An Interview with the Author, Donna Swanson
(If you have been following these Q&A discussions, you can skip down to the beginning of Book II: Of Rocks and Gold)
Swanson: I’ve had Melynda Leak, owner and operator of the Williamsport Day School and a Master educator, read this series and give her questions and comments. I will use these as a starting point for discussing my books.
First, let me give some background for the series.
Windfallow is a small world, created at the same time as Earth. It is totally fictitious but rules are in place – as they must be in any realistic work of fiction – and are followed throughout. At one time Earth and Windfallow were connected by easily accessible gates or openings from one world to the other. But when the first humans disobeyed their God and allowed sin to enter their world, it set in motion changes that took the humans farther and farther away from the innocence of Windfallow. Gradually, that difference created such a chasm between the worlds, that Windfallow closed the gates and no longer allowed interaction with humans.
Windfallow is close enough to the eternal plane, as they call it, that time is of little consequence. Therefore, what might pass as days or weeks on Earth would be reckoned in lifetimes on Windfallow. Fallowfolk and especially the Alari or Angels can manipulate time which is quite convenient in special events.
Some have likened Windfallow to Eden or Paradise. This may or may not be the case; the author never explains that theory. Some things are best left to the imagination of the reader.
Three species of humanoids inhabit Windfallow. The Fallowfolk are the equivalent of humans on Earth. They enjoy long life, but not eternal life. Their speech is like chiming music, but they ‘mindspeak’ to humans so their speech sounds normal in any language. They have a limited ability to time travel which grows stronger as they age.
The second species of inhabitants are Alari or the Earth equivalent of Angels. They are ageless, having been created at the beginning and given immortality. They can change size at will and are visible only to those who have the Maker’s (God’s) Spirit within them. Their most noticeable characteristic are wings, feathered and barred like those of a bird. They wear slim leggings and tunics of iridescent fabric, like the Fallowfolk, but are capable of changing into the glorious beings they actually are if necessary and during the annual Festival of the Bells.
The third species is called Mindless. These are a subspecies of fallowfolk who live in tunnels beneath the Barrier Wood that circles Windfallow at its equator. They are slow of thought, and degraded in mind and spirit from living too close to humans. Eventually, they are sealed into their tunnels and no longer allowed in Windfallow.
The most famous characteristic of Windfallow’s geography is its gemstone. Where Earth’s rocks are granite, flint, sandstone, etc., in Windfallow they are ruby, sapphire, emerald, diamond, etc. This has been used as a tool of the demons to lure humans into Windfallow trying to seduce it.
There are no oceans on Windfallow, so there is plenty of land for the population. Two great rivers encircle the globe, each in its own hemisphere. The Barrier Wood, the second most prominent feature of the landscape, encircles the equator and is impenetrable to all but the Alari who open paths through it for the Fallowfolk when needed.
Now to the Questions and comments.
OF ROCKS AND GOLD
LEAK: I like the way you begin on an ordinary note! The scene in MacDonalds is cool! Are you afraid you will ‘date’ the books by using such icons, though?
SWANSON: Yes, there’s always a chance of that, but I feel to make everything generic would be a greater mistake. These are teenagers in a real world.
LEAK: How do you name your characters?
SWANSON: The humans were easy. I chose Zach because our grandson, Zach, was living with us and was about the same age as the main character. The characters on Windfallow, however, were a different story. Following the ‘rules’ of the setting, I could choose no names that might have been predicated on violence, warfare, or any of the curses that had befallen earth. This ruled out using names containing Fort, for example. It also held true for naming fallowfolk. Part of this was evaded by not giving last names. As was the custom in earlier times on earth, fallowfolk call themselves “name” of Wintersea, etc.
The Alari went through the most thorough name change. If you are familiar with the first three books published as “Angel World Trilogy”, this will be the most obvious change you will see. Since I began writing The Great Bell as a fairytale, I wasn’t concerned with what I was calling them. Flutterfolk seemed a nice, fairytale name for little fairy-like creatures. Actually, Stilts started out as Rumplestiltzkin in the first version. And Paddy did not seem at all strange for the first Alari introduced.
However, when I realized how different the series had become from where it began, I also realized I could not leave the names unchanged. It was simple enough to change Rumplestiltzkin to Stilts, and I had already begun using names from nature for the fallowfolk. But I studied for a long time to come up with names suitable for what had become Windfallow angels. I asked a net friend, Alyce, to study the problem with me and mentioned I was thinking of Latin names. She sent me the url for a Latin site called Incunabula Books which contained hundreds of words with their meanings. I chose Alari as the equivalent of Angel because it means ‘winged one’. Angari’s name means “public courier, messenger and servant of the public courier; service to a lord.” I thought that sounded like this character. The other Alari were simpler to name since they were not ongoing in the series.
