Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Crystal Kite Interviews: Janet Fox's THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE wins in the Western Division (Washington, Oregon, Alaska, northern Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota)

Winner for the Western Division

Lee: Congratulations, Janet! Please tell us about your Crystal-Kite winning book!

Janet: I must begin with what this award means to me. I wouldn't be a published author without SCBWI, so the fact that my fellow members in the western states voted for THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE is both humbling and thrilling. I'm deeply grateful. 

THE CHARMED CHILDREN actually began as an SCBWI story, for it was one of my friends from the Houston region who posted an image on Facebook that formed the kernel of inspiration. The image was that of an 18th century piece of jewelry called a chatelaine, and the instant I saw it, that chatelaine drew me in because it was so peculiar. 

Originally a chatelaine was a ring of keys to the chateau, or castle, worn dangling from the belt of the keeper of the keys. As time went on, the chatelaine changed composition. Most later chatelaines contained useful trinkets, like my protagonist Kat Bateson's chatelaine: scissors, thimbles, and pens were common. Other chatelaines were like a charm bracelet for the waist, with small charms that would be significant to the wearer. 

The chatelaine my friend posted (which you'll find as an image in the book) contains some reasonable charms, like a dog, cat, heart, and anchor. But...what about that eel? The hunchback boy? And oddest of all, the hand-sign that was used to ward off evil...and the mystical number 13? 

It struck me that this peculiar chatelaine, which in my story is worn by the Lady of the Scottish castle where the story is set, is a stand-in for magic and mystery and that Kat’s chatelaine is a stand-in for all that is normal and useful. What happens when magic - especially evil magic - goes up against something practical? Which object contains more power? And why? 

As I developed the story, it seemed only right to place it in Europe, so I chose England during the early days of World War 2 in homage to one of my favorite childhood series, the Narnia books. Kat and her siblings are sent from their home in London to escape the Blitz in the fall of 1940, and they land in that Scottish castle that purports to be a school, but is in fact a place of terrible danger. The novel is a mix of magic, mystery, the war, spies, ghosts, steampunk, fairy tales, fantasy, and most importantly family. 

Author Janet Fox

Lee: How long have you been involved with SCBWI, and can you share what you feel you’ve gained by being a member?

Janet: I've been an SCBWI member for almost 15 years, and there is no question that my involvement with the organization has been the springboard for all of my successes. 

When I first began writing for children, we had just moved to College Station, Texas. While Texas was not a natural habitat for this New Englander, I couldn't have landed in a better place. For one thing, I met Kathi Appelt early on, and she introduced me to the local writing community, to SCBWI, and she became my mentor and dear friend. She encouraged me to attend Vermont College of Fine Arts for my MFA, and when I was at my lowest point, she gave me feedback on an early draft of THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE that kept the novel - and my writing career - alive. 

 The SCBWI conferences I attended around the state of Texas were crucial to my understanding of both craft and the children's publishing market. I met my first and current agents at SCBWI conferences. I grew as a writer through the support of my SCBWI critique partners. After a few years of volunteering I became the Regional Advisor for our small Brazos Valley region, and served for seven years. I consider my SCBWI family in Texas and now in Montana, where I'm currently the assistant Regional Advisor, as invaluable and precious. 

When I attended my first New York conference my appreciation for the organization expanded, with the wealth of information presented and the generosity of other SCBWI members and regional advisors. I still remember the feeling of being an unpublished newbie in that huge conference hall, yet I was warmly welcomed by the more experienced members of the organization. The kidlit community is exceptionally welcoming, and SCBWI serves to gather and foster that community. 

Lee: Do you have any advice to share with other children’s book writers and illustrators?

Janet: I've been writing for many years, and have experienced my share of both ups and downs. So my first piece of advice is don't quit. 

Learn the craft, practice what you learn, and keep growing.

Read. Read everything. 

Write, every day if you can. Write across genres, even those that are hard for you to write. 

Engage with this fantastic community of writers, who will support you. And remember to give back. 

Write from your heart. You have a unique story to tell, and the world is waiting for it.

Thanks, Janet. And again, congratulations!

Find out more about Janet here:

Illustrate and Write On,

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