Christine Norris is the author of several works for children and adults, including the Library of Athena series and the Zandria duology. When she’s not out saving the world one story at a time, she is disguised as a mild mannered substitute teacher, mother, and wife. She cares for her family of one husband-creature, a son-animal, and two felines who function as Guardian of the Bathtub and Official Lap Warmer, respectively. She has also done several English adaptations of novels translated from other languages. She reached a new level of insanity by attending Southen Connecticut State University Graduate School’s Information and Library Science program, so that someday she, too, can be a real Librarian. She currently resides somewhere in southern New Jersey.
Her current book is a YA/Fantasy titled The Mirror of Yu-Huang.
Visit Christine on the web at www.christine-norris.com. Connect with her at Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ cnorrisauthor and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Christine-Norris/131776641000.
Q: Thank you for this interview, Christine. Can you tell us what your latest book, The Mirror of Yu-Huang, is all about?
Thanks for having me! The series centers around Megan Montgomery, an American teenagers living in England. She’s got a big secret—she’s responsible for protecting the Library of Athena, which is a huge chamber under the manor where she lives with her dad. The library holds some really rare and dangerous books, including a collection of enchanted books that hide magical artifacts. When the books are opened, the girls get sucked inside and have to follow the clues to get out again, usually while being chased by things that think they would taste good with ketchup.
In MIRROR, The headmistress of her school has wheedled her father into hosting a huge formal ball at their big English manor on New Year’s Eve. Which Megan is not happy about, because she doesn’t want people traipsing all over her secret. But she’s also got a Chinese ambassador and his family as houseguests, and it seems like one of them DOES know about her secret. She suspects everyone, and eventually she winds up inside one of the enchanted books, chasing someone who wants to steal the Mirrror of Yu-Huang. It’s all very exciting and edge-of-your seat and twisty-turny.
The main character in the series is Megan Montgomery, an American girl who is suddenly transplanted to the English countryside when her father’s job is transferred. By MIRROR, which is the third book in the series, she’s pretty well adapted to life in a new country, but she’s got a whole bunch of other problems. Besides trying to keep people from stealing her magical artifacts and trying to take over the world, there’s homework and first-class snobs to worry about.
Her three best friends are Rachel, Harriet, and Claire. They’re all different and each have their strengths; Rachel is a great athlete, Claire is the smartest girl in school, and Harriet is an Olympic-caliber Shopper.
Despite being so different, they all seem to get along (though not all the time), and it’s really interesting to me to see how they approach the same problem in different ways.
Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
Nothing is absolute, so it’s not all one or the other. This group is particularly interesting, because though this series centers around Megan, she has her three constant friends. Like I said, they’re all so different, but I see them as different parts of me—the brain, the athlete, the Princess. It’s like The Breakfast Club in my head.
Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?
A little from Column A, a little from Column B. I usually get some of the major points written down, and I use a chart that looks like a tic-tac-toe board to put it all in order. I’m a very visual learner, so having the major plot points charted is a great way for me to see the big picture. I still end up with a lot of things happening that I didn’t plan, and I LOVE that. I also love that there IS no right way; I think I’ve written each of my five published books in a different way, including longhand!
I actually didn’t start using the block-plot method until after MIRROR was written, and I started using it because I had gone off the path of the book and ended up with 20,000 words I didn’t need! I said to myself, there’s GOT to be a better way. I don’t like to ‘outline’ chapter and scene, but I do like having a sort of roadmap, where I can see all the major tourists attractions. It’s like planning a vacation – you know where you’re going, and how you’re going to get from one place to the next, but you don’t know what’s going to happen once you get there J
Q: Your book is set in England and Ancient China. Can you tell us why you chose these settings in particular?
Neither setting was a difficult choice; the series is about Megan, an American who is displaced to the English countryside when her father is transferred for his job. The manor itself, called the Parthenon, is an interesting place, a big rambling English manor house, and holds all kinds of secrets. I don’t think the stories would be quite the same if the house was in, say, New Hampshire (not that there’s anything wrong with New Hampshire, it’s lovely).
