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Interview: October 2010

October 2010

The fantastical Marilee Brothers is back with MOON SPUN, the third installment of her Unbidden Magic series, which follows Star Seeker (and newly-pronounced faery princess) Allie Emerson as she tries to navigate the relentless horrors of high school and save Boundless, the magical realm of faeries, from a threat that’s even more menacing than the vindictive Trimarks.

In this interview with Teenreads.com’s Usha Reynolds, Brothers discusses the people and places that inspired these books, elaborating on what it was like to grow up in rural Washington and the stories she witnessed as a high school counselor. She also reveals why she decided to set the current novel in the faery world, reflects on Allie’s journey as a character, and talks about the Irish myths behind her YA fantasy series.

Teenreads.com: MOON SPUN is the third installment of Unbidden Magic. What was the inspiration for your first young adult fantasy series?

Marilee Brothers: From the inception, I wanted magic to be a part of Allie’s story. Since I visualized a rural setting, I chose my home area of central Washington State. MOONSTONE introduced readers to the non-Seattle part of the state, located east of the Cascades --- it’s hot in the summer, cold in the winter, receives very little rain, and has a landscape dotted with apple orchards and vineyards. Allie’s life growing up in a small travel trailer next to a cow pasture is based on the true-life experience of a relative by marriage. Although that particular young woman managed to prevail over her hardships, I kept thinking, if anyone deserved a little magic, it was that girl.

Telling the story in first-person came easily to me, as did channeling the mindset of a 15-year-old girl. Allie and Faye’s upside-down relationship is grounded in reality. I was a counselor at an alternative school, and I observed many situations where the daughter was more mature than her mother. I also noticed that, no matter how inadequate these women were as mothers, their daughters gave them unconditional love. I’ve tried to portray this in my series. And I’ve also tried to deepen Faye and Allie’s relationship with each book, allowing both of them to grow and change. 

TRC: What made you set the current story in Boundless, the land of the faeries?

MB: Allie has a variety of paranormal powers, including TKP and the ability to interact with spirits such as Trilby, her dingy guardian angel. The moonstone enhances her powers but does not account for all of them. In my mind, the explanation had to come from her family history. I needed to explain Allie’s uniqueness. The more I thought about it, the more the faery world appealed to me. In MOON RISE, Grandpa Claude says Faye and Mike were brought together for a reason. From their union, the joining of two half-faeries, Allie emerges with mystical powers. MOON SPUN is the only book with Boundless as its setting, although it’s referenced in Books Four and Five.

TRC: Are there any hints that appear earlier in the series that suggest Allie is part Faery?

MB: It’s not spelled out, but there are a few subtle hints in MOON RISE. Allie complains because her mother won’t let her keep the iron inside the trailer, and she has to do all the ironing. When she meets her grandfather (Faye’s father) for the first time, he alludes to Faye’s unhappiness and how she needs to accept who she is. In the original form, I’d written, “what she is,” but it was changed during the editing process. Personally, I think “what” works better than “who.” It’s also the first time Melia’s name is mentioned. Allie thought Grandmother Melia was dead, but her grandfather simply says, “She left us.” At the end of the book, Allie meets Chad, a strange little boy who slips a note into her hand that says, “They are all around you.” Chad, of course, is a major player in MOON SPUN.

TRC: What do you think is the most important thing that has happened to Allie in her life? Is it receiving the moonstone, or discovering her roots and visiting Boundless? Or is it something else entirely?

MB: It’s hard to narrow it down to a single factor. Certainly receiving the moonstone and learning about her destiny is a strong contender. Several other themes have emerged as I’ve continued writing the series, the first being “Who am I?” Until age 15, Allie knew nothing about her birth family…imagine how frustrating that would be! Searching for her roots has become a major theme, even though she is somewhat unnerved by her bizarre background. In addition to the above, Allie seems to be searching for something larger than herself. In MOONSTONE, she’s trapped behind the curtains, and the bad guys are about to discover her hiding place. She uses the moonstone to make a crucifix fall from the wall, causing the Trimarks to run from the house. She wonders what saved her --- the moonstone or the crucifix. Each night, she clutches the moonstone in her hand and says her prayers, making sure she covers both aspects. In MOON RISE, Melissa Bradford gives her a silver cross. When the cross is positioned next to the moonstone, it creates a force field that zaps anyone who tries to take it from her. Again, she wonders about the primary cause of this phenomenon. Is it the cross or the moonstone? God or magic? Allie has no formal religious training, but she clearly has questions of a spiritual nature. It’s part of her ongoing journey.

