Author Ellen Booraem keeps things fresh with Small Persons With Wings. Her society of fairies, excuse us, "small persons with wings" will thrill readers. RT Reviewer Kate Girard was enchanted by Booraem’s take on fairies, calling this tale “a middle-grade for every grade!” Now the author shares how the magical elements of the tale evolved.
Like most fantasies, Small Persons With Wings perches atop a massive underwater iceberg of back-story. The part you see is a simple enough coming-into-your-own story for a modern thirteen-year-old and her supernatural sidekick. The underwater part is more complicated. Fortunately, you’ll never see it.
The legends of the medieval king Charlemagne figure in it, plus the reign of the Sun King in eighteenth century France and a couple of world wars. There’s three kinds of magic, how they developed, what they do, what fuels them, and why one of them is forbidden. And at the center of everything, a magical moonstone ring.
The complexity of it all was both a blessing and a curse as the book came together. And it all started with one silly, bumbling fairy in an online Harry Potter forum.
The forum is a private one, with an international membership. I joined it because I had quit my newspaper job to write my first novel, The Unnameables, and missed the camaraderie of a newsroom. We initially got together because we liked “theorizing” about what was going to happen next in the Potter series, which was about half published at the time, but that component became increasingly less important as friendships formed.
At one point, I adopted the online persona of a hapless, chaotic, overdressed fairy. I became so fond of her that I decided she had a book in her. The first vision that fed the book was of her snoring away, totally disheveled, in a fluffy pink bedroom slipper installed in a pub chandelier, an empty nip bottle of bourbon at her side. The rest of the book was an effort to explain that vision: Who gave her the bourbon? Why did she drink it? What is she doing in the pub? Does she have family and friends? Why is she such a mess?
Searching for answers, I discovered a Charlemagne legend about the evil sorceress Alcina and a knight who saw through her enchantments when he put a magic ring—oddly and, may I say, ickily—in his mouth. That got me contemplating the nature of magic: Is it illusion, or does a spell change reality? What’s its power source—is it in you, or does it come from outside?
I had only just discovered and refurbished my grandmother’s moonstone ring, and it was sitting on my desk as I read up on Charlemagne. It became part of the story.
The disheveled fairy was now called Durindana after the sword of one of Charlemagne’s knights. She proved to be an outcast from the Parvi Pennati (Latin for “small persons with wings,” more or less), creatures whose natural magic alters reality in mundane ways. They’ve abandoned it in favor of a more ornate magic given to them by Alcina. Her magic can only create illusions. A moonstone ring imbued with the Parvi’s original magic gives anyone—human or otherwise—the power to see through illusions, which includes lies.
Alcina was a character in the book initially—the plot hinged on her reasons for letting the Parvi share her magic, and their wish to escape from her control. My frantic efforts to simplify the plot downgraded her to “a sorceress” mentioned in passing. Other characters and subplots also disappeared.
Brand new magical facts cropped up in order to explain things. Why is Durindana so shabby when away from her peers? Because the ornate, illusory magic is “generated” by Parvi flying around and around in a circle—the farther away she gets, the weaker her magic. This also explained why the Parvi live cheek by jowl when they’d rather be off by themselves. They drink nectar they process themselves—Durindana, in exile, replaced that with bourbon, adding to her troubles.
I’m making it sound as if Durindana is the center of the story, and she’s not. Her character, however, gave rise to the real central character, a human thirteen-year-old named Mellie, whose ancestor was one of Charlemagne’s knights. In exchange for the moonstone ring, he pledged himself and his descendents to house and protect the Parvi.
Mellie’s plight reflects Durindana’s in that she’s an outcast from her peers, with talents that no one appreciates. And she’s got illusions-versus-reality conundrums of her own…are the Parvi real? Does a new friend really like her? Who’s lying and who’s telling the truth? Her immediate problem is save herself, her family, and the Parvi from someone who wants the moonstone ring. But she also must figure out what’s real and what isn’t…and how to mold reality to her liking.
That, to my mind, is what the teen years are all about, moonstone ring or no.
- Ellen Booraem
You can pick up your own copy of Small Persons With Wings is in stores now and don't miss your chance to win this magical middle grade novel.
GIVEAWAY ALERT: Two lucky readers will win a copy of Small Persons With Wings. To enter tell us what you love most about fairies small persons with wings. Or email your comment here with your US mailing address and the subject line "Ellen Booraem's Small Persons With Wings Giveaway". The winners will be announced on March 14th!
BLOG UPDATE 3/15/2011: And the winners are ... Elaine C. and quimbayai