“The consolation of imaginary things, is not imaginary consolation.” (Roger Scruton, via Emily Jenkins)
This August, we’re looking at Fantasy books. There’s a lot to explore in the Upside-Down Magic series from authors Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins. We thought it would be fun to interview the trio together and we were right. We had a blast!
We spent a lot of time learning how the three authors, who initially collaborated on the YA title How to Be Bad, came back together to keep collaborating to develop an eight-book middle grade series. The results are fascinating.
We learned of the roles they each play, creatively but also organizationally. And we learned where the insights come from.
Eventually we got around to the role of fantasy itself, the bounty of escape and the free play of lessons that can apply to anyone’s life.
And the dynamic authors blessed us all with a three-person reading of one of our favorite passages (the appearance of the Skunkephant!)
Here are some highlights…
Why the trio wanted to write together (again)…
Lauren: “Writing can be lonely…and you do it by yourself…and you don’t always get feedback for a very, very, very long time….We’re drawn to magic because… it gave us a joyous entry point…and it meant that we could be crazy with our imaginations and entertain each other as we were writing.” [5:35-6:28]
Not to be missed! The Skunkephunt: Sarah, Lauren, and Emily read an excerpt from Upside-Down Magic – together!
[Begins at: 14:24. Ends at: 17:35]
What makes the writing fun? Turns out it’s one big Google Doc…
Lauren: “…we had a big old Google Document…I had an audience in my head, and it’s two of my favorite people in the world, and I want to make them laugh…and when it was their turn they kind of each picked up the ball and it was their job to keep it going.”
Emily: “The process…where we did these last three books…was more fun…Once we settled on that outline – then the fun really happened… You would see how they (each) made something better, brighter, more magical than you expected.”
[Begins at: 18:35. Ends at: 21:44]
How structure creates freedom… You need structure to have fun.
Lauren: “They said, Lauren, nothing you wrote has anything to do with the outline… You gotta have fun within the confines of the outline.” [22:20- 24:30]
Sarah describes how “we’ve built on each other’s jokes so much that it feels like all of us did it. And I think that’s why it ends up feeling so seamless.” [27:28 – 27:50]
Great advice for young writers…
Emily: “If there’s a takeaway for student writers…it’s that you should not listen to that no-no voice… They should be going wild because there’s something in the going wild that is amazing and hilarious and magical that they wouldn’t have gotten to if they were like thinking about what (an editor) was gonna say… You have to just go, go, go.” [32:25 – 34:48]
Emily quotes Roger Scruton on the consolations of fantasy…
“There’s a quote I think about all the time when I think about writing for young people…
“The consolation of imaginary things is not imaginary consolation.”
“So…a fantasy world that has nothing to do with a child’s everyday life… might still provide an extremely important social-emotional function for the kid. It can provide a safe escape into a…world. It provides literacy education, you can become a more facile reader with every book that you read. It might provide a community. Kids read books and share imaginary landscapes they have read in books. The consolation of these imaginary worlds doesn’t have to exist in the content of the text.”
[39:06 – 40:22]
The Box of Normal…
Lauren: “We’re all given a box of normal to live in, and the box of normal serves a purpose… I’m talking about plain old culture, cultural norms and society’s norms… Sarah, Emily, and I all have kids… And as a parent we’re all trying to help them face the world… And you have to figure out what box of normal am I teaching my kid… Do I mean to be teaching them that? Am I just passing on this box of normal because someone passed it on to me…? And what if it’s wrong? And right now I think…young people today are saying, you know what?, this box of normal…really not so great….”
[46:07 – 47:58]
Keep your eye out for a second Fantasy interview with Zetta Elliott (Dragons in a Bag) and Thomas Taylor (Malamander) in August at The Lamp-Post.