TRC: What is the reason for the existence of changelings? Why do faeries switch out faery children with human ones?

MB: Faeries are infatuated with mortal children and love to steal them whenever possible. In MOON SPUN, faery Chad is a sickly infant. His father wants a healthy baby, so he takes him to the mortal world, where he steals a human baby and leaves faery Chad in his place.

TRC: Melia is a Forest Faerie. What other kinds of faeries exist?

MB: There’re too many to list, but here are a few. Melia is a direct descendant of The Green Man, who ruled over ancient forest lands and made sure that man and nature worked together. His union with the Wood Woman resulted in the forest faeries. The Wood Woman was a fertility spirit. Her skin was the color of moss, her hair tangled with twigs and leaves. Of course, we all know about pixies, water sprites, gnomes and the faery godmother, upon whom I based my depiction of Luminata.

TRC: Ryker tells Allie that if he does not return with her, Melia would turn him into a bogle or a grig. Can you describe these creatures?

MB: A bogle is a frog-like creature with a single horn growing from the top of its head. His eyes do not track together, but wander independently. A grig is a tiny faery --- much like a pixie. It lurks in apple orchards after the harvest, feeding on the small, rejected apples still hanging from the trees. --- it wears a hollowed-out apple as a cap. The oh-so-handsome Ryker would definitely not want to be transformed into a bogle or a grig.

TRC: Does Luminata respond to Allie because of who she is, or because she wears the moonstone? In other words, would Allie have been able to summon the Queen without her moonstone?

MB: In one hand, Luminata holds a crystal of pure moonlight, in the other a golden apple from the Isle of Avalon. She, of course, has a personal agenda: she knows Allie possesses the moonstone and has a connection to Avalon. To Luminata, Allie represents a source of power. In Boundless, it’s all about who has the most power. So, to answer your question, I’d have to say Luminata responds to Allie because she has the moonstone and the ability to use it.

TRC: What happened when Faye and Melia finally met? Will the hole in Faye’s heart ever heal?

MB: Their reunion fills Melia’s heart with joy. Although Faye appreciated Allie’s efforts, the emotional meeting with her mother did nothing to alleviate her real problem: the trauma she suffered at age 17. However, MOON SPUN begins with a full explanation of Faye’s issue and the effects it’s had on her life.

TRC: The Tuathe de Danaan are central to Irish myths. How much did you rely on pre-existing stories about them when you were creating your faery characters?

MB: I read everything I could find about the Tuatha de Danaan. There is a brief description of the Tuatha in MOON SPUN, but they will be major players in books Four and Five, as I delve more into Mike Purdy’s (Allie’s father) family history.

TRC: Do you ever base your teenage characters on real people in your life?

MB: I certainly do. I was a teacher and school counselor in my former life, which gave me a wealth of characters to draw from.

TRC: What made you interested in writing young adult fiction?

MB: It was a fluke, really. I’d just written an adult mystery called THE ROCK AND ROLL QUEEN OF BEDLAM, and I met an editor at a conference who requested the book. Six months later, I received her handwritten rejection. She said, “This book is not for us, but I love your voice. It’s a natural for young adult books. You should write one.” So I did, and I was fortunate enough to connect with Debra Dixon, one of the publishers at Belle Books, when I entered a contest. Happily, my adult mystery also found a home, and it was published in 2009.

TRC: What are you working on now?

MB: I’m about two-thirds done with Book Four, as yet unnamed. Book Five will be the last in the series.

TRC: Can you give our readers some hints as to what lies in Allie’s future?

MB: In Book Four, Allie is back in Peacock Flats and reunited with Junior Martinez. She embarks on a search for a lost family member. In addition to her ongoing problems, she is also being sought by a shadowy government agency that wants to use her paranormal abilities to identify terrorists. And, of course, the Trimarks are still up to no good. Book Five will be the last one in the series. I’m currently mulling over a number of different scenarios, but I promise there will be a bang-up finish.