Heather Mackey talks about her MG Fantasy DREAMWOOD

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I sat down with a dear friend and author Heather Mackey, whose book DREAMWOOD releases today.

51kSRKdc0rL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Lucy Darrington has no choice but to run away from boarding school. Her father, an expert on the supernatural, has been away for too long while doing research in Saarthe, a remote territory in the Pacific Northwest populated by towering redwoods, timber barons, and the Lupine people. But upon arriving, she learns her father is missing: Rumor has it he’s gone in search of dreamwood, a rare tree with magical properties that just might hold the cure for the blight that’s ravaging the forests of Saarthe.

Determined to find her father (and possibly save Saarthe), Lucy and her vexingly stubborn friend Pete follow William Darrington’s trail to the deadly woods on Devil’s Thumb. As they encounter Lupine princesses, giant sea serpents, and all manner of terrifying creatures, Lucy hasn’t reckoned that the dreamwood itself might be the greatest threat of all.

SL: Did DREAMWOOD come to you in a dream?

HM: I wish it had, just because it would make such a good story! The truth is that years ago I took a camping trip to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Northern California, and it was such an amazing place I just knew I had to set something there. For one thing there was this tall grass prairie with elk wandering all around, huge old-growth redwoods, and this spooky-mysterious Fern Canyon where they’d shot some scenes from Jurassic Park.

The glimmerings of the story began in a playwriting workshop I did with O’Neill award-winning playwright Will Dunne in San Francisco. His writing exercises were the best! I still have them saved in the most ancient recesses of my computer. All of a sudden I had the picture of a young girl in the early 1900s looking through her father’s microscope. I knew she would be troubled by ghosts and that he was an unconventional scientist. It grew from there.

SL: How did you do your research?

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HM: I have very little time to write, so I try to ration the amount of time I spend on research, otherwise it can take over. My story is set in a fictional Northwest territory called Saarthe, so I started what I called a Saarthe Wiki – that’s where I made up entries on all kinds of lore, folktales, botanical observations, facts about ghosts, etc. etc.

DREAMWOOD contains a lot of alternative “science” about spirits, life energy, protection stones, and so on. I usually went to Wikipedia and Google for inspiration (typical query – “What stones absorb negative energy?”), because I knew I wanted to make something up based on a smidgen of tradition. I visited the US Patent and Trademark Office website and looked up patents from the 1890s because I wanted to create a fake patent award for a miniature ghost sweeper. Most of this never made it into the book, but it was fun.

The book also has a fair amount in it about the native populations of this particular made-up coast. I did research, but did not want to tell a story that would take from real people. I grew up outside the Tohono O’odham Nation in Southern Arizona and that experience has fueled a lifelong interest in the history and stories of indigenous peoples, while at the same time making me realize I pretty much know nothing. There are so many amazing native writers, and I could go on with a list of books I’ve read and admired over the years. But here’s just one I want to give a shout out to – it’s a quick and entertaining but totally thought-provoking read and from it I got the Lupines’ mastery of the business and technology of their age,EVERYTHING YOU KNOW ABOUT INDIANS IS WRONG by Paul Chaat Smith.

SH: What was your revision process like?

HM: Um… crazy? I sold this book let’s say, prematurely. And my editor warned me “It needs a lot of work.” Which was like the understatement of the decade. I sold it seven years ago. I did two major revisions and then my editor got laid off and I started over again. As in total, complete reimagining of the story from the ground up.

What saved me were visualization exercises and affirmations. I would go to my computer, quaking with fear, and I would tell myself, “I don’t know what the hell I am going to do but I can still try to write this scene.”

SL: Did you set out to write an ‘environmental’ tale?  Have you lived in the Pacific Northwest?

HM: Haha. No. And now that I’ve got some distance from it all the “eco” stuff seems so obvious. But that’s not where I started from. As a young reader I hated “message” books. I would never want to inflict that on someone.

SL: Who was your favorite character to write in DREAMWOOD and why?

HM: I’ll always have a soft spot for Able Dodd, the taciturn coachman and handyman who ferries my protagonist to and from the train station. His role in the final text is greatly lessened, but at various points in this story’s evolution he has been a bear shape-shifter, an obsessive taxidermist, and the voice of the forest. Able Dodd is the story’s conscience.

SL: Anything in the pipeline you can tell us about?

HM: I am working on something new. It involves magic war, underground tunnels, and a cocky twelve-year-old boy. Or at least, that’s the story today.

DREAMWOOD, from G.P. Putnam’s Sons, was given a starred review by Kirkus Reviews, which called the book “An original fantasy for middle-grade readers plaits together science, the supernatural and deep ecology . . . The carefully plotted twists and turns will keep readers absorbed to the end. A stunning debut with equal parts originality and heart.”  Available through Amazon, Indiebound, and Barnes and Noble

stacey-lee-smallStacey Lee is a fourth generation Chinese-American whose people came to California during the heydays of the cowboys. She believes she still has a bit of cowboy dust in her soul. A native of southern California, she gave up her job as a lawyer to finally took up the pen because she wanted the perks of being able to nap during the day and it was easier than moving to Spain. UNDER A PAINTED SKY is her first novel, coming Winter 2015 from G.P. Putnam’s Sons. To learn more, visit www.staceyhlee.com or follow her on Twitter.
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