Courtesy of the ever Ink-Quisitive crime writer Jesse Rawlins (who's penned more than a dozen author interviews for Southern Crime mag Story and Grit) today's spotlight shines on Eastern Pennsylvania fantasy writer Debbie Kelahan. Debbie spent seven on-and-off years researching and writing her medieval novel, THE JEWEL IN THE CHRISTMAS HOLLY. And that kind of passion folks earns dedicated Debbie some shine time under the spotlight here at Center Stage. Heartfelt thanks Jesse Rawlins for bringing Debbie's work to our attention. My roll as emcee finis, I now present their Interview!
JR Q. You’ve authored the medieval fantasy novel, THE JEWEL IN THE CHRISTMAS HOLLY—featuring a magical-mythical realm: inhabited by Lords and Ladies, peaceful peasant farmers—and some dastardly evil fairies. Before we dive into this land called Lamington, let’s talk about you for a spell.
You dwell in Eastern Pennsylvania with your daughter and a husband, as well as two fine-feathered-friends: which include a quirky cockatiel. How did your writing Life evolve? And did you have other work published prior to your novel?
DK A. I was always writing something in my life—ever since I was able to pick up a crayon, pencil, or pen. As soon as I entered school, I tried to be one of the first students in my class to read. And when I did, I knew I didn’t just want to read, I wanted to write, too.
As time passed, I wrote short stories and poetry, and then longer stories. Sadly, I no longer have any of my earliest writing pieces. But I did take a creative writing class in high school, and my high school anthology contains a short story that I wrote. Also while in high school, I tried to have one of my short stories published as a children’s book. A New York City publisher was interested. But unfortunately, it was rejected. My very first!
However, I thought it was neat to have tried.
I never took a creative writing class in college. But being an English major, there was always something to write. And I did spend some time writing for the college newspaper. When I graduated and eventually went to work in a library, I continued to write and write … though nothing ever came of it until THE JEWEL IN THE CHRISTMAS HOLLY.
JR Q. One of your Amazon readers commented that your novel features a type of folklore known as “Wiła” (pronounced viwa)—which is academically considered an influential force in the daily lives of many Eastern Europeans who lived during the Medieval Period.
What drew you to this Topic—and what kinds of research did you tackle? Also since you penned a Fantasy, to what extent did you elect to keep Historical Knowledge factual?
DK A. I wanted to make my fairies unique and not just your typical fairies. Most of the fairies people read about are from the British Isles, Ireland, and other European countries. I have a Polish background, so I started by researching some fairies online and also in a book I have. Ultimately, I decided to fashion my fairies after Polish fairy-like female spirits known as Wiła.
I have to admit, the fairies in my book don’t have Polish-sounding names. But that didn’t matter to me.
As for historical knowledge being factual . . . Well, I wanted the daily life and customs of the places that my story took place in to be realistic, but with fantasy elements included. Because at the end of the day that’s what the story really is! A fantasy.
But I love medieval history and I have lots of books about daily life in the Middle Ages. So it was easy for me to create a medieval world as the setting for my plot.
JR Q. I know nothing about Polish fairies and folklore, Debbie. Can you share some of the myths that you based your characters on? And what types of qualities and characteristics do traditional Polish fairies have?
DK A. I think all mythical beings and stories are similar from culture to culture. They just have different names and spring from different places. So the qualities and characteristics of traditional Polish fairies are no different than other fairies.
Historically, fairies are females. They are portrayed as beautiful creatures. And they often try to steal away a man or boy who has captured their attention—but usually with the intention of destroying them.
I strayed from tradition by creating male fairies, too. And my evil fairies work together to try and destroy a whole town, or an entire group of people instead of a single person.
JR Q. So how long did fashioning this unique medieval world and finishing your novel take?
