"The Morrigan," Nuala whispered. She had never met the Morrigan, and was glad for it, but she knew about her all the same. The Morrigan was the goddess of death. There was a time when every soldier in Ireland had lived in dread of stumbling upon a woman washing his clothes in the river, for it meant he would soon doe in battle. Despite herself, Nuala moved closer, staring at the cloth in the woman's hands. Then the woman stood up and rung out the cloth, and Nuala screamed, for turning the river red with blood were the very rags she was wearing on her violently shaking body.
From Through the Door by Jodi McIsaac
I recently had the great pleasure of reading the book Through the Door by Jodi McIsaac. It was recommended to me by a friend and co-worker (whose many book recommendations have proven to be flawless!). It's also showed up on amazon and GoodReads as recommended reading alongside other books I have read and enjoyed in the past year, including A Discovery of Witches. The book was unlike any other that I have ever read - a blend of ancient Celtic mythology and modern urban fantasy with storytelling and imagination so great that it's hard to believe this is a debut novel.
Readers of this blog know how much I enjoy interviewing authors that I admire. You can read other interviews at the links below:
Kieran Shields - author of The Truth of All Things (here)
Adele Griffin/Lisa Brown - Authors/Illustrator of Picture the Dead (here)
Matthew Pearl - author of The Last Dickens (here)
Caroline Rance - author of Kill-Grief (here)
Robin Oliveira - author of My Name is Mary Sutter (here)
Mary and Liz Clare - authors of To the Ends of the Earth (here)
It is my great pleasure and privilege, then, to introduce Through the Door, the author Jodi McIsaac, her thoughtful and delightful answers to my interview questions, and my own review of the book.
First, the publisher's description of Through the Door:
Cedar McLeod lives an ordinary but lonely life, raising her six-year-old daughter Eden on her own while trying to balance the demands of her career and the expectations of her mother. Everything seems normal until the day Eden opens her bedroom door and finds herself half a world away – and then goes missing. Suddenly, Cedar realizes her daughter is anything but normal.
In a desperate search for answers, Cedar tries to track down Eden’s father, who mysteriously disappeared from her life before Eden was born. What she discovers is far beyond anything she could have imagined. As she joins unlikely allies in the hunt for her daughter, Cedar becomes torn between two worlds: the one she thought she knew, and one where ancient myths are real, the stakes are impossibly high, and only the deepest love will survive.
The book trailer for Through the Door is EXCEPTIONAL! You can see it below (YouTube embed or here):
Next, about Jodi McIsaac:
I’m a writer. In real life I’m also a mother, copywriter and advocate for humanitarian aid that works.
I grew up in Fredericton, New Brunswick, to wonderful parents who kept me well-stocked with books, constantly corrected my grammar, and oohed and ahhed over the poems and short stories with which I inundated them.
I was a short track speed skater for years (and still have the thighs to prove it). Once I gave up on my Olympic dreams, I earned a B.A. in Communication Studies, during which time I also cut my teeth in the communications industry as a speechwriter for former New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna. After university I spent a summer working with refugees from Kosovo and then spent some time in Belfast where I was schooled in the fine arts of drinking and swearing.
For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to follow this up with a stint at seminary, so I moved to Winnipeg and earned an M.A. in Global Studies. Once that gig was up I spent a few years in the real world as a fundraising and marketing executive with non-profit organizations in Toronto and Vancouver (which is where I still live, because it’s the best place on earth).
After having a couple of children and no longer digging the commute, I decided to start my own business as a freelance copywriter, which is still my day job and one I’m quite fond of (writing, paycheque, pyjamas … what’s not to like?).
And because balancing the demands of a family and a business weren’t keeping me busy enough, I figured this would also be the perfect time in my life to start doing the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do: write novels. I love fantasy books in all forms, from epics like The Lord of the Rings to YA books like The Hunger Games, but my current passion is for urban fantasy. Combine that with my love for Celtic mythology, and you have Through the Door.
So that’s me. Come say hello on Facebook and Twitter, or join the conversation on the blog. I’d love to meet you.
