then wants to read them again.
Tyler: Claudia, what’s next for you? Do you feel a bit lost now that you’ve finished writing the Krisalys Chronicles of Feyree series, or are you on to writing new kinds of books?
Claudia: I have taken a year off after finishing the trilogy. I put so much of my heart and soul into the books that I have had to recharge my batteries. Of course, that doesn’t stop my busy brain. I have what I call a “thought book” in which I keep all my ideas, among many other writing resources. I already have an idea for a sequel to the Krisalys trilogy – I’m not sure Danai is done with me yet.
I also have another book roughed out (surprise, it’s fantasy!), set in both today as well as the future and the past, about which I’m very excited. It was inspired by a burnt rag (seriously). I love to write and as my six awards show, people are enjoying what I write. It’s a marvelous incentive to keep going.
Tyler: Thank you, Claudia, for the interview today. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information we can find there about “Firestar” and the rest of the “Krisalys Chronicles of Feyree” series?
Claudia: I periodically update my website, but in response to readers’ suggestions and our more social-media based society, I also now am on Facebook where I’m much more active (facebook.com/newcornbooks) so I invite people to come “like” me there. Again, in response to reader demand, the books are all available as ebooks. My website offers updates and information, as well as the chance for people to buy personally inscribed versions of my books if they like.
Tyler: Thank you again, Claudia. It’s been a pleasure interviewing you. I wish you much luck with “Firestar” and with any sequels, prequels, or any future projects you embark upon.