DK A. It took me at least seven years to write my novel, on and off. I fashioned my medieval world as I went along. I wrote a brief synopsis and went from there. I don’t write out brief chapter descriptions or make detailed outlines. I prefer to “discover” what I’m going to write and where I’m going to end up—but within the boundaries of my outline. I would feel locked in trying to follow anything too rigid. But that’s the way I am. I never felt lost or felt that I hit a brick wall doing it this way. I find it exciting and fun to discover where the next road leads in a story based on earlier ideas.
JR Q. Your central character is a young peasant girl named Nan, who dwells in the land of Lamington. Through no fault of her own, Nan discovers she’s been unwittingly used by a band of evil fairies. Christmas gets banished from her homeland because of their dastardly deeds. And as a result of this debauchery, Nan gets vanquished to a monastery. How old is Nan? And what’s her personality like?
DK A. Nan is almost thirteen years old. She’s very mature for her age—because people grew up quickly in the medieval era. But Nan’s so bound to the land she was born and raised on that she doesn’t feel confident leaving Lamington to get involved in some kind of adventure. Of course, she ends up going since others have made up their minds that she must. But she never gets dramatic about leaving Lamington. Nor does she try to escape and go home. Overall, Nan is one tough girl, though she has her moments of self-doubt.
JR Q. Despite the presence of all these heartless fairies in your book, I imagine there must be an evil overlord or instigator behind this diabolical plan to forever annihilate Christmas from Lamington. If so, who is this master manipulator—and what are some of this character’s traits?
DK A. Well, in some ways you’d have to read the book to find out! But if you must know, he is a demonic being who uses others to bring about evil. If he doesn’t get his way at first, he keeps trying and trying until he accomplishes what he wants.
JR Q. Many fantasy sagas take place over the course of years or even decades. How much time passes in your novel as Nan engages in her quest for a mysterious jewel that ancient Legends say will restore both peace and Christmas to her medieval realm?
DK A. Nan’s quest takes just a few months. But when all is said and done, the story goes full circle back to Christmas.
JR Q. Despite the prevalence of all these dark forces, no heroic figures in fantasy sagas like these complete their quests alone. So who are some of Nan’s allies? What kinds of powers do the good fairies in your fantasy tale have? And what do these fairies look like?
DK A. Nan’s allies on her quest include Emma, the maid to Lady Catherine of Lamington. While Emma is a little older, Nan is definitely more mature. Initially Emma feels like she has to go with Nan at the request of Lady Catherine. But eventually she changes and is genuine about helping. There are many other allies, like Eolande and the fairies Nan later meets in the Land of the Diamond Sea. And Father John at the monastery is a strong ally, too.
My fairies look tall with light hair—blonde, reddish, or light brown. Originally the fairies in myth and legend did not have wings. Depictions of fairies having wings didn’t appear until the Victorian age. I wanted mine to be similar in looks to humans and to be taken seriously. So my fairies are very strong—and don’t have wings. Teeny fairies belong in Disney books and movies.
JR Q. Your novel has been described as a “battle between good and evil.” Why did you choose the idea of diabolical forces seeking to steal Christmas forever as your source of conflict? And looking back now, do you think the Christmas holiday theme may have hampered year-round sales in any way?
DK A. I got the idea when I was driving down a road one day during the Christmas season. Christmas being “stolen” or “taken away” is a theme in many stories. And I thought it would be something fun, not to mention challenging, to write about. The Christmas theme does sort of take away from year-round sales, though it’s something that can be heavily sold during the holiday season.
But the story isn’t totally centered on Christmas. It’s a medieval fantasy adventure with a large cast of characters and lots of twists and turns along the way—and can be read any time of year. While the book falls into the category of Young Adult, I think anyone who likes reading fantasy sagas such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy can enjoy this book and its historical medieval details.
JR: Thanks, Debbie. Interested readers can find THE JEWEL IN THE CHRISTMAS HOLLY at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Jewel-Christmas-Holly-Debbie-Kelahan/dp/0692890637
You can also visit her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/author70/