Yesterday, I reviewed Everton Miles is Stranger Than Me here on CanLit for LittleCanadians.
Everton Miles is Stranger Than Me
(The Night Flyer's Handbook, Book 2)
by Philippa Dowding
Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing author Philippa Dowding
about Everton Miles is Stranger Than Me,
the sequel to The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden (reviewed here)
HK: As in The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden, flying is the big thing that Gwendolyn and Everton have in common, both being Night Flyers. Did the idea of your characters being able to fly come from your own dreams (after all, Dr. Parks suggests that may be the source) or some other basis?
PD: I did have amazingly clear dreams of flight as a child. They were so vivid and real, that I would wake up truly astonished that I didn’t actually fly around the neighbourhood in my sleep. There was a certain feeling of loss too, realizing it was just a dream. So perhaps creating a world where people actually can fly, was partly wish-fulfillment!
I’ve also always been fascinated with magic realism in literature. I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, "One Hundred Years of Solitude" (where main characters fly with abandon), and studied the literary form in graduate school at about the same time. Something about magic existing alongside the everyday, without anyone explaining it or questioning it, really captured my imagination.
As a middle-grade writer, the metaphor of flight also seemed such a perfect way to explore change, life and death, adolescence on the cusp of adulthood: who are we, who are we to become, how does our community, our history, our family, shape who we will be? If we’re a teenager with infinite possibilities ahead of us, we can become anything. In my magic realism world, the lucky ones can choose to become Night Flyers.
HK: Even though Everton Miles is Stranger Than Me is a light fantasy for middle grade readers, it does tackle some pretty difficult issues such as grief and anger management as well as child abuse. How did you reconcile keeping the tone of the story light while looking into these issues?
PD: All of us at some point face loss or grief, and some may also struggle with depression, isolation, abuse or know someone who does. A writer can’t shy away from that, not if she wants to be honest in her writing. I try to acknowledge that, try to explore what those issues might feel like, to bring some recognition or even clarity perhaps, without offering any simple answers, because there aren’t any. When I write for kids, I try to explore the tough issues as an ally.
But it’s possible to touch on these issues and still maintain a lighter tone at the same time. For one thing, the immediacy of a first-person, present tense narrative is great, because there’s no lingering too long on the tough stuff. Humour helps too, even dark humour, and Gwendolyn is quite a funny kid. Also, adding a younger sibling (or two, in Gwen’s case), gets the character thinking about the world outside herself.
But this is also where the beauty of magic realism comes in: you can tackle the tough issues while still keeping magic and wonder in the world you’ve created.
HK: Having read "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L’Engle, a book introduced to Gwendolyn by Dr. Parks, I was struck by a number of similarities between it and your story. There’s the issue of dark entities and helpful guardians; the role of younger siblings helping the main character see the positives in life; a missing father; and the strength of good to overcome evil. What role did "A Wrinkle in Time" have in your writing of Everton Miles is Stranger than Me?
PD: You caught my Easter egg! The family therapist in the story, Dr. Adam Parks, does offer "A Wrinkle in Time" to Gwendolyn, which she refuses because the flying centaur on the cover freaks her out: she’s already got enough flying mythical creatures in her life, thank you! He also offers Gwen "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" which she accepts.
I’m honoured at the comparison (and you’re the second person to make it), but the truth is kind of mundane. My old copy of "A Wrinkle in Time" has a fantastic illustration of a centaur flying through mountains on it, and I thought it would be fun to have Gwendolyn recoil from that image. She’s not quite ready to read a book about mythical creatures or children (without broomsticks) flying around.
Although the two books might make a great book comparison for someone, I put Madeleine L’Engle’s book into my story as a tip of the hat to a wonderful children’s fantasy classic, with a great cover.
HK: Puberty is an awkward time, with self-awareness and first loves and friendships coming to the forefront, in addition to physical and emotional development. Learning you can fly can’t make that period of development any less challenging. Everton Miles is Stranger than Me has an embedded message of reassurance that the coming of age, especially emotionally, can be precarious but survivable. Is this a message that you planned to impart to middle grade readers or was it just fortuitous?
PD: Very definitely! It’s part of the job as a middle-grade writer, I think, to offer a glimpse through the murk of puberty. You can’t solve everything as the writer, especially not if you want to be honest, but you can show a possible future where the murk thins a little. You can be the trusty friend with the lantern. Most of us do survive.
HK: When I write, I try to get photos of my characters from magazines or online, just so that I have something to look at. If you had to choose actors or people with whom readers would be familiar to be the models for Gwendolyn, Everton, Martin and Jez, who would they be?
PD: This is a great question, and believe it or not, the hardest to answer! It was fun to think of matches for them, so here’s my answer…
Gwendolyn would be Canadian actor Ellen Page in “Juno”, for her strength and sense of humour.
Everton would be American Actor Tom Welling, as young Clark Kent from “Smallville.” He’s handsome, gifted, kind, tough (and well, Superman), but he also behaves like a typical teenager.
Martin is American actor Josh Hutcherson, or Peeta Mellark from "The Hunger Games." He’s tough, loyal, good with a secret and eventually indispensable, a friend to the end.
Jez was the hardest to find a match for, but I finally came up with a combo: think actor Alexis Bledel as Lena in “Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants,” because of her sweetness. Or for a timeless BFF, perhaps lady-like but wise Charlotte Lucas, best friend to Elizabeth Bennett, in "Pride and Prejudice."
HK: Mercy and forgiveness are two other concepts that sneak into Everton Miles is Stranger than Me but are really important ones in moving the story forward, especially for Gwendolyn. How did you envision Gwendolyn coming to the realization that mercy and forgiveness are integral in making relationships work?
PD: Another really great question, you’ve captured the essence of the book! Yes, forgiveness and mercy are constantly dancing together in the story, they weave their way into every relationship.
I wanted to explore the idea that forgiveness is not simple, nor is it a given, but a process. Does Gwendolyn forgive Martin for the Worst Kiss Ever? Yes. Does she forgive Mr. McGillies for “causing” her father’s death? Yes. Does she forgive Abilith the Rogue for his obsession and abduction of her? No. But she does choose to be merciful toward him, a sign of her dawning maturity.
Tempered with time and experience, I think the forging of forgiveness and mercy, is what makes us into adults. And Everton Miles is Stranger than Me is after all, a story about growing up.
HK: Without giving away a spoiler about an important revelation at the conclusion of Everton Miles is Stranger than Me, it’s obvious that there’s more story to tell for Gwendolyn and her friends and her family. Do you have a next book planned out already (maybe even written) and what details (title, date of publication, story line, etc.) could you share with us?
PD: I have been thinking about a possible storyline for Gwendolyn and her friends, which would involve moving out of the small town of Bass Creek, and possibly discovering other Night Flyers around the world. So the answer is, yes, I’ve been thinking about it and playing with possible storylines, and my publisher, Dundurn Press, would be happy to have another title in the series. But it’s just a shimmery, floaty idea at the moment!
to author Philippa Dowding for taking the time from her writing to answer these few questions for CanLit for LittleCanadians,
to publicist Jaclyn Hodsdon of Dundurn for facilitating this interview.