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Killmaiden's Compendium
Killmaiden’s Q&A
An Interview with Author James A. Shapiro

1. Where did you get the idea for Killmaiden’s?
It sounds unreal, but I literally woke up in the middle of the night from a dream that there should be a book about everything. I was tired, and I didn’t keep writing materials by my bedside (I do now), and I was afraid I was going to forget the idea come morning. But, when I got up, I still had this burning feeling that there needed to be a book that contained all of the interesting, beautiful, fantastical things that make up the world. It would be more than an encyclopedia; it would be more influential than governments, more powerful than armies. What a great book that would be!  Everything else followed from that.

2. Where is the Wide World? Is it really our world?

Obviously, from the map, you can tell that the Wide World looks like our world, but isn’t. It’s shaped the same way, and there are parallels between many of our countries and geographies—so it’s a good learning tool—but the Wide World is very different from our world in many ways, too. It’s got chameleon flowers, the Temple at the Top of the World, and of course, Killmaiden’s Compendium of Uncommon Occurrences. The story is also set in a steampunk(ish) time period that feels like the 1930’s, but has its own anachronisms. So, we recognize the Wide World, but we instantly know this place is unique.  

3. What is Alexander Drake really like?
Alex lives for discovery. He’s curious, brave, resourceful, and perhaps most importantly, caring. He wants to protect his family and his world, and he’s very good at it. But, at the same time, he’s just a kid who’s up against a big world and long odds, much like a lot of my readers. Alex has the ability to inspire others not because he always wins and he’s never afraid—he loses often, and is frequently scared—but because after every time he gets knocked down, he gets back up again and sticks to his mission.

4. Which character was the most fun to write about?
That’s kind of like asking “which one of your children do you love the most.” You love them all the same, but for different reasons. Of course, I enjoy writing from Alex’s point of view, because I usually enter the Wide World through his eyes. When I gaze across a savannah or down from a mountain top, I automatically see it the way Alex would, and Alex really loves all of these things, so it makes it fun for me. Charlotte is the funniest of the characters, and people love her instantly. So, it’s great to be able to inject something lovable and more lighthearted into an otherwise epic struggle. It’s a blast to write for Charlotte. Victoria is great to write for because her rectitude provides great certainty. You always know how Victoria will respond to something, and that makes things flow pretty smoothly. I always root for scared, little Oliver, so writing for him makes me really bang the gongs, getting him ready for the moments when he can shine. Believe it or not, I also like to write for the Satrap. Writing for the bad guy can be great fun, and it’s a particularly great way to channel a bad mood.

5. Did you change your writing style or language because this is a book for kids?
No, no, a thousand times no. There’s a long history of brilliant middle grade and young adult literature, and the very best books in this genre absolutely do not write down to kids. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were Oxford professors who wrote like Oxford professors. I don’t think anyone can plausibly argue with their accomplishments. There are many other examples, Philip Pullman comes to mind, who also wrote complicated stories in sophisticated language, and their books were still accessible to young readers. So, when I set out to write Killmaiden’s I vowed I wouldn’t dumb down the writing. Kids are smart, and they want the best story, not the story adults think would suit them. Perhaps most importantly, I don’t think I’d be successful if I tried to change the writing in that way. It’s not me, and for better or for worse, I don’t know how to sound like someone other than me.

6. Who are your writing influences?   
As I mentioned before, I found inspiration in Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and the great writers of this literary tradition. I think if you are writing adventure, fantasy, epic quest kinds of books, and you don’t admit to being influenced by these giants, you are either not being entirely truthful, or you are in a serious state of denial.

7. How does Killmaiden’s fit in with other books kids are reading today?
Well, the short answer is, it probably doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with sexy vampires, post-apocalyptic worlds and zombies who date sexy vampires in post-apocalyptic worlds. They’re great, and lots of terrific writers are exploring that territory. But, Killmaiden’s isn’t that kind of book. Killmaiden’s is a classic adventure story that is decidedly un-modern. I suppose some might think that makes it a throwback, but to me it has a timeless quality about it. Killmaiden’s has its own look and feel, and that’s one of the things I love most about the book.

8. Are you adventurous?
I guess I’m more adventurous than some, and less adventurous than others. Bear Grylls certainly has nothing to fear from me. But, I enjoy backpacking, kayaking, skiing places I shouldn’t and other activities that can lead to adventure. It helps make me feel alive, and keeps me in touch with nature and the outside world. I’ve spent a lot of time in office buildings and capitol buildings, so a little amateur outdoor adventuring is good for my soul.  

9. What do you hope Killmaiden’s will do for kids?
I hope it will inspire kids to get the heck off the couch! There’s a great big world out there just waiting to be explored, and an adventure lies outside every doorway. I want kids who followed Alex, Charlotte, Victoria and Oliver’s journey to take a journey of their own.

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