I would imagine most of us can name a defining book (or series of books) from our childhood. And I'm not talking about a story that you loved or a book that you just couldn't put down. These books go far deeper, and they end up being far more important to us.
These are the stories that are woven into our character. They are the experiences we've never truly had (only existing in our imagination), but nevertheless they are the stories that have shaped us - transformed us - into the people we are today. They are the adventures and mysteries and romances that we carry with us forever.
For some of my friends, that story is The Chronicles of Narnia. They've grown up walking through the forest with Aslan and fighting next to Jewel in the Last Battle. For my wife, her defining story is Anne of Green Gables and for my son, Aidan, it's Percy Jackson. There's a whole generation defined by J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter.
But my story is slightly more obscure. I grew up in Prydain.
The Prydain Chronicles is a five book series written by Lloyd Alexander. Drawing on Welsh Mythology and The Mabinogion, Alexander writes about a young assistant pig-keeper named Taran as he goes on unlikely adventures and grows to become a man.
And at the heart of all five novels is the group Alexander affectionately terms "the Companions" -- Taran, Princess Eilonwy, Fflewddur Fflam, Doli, and the ever-faithful Gurgi.
And I remember sobbing at the end of the fifth and final book, The High King, because "the companions" had become my companions and now are adventures were at an end -- I knew I could always read the stories again, but then they would only be a memory. It would be different. Forever.
So how do The Prydain Chronicles influence Kira, the Rainbow Princess?
Just like Taran our assistant pig-keeper, Kira is not alone. She will depend upon a group of steadfast friends. And hopefully, if there's a heart to this novel, it will be found in those friendships.
And maybe one day in the distant future Kira will be important to someone else - it may serve as an adventure; an experience; a companion. Maybe.
But even writing that line down - trying to imagine Kira meaning as much to someone as Taran means to me - it seems like too much to even hope for. . .
The woman in the picture is Jessie Graff and if you don't know who she is yet, just keep reading.
First a little bit of backstory. Even ten years ago, I never would have called myself a "feminist". Depending on the connotations you assign to that word, maybe I'm still not. But regardless of labels, I know that my world view - especially in regards to women - changed dramatically in March of 2008. That's when my daughter Fiona was born.
Just like all parents, I want both of my children to realize their dreams - no matter what those dreams for the future may be. Doctor, Photographer, President, Singer, Writer, or Superhero. It's one of our jobs as parents (I believe) to encourage our children to dream big and then work together to make those dreams a reality. One step in that process, at least for me, is finding positive role models to hold up as examples for my children.
For my son, Aidan, that has always been an easy process, but with Fiona things are decidedly more . . . complicated. There are so many layers slapped subtly on top of women, that finding the right role model without the added "garbage" of society becomes difficult. Case in point: female superheros.
In the recent Marvel movies there have been a litany of male superheroes. They come in all shapes and sizes with a variety of powers. And there are two girls. Girl superheroes in the Marvel universe are either Black Widow or (the relatively new) Scarlet Witch. And now we start to see some of those layers I was talking about earlier. In the Avengers: Age of Ultron a plot device called for one of the Avengers to get captured. The only prerequisite was for the captive member of the team to know Morse code. They could have literally chosen ANYONE! But who gets snagged? Black Widow - and now the baddest spy in the Marvel universe is reduced to the archetype of the Damsel-in-Distress. (And I know the counterargument - if it could be anyone, why not her? The answer is easy, because it's always a her and in the process a strong female character is reduced to being something less).
Which brings us back to Jessie Graff. This summer, both of my kids got hooked on watching American Ninja Warrior with their Grandmom, and this season Jessie Graff emerged as a revelation. Graff is a stunt woman, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, a gymnast, a former collegiate pole vaulter, and an all-around American Ninja Warrior bad-ass. This season she became the first woman to ever complete Stage One of the Las Vegas American Ninja Warrior Finals course. And in the process, she has become a role model of strength and athleticism for my daughter Fiona!
So how does any of that relate to Kira, the Rainbow Princess? I certainly never wrote Kira to explicitly be a "feminist" novel, but I did write Kira, at least in part, for my daughter. That means I wanted to create a female character that could be a reflection of Fiona - smart, brave, funny, competent, and strong. And I wanted Kira to serve as a role model for my daughter - and all the other girls who may one day read her story.
Most of all, I wanted Kira to be a hero . . . someone just like Jessie Graff.
