Leif Grundstrom-Whitney is the proud co-author of the epical satire The Hidden Chalice of the Cloud People; the wicked and witty character known as Facinorous contained therein is a product of his multifarious mind. He has been published in several obscure poetry journals (hold your applause). To say that he is an edacious reader would be an understatement worthy of Hemingway. If he had a spirit animal, it would probably be a gregarious raven who knows how to play a Hammond B-3 organ.
Jason Grundstrom-Whitney has been a Social Worker and Substance Abuse Counselor in the State of Maine for many years. In this time, he has introduced meditation (tai-chi, qigong, yoga, and meditation) groups to teens when told he would fail. This was one of the most successful and long lasting groups. He developed a Civil Rights/Peer Helper course that won state and national awards (for High School) and has worked as a civil rights activist. He has also worked as a long term care social worker and now works as a Hospice Medical Social Worker. Jason is a poet, writer, and musician playing bass, harmonica and various wind instruments.
Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Hidden Chalice of the Cloud People. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?
A: When Tommy Dana is abducted into a fantastical realm called Lethia, where the worthy stories of humanity are granted a physical reality, the social media-averse thirteen year old must plunge through a multi-varied meta-fictional adventure in order to save his, and the entire human world’s, imagination from falling into the thieving clutches of the witty supernatural villain Facinorous. That’s as succinct a description for a shelf-toppling novel as one can get. A marvel of concision!
A strong desire to satirize and introduce some much needed adequately thoughtful satire and inspired zaniness and crafty jocosity into a genre that seems to have grown rather grim and dystopian of late compelled us to create our mammoth manuscript.
Q: What do you think makes a good Young Adult Fiction novel? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?
A: If we ever write a traditional one, we will let you know. The key to making a potent satire is meticulously crafting a sophisticated facsimile of the atmosphere and mood and plot elements and tropes of the genre you are satirizing so that readers feel as if they could be experiencing such a book and can therefore come to appreciate the subversive humor of the work that seeks to playfully undermine that literary category better. The style and the level of detail, combining adroitly, must produce a certain degree of verisimilitude. Compelling characters that make the reader pause and think, reflecting on the fictional constructs’ eccentricities as well as the meaning of their thoughts and words and deeds, and loads of heady action that serves to propel the plot are two other important elements.
Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?
A: The primary framework of the plot, with the major aspects and developments of its arc, was plotted out, summarized and established in concise written form long before the first actual sentence of the book had been painstakingly plastered to page. From there loose outlines for sections and chapters and crucial plot points were carefully created and used as a nonrestrictive starting point for the prudent meanderings of our artistry. From these literary blueprints an aureate rivulet of prose and imaginative writing sprang! Okay, maybe a turbid brook of modestly clever prose is more accurate. But we digress. Vivid detail was eventually produced by this method. Little by little, piece by piece, our vision for the story became a concrete reality. This structured albeit artistically free system allowed us to incrementally cover and create the novel in its massy entirety.
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?
A: Tommy Dana as a character parodistic of a wide range of young adult heroes comes from many different places. First and foremost he is a modern champion of cultural lore and the power of the imagination. Against the inexorable pull and the intoxicating allure of external technological objects he rails and protests! He is half Irish and half Native American, two cultures that have long storytelling traditions. Tommy not only understands storytelling but wishes for a world that would truly integrate this direct transmission of knowledge into a present time that has been increasingly ruled by the demands of technology. He sees a world that has become cold and distant, somewhat bereft of inter-personal communication. He sees that with such convenient technology our inherent ability to create fictional worlds via the symbols we use to explain what we have lived experientially has been diminished. In his youthful mind, the artistry of the personal creative identity is the panacea to all of life’s woes! Part of what makes him humorous (or satirical) is that his imagination turns out to be far more effete than expected. It is also utilized much less, over the course of the book, than it could be.
Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?
A: It would be very strange indeed to make a supernatural near abstract entity (heavy on the malevolence) upon whom a vital majority of the satire of the book hinges terribly realistic. Facinorous, the arch antagonist of our vasty story, is the meta-fictional enigma that needs to be cracked in order to appreciate much of the book’s darker humor. He’s a deranged sliver of wry otherness speaking to everyone (in the audience or otherwise) and no one in particular. He seems to always lurk somewhere beyond the happenings of the tale and exists there primarily to perpetuate sly subversions.
Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?
A: The elaborate interweaving of multiple storylines through which the protagonist and his allies traverse on a thrilling quest drives a large part of the excitement of the narrative. We compel our readers to soar on with our deft choice of the particular adventurous plotlines that they follow. By interfusing subtle shards of verse into the prose one can spice up the narrative as well.
Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?
A: We made use of a wide variety of diverse descriptions to convey the numerous settings of our novel. Fantastical settings such as the ones we present are best portrayed grounded with a certain amount of realism. With skillful elan the descriptions, whether vague or fastidious, should soar; they should never come across as mannered.
Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?
A: From the beginning of the process of creating the manuscript the themes were well-defined. The action and the structure of the plot and the various interweaving storylines within it flowed organically from a thorough understanding of these established themes. We never allowed them to constrain our creativity or rigidly shape the framework of the narrative however.
Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?
A: That’s a tremendously difficult question with no easy answer. If managed in a careful and measured manner, there need be no divide and the two can run seamlessly together. The editing should never be allowed to hinder the execution of the author’s creative vision. The operations of the artistic mind and the processes of its thoughts need the freedom to forge a path unmarred by impediment.
Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?
A: Pertinacity, patience, and artistic vision.
Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?
A: Precisely so, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a thrill to researching a topic of interest relevant to the subject matter or the details of your book that is later utilized in an inventive fashion in its creation.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?
A: A few platitudes we have to impart: Take your art seriously; refine your abilities, hone your skills and develop a habit of writing on a quotidian basis; not necessarily a piece of art that inspires the pneuma and rattles the firmament but something that is at least adequate or decent. Practicing your craft plays a crucial role in maintaining the well-being and the liveliness of your mental character as well as improving your writing abilities. Let the sensitive fabric of your psyche become pachydermatous and persevere through all the vicissitudes that adversity can muster.