Now, the best part, my interview with Jodi McIsaac!
Jim Schmidt (JS): What inspired you to become a writer?
Jodi McIsaac (Jodi): Life, I suppose! I’ve always wanted to be a writer, even when I was a young child. It’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do. It’s what makes me feel alive.
JS: What was the inspiration for Through the Door?
Jodi: I was thinking about all the adult women I know (including myself) who love reading urban fantasy and/or young adult fantasy novels because they provide an escape from the monotony of our suburban lives. I’m sure all of us at one time or another have wished that we could jump into one of those books and have a wonderful magical adventure instead of having to make dinner and change diapers – again. So I started daydreaming about how would I respond if I were thrown into one of these books – if I discovered another magical world somewhere and got caught up in it. Then I started thinking, what if it wasn’t me who discovered it … but one of my children? And then the story developed from there.
JS: The mythical characters and places kept me running to Wikipedia to learn more! When/How did you become steeped in Celtic mythology? Do you have a favorite among the creatures/places? What books can you recommend as primers for those who want to learn more?
Jodi: I was actually well on the way to developing Through the Door before adding the Celtic mythology element. I was trying to develop my own magical world … and it wasn’t working out so well. My heritage is Irish but I knew nothing about Celtic mythology until I, too, started running to Wikipedia (and then to the library) to learn more. The more I read, the more fascinated I was, and that’s when the story really started to come together. As for my favourites … I’m a big fan of Brighid. There really is a Saint Brighid (or Brigid), and no one is quite sure who came first, the saint or the goddess. I love it when myth and history become all muddled up in each other. Regarding primers … the book I relied on the most is by T.W. Rollerston, called Celtic Myths and Legends. But honestly I also learned a lot from my 6-year-old daughter’s copy of The Magic Tree House’s Leprechauns and Irish Folklore. I find that children’s books are the best place to start when it comes to doing research, because they give you a good, simple overview of the subject. Then you can drill down into more detail as you need to, but at least you know where to start.
|Image via http://vovatia.wordpress.com|
JS: Your book is categorized as "Urban Fantasy" - can you describe that genre as you see it? Did you always intend to tell the story that way? Is that the kind of literature you like? If so, who are some of your favorites in the genre? What else are you reading right now?
Jodi: To me, urban or contemporary fantasy is the mashing up of our modern world and the world of fantasy – whether it be mythology-based like Through the Door or the Percy Jackson series, vampires and werewolves living among us, or something completely new. I do enjoy urban fantasy for the most part – but then, I enjoy anything as long as it’s a compelling story and well-written. What I like about urban fantasy is that it encourages my hope that I will wake up one morning with some kind of superpower. =) Right now I’m into Charles de Lint because of his amazing grasp of folklore, as well as Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles (also based on Celtic mythology), which are vastly entertaining. Like everyone else in the world, I have been reading George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series but am taking a break before delving into A Dance with Dragons.
JS: The book is intense and romantic but I'd feel comfortable recommending it to my 13-year old niece and to my (almost) 70-year old mom - was this important to you? (i.e., keepin' it "clean"?)
Jodi: Ha! Well, it was important to my mother, who was my copy-editor and FINALLY got me to take out most of the “cuss words.” But it was important to me for this first novel to focus on telling a good, Pixar-esque story – one that would appeal to readers of all ages and not just a particular demographic, although I definitely had women in their 30s and 40s in mind when I was writing it.
JS: The book has a beginning that really grabs you, a dynamic "middle," and a dramatic end...that's hard to accomplish! Well done! How long did it take you to write the book? Did you struggle with any part of it? Are you an "outliner" or a "write-and-revise-er"? Is writing a solitary venture for you or do you belong to a critique group?
Jodi: From beginning to end was about two years – about half of that was theme/story/character/world development, and the other half was writing and revising. I actually wrote the first draft in about 6 weeks. I’m definitely an outliner – my outline was 80 pages long! But I also did a lot of revisions – I think the final version was my eighth draft. I don’t have a critique group, but I had a mentor for this book who walked me through every step of the story-building process up until the first draft. I’ll be on my own for book #2, which slightly terrifies me – I’m just hoping I have retained enough from his excellent teaching.
