A Wild About Words First! My Q&A with Maggie L. Wood

I first met Maggie L. Wood online. I don’t know if she remembers this or not, but I think it was on my live journal blog when I was still trying to figure out how I was going to use social media. We both followed Carrie Jones before I knew that she was a VCFA alumni and we both commented on something she had written. One thing led to another and faerie_writer and I connected through Twitter, Facebook and other social media avenues. 

She is certainly an inspiration for me and so supportive of her fellow colleagues, that it seemed only natural that she would be the very first Q&A on Wild About World.

Wood’s The Divided Realms is a six-book series that follows the adventures of Willow Kingswell, a young woman who is one day transported from Earth to the faerie realm of Mistolear – a world that is a cool hybrid of Arthurian legends, old world magic and fairy tale romance. The first two books, Captured and The Darkening have just released to great reviews, with Book 3 coming out in Spring 2012. (Oh, I have to wait so long!)

Briefly, in the first book, Captured, a Dark faerie, Nezeral puts Willow parents and grandparents under a spell which forces them into a deadly game of chess.  A faerie queen sends Willow to Earth with her Nana to instruct her. What Willow always thought was just Nana role playing with her, was actually training. She she touches the special crystal, she returns to Mistolear and discovers the truth about who she is and what she must do to save her family.  Accompanied by the handsome and loyal knight, Brand and his companion Malvin, Willow sets out to end the game, and stop Nezeral, before her family ends up dead. 

The second book, The Darkening, Willow is adjusting to her new life as a princess, while really wishing she could wear more comfortable clothing and make out with her handsome boyfriend. However, her win is short lived as by tipping the balance between Light and Dark, she’s made an enemy of the Dark King Jarlath. Using his twin teen children, Dacia and Theon, he pulls Willow and Brand into a very complicated game, The Goblin’s Gauntlet.  
Whereas, in Captured,  Willow’s quest was, like the game she was playing, more mental and logical, in The Darkening, her emotional and physical boundaries are tested to such an extreme, that she makes some fairly bad decisions; leaving her very vulnerable for what is to come.  

I thoroughly enjoyed Wood’s interweaving of gaming rules and logic with mythology as well as the comedic timing of the dialogue between Willow and her romantic interest Brand. If you are interested in world building, than I recommend watching Wood weave her multi-universal threads together. In this Q&A, she provides some hints about how she does this.

