Interview: Janet Lee Carey
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Current Song: 23 by Jimmy Eat World
The June issue of readergirlz is here! This month's spotlighted title is Dragon's Keep by Janet Lee Carey.
Rosie has nine human fingers and one scaly dragon claw. Adding insult to injury, the dragon claw is her left ring finger. In a time when a princess was supposed to be both well-off and well-married, this fact does not go unnoticed by either Rosie or her mother, the queen. Whether or not she's well-off becomes the least of her worries when Rosie is carried off by a dragon.
But before I tell you anything more about the story, let me tell you about the author, Janet Lee Carey. In addition to her novel work, she also teaches college writing courses. She has a taste for classical music, epic fantasy series, and yoga, among other things. She is also enchanted by -- and, at times, distracted by -- dragons. Even during this Bildungsroman interview.
Did you set out to write a story to address the ideals of beauty and the shame of disfigurement, or did it have more humble beginnings?
Janet: Ah, you're very clear-sighted Little Willow. Yes, the heart of the story is about beauty. Like most girls, I was raised with the "perfect princess" image from old fairytales to Disney movies to neverending TV ads, and I grew up feeling that I wasn't perfect enough to be loved. These thoughts didn't come from my parents, but from the culture at large. Most girls -- unless they're completely sheltered from the media -- get this message loud and clear from childhood on.
Once I became a writer I used the power of the pen to stir a princess and a dragon together and ask, "Does one have to be a perfect beauty to be loved?" It started out as a rather small idea and became a great adventure.
I'd have to say I fell in love with Tolkien's Smaug first. I later read Ann McCaffery and enjoyed her mighty winged beasts. But my favorite dragons are the ones I met in Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea books. In the foreword of Tales from Earthsea LeGuin says, "Nobody can explain a dragon." LeGuin understands their power and most of all their mystery. Dragons embody the wild and dangerous beauty of nature itself. They are myth made manifest. They are . . . Hm, I’d better stop now lest I try to explain them.
Note: Janet had to leave in the middle of this interview to rush off to a critique group. This is what happened next, in her own words:
. . . so I grabbed my cup of hot tea and my manuscript and raced out the door. My mind was still in a reverie over all things dragon as I drove. At the corner stoplight the car next to me honked and the passenger rolled down the window to point out, "You have a tea cup on your roof!" I rescued said tea cup before the light turned green. The wind speed had turned the tea cold. Still I drank it. Thoughts of dragons can be so distracting.
Thankfully, you've returned in one piece. Dragon's Keep is split into three main portions. If you split your life as such - say, childhood, teendom, and the adult years - what would be one highlight from each portion?
Childhood: playing outside on summer nights until the moon rose.
Teendom: Boy love and swimming in the sea.
Adulthood: marriage, motherhood and publication – my top three.
Let's highlight your backlist. What is the first thing that comes to mind when I bring up . . .
The Beast of Noor? (and the forthcoming sequel, The Ancients?)
For The Beast of Noor, the first thing that comes up is transformation. Shape shifting is only the beginning – true change happens within. The Ancients: The title might change to The Dragons of Noor. The tale is about retrieving lost dreams.
Ah, my first published book. My agent, Irene Kraas, took me on before I was published and we've been together ever since. As to Molly, she's got backbone. I had to get some backbone before I was ready to send my stories out into the world. (Having an agent helps.)
Wenny Has Wings?
A story of family loss and renewal -- it was an emotional book to write, but I laughed a lot too, especially at Bullwinkle.
The Double Life of Zoe Flynn?
I'm still searching for home.
Which book took the longest amount of time to write?
It's a tie between Dragon’s Keep and The Dragons of Noor. Hmm. Might it have something to do with dragons?
The shortest? Wenny Has Wings. I loved the first person epistolary form. (Translation – it was a blast to write letters in Will's voice.)
In my previous interview with the readergirlz divas, you told me that you started seriously writing in junior high, and that you've retained most of "those smudged booklets." Do you ever re-read those tattered notebooks?
Funny you should ask that. I just pulled those dusty journals out a week ago for a readergirlz presentation in Tacoma.
Have any of those stories been published or incorporated into your novels?
The poetry is very ethereal, but some of the ideas expressed in my High School nature poems are coming to fruition in The Dragons of Noor.
If you could magically leap into your favorite fantasy novel, what would it be and why?
Easy. It would be The Lord of the Rings -- although I wouldn't want to go on that harrowing journey with Frodo! Tolkien's world is lush and it feels like home to any tree lover. After that, I'd have to say the world of Earthsea for just the same reasons.
What are your ten favorite novels?
Precious Bane by Mary Webb
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, West With the Night by Beryl Markham
The Twentieth Wife (and the sequel The Feast of Roses) by Indu Sundaresan
The Earthsea (series) by Ursula K. LeGuin
Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies) by Justina Chen Headley
The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
Aria of the Sea by Dia Calhoun
Sold by Patricia McCormick
On Pointe by Lorie Ann Grover
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Okay, that's a mix of adult and YA and it [totals] eleven, but I had to cut out so many. You might also notice I know some of these authors. Reading the book and knowing the author enriches the experience. It's like a double scoop of the best ice cream.
If you would like to chat with Janet and discuss Dragon's Keep, please drop by the readergirlz forum. You may feel free to start new topics or comment within existing threads.
In fact, if you are one of the first 25 readergirlz to speak out about Dragon's Keep and related themes at the readergirlz forum, you will win FREE readergirlz frippery! Simply comment on the group site and then e-mail jlcarey AT hotmail DOT com with your snail mail address. Janet will respond to questions and comments at the forum until the end of June.