JS: Any writing advice or inspiration for aspiring novelists? (including this guy who who is asking you so many questions?)
Jodi: One of the best bits of craft advice I received was to make sure that the point-of-view (POV) character in every scene has a “dramatic desire.” By “dramatic” I mean something concrete that can be shown, something more concrete than a vague emotional or psychological desire like “to be loved” or even “to escape the hordes of angry merpeople.” Think of how you would show that character’s desire on the screen, and get as specific as you can. Maybe her dramatic desire is for the next-door neighbour to kiss her as they stand under the cherry tree in her backyard. Or maybe his dramatic desire is to escape the merpeople by slipping through the crack at the back of the hidden cave and swimming to the boat waiting on the surface. The more specific and dramatic you can get, the better. And then, of course, you need to place an obstacle in the way of the character actually achieving that dramatic desire.
A piece of more general advice would be to focus on the story and not on what comes after. There is a real temptation to get distracted by all the marketing aspects – the blogging, the tweeting, the endless self-promotion – especially for self-publishers. But the quality of your story has to be your number one priority, otherwise all the blogging in the world isn’t going to help you. Also, invest in a good copyeditor and proofreader. I’m a copywriter and copyeditor by profession, and I still missed a ton of typos and grammatical errors. It’s impossible to edit one’s own book.
JS: Everyone will want to know when we can expect book 2! Any info?!
Jodi: I wish I knew! Right now I’m concentrating on moving my family to Calgary and getting them settled in there … then I will be attacking book 2 with a vengeance and hoping to get it out by next summer at the latest.
JS: Finally, one of the BIG and driving questions in the book is "Do you believe in magic?" Well, do you?!?!
Jodi: My 6-year-old daughter asks me that question a lot, and I tell her the same thing Jane told Cedar. I love the idea of magic, and just because I haven’t seen it personally doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I can’t say for sure either way, I think there is more to this world than what can be proven or what we can see with our own eyes.
Thank You, Jodi! And Best Wishes for
Continued Success and Inspiration!
And now for my own review:
My favorite genre is historical or literary fiction set in the 19th century, generally in England, but also America. Every now and then, though, I get out of my "comfort zone," and read something else...maybe I should do it more, because every time - usually based on a recommendation of a friend - it has proven to be a great reading experience. In just the past year, I'd include Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Scandinavian crime/mystery), Defending Jacob (modern courtroom drama), and A Discovery of Witches (vampire romance), as books I might not otherwise read but ended up thoroughly enjoying. I can now add Through the Door (Celtic urban fantasy) to that list.
The imagination and storytelling in this book is very impressive for a debut novel. The story really grabs you from the beginning and the stakes are very high: to get back her missing daughter. On top of that is a thrilling world of ancient Celtic gods and goddesses making their way in the modern world while trying to get back to their homeland. The references to creatures I'd never heard of kept me (happily!) running to Wikipedia to learn even more. There are familiar characters like leprechauns, but even then you'll want to learn more if your only exposure to them is from a box of Lucky Charms. Added to the mermaids and druids and characters like the Morrigan (detailed in the lovely passage at the beginning of this post) and the world she has adopted is dizzying but fanciful.
If there are faults, it's in 1) the dialogue of the main characters Cedar and Finn, which tends to the melodramatic rather than dramatic, and 2) the evil king, who is written a bit over-the-top. However, the writing and dialogue for the rest of the characters, especially the mother/grandmother and the venomous but beautiful Nuala is splendid and believable. The descriptive prose - again as witnessed in the excerpt at the beginning of this post (my favorite inthe book) is really wonderful.
At just over 300 pages, the book is a fairly quick read and hard to put down because the author has an exceptional sense of pacing...the last 1/3 of the book is frenetic as it draws to a conclusion and is very hard to put down.
I look forward to more from Jodi McIsaac and book #2 of the trilogy!