That's the official book cover for Jen Swann Downey's debut novel, The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand which is set for release on April 15th. I've been waiting for this release since December when I read the galley. The wait has been driving. me. nuts.
Thankfully, I was invited to become a part of the Ninja Librarians Recon Team, and that's helped me deal with the very long wait for the book's release. As part of my recon assignment, I approached Jen about answering a few questions about the book. Be sure to read through to the end of the Q&A for a sneak peek at the first chapter of The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand.
|Author Jen Swann Downey|
MB: The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand is a wonderfully imaginative and somewhat complicated story that highlights several of mankind’s most important people in history. How did you come up with the idea for this book?
JSD: Thank you, kindly, Monica. You know, I think the idea for the story began with a concrete vision of a group of people from many different times sitting around a table chatting in a very casual way. You know putting their boots or sandals up on the table, and making off-color jokes that everyone else got. There may have been belching and a parrot making a nuisance of itself. I found this appealing because its easy when we look back at history to see people as very flat and unreal, or not quite human, the sum total of their achievements as we know them – books, works of art, paintings, schools of thought, buildings, etc. The people around the imagined table scene seemed thrillingly exotic and absolutely roundly human at the same time.
MB: The list of historical characters in this book – Hypatia, Saul, Cyrano, Casanova, Petrarch – are an interesting bunch. I’m particularly interested in the decision to include Saul of Tarsus as one of the lybrarians and how you portrayed his attitude toward women. How did you decide which characters to include?
JSD: I’m still (as I draft the second Ninja Librarians book) deciding! Librarians as a species don’t seem to be a lime-light seeking bunch. : ) . Since I want my lybrarians to come from around the globe, and from as far back as written language existed, AND be female as well as male in times and places where literacy and the role of “librarian” was imited largely to males, and to people of a certain class, I decided to count historical characters as lybrarians if they 1. Had worked in the classic sense as librarians. 2. had lovingly gathered/shared a private library however small or 3. Believed strongly in the value of free expression. I also make up some Lybrarians.
Saul (and Mathilda) are interesting cases in that we’re meeting them as young Apprentices before we know what they’ll necessarily go out into the world to do. Saul’s (someday to become Paul’s) story struck me as interesting because many revile his writings as misogynist and blame him for hijacking Christianity from its gnostic beginnings. Others believe Origen, the 3rd century Christian theologian played fast and loose with Saul/Paul’s writings, and ‘used” him to prop up Origen’s own preferred theology. Misattribution and mistranslation (willful or not) complicates the passing on of information and ideas, so it interests me.
MB: While we know that librarian is spelled with an “i” you chose to spell the word with the letter “y.” What’s the reason behind this alternate spelling?
JSD: Ha! Well, for now, let’s just say that it’s just a fun way of differentiating between librarians associated with Petrarch’s Library, and those going about their business unaware of its existence. In the near future, Marcus may suggest an entirely new spelling “Lie-brarian” for the likes of Chairman Mao, who in fact, worked as a librarian before he ordered the whole-sale destruction of so much written history during the Cultural Revolution. But the different spelling could end up having other significance. : )
MB: This is obviously your first novel and it’s sure to attract the attention of middle grade readers who love reading fantasy. But do you have any advice for the aspiring writers of tomorrow?
JSD: Yes! Grow fond of initial messiness in writing. Better to have a chaos of a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, then a gem of a forever lonely first chapter so sharp and beautiful it could etch an image of the Mona Lisa into a diamond facet. Make friends with the idea of the momentary failure to express perfectly the thing you’re trying to express. Do your best and move on. Make friends with people who will give you honest tough critiques. Fall in love with revising. Expect to revise your story many many times. (Once I had a beginning, a middle, and an end, I revised a dozen full times) Reject the “title” of “Writer”. Embrace the title of “Human Who Writes”. And above all, let well-written books, the ones YOU love, be your teacher and guide.
MB: What’s next in store for Dorrie, Marcus and the lybrarians? When can we expect a sequel?
JSD: The Lybrariad had a LOT on its hands at the moment! Trust that Marcus, Dorrie and Ebba will WANT to help with the lybrarian’s work, but sometimes WANTING to help and actually SUCCEEDING…well we’ll see how they do. If all goes well here on this side of things, and this Human Who Sometimes Writes doesn’t get lost in too many research rabbit holes, Dorrie, Marcus and Ebba’s next adventure should be available in April of 2015.
Many, many thanks to Jen for answering the questions!
First Chapter from The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand