Book Magic Series: Enchanted

enchanted_bookOkay, so it’s not really book magic, unless you count that first shot of the fairy tale book. But on my 97th viewing (or something) I made a connection to Narrator that I’d like to explore.

For those of you who haven’t seen Enchanted, the premise is that a stereotypical Disney girl gets dropped into the reality of New York City. And I mean stereotypical. Giselle sings, she’s friends to woodland creatures who help her clean, she falls in love with a prince at first sight.

But as Giselle spends more time in the real world, she starts to take on some of its qualities and values. The shift is most obvious when she sees her prince again. He sings — and she doesn’t join in. He wants to return home and get married — and she wants to go on a date.

Most of these values she gets from Robert, a cynical divorce(d) lawyer. He doesn’t sing or dance, he doesn’t believe in true love. He’s basically the complete opposite of Giselle.

enchanted_ball_sceneTake a look at Giselle and Robert from the end of the movie. Robert’s dancing. He even sings. But their outfits say it all: they’ve switched places. Giselle’s embraced the real world, Robert’s embraced the world where true love exists.

That’s pretty cool.

And what, I’m sure you’re asking, does any of this have to do with Narrator?

The premise of Narrator, if you remember, is that the Narrator hijacks a cliché fantasy story — with a world pretty similar to Giselle’s. Calder is a stereotypical fantasy prince, complete with dragon-fighting and damsel rescuing.

When the Narrator takes over, he creates a more realistic fantasy world (you know, closer to Game of Thrones than Snow White). And Calder has to adjust. It’s not as dramatic as Giselle’s transformation, granted, but I like the conflict.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Jenn: The First Adventure


As part of our Medieval Studies unit in fifth grade, we had a reading project where we were divided into groups to read one book each of The Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce. For those unfamiliar with the series, it’s about a girl who disguises herself as a boy so that she can become a knight. My group was assigned the first book of the quartet, Alanna: The First Adventure.

I fell in love. Alanna quickly became my favorite heroine. She didn’t take crap from anyone, including boys that were bigger and stronger than her. She dreamed big, and had the willpower to go after her dreams, even with society telling her to sit down and shut up.

We had a dress up day for the Medieval Unit. The other girls went as ladies; I went as a squire.

After I finished Alanna, I devoured the rest of the books. Then I went to the library and found Tamora Pierce’s next quartet, The Immortals. Today, I own all of her books — including her short story anthology, even though I don’t generally like short stories. And almost every year, I go back and read her entire library.

What keeps me going back after all these years? The characters. The plots. The world-building. The humor. The pure inspiration.

From her books I launched into the rest of the fantasy genre, with classics like Dealing with Dragons, Ella Enchanted, and The Hobbit. I’ve never looked back.

To say Tamora Pierce has influenced my writing is a huge understatement. She’s practically driven it. I learned that young adult fiction isn’t just for teens, that all magic comes with a price, and that there are many kinds of strength.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Book Magic Series: The Paper Magician

Paper Magician

I picked up The Paper Magician in Amazon’s Kindle First program because, at first glance, it seemed similar to The Narrator. Paper magic, book magic. I thought they would have some things in common. As it turned out, the magics in The Paper Magician and The Narrator don’t have much in common at all!

In Paper Magician, Ceony becomes apprenticed to Emery Thane to learn the secrets of paper magic. Thane teaches her how to animate paper animals, create illusions as she tells stories, and produce gales with a simple paper fan. The focus of the magic is on the paper itself. The spell won’t work if the paper’s folded incorrectly, and it’s implied that even the type of paper will affect the spell.

The focus of the magic in Narrator, on the other hand, is on the story. Elements of the story (characters, objects, etc.) can be drawn out of the story or dropped into it, with disastrous consequences in either case.

There are some aspects of paper magic that could be fun to use in Narrator. I like the idea of using illusions to illustrate the book you’re reading, although I’m not sure how I’d fit that into the story. I also never considered what would happen if a bespelled book got wet…hmmm…

I do have one similarity to Paper Magician. Ceony learns to make paper cranes, probably based on origami. When she animates them, they can scout for her. In Narrator, I have one instance so far of a folded paper bird that serves as both messenger and message. The recipient can unfold the bird and read their message, but then the paper will re-fold itself back into a bird.

I’d like to think that’s a pretty cool bit of magic, worth of The Paper Magician himself.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Book Magic Series: The Pagemaster

The Pagemaster

“Look to the books,” the Pagemaster advises Richard Tyler in this classic film.

If you haven’t seen it, let me do a short recap. Richard Tyler (who is almost always referred to in this way, don’t ask me why) is a kid who’s afraid to take risks because of the 3% chance he’ll get hurt. When a bad storm strands him at a library, he meets the Pagemaster and is forced to prove himself in a series of tests across classic literature.