Ancient China was a necessity for the story I wanted to tell, falling in line with the previous two books, each set in ancient times in two other countries (Greece and Egypt). Those first two cultures have gotten a lot of ‘screen time’, if you will, in tween literature in the last few years, especially in the two Rick Riordan series, Percy Jackson and The Kane Chronicles , both of which are favorites of mine. But I chose China for book three because it was unusual. And the story reflects that, because the enchanted book that the girls fall into follows a different path than the previous two. It was really a challenge to make it work, mostly because this mythology, Chinese mythology, is so very different than either of the others I’ve worked with.
Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
Absolutely. Every book in the series has two settings, really—the Parthenon, Megan’s big manor home in England, and the ‘country’ where she and her friends get swept off to. Ancient China, in particular the Forbidden City in Beijing, are essential to the storyline of MIRROR, because the artifact they need to find once belonged to an Chinese god.
Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?
It’s the night of the New Year’s ball, and Megan, Rachel, and Harriet are searching the crowd for Claire, who they haven’t see yet. They meet up instead with Portia Kenilworthy, one of the richest and most popular girls in school. She’s looking for Mei-Li Wen, the ambassador’s daughter, so she can invite her to join her “Gardening Club”. Portia implies that Mei-Li is the kind of person who would only want to hang out with the ‘best kind of people’, but Harriet uses her best snobbery skills to point out that she, Mei-Li, and Megan are already close friends, since they’ve been hanging out together for a week. Harriet and Portia glare “diamond-studded Tiffany daggers” at each other.
LOL It’s a great ‘normal’ teenager moment in Megan’s life, which is in so many ways NOT normal.
Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?
Sure! This is from Chapter 12:
The snake’s head was eight feet across at its widest
point. Its skin was snowy as the mountains above them, except for a bright orange fringe that ringed its neck. The serpent’s eyes matched the fringe, like two suns burning in a white sky. Thick yellow whiskers, each the diameter of a rat snake, extended from both sides of the serpent’s snout. The creature’s body was covered with thick scales, each as big as Megan’s hand. The serpent looked a lot like the costume lion dancers wore during Chinese New Year celebrations.
Megan trembled. She grabbed the rock with her fingertips to keep from falling over. She had faced her share of monsters. She’d cut the head from Medusa, but hadn’t been able to look at her for fear of turning to stone. She had defeated the Cetus, but at the time had been more worried about plummeting into the sea than about the monster. And she had been afraid of the basilisk, but hadn’t looked into its eyes until it was already dead. This creature was in full view as it slithered toward Mei-Li.
The snake’s nostrils flared, and it inhaled deeply. A forked tongue the size of a surfboard flicked over the rice balls. The smell of the malt sugar must have covered the scent of the girls and the dog, or the treat was too big a temptation to resist, because the serpent started to eat the rice balls with a greedy slurp.
The first one had barely disappeared when Mei-Li attacked. She shouted a command in Chinese, and the dog leapt into action. He ran at the snake, snarling, teeth bared. The streak of brown fur launched over the serpent’s head, landed on its scaly back and sank his teeth into the snake’s flesh.
Mei-Li moved so quickly Megan could barely keep track of her. With expert precision, she slashed and lunged at the beast, her sword finding its mark with each swing. Bright red streaks appeared in the blade’s wake, the snake’s skin splitting like an overfilled water balloon.
Taken by surprise, the monster was slow to react. The dog had bitten it at least half a dozen times, and Mei-Li had slashed the creature twice that number before he retaliated. It made up for lost time.
With a monstrous roar, the beast whipped its head from side to side, like a horse trying to throw its rider. The dog flew high and far and landed with a pitiful yelp on the rocks, where it lay very still.
The serpent turned its sights on Mei-Li. Her face was impassive, her mind set on her task. Her movements were fluid, one flowing into the next. The snake lunged at her, and she easily dodged away from the bigger, slower-moving creature. She spun like a ballerina, and
slashed at the snake’s body. Part of his fringe fell to the earth, the splatters of blood turning orange into fire.
The snake gave another unearthly howl. It lifted its head and slammed it against the ground. The entire mountain shook, and Mei-Li was knocked off-balance. The sword flew from her hand and clattered toward Megan. The snake opened its mouth wide and dove for Mei-Li.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Christine. We wish you much success!
Thank you for having me and being such a great host!