LEAK: I like the way you describe Angari as being friendly, unassuming and with a great sense of humor. Especially as it contrasts with the power he wields.
SWANSON: Too many people have the idea that being a Christian means you go around with a scowl or a holier-than-thou expression on your face; never have fun; never crack a joke. If you spend more than a day or two with Christians, especially in a group of them, you find a much different outlook on life. Within the parameters God has set up, there is a whole universe of wonder, humor, imagination, the whole nine yards and most Christians take full advantage of it. Maybe that’s why this particular book begins with a bunch of teens being teens without the shallow mindset our culture encourages.
LEAK: The Mindless – what a great name! How did you come up with it?
SWANSON: Perhaps because it seems individuals with a criminal mentality operate as puppets with others pulling the strings. With no thought of consequences, no moral or ethical place to stand, they are blown about by whatever seems the easier course or whatever might be profitable to themselves. They are like hornets whose nest has been knocked down – swarming in rage and stinging whatever comes within their range of vision. Their eyes are eternally cast down and their warped minds simply cannot conceive of trust, compassion or mercy.
LEAK: King of the Barrier Wood – can’t wait to see his picture! Did you base his character on anyone in particular?
SWANSON: No, not really. I guess he’s the epitome of all the gangsters I’ve seen in movies or TV. The only mind he has is corrupted and filled with greed for what he has learned of Windfallow. If you read Book I, you know he kept some of the height he gained his first time on the planet. I’ve still not found a way to explain how the Jackal has knowledge of the planet. I’m thinking of the scripture in Job where Satan is pictured as going to and fro before God’s throne. Perhaps he has found this knowledge while there.
LEAK: I love the line, “Girls smell better than boys.” Also like the realistic interplay between Zach and Travis. Travis is a fascinating character. Why don’t you put him in more of the books?
SWANSON: Who knows if I’ll have time to write more books? There could be a sidebar book or short story where Trav is a main character. He certainly has promise; kind of a Huck Finn to Zach’s Tom Sawyer.
LEAK: Why did you decide to introduce Sally to Windfallow?
SWANSON: Caught that, huh. Well, the fairer sex had not been too prevalent in the first book, so I decided to use Sally to bring in a different view. Kind of what a female would notice.
LEAK: What happened to the first queen? Oh, I forgot, it’s been a generation or so in Windfallow.
SWANSON: That’s right. Time flows differently in Windfallow, remember?
LEAK: I see that Sally has already made an observation that Zach missed – about the crooks not being able to see the Alari.
SWANSON: Yeah, it’s good to have another POV (point of view) in any book. You know, iron sharpens iron?
LEAK: Just think! Adventure stories about Wintersea, Bellhaven, Ravensrille, Spring Hollow, Riverbrook and Windemere!
SWANSON: I think perhaps these would lend themselves better to short stories. Maybe one at a time, then compiled into one. I can see myself writing these if the books become popular. But it takes a response to get the creative juices flowing.
LEAK: Why are wounds to bodies and spirits healed at the palace? What is it that makes the palace special?
SWANSON: I’ve not dealt with that in the books. Perhaps the palaces at Windemere and Skye (in Lower Windfallow) are a concentration of wisdom where healing can take place in peace. Of course, this was never necessary before the demon sent in his crooks. Since that is a kind of central place, it was probably the first one thought of in an emergency.
LEAK: How did you come up with the idea of Alari fading from brushes with evil?
SWANSON: That is connected with the need for Zach or those with him to pray for help when in battle. I think it also came from a theme in Frank Peretti’s books where the angels really did need the prayers of the saints to remain strong. Evil always weakens those it touches, whether an individual or a nation. Take in enough of it and you become helpless.
LEAK: Who are the ‘locals’ the king and his cronies talk about?
SWANSON: That’s the word the crooks use for the mindless of Windfallow. You can see in this scene how little the crooks value the mindless. They are to be used and discarded, nothing more.
LEAK: I’d like to see Ravensrille on a map showing there are no trees close to Hawks Roost.
SWANSON: The maps have always been a weak spot for me. I’m in the process of revising them; taking out the bold outlines for the countries and making it look more like Tolkien’s maps.
