I had a chance to have a chat with Heather Fitzgerald, author of The Tethered World and the upcoming The Flaming Sword. I have always been impressed with her writing and the amount of effort she puts into the outreach to her readers. We talk about Facebook promotion, what it means to be phantasmagorical, and magical mushrooms…
You threw one heck of a Facebook party for The Tethered World. How’d you pull it off?
Whew! It was a ton of fun but it felt like I was launching the first manned flight to Mars from my dining room. I had an awesome team on Facebook that helped to spread the word and invite the masses before the big day. During the previous year, I snatched up cool book related swag (I mean, who doesn’t want Bigfoot or Gnome gear? No, really.).
Then I made some pretty awesome Memes (if I do say so myself), that would act as questions for each segment of the party. Every 15 minutes I posted a new one, along with a picture of what was up for grabs. Everyone that commented got their name in a cyber hat. My husband and another couple were responsible for keeping up with the flood of comments and writing down names which (in theory) left me free to chat. We used a random number generator to pick the winners.
In the end we had over 200 people at the party and excellent sales (for a nobody, debut author like myself). It was a stressful bundle of fun which left all five us exhausted but happy with how the evening went. More importantly, the partygoers LOVED it and we actually had ongoing conversations for days from the party site on FB. The Tethered World went to #2 and #11 in different categories on Amazon. My publisher was quite pleased and proclaimed the party a success!!!!
You’ve made the word “Phantasmagorical” your own. What is it about this word that resonates with you?
Ah! You’ve done a little homework I see 🙂 Well, something about the word itself captures my imagination. It’s not a true onomatopoeia, but if you squint your eyes and tilt your head to listen, it kinda works that way. Speaking the word is like taking an adventure with your mouth. It’s lengthy enough that you could fall into a rabbit hole, or walk through a wardrobe, before you finish pronouncing it.
When we talked earlier, I complimented your book and you told me that you had a lot of creative input into how it came out. I must ask, what makes mushrooms so… fantastical?
I believe you’re referring to the *ahem* phantasmagorical book cover? Yes, it was definitely a process. One which included a creative crisis that made me look like an unstable, right-brained idiot, I might add.
My publisher hires a graphic artist to design a cover via stock photos. She’s kind enough to include me in the process. But it’s quite, QUITE difficult to find pictures that reflect a world that only exists in one’s head. Finding graphics that represented my quirky, fantasy world was overwhelming to say the least.
How about one of the cities in the book? Maybe one of the legendary creatures? The main character (teenage, female…waaay overdone)? So we tried this and that and all manner of things in between. It most often looked dark and brooding. I didn’t want readers to have the wrong impression of the story. In frustration, I attempted to scrap it all and sent photos of other fantasy covers on the market that I liked which had a completely different feel (the aforementioned creative crisis). My publisher did not take the bait, thankfully.
Since the obvious searches were coming up void of anything I cared for, I decided to search for more obscure things that still said ‘fantasy’. There is a scene in The Tethered World in which the main character, Sadie, comes across giant, glowing mushrooms. It’s also where she meets her first not-so-mythical creature, a leprechaun. So, you see, this makes mushrooms fantastical, at least to me!
Who would’ve thought I’d actually score a hit searching for ‘magical mushrooms’ but there were quite a few pictures to choose from. Most I didn’t care for. But it only takes ONE. And the one we used turned out perfect. Spot on.
Add to the mushrooms the cool dragon image that my publisher chose and—complicated as that—we had our cover. Book two, The Flaming Sword, took a similar amount of angst with fewer meltdowns on my part.
Autism is a subject that is making its way into our literary canon more and more. Tell me about the role of autism in The Tethered World.
The roll of autism in my story begins with the roll of autism in my life. My son is autistic. As a parent, I grapple with how his challenges fit in with this already broken world. Dealing with his uniqueness is part of what constitutes ‘normal’ life for our family for the last twenty-three years. And with with autism numbers swelling like the mercury here in Texas, it touches EVERYONE in some way these days.
I wanted to include autism (as well as homeschooling…something else that is normal to my family) as a regular part of a typical teenage girl’s life. Dealing with her brother’s meltdowns and quirks are part of what makes Sadie, Sadie. Like the fact that she hates roller coasters. That’s just how it is and she deals with it. There was no agenda or soapbox in mind by including either of these elements in the story (autism and homeschooling), they were used as a backdrop that helps to inform the main character’s personality.
Let’s face it, they’re both part of our society in some way. Whether by firsthand experience…or simply because you live in America. These things are on the radar (not the peripheral) and should be included in a matter-of-fact way.
Your main character, Sadie, slips into another world. What’s her initial reaction like? What was your reaction as a writer exploring this world for the first time?
I’ve heard it said that our main characters are an extension of ourselves as writers. Especially in the first few novels. Guilty as charged here. My reaction and Sadie’s would be pretty similar.
She/we would rather read about such places than be dragged into them in real life. I know it may sound boring and unadventurous, but would you really and truly want to meet a colony of Yetis? Ogres? Okay, maybe Gnomes and Meadow Faeries but only because they’re much smaller than humans (although Gnomes do have stealth and deadly skills).
But, because I love to read such stories, I had to write them as well (logical conclusion right?). As trite as it sounds, I’m in love with Narnia and I owe my desire to write to CS Lewis. I wanted more of his sort of adventure. Tales that seem like they could, quite possibly, be true.
And so…I wrote a tale that—I hope—will transport readers in a similar way. Will make them think, “hey, this it could really happen”. I’m no Clive Staples Lewis, but I desire to write stories that he would enjoy reading, if he were alive today.
I love a good “what if”. What if you could find a magical piece of furniture? Or a ring? What if something extraordinary could happen to us ordinary folks? Though the reality of it would be terrifying, my imagination doesn’t mind it a bit. I certainly didn’t want to leave the pages of Narnia, or the Wood between the Worlds—but I certainly don’t want to travel there in the flesh, either. (Okay, maybe a tiny part of me would like the opportunity to at least present itself).
I like to say Sadie is a reluctant heroine. She’s not tough. Not ready to kick someone’s butt. She’s angry about the secrets her parents have kept from her. She’s sarcastic. She’s scared. But she’s also fiercely loyal and desires to do what’s right, no matter how hard it is. I’d like to believe that’s the grit I would find within myself in a similar situation.
Grit and God. That’s the way to get through a zombie apocalypse (not included in my book) or a tunnel full of dark dwarves (definitely included).
Connect: www.heatherllfitzgerald.com, WriteFitz (twitter), tetheredworld (instagram).
The Tethered World is available on Amazon in paperback and digital formats. Free to read on Kindle Unlimited! Audiobook available on audible.com.
Book two, The Flaming Sword, is available November 1st.