Monday, May 21, 2012

An interview with John Claude Bemis, the author of The Prince Who Fell From the Sky

An Interview with John Claude Bemis

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to read The Prince Who Fell From the Sky. I love fantasy books and this was right up my alley. Upon reading it I immediately gave my copy to a student to read and get their opinion. He loved it too. We both were extraordinarily fond of the main character, Casseomae, a bear with the kindest heart you will find. I'm thrilled to introduce you all to the author, John Claude Bemis, who has stopped by Read, Write, Reflect to share some of his writing process with us along with the inspiration for this book. I can't wait to share his answers with my students today. 

What books have influenced you as a writer?

John Claude Bemis: As a reader, I’m drawn to adventures about heart-felt heroes set in worlds where I can delve deep into thought-provoking cultures.  As a writer, I strive for that elegant balance of fantastical characters, plots, and settings.  The Harry Potter series, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman all have had huge influences on how I think about stories and story elements.  I return to them often and learn more every time I do.

What was your favorite children’s book when you were a child?

John Claude Bemis: That would depend on which week you asked me.  There have been so many favorites!  (Visit John’s website for a list of his favorite novels.)  But the book I have read the most times in my life is The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein.  I love that story!

When did writing become part of your life? How has it evolved?

John Claude Bemis: I grew up in a very rural place and relied on my imagination for my entertainment.  I’ve always been the type of person who likes creating—whether it was music, art, or writing.  I’ve been making up stories since before I could write!  Some of those stories just lived in my head— stories and characters and situations that I could escape to in my imagination whenever I wanted.  Others were stories I actually wrote down.  The biggest evolution is how I now spend months and years writing a single story, where I used to leave stories half-finished before moving on to the next exciting idea.  You have to stick to a goal to be a successful writer.

What is your writing routine? Do you write in the same place? Do you need quiet or do you listen to music as you write?

John Claude Bemis: I write out at a rustic cabin on a friend’s farm in North Carolina.  It has no heat or air and (most importantly) no internet access.  It’s a magical place!  I don’t listen to music, and it’s mostly quiet…except for when the chickens come clucking around my cabin door.  In a pinch, I’ve written in fast food restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, and in the hallways at conferences, but I prefer a relaxing setting where I can concentrate.  It’s important to have a place to work where you feel creative and can keep away from distractions.

What first popped in your mind to create the seed that became The Prince Who Fell From the Sky?

John Claude Bemis: The first impetus of the idea for the story came one day when I was walking around an old abandoned NASCAR racetrack near my house.  It’s all overgrown with trees now and has an eerie post-apocalyptic feel.  I’m a fan of world mythology, and in particular, I love the Native American and African creation myths where there are no people yet and archetypal talking animals rule the earth.  I had the idea: what if I told a story with these sorts of mythical animals, not at the beginning of the world, but long after a mass extinction that’s removed humanity from the earth?  It seemed lots of fun to play around with the sorts of legends the animals would have about us and the sort of new world order the animals would create.

Is this the first in a series?

John Claude Bemis: I originally intended The Prince Who Fell from the Sky to be a stand-alone novel.  The story of Casseomae and her human cub felt complete when I reached the end.  However recently, I’ve had some new ideas bubbling up that make me wonder if I’ll return to these characters and their world one day.

What character did you connect with from The Prince Who Fell From the Sky?

John Claude Bemis: I just loved the main character, the bear Casseomae.  She’s so powerful and compassionate.  I admire her deeply!  One of the guiding ideas for the story was: if I was ever lost in a dangerous wilderness, I’d want her protecting me!  I should add that the fast-talking rat Dumpster was a tremendously fun character to write.

What suggestions do you have for world building?

John Claude Bemis: The most important rule of world building is consistency.  You can have outlandish aspects to a fantasy world that readers will suspend disbelief for, but readers will quit believing in your world as soon as you break your own rules.  It takes a lot of time exploring your world in your imagination to bring it to life.  When I create a world—whether it’s the complex animal society in The Prince Who Fell from the Sky or the mythical, steampunk America of my Clockwork Dark trilogy—I set my stories in worlds that deeply appeal to me, places I’d love to visit, settings that fascinate me to my core.

What do you hope your readers get from your books?

John Claude Bemis: I suppose I hope my readers take away that courage and heart can get you through life’s most difficult situations.  The heroes of my stories aren’t always the smartest, strongest (except for Conker in The Nine Pound Hammer), or most talented.  But they do have tremendous heart and are willing to go to extremes for those they love.  It doesn’t get much more important than that for me.

John Claude Bemis is the author of The Clockwork Dark, a fantasy adventure trilogy that takes place in a mythical America. The first book, The Nine Pound Hammer (Random House), was described as “a steampunk collision of heroes, mermaids, pirates, and good old-fashioned Americana” by Booklist and was a New York Public Library Best Children’s Book 2009 for Reading and Sharing.  The trilogy continues with The Wolf Tree and The White City and has been described as “original and fresh” and “a unique way of creating fantasy.”  His new book The Prince Who Fell from the Sky was named an Amazon Best Book of the Month for May 2012.   John lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina with his wife and daughter.

Giveaway Rules
1. The giveaway will run from May 21, 2012 to midnight on May 23, 2012
2. This contest is open to people living in the continental United States.
3. You must be at least 13 to enter.
4. If you can, please pay it forward. Thanks!

Copy provided by Random House