Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Interview With Joni Sensel
I hope you enjoy this discussion with author Joni Sensel, about her latest book, the fascinating THE FARWALKER'S QUEST.
Here's what School Library Journal had to say about THE FARWALKER'S QUEST: "The theme of finding and accepting one's true calling resonates." Kirkus called it "an absorbing fantasy."
Congratulations on the publication of your acclaimed new novel, THE FARWALKER'S QUEST. It’s such an intriguing title, and an interesting premise. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?
It’s a post-apocalyptic fantasy about a young girl who discovers a relic from a higher-tech past. When the find gets her kidnapped, she’s swept on a perilous journey with little more than a ghost and her instincts to guide her. Only by solving a puzzle from the past can she escape her pursuers to reveal a legendary treasure — and her own true calling.
I’m not really sure where this story came from. It was inspired by a cocktail of influences: travel in New Zealand and Ireland, my own affection for long-distance walking, and a kernel of story I wanted to write about a society that had lost the ability to read. I started wondering what could cause such a disaster, what would happen afterward, what other skills might rise in its place, and how such a loss could be repaired. And one of the things I saw in New Zealand was the botanical gardens in Christchurch, which is filled with amazing old trees with such presence and character that it seemed they would speak, if you listened carefully enough. That’s where Tree-Singing (another unusual talent in Ariel’s world) comes from.
How long have you been writing for children/teens? Please tell us what else about your other books.
About a decade now. I spent more than 10 years writing screenplays. When I realized I didn’t have what it took to make it in Hollywood, I turned to children’s books instead, in part because I was married, at the time, to a professional illustrator and we thought it’d be fun to collaborate. We won a grant to start a small press that resulted in my two picture books. Then I turned one of my wackier screenplays into what became my first novel for young readers, REALITY LEAK. THE FARWALKER'S QUEST was actually written before what was my second published novel, THE HUMMING OF NUMBERS, a historical fantasy set in tenth century Ireland.
I write mostly for young people not because my motives are so noble but because I’m cynical and I don’t think adults change much, so I suspect I’d have trouble writing arcs I could believe for adult characters. The great thing about young protagonists is that they’re still being formed and shaped by events and their own actions.
Can you describe your path to the publication?
Oops, I just did. I’ll add that REALITY LEAK was plucked from the slush pile, and I also sold HUMMING myself before I managed to sign with an agent. Screenwriting was terrific training, and I’d also taken a stab at an adult novel before tackling REALITY LEAK. I learned a lot about the business in producing and marketing my picture books, but one of the important things I learned is that I wanted to spend more time writing and less time sending out F&Gs and promoting and handling administrative stuff, which was amazingly time-consuming.
Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
More than they’d want to hear, probably. Write the story you have to tell and worry about marketing later. Join SCBWI and learn about the business; there are so many tidbits I learned the hard way that are available for the asking instead. If you’re not compelled to write, consider some other avocation, because this one is hard. But if you are compelled, the process can be immensely rewarding. I believe we tell ourselves stories first, and our prime obligations are to the stories themselves and to their roles in our personal journeys. Of course, publication is terrific, too! But it’s not something we have much control over.
Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
I love to travel, all of my recent books have settings or events inspired by distant places, and my ideal universe consists of walking somewhere rural, preferably in a foreign country, for six hours a day and writing for six hours in the evening. I took time from my day job to do that last fall in England and France for two months, my personal farwalking trip, and drafted two novels along the way, including one I hope will be the third Farwalker book. (We won’t talk about the revisions, which take me years longer.) Because of an experience when I was a small girl, I’ve always felt I needed to wring the most I could out of life, so I tend to try many things, take adventure where I can find it, make my passions a much higher priority than things like housework or yard maintenance or decent shoes, and try to really appreciate all that comes. (Including the dust bunnies and raised eyebrows from neighbors that are a result of those choices.)
Do you have any new writing ventures underway?
I’m in some stage of revising three novels and hope I survive to someday write a new first draft. (And sell at least one or two of the WIPs, if I possibly can.) First drafts are my favorite rush.
Do you have a website where readers can learn more about THE FARWALKER'S QUEST?
www.jonisensel.com. I hope to soon post the cover for the sequel, THE TIMEKEEPER’S MOON, which comes out in March. Yay!