I've already told the story about about how I re-discovered my love for writing. It all started in 2013 during a conversation with my brother Michael on our way back from Disney World. Three years later and I published my first novel, ANOM: Awakening through Amazon.
This story - the story of Kira, the Rainbow Princess - has a very different beginning.
Kira started in 2015. It was right around the time when I was finishing up ANOM. I had already poured 2 years of my writing life into that first book -working on it when I could in bits and pieces, drips and drabs. The whole process felt like a marathon - so huge that all you can really focus on is the step immediately in front of you - but by 2015, I could see the finish line. I spent more and more time at my computer. There was a new urgency.
And my family was great! My wife Vanessa, my son Aidan, and my daughter Fiona all showed me a tremendous amount of patience. They never complained about my writing, but instead they would encourage me to keep going. They were proud of me - for what I was trying to do - and I wanted to do my part to earn that pride.
Then, one night, my 7 year old daughter asked me to write a book for her . . . how could I say no?
"Okay, sweetheart," I said, "What do you want your book to be about?"
"Rainbows. And unicorns. And princesses."
And so Kira, the Rainbow Princess was born.
I wrote the book with my kids and for my kids. I would type out a chapter, send it to the printer, and then there would be a mad-dash to see who would read it first. We finally settled on taking turns.
Every line of the book has been read (and critiqued) by both Aidan and Fiona. And some parts of the story even come straight from their imagination! Everything from character names (like Snugg, the Teddy Bear and Fred, the Zombie) to Kira's hair color (Pink, of course).
Kira, the Rainbow Princess is a middle-grade fantasy novel and the first of a seven book series. If everything goes according to schedule, we plan on releasing in late November. I can't wait to tell you more about it in the weeks and months ahead! Stay tuned.
As I said last week, this is going to be my final ANOM: Awakening post for a while. It's been a great summer watching my debut novel climb the Amazon charts, and I'm excited to see what happens next. . . but I have another novel in the works and in the coming weeks, my focus is going to shift to promote this newest project. All that being said, I thought a final Q and A regarding ANOM: Awakening would be a great way to cap off this opening chapter of my literary journey. So, without further ado. . .
Q: Will there be a sequel to ANOM: Awakening and when will it be ready?
A: This is far and away the most common question I encounter regarding my book. I'm happy to report that there will ABSOLUTELY, 100% be a sequel to ANOM: Awakening! I started writing the second installment this summer and I estimate that I'm about 1/3 of the way finished the first draft. So, when will the sequel be available? It's too early to even take a guess at this point, but I'll be offering regular updates as the story progresses.
Q: Why does ANOM: Awakening end on a cliffhanger? The story feels incomplete.
A: One of my inspirations for ANOM: Awakening comes from my love of comic books. When you read a comic book, it's usually one part of a larger story arc. That's exactly how I envisioned my book. Some of the conflicts that start in my novel get resolved by the end, but other questions never get answered -- these are part of the larger story arc. They set up conflicts that will be resolved in future novels. And that's one of the exciting things about ANOM: Awakening. It's more than a single story. It's the start of a bigger world that can support multiple story arcs. So just like you, I can't wait to see what happens next.
Q: What's up with Major Ellison? Is he supposed to be the bad guy?
A: Major Ellison is a complex character (and hopefully one of many in this novel). Just like in real life, characters exist on a spectrum - very few are 100% good or 100% evil - and based on the choices they make, they are constantly sliding up and down that scale. What complicates matters for Ellison (and Jeremy) is that large portions of the novel are told from their point of view. . . and no one thinks of themselves as being the "bad guy". So, in a very real sense, I can't answer that question. A better question might be, "Do YOU think Ellison is a bad guy?"
Q: Tell me more about Kate!
A: I've previously written about being surprised as a writer. The character of Ellison was a surprise. When I started writing, I never intended on creating Ellison but as the narrative progressed, Ellison evolved into one of the main characters of the novel. Kate was a very different surprise. All through my writing, I considered Kate a very minor character, but a number of readers feel a deep connection to Katie - my brother Michael and my mom included. So, never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, all I can say is Kate's story is not done. Hope that's enough for now.
And that's it for the final ANOM: Awakening Q and A. Thank you again for all the support. The ANOM series will still get lots of love on this page and information will keep trickling out, but in the immediate future, our focus is shifting to a brand new book. I hope you'll be just as excited as I am regarding this new project. Check back soon for updates!