Interview: Janet Lee Carey
Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: The Last Goodbye by David Cook
Author Janet Lee Carey is celebrating Earth Day with a gift that keeps on giving: trees. An active supporter of the Plant a Billion Trees project, Janet wishes more people would help preserve our ancient playgrounds. I hope this interview will inspire you to lend your support as well.
Little Willow:: So far, you've written two fantasy novels which take place in the land of Noor. When did you first create Noor?
Janet Lee Carey: Noor grew from a monster, mythical lore, and memories. The demon hound, called The Shriker in The Beast of Noor, comes from the same lore that inspired The Hound of the Baskervilles. Knowing the Shirker lurked in misty darkness and attacked travelers on lonely byways helped me imagine remote and mountainous Enness Isle in Noor where Miles and Hanna's story takes place. The concept of the two worlds of Noor and Oth (the unseen magical fairy world) is spun from the Otherworld of Celtic lore. I also had a terrifying experience at age five. I was walking down a trail alone when three attack dogs hurled themselves at me. Luckily they crashed against the chain link fence, but I was only inches from the fence. I heard their deafening barks, saw their fierce eyes, and teeth.
LW: Without giving too much away about the book -- When you first set pen to paper for The Beast of Noor, did you have all of the major plot twists in mind, or did some of them appear along the way?
JLC: I knew Miles would get lost in a very dark place as he tried to fight off the Shriker, and that he would be tempted to stay in Oth because of the power his monster form gives him. I also knew his sister Hanna would have to enter Oth to find her lost brother. But all the twists and turns came out of the characters themselves. I set up the “impossible plot” and let the characters react. Both Miles and Hanna are driven by the strong desire to get what they want = a character driven story.
LW: What prompted the sequel, The Dragons of Noor?
JLC: Miles and Hanna's story wasn't finished yet. I wanted to know what Miles would do with his dangerous shape-shifting power. What would Hanna do with her prophetic dreams as the rift between the worlds of Noor and Oth grew wider day by day.
The Dragons of Noor is based on brokenness – two worlds breaking apart, the breaking of a dragon treaty that protected the Waytree forest, the breaking of a family when the youngest child is stolen by the wind . . . It's my seventh novel for young readers, and the second Noor book. In this tale Miles and Hanna try to "bind what's broken." They join the dragons' fight to save the Waytree forest – the ancient trees that bind the two worlds. If they fail and the last Waytrees fall, the worlds will split in two. All magic will go out of Noor, and their little brother will be forever lost.
The power of nature plays a central role in the story, the Wild Wind, the Whorl Storms, the Waytrees who bridge the worlds, all stemmed from my childhood sense of awe. Growing up near the Pacific Ocean, and under giant redwood trees that dwarfed me, I felt there were older living beings around me -- that I was a small person in their world. As I've studied forests, I see how trees are rooted in humankind's childhood. When we cut them down we sever ourselves from our wild past and chop down our most ancient playground.
LW: Tell me about your involvement in the Plant a Billion Trees project.
JLC: I looked for the right outreach to celebrate the book launch for The Dragons of Noor. The Nature Conservancy's Plant a Billion Trees was a perfect fit. The goal of Plant a Billion Trees is to restore one billion native trees to Brazil's highly endangered Atlantic Forest over the next 7 years. Nature Conservancy says, "Tropical forests are the lungs of the earth, filtering out ten million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. Every day these valuable trees help reduce global warming."
Click here to see the author and a majestic tree.
JLC: So far readers have helped The Dragons of Noor plant 250 new trees in the endangered Brazilian forest! Working together with readers and donating 10% of my school visit fees, we'll continue to plant trees! Readers who want to help can check out the "Giving Back" page on my website, or go straight to Plant a Billion Trees campaign page at http://plantabillion.org
"Feel the ground beneath your feet as you walk. Heart to root; remember the ones who hold you up." ~ Evver, the tree spirit of Noor
LW: Dragons appear in many of your books, such as Dragon's Keep. Would you want to be a dragon princess? Why or why not?
JLC: Rosalind is lucky enough to live with the dragons on Dragon's Keep and to watch new baby dragons hatching. Finally, both Rosalind and Hanna fly on dragonback. I'd love to do that.
LW: As would I. Speaking of wings, your children's novel Wenny Has Wings won the Mark Twain Award in 2005 and was made into the Japanese film "Ano Sora wo Oboeteru" Remember That Sky in 2008. Congratulations!
JLC: It was such an honor to win the Mark Twain Award, and I think I nailed the speech at the award ceremony, but I was so flustered afterward that I left my Mark Twain bust at the book signing. I realized it about midnight and had the hotel staff unlock the room so I could look for it. I was embarrassed to admit I'd lost the award, but it went out over the loudspeaker the next morning at breakfast, "Janet Lee Carey has lost her Mark Twain award. If you know where it is please report to . . ." Well, it was found and is now safely atop our piano. The Wenny Has Wings movie was a dream come true.
LW: Was it a difficult decision, choosing not to be involved in the movie process? Did you opt not to be a screenwriter when the rights were sold, or was that decision out of your hands?
JLC: I opted out of being the screenwriter. I know movies rely on action, and as a visual art from they always differ from books. That said, I thought they did a fabulous job with the story and the acting was spot on. Yutaka Takenouchi starred in the movie. Check this guy out.
LW: How was your trip to Japan?
JLC: We were flown to Japan for a private showing at Sony Studios in Tokyo after which I underwent back-to-back press interviews and TV spots. We stayed at a posh hotel and the director, Shin Togashi, took us all out to dinner each night. Being treated as a welcome guest, traveling around Japan and staying in a Buddhist temple on Mount Koya heightened my reaction to the devastation created by the recent quake and Tsunami. It's a tremendous loss and the Japanese people are showing the world how to respond in such a crisis.
LW: Are you working on anything at this time?
JLC: I've just finished Dragonswood, the sequel to Dragon's Keep. In Dragonswood, Tess is charged with witchcraft. Before she's burned on the witch pyre, she escapes with her friends dressed in leper's garb. On the run from the witch hunter, she falls for a huntsman who shelters them in Dragonswood. The huntsman is not all he seems to be, but then neither is Tess. I'm very excited about this sequel and loved working with my editor Kathy Dawson at Dial. And the good news is I've also just sold the third book in the series.
LW: Congratulations again! How many drafts do you typically write before the final version is ready for publication? How many editors have a hand in your stories?
JLC: Uncountable drafts. Before I send the manuscript to the editor, I've already revised the chapters with the help of my critique group, The Diviners, and with added critique from my reader partners Justina Chen and Indu Sundaresan. I usually receive a number of editorial letters and go to work cutting, revising and refining the novel through each draft until we reach the copy-edit stage. I consider myself extremely lucky to have worked with my amazing editors: Kathy Dawson at Dial Books for Young Readers, Regina Griffin at Egmont USA, Ruth Katcher, and my British editor, Julia Wells at Faber & Faber to name a few. My agent, Irene Kraas, has the harrowing job of keeping my contracts straight.
Thank you for all the great questions, Little Willow. Happy Earth Day and may you soar on dragon's wings!
LW: Thank you, Janet. The same to you.
Read my interview with Janet from 2007.
Visit Janet's website and two blogs.
Thanks to everyone who read the interview. Janet select a random commenter to receive a copy of The Dragons of Noor. Congratulations, Gaby!