MF: Did you originally conceive The Divided Realms as a multi-book series? How do you see Willow growing by the end of the series? 
MLW: Well, Captured (previously The Princess Pawn) was my first published book, and in the beginning of my writing journey just being published was the main goal. So the answer to the first part of your question is no I did not originally conceive of The Divided Realms as a multi-book series. In fact, I actually left the ending of the first book rather open-ended, so if a publisher signed me on, they could either choose to have the first book as a stand-alone book or choose to have me write a sequel. You see, without a proven track record, it’s very difficult for a first-time author to sell a multi-book series. I know it’s been done, but those authors are the exceptions not the rule. However, it certainly doesn’t hurt for a writer to nurture ideas along the lines of your book *possibly* becoming a series, which is what I think I did.
As to the second part of your question – how do I see Willow growing by the end of the series – now *that* is a thought-provoking question. I’m going to have to get some more tea and think about it … Okay, I’ve had another cup of tea and given it some thought, and I think, without being too spoiler-ish, that at some point in the series Willow will have to return to Earth where she will enjoy the ease and comfort of just being herself – a normal, un-royal, teenage Earth girl. But she’ll be called back to Mistolear and in the end her choice (and growth) will be whether or not she chooses the self that she is most comfortable with (her Earth self) or the other self (her princess self) that calls her to go outside her comfort zone and put the needs of the many over the needs of the few. “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” So begins Charles Dickens’ novel David Copperfield, and, so too, I think, will Willow have to discover.
MF: In Captured, the kingdom is under a magical curse that forces them to play Chess. I’m sure that you get this question often, but, I am wondering why did you choose that particular game, as opposed to something like Checkers?
MLW:  I like to think that the game chose me instead of the other way around. You see, the idea to write Captured came to me one evening when I was working at a bookstore. I was looking over a batch of medieval Eyewitness Books that had just come in and was reading the Knight one when I came across a picture of the Isle of Lewis chess set. In case you’ve never seen the Isle of Lewis chess set here’s the Wiki-link to it – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_chessmen. It’s the oldest chess set ever found and the chess pieces are carved from ivory to look like real people. I remember looking at that picture of the chess pieces and thinking that the surprised intensity of their eyes made them seem as if someone’s soul had been horribly trapped inside them. From there, I started thinking what if you had an actual game like that where you could get trapped inside a chess piece, and that’s basically how Captured was first conceived. 
MF:  In The Darkening, Willow and Brand have to survive a new game, the Goblin’s Gauntlet. Can you explain the rules of this game?
MLW: The thing about faerie games is that the rules are not really apparent to the players and must be learned as the player goes along. Theon and Dacia, the faerie twins who enter The Gauntlet with Willow and Brand, however, have some knowledge of The Gauntlet’s “rules,” as they have seen other Unseelie faeries play it. So they know, for instance, that the main rule of The Gauntlet is that it is the goblin king himself who decides when the players will be allowed to go free. They also know that never in the history of The Gauntlet has any fey being ever “won” it, as it is not a game used for winning. It is one used more for punishment and torture, as the goblins, who were once the minions of the Unseelie Court, have been placed in this “game-prison” as a penalty for having in the past been responsible for shifting the Balance’s power from Dark into Light. So now the Unseelie fey use The Gauntlet on their own faeries as a form of punishment for the unfortunate faerie made to play the Game and a form of amusement for the Unseelie Court who get to watch it. The fact that Willow ends up winning the Game, or that the Game can even *be* won, is a great surprise for everyone involved.  
MF: Do you have a fascination for the faerie realm? What is it about faerie lore that you find so intriguing?
MLW: Yes, I most definitely *do* have a fascination for the faerie realm! I love the whole idea that on Earth a race of supernatural beings could predate the existence of humans. If such a thing were true, my imagination just boggles at all the questions, both physical and metaphysical, this would raise. For instance, if souls do exist, would a faerie have one? And would their soul be the same as a human’s? Why, if the faerie form seems to be a superior physical form to the human form, would humans even have come into existence, as evolution dictates a forward motion in evolving not a backward one? I know these are probably not the “normal” things that most people would find fascinating in faerie lore, but to me they are the types of questions that drive my imagination into wanting to find the answers and then writing about them in a hopefully entertaining story. Books 1 and 2 gave inklings of these questions, but Books 3 and 4 will delve into them with more depth.
MF: Brand is certainly described as a hunky knight, whereas the Faerie Prince Theon has a bit of a wild side. Who do you think that your readers will side with, Team Brand or Team Theon? Who do you want them to? 😀
MLW: Well, I have not as yet received one fan letter where the writer of it wants Willow to end up with Theon. I have, however, received many quite vociferous emails ordering me to *make sure* that Willow and Brand get back together again. Let’s just say that the character of Brand is based mostly on my husband. I often ask myself when writing about Brand, what would my husband do in this situation? So knowing how I feel about Brand, I think I will let my readers draw their own conclusions as to which “team” I am on. Heh, heh.  😉
MF: How did you develop your multiple realms of Mistolear? Did you start with a general concept and wrote from there, or, did you plan out how your world would be built before hand.
