Meet John Claude Bemis.
John Claude Bemis is the author of Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince, the Clockwork Dark trilogy (which includes The Nine Pound Hammer), The Prince Who Fell from the Sky, and the picture book Flora and the Runaway Rooster. John received the Excellence in Teaching Award from UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Education for his work as an author-educator in schools around the state. He served as the Piedmont Laureate in 2013, promoting the literary arts and shining a light on the importance of children’s literature. He lives with his wife and daughter in Hillsborough, NC.
Now onto the interview.
On your website bio it says, “My passion for reading grew into a passion for writing, especially creating fantastical stories that I imagined my students would love.” Why do you think fantasy stories are more attractive to younger readers?
“Young readers naturally view the world in a much more magical way. That’s not to say they don’t know the difference between fact and fantasy. They do. But they see things through this lens of wonder and curiosity. Their imaginations are cranked up high. Their suspension of disbelief is low. They crave stories that activate the curious, wondrous sides of their thinking. Fantasy is perfectly suited this.
The other thing I think draws young readers to fantasy is that they want stories where they can see kids engaging in the kinds of dangers and challenges that they wouldn’t necessarily want to have happen in their real lives. It’s fun to see how someone else might confront the Big Bad Wolf or Voldemort. They wonder about what they might do if they were in that position. Fantasy as a genre lends itself easily to kids being in situations without many adult guardians watching over them, where characters can get into big trouble in exciting, magical situations. What’s not to love about that?”
Was there a specific Native American creation myth that helped inspire your novel The Prince Who Fell from the Sky?
“Not one in particular, although I’ve always been particularly drawn to the Haida tale of Raven bringing light to the world. It’s very Prometheus—the trickster hero! Many Native American myths have animals as these anthropomorphized figures inhabiting a world that feels ancient and timeless. This was the feel I was aiming for with The Prince Who Fell from the Sky. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, but one without humans where animals have more power and sophistication.”
Is there a go to myth, legend, or fairy tale that you visit if you are having trouble writing?
“My shelves are stuffed with books on legend, myth, and folklore. And yes, I often go to those stories when I’m in need of a bit of inspiration. The Norse Myths and African/African-American trickster tales are great for picking up ideas on characters with cleverness, humor, and heart (my favorite types of characters). And I’ll often look at the Finnish Kalevala or Japanese legends for wildly inventive world-building and idiosyncratic plot twists.
But often I’ll just randomly wander through these books just to see if they spark new ideas. It’s how I fell upon the ideas that led to my latest book The Wooden Prince. I’d been reading about the Medieval European legend of Prester John around the same time I was looking at Carlo Collodi’s original Pinocchio. All this cross-pollination of ideas occurred, which helped me re-imagine Pinocchio in a Da Vinci-punk Venetian Empire where magic from Prester John’s kingdom has sent Italian history down a different path. You never know what will ignite an interesting idea. Looking at old stories with fresh eyes can be just the spark.”
What is the biggest difference you find when writing a picture book, like Flora and the Runaway Rooster, compared to writing a trilogy like The Clockwork Dark?
“For a picture book, I want a stream-lined story focusing on a single event that reveals how a character might be transformed. The story needs to be told in a minimum of words. While The Nine Pound Hammer and the Clockwork Dark trilogy also has an emphasis on character transformation, the events are more sprawling, more layered, building a large story arc out of many smaller ones. There’s a lot more room to flesh out the characters and the story and allow the readers to go deeply into the world of this America of legend and magic.
At their hearts, both are adventure stories with characters I wanted readers to connect with emotionally. But there’s a difference in the stories’ intents. I wrote Flora after visiting Rwanda and learning about Heifer International’s work to relieve hunger and poverty around the world. So the aim of the story was to give young readers a sense for what life was like for a child in rural Africa. My middle-grade novels tend to be big fantasy epics, so the goal with these is primarily to entertain. I want them to be pure fun, full of wonder and excitement. Hopefully both challenge readers to see themselves and their worlds differently.”
What are you currently reading? Will we be seeing any references, or influences, to this read in your upcoming novel Lord of Monsters?
“I’ve finished Lord of Monsters (although there are still revisions to be completed). But when I was writing the first draft, I was reading books with high fantasy worlds and lots of monsters and magic—everything from Leigh Bardugo’s The Grisha trilogy to Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story (an umpteenth repeat-read, since this is one of my very favorites), a bunch of Diana Wynne Jones, William Joyce, and return trips to C. S. Lewis. I find that I can read books in a similar vein without worrying I’m going to unconsciously steal ideas. They become influences, inspirations. They help me guide the story like pole stars while also letting me steer my story on its own unique journey.”
You can find John Claude Bemis, and say hi!, at the following places:
Author website: http://www.johnclaudebemis.com/
Thanks John Claude Bemis for the interview!