At first glance, the Pagemaster may seem like a similar character to the Narrator, what with their affinity for book magic and knowledge of the written word — but don’t be fooled. The Pagemaster and the Narrator operate in completely different ways.

The Pagemaster calls himself “The Keeper of the Books.” It’s never explicitly stated, but the gist seems to be that he’s the guardian of all the books’ characters and their stories. Sort of like a magical librarian. He effectively kidnaps Richard Tyler, drops him in the middle of the library, and tells him to head for the exit.

Thanks, Pagemaster. So helpful.

The Narrator, on the other hand, is closer to an author than a librarian. He tells stories, he doesn’t “keep” them. After he hijacks the novel, he can manipulate the setting and minor characters in an attempt to control the story’s direction. If Richard Tyler was in the Narrator’s book, he’d find a lot more “help” than he’d be comfortable with!

Other major differences between the movie and the novel:

  • The Price of Fiction: In both stories, characters remove objects from books. But in The Pagemaster, there’s no cost to the character except whatever dangers are released. Good examples: the Hound of the Baskervilles, and the giant squid from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In The Narrator, there’s a much higher cost.
  • Readers: Richard Tyler isn’t a character, he’s a reader. A respected one, at that, once he proves his identity with his library card. The Narrator has no such character running around.
  • Fate vs. Free Will: Richard Tyler’s presence changes the story he’s visiting, but some things are still predestined. For instance, he takes Jim Hawkins’ place in Treasure Island, but Long John Silver still manages to escape in a rowboat.
  • Books as Characters: There are three characters in The Pagemaster that are physical books. The Narrator doesn’t have anything like this.
  • Traveling Between Books: All of the stories in The Pagemaster exist next to each other in some weird quilt-like universe. Gulliver’s Travels is a hop, skip, and a jump away from Treasure Island. In Narrator, these stories would be self-contained worlds, and you wouldn’t be able to jump directly from one to the other.

Hopefully, this has been a good illustration of differences in book magic and literature-themed stories. I have more examples lined up, so stay tuned!

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Playing with Fire: Writing Realistically or Not?


It’s a good thing I love the push and pull between fantasy and reality — seriously, that theme’s in almost all of my stories — because I had to deal with that balance of opposing forces when I wrote my last teaser.

In the teaser (which will soon be available to those who sign up for my free email newsletter), my hero Calder runs into a burning building to save his friend. He goes up to the second story, finds his friend, and escapes with little more than a singed head of hair. There’s also cool special effects you’d find in any action movie.

Problem is, in a real fire, he’d have died instantly.

One of my betas is an EMT, so he told me what you could expect in a fire. The kiss of death? There’s an eight hundred degree difference between the floor and standing height. As he put it, Calder’s head would have caught on fire when he entered the building.

So as a writer, how do I balance the reality of a burning building with the dramatic expectations Hollywood has given my reader?

I’ve read exactly one book that has a similar situation. Not sure if that’s good or bad, it’s just what I’ve read. It was Cold Fire by Tamora Pierce. An arsonist is setting fires in town, and the main character and her teacher go in and rescue tons of people. How? They’re forge mages. Their magic inures them to heat and smoke. They can hold red-hot pieces of metal, magically blow smoke out of the way, and — to a small extent — control fire.

Pierce’s characters are perfect for entering burning buildings. I doubt she had this purpose in mind when designing their magic, since this book is part of a second series. But their powers allow her to keep the reality of a burning building and have people going in for the rescue.

I don’t have characters with those kinds of powers so I had to fudge a little. I decided that since the fire was started by magical means, it didn’t have to behave like a real fire. That way I sacrifice reality, but get to keep the rescue — which is more important to the purpose of the story than a realistic portrayal of a burning building.

So in this case, fantasy won out over reality. But the next case will be a whole different fight.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

1984, Big Brother, and Narrator


With a member of my writing group submitting a novel based on 1984, I thought it was a good time to read the original. It’s been on my To Read list for years, but never a high priority.

I started reading, and was immediately struck by the similarities between 1984 and my novel-in-progress, The Narrator. There are clear parallels between Big Brother and my eponymous antagonist, and between Winston and my protagonist. Who knew?

It was inevitable, I suppose. 1984 explores a theme that crops up in most of my own work: the line between fantasy and reality.

If you’re not familiar with the book, Big Brother constantly alters records to bring them in line with the present. If they’re allied with one country against another, then that’s how it’s always been. If they make a prediction and it doesn’t come true, the predictions are altered to match what really happened. People can be “vanished,” or killed and erased from every record. With the past and present always under revision, Winston has trouble keeping everything straight.

Similarly, the narrator re-writes my protagonist’s history, and he has trouble recognizing which events go with which timeline. He has brothers in one timeline, but otherwise they’re similar enough that he can’t differentiate. Add the fact that the narrator told him he’s a fictional character, and you have a real mess. Which parts of his world are real, and which are the narrator’s creation?

Which life is his real life? Or does he not have a real life at all?

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.