MLW: I think this question ties in a bit with question 4 on my fascination of faerie lore, as there is a spot in Arthurian legend where magic is said to have permanently left our world. In Book 1, I refer to this legend and make it clear that the faeries no longer inhabit Earth, but they also do not inhabit Mistolear either. So I needed to find a plausible place that they would live and decided that the only logical option was that they would have their own realm that they created and purposely divided off from the humans. So, yes, I think I started out with this general concept and wrote from there. 
MF: I don’t want to ruin the ending for your readers, so, I’m going to try and phrase this question delicately … A theme that I’ve noticed in the two books is Willow’s difficulty with causing harm. When Willow figures out how to defeat Nezeral, were you trying to figure out a way to do so without being violent because it is part of Willow’s character?
MLW: I think of Willow as a typical teenage girl, who grew up in a typical small town, had a loving grandmother, had good grades in school, etc. She’s never experienced violence, or hunger, or true suffering, and is really quite naive about the world. So what happens when you take a nice young girl who’s lived in safety and security all her life, who’s never had any weapons training, never hunted or even been in a physical fight, and then thrust her into extreme circumstances? In the beginning, would she likely use violence to solve her problems? Would she be able to kill to save her own life or another’s? Logic and probability say no. So the answer to your question is, yes, I needed to find a non-violent solution to Willow’s problem in order for the solution to be a realistic outcome for Willow’s character to make. The way I wrote the first two books, if she’d used violence as a method to solve her problems most readers (I think) would not have accepted this as a believable option for her character to use. Of course, if I’d written those stories and Willow’s character differently – had her be a fighter on Earth, had Brand teach her how to use the sword, etc. – then violence might have been a more believable course of action for her character to take. (Although, I must say I am working on a scene right now in Book 3 that I think may need Willow to choose to take violent action in order for the scene to be believable. I am struggling with this, as I know how psychologically damaging this will be for her character, but at present it seems (to me) the only logical response someone with her character traits would choose to do, so I am forced to write it.)
MF: What book are you working on now? Do you find the writing in the series easier now that you have written two or three of the books? What kind of challenges are you finding writing this series?
MLW: Right now, I am working with my editor on revisions for Book 3. You see, the third book had originally been intended as the ending of the series and is around 400 pages long. My editor came up with the idea of splitting the third book into two books and then with also extending the series into another two books, so six books in all. Splitting Book 3 into two books, though, has meant some complete rewriting of chapters and also some brand new additions of chapters, which is hard work for me, as I am a much faster re-writer of old work than I am a writer of new work. So the answer to your second question is, no, I do not find it easier to write subsequent books now that I’ve written two or three of them. Writing from a blank computer screen is always a huge challenge for me. And each book I’ve written has had its own set of challenges. Of course, in the first book *everything* was a challenge, as it was my first published book. In the second book, the challenge was writing a sequel that went along with the first book and then set up a third book. And the new challenge of the third book was writing it with three viewpoints – Willow’s, Brand’s and Dacia’s – something I’d never done before. I’m sure every book in the series (and every book I write) will have its own particular set of challenges, as I’m always trying to attempt something different in each book I write.
Well, Melanie, I’d really like to thank you for having me on your blog and taking the time to put these intriguing questions together. You really made me think about my characters and my writing process in a unique way that I hope is reflected in how I answered your thought-provoking questions. I also hope that someday when you’re a published author I will get to return the favour to you with questions about your writing and process!
I am so glad she thought that my questions were interesting and thought-provoking… and that she thinks that I’ll get published some day. A perfect example of what I was saying about how she supports fellow writers.
I love this community building. 

About Melanie J. Fishbane

My novel, MAUD: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery was published in 2017 through Penguin Random House on April 25, 2017. I hold an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Here I talk about my writing process, things I love, and creative people who inspire me.
This entry was posted in Authors, Blogging, Book Reviews, Teen lit, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A Wild About Words First! My Q&A with Maggie L. Wood

  1. Melissa says:

    Great interview, Melanie! I really love the type of questions that you've asked and how Maggie responded to them. In particular the way Maggie phrased her response to the idea that every book has unique challenges, and the insight about what some of those new challenges are in Book 3 is definitely something that makes me excited about the subsequent books in this series.

  2. Thanks Melissa. I am really interested in world building at the moment (which you also talked about in your review) and the process of plotting a novel. I think that Maggie's answers definitely give us, as you say, insight.

  3. Just Deb says:

    I really enjoyed the interview, thanks! Insightful questions that really shone the light on Maggie's worldbuilding.And you are so, so right about being part of a community. Good luck with your writing!

  4. Thanks so much Just Deb. I am so glad that you enjoyed the interview. I also appreciate your good wishes.

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