Monday, March 4, 2019

Mysterious Fantasy in Melanie Crowder's Latest, 'Lighthouse'

Maybe you already know Melanie Crowder for her award-winning middle-grade books. Or you discovered her much-acclaimed young adult titles. Whether it's Audacity, Three Pennies, An Uninterrupted View of the Sky, A Nearer Moon or Parched, she's established herself as a deft and versatile writer who's not afraid to tackle challenging, emotion-packed storytelling. Melanie's latest, the mysterious fantasy The Lighthouse Between the Worlds (Atheneum, 2018), is a fast-paced story of a mother already gone, a father who disappears via a portal to another world, and a kid who has to figure it all out. Its much-anticipated sequel, A Way Between Worlds, publishes in October

Question: Portals to other worlds, stolen magic — what draws you to writing fantasy? What inspires your imagination as you plot and create these characters and so meticulously build their worlds?

Melanie Crowder: Lots and lots of daydreaming.

No, seriously! I’ve always had this overactive imagination that’s not super helpful when it comes to being a rational adult, but that’s absolutely clutch when it comes to leaving this world behind and imagining new ones.

Q: Because the author sets the rules, writing fantasy can be liberating compared with other genres. Does it come easy for you? Or do you have to really work to create these worlds and the laws that govern them? Did you grow up reading fantasy? Do you consume a steady diet of it now?

MC: Yes, I grew up reading fantasy! How did you know? I loved fantasy. Devoured it. Anything with dragons or a prophecy. Or a girl on a horse or a sword in a stone. The truth is, I read a lot less fantasy now than I did when I was young. I’m so busy writing — I don’t have time to read much for fun. That’s one of my goals for this year, to carve out more time to read.

I always wanted to add my own stories to the world of fantasy lit, but it’s tricky since there are so many wildly imaginative stories already out there. Because I had read so much of it, the hardest part for me was narrowing in on this portal story and the magic system that would frame it. I actually wrote a full draft for this book that was promptly chucked into the recycle bin (!) and then, with my editor’s guidance, started all over again, from scratch.

So while I wouldn’t say it was easy to find my way into the right story, once I did, building the different worlds was pure fun!

Q: You write for middle-grade readers as well as YA, you tackle historical fiction as well as fantasy, in verse and in prose. Phew! Versatility is clearly your middle name. Can you talk about your creative process and how you decide on audience, subject, and style?

MC: I’m not one of those writers who has a million ideas for new stories at any given time. I’ve got two or three kicking around in there, and if I’m really lucky, one of them has that lightning strike, goose-bumpy, electric feeling that grabs ahold of me and doesn’t let go. It doesn’t happen often, so when it does, I pay attention.

I don’t want to have a singular voice or style as a writer. I want to let each story dictate how it wants to be told, and I hope to remain open to wherever these stories may lead me…

I tend to know whether the story is YA or MG right away, so I usually send a teaser to that editor once I’m hooked. Sometimes that’s all it takes, and other times I want to explore the story a little more fully to tease out the voice or the characters before I let anyone see it. My editors and agent give me a huge amount of creative freedom — something I’m incredibly grateful for.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from your books? What do you hope to accomplish with your storytelling?

MC: You know, it’s different with every book. I always want to tell a good story. I always want to honor the subject, characters, and readers. But no matter what genre of story I’m telling, there’s always some larger thematic thread running through the narrative that I hope will stick with readers long after they’ve closed the book.

In A Nearer Moon is an adventure, a sister story, a fantasy about sprites and curses and heroes. But beneath all that, it’s about those festering emotions: regret, guilt, shame, and how they poison everything if you let them. It might be something I struggled with as a young person. For example, my middle grade The Lighthouse Between the Worlds is similar — it’s a world-hopping, fast-paced adventure. But a careful reader might notice that it’s also about the dangers of isolationism and the value of building diverse coalitions.

If I’ve done my job well, all that undercurrent stuff is just that, floating beneath the surface, something a reader connects with on an instinctive level while they’re frantically flipping pages to find out what happens next!

Q: A sequel to The Lighthouse Between the Worlds! How long do readers have to wait? And any other stories in the works as well?

MC: Yes! A Way Between Worlds will release October 1 of this year, and I can’t wait!

I also have a yet-to-be-announced historical YA coming in 2020 that is different from anything I’ve ever written before and SO much fun. What can I say? I love this job.

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