LEAK: Oh, cool! “Could it be they do not sing their own to the next life plane?”
SWANSON: It is as inconceivable to the fallowfolk that those who die are not ‘sung home’ as it is to think there are those on earth who do not even go the Heaven. I have never gone into the details of life and death on Windfallow other than to intimate it is not Heaven and there is the Eternal Plane which is our Heaven. There is no illness or violence on Windfallow to cause death, but there can be accidents and I’m sure the fallowfolk die “strong and full of years” as was said of some of the Biblical patriarchs.
LEAK: Zach is constantly confronted with how violent his world is. It must make him sad.
SWANSON: It does and makes him all the more determined that Windfallow not be harmed in the same way. I’ve taken the liberty of quoting from Scripture but I do not insert chapter and verse. I know some authors do that, feeling they must back up what they quote. But when we are talking to someone we don’t use footnotes. I believe if we pique the reader’s curiosity he may go looking for the quote on his own. I can see the day, though, when an appendix is needed for this kind of thing.
LEAK: I forget from which house Zach leaves with Angari to fight the eagles.
SWANSON: Zach goes on the Hawks Roost with the travelers and they leave from there. Angari comes there to tell about the rescue of Minnow and Angel.
LEAK: Are humans the only ones who can call him God and the others call Him the Maker?
SWANSON: It is just a different name for the same person. Perhaps they used Maker when they read Creator in the minds of the humans.
LEAK: I forget what waybread is.
SWANSON: It is specially prepared loaves to be taken on trips away from home. It is supplemented by wild fruits and berries and is very chewy as Zach learned.
LEAK: We need a movie of this so can see Angari hit by the eagle and then launch back into the sky!
SWANSON: This was interesting to write. I could ‘see’ the battle in my mind as I wrote. It was also fun to write of the crook’s reaction to the ‘invisible stuff’!
LEAK: Wow! The Jackal! Very good description!
SWANSON: This was another place to show how the title ‘mindless’ is correct for these crooks. The boss/king’s swagger leaves quickly when the ‘real boss’ shows up.
LEAK: Interesting, the Jackal’s head is on a stone that glows and gets hot.
SWANSON: One would hardly expect less from a demon. It is one of the ways he controls his subjects.
LEAK: So like Sally not to want to talk about ‘home’.
SWANSON: Yes, I like that part of her nature; something like Scarlet O’Hara saying she’ll think about it tomorrow. Sally does some growing up while here, though, just like Zach did. I was afraid I didn’t concentrate enough on Sally until I reread the book and found more of her there than I remembered.
LEAK: Yuck! What a horrible disguise! How did you come up with it?
SWANSON: I just visualized in my mind what a mindless would look like. I picture them rather ape-like with slow, uncoordinated movements wearing only enough clothes to be protected from the elements. They would have a small knowledge of earth language from being near humans.
LEAK: Is there also jade on Windfallow?
SWANSON: I just went to One-click answers and got the definition of Jade. It is considered a gemstone so it qualifies. I later refer to pink jade which is probably not available on earth, but, hey, we’re on Windfallow!
LEAK: Exciting reading! I keep forgetting to stop and ask questions! How did you come up with the earth location for the Jackal’s warehouse hideout?
SWANSON: Well, it had to be close to where they took the Great Bell, so I put it in a nearby town. I consider Fair Oaks to be a small town that would have fast food places and enough manufacturing to have an old warehouse that could have been bought by the crooks.
LEAK: I’m glad you gave Sally a real part to play in the battle.
SWANSON: It seemed natural that she would take Zach’s place with the Council while Zach was incognito.
LEAK: That flight of Zach and Angari is really something! The pain is real and this time it appears the hand really IS blistered.
SWANSON: Yes, this reminds the reader that heroes sometimes must endure real pain and suffering to accomplish their tasks.
LEAK: Who’s Willow? I forgot.
SWANSON; Willow is an Alari maiden who befriends Sally and is mentioned several times in the series.
LEAK: When Sally and Zach get back to earth how will Sally keep quiet about the “other world”? She has a tendency to be impulsive.
SWANSON: That’s what I meant about her growing up while on Windfallow. She now has a knowledge deep inside that guides her words and actions. She knows, as Zach does, that they are guardians of Windfallow while on earth. I think this might give children who read it an idea of loyalty and responsibility.
LEAK: Another great book. I can hardly wait to start on the next!
SWANSON: Glad you liked it. And I hope if those who read this have questions or comments for discussion, they will respond. Enjoy.