The key to a successful run of the dragons to the Hedgelands was speed. Once the monitor caravan was loaded and the monitors were fully awake again, the monitor train had to make the passage between Norder Crossings and the Hedgelands before the monitors grew ravenously hungry again. A skilled Dragon Boss knew precisely how to make the run to the Hedgelands with great speed. Mudpot was the best of them all. Stuff the monitors with shark, load while they dozed, then as they began to stir, set a swift—and tasty-smelling—runner at the front of the caravan. For the runners it was a chance to escape the fate of the slave works at Tilk Duraow. As the runner ran for life and freedom, the monitors raced after the scent of their next meal. The faster the runner, the faster the caravan traveled. If the runner was fast and strong enough to endure the grueling race, he or she might stay just ahead of the monitors all the way to the slave works and win freedom. Runners that faltered or stumbled became an impromptu snack for the monitors. A Dragon Boss wanted the fastest, strongest runner possible. A failed runner meant delay and other problems as the lead monitors snacked, and then turned sluggishly sleepy—while the rest grew dangerously restive. The delay could be even longer if replacement runners turned to “shakes and gibbers”—quivering piles of terrorized flesh unable to stand, let alone run. When “shakes and gibbers” struck it could hold up a Dragon Train for days while new runners were brought from Norder Crossings.
About the author:
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1. What inspired you to write this book?
I write fantasy because imagination is one of the important tools we have in breaking through the barriers or chains that limit our possibilities. The main point of fantasy, I would suggest, is its liberating influence. When we rely on imagination to enter worlds or experiences that are not otherwise available to us, we gain access to an infinite range of degrees of freedom. Running on imagination, our minds and hearts are no longer bound by such “obvious” constraints as common sense, the speed of light, or prejudices of mind. Fantasy enables us to experiment with the infinite frontiers of what is possible and impossible, believable and unbelievable.
Fantasy, especially children’s fantasy, including the idea that cows should, indeed, be allowed to talk—and think—perhaps encourages us to wonder about many other creatures, people, and dimensions of thought that “common sense” keeps us from hearing and seeing. Possibly, we may even discover that there are cows within ourselves waiting to speak. Our capacity to hear things that are, in our “common sense” world, unheard and unheard of, is one of the degrees of freedom we can preserve for ourselves and offer to others. And, for children—kids of all ages—these degrees of freedom are precious and worth nurturing. That is why I write.
In Helga: Out of Hedgelands, the unconventional heroine—perhaps the first cow to lead a heroic quest—and a troupe of other oddball characters embark on a dangerous journey beyond impenetrable truths and prejudices to discover where they could not go—and why. Time and again, Helga and her eccentric comrades overcome ominous tyrants and black-hearted slavers, not by battling to the last beast standing, but by being the first beast to think differently.
My many years of direct work with middle graders have taught me that they are attracted to unexpected, quirky stories that also turn their minds inside out. That is the inspiration for this book.
2. What characters do you connect with most?
I like to think of my writing as trying to move “beyond the box” of people’s expectations. I try to develop characters that go against “normal” expectations. I’m drawn to eccentric, unexpected characters: those who surprise because they hear a distant galaxy, see a different music, create their own fragrance rather than get hooked on a soundtrack; the child who has her own ideas about how the emperor is dressed; the lunatics and rebels who tell stories on the boundaries.
3. What's your favorite book-turned movie?
I think my favorite would be the first Harry Potter movie because it so successfully brought the delightful freshness the new HP world to the screen. The first Harry Potter book was fresh, unexpected, and engaging. The first movie succeeded in capturing that spirit.
4. If you could be best friends with one of your characters, who would it be?
Helga. She is brave and doesn’t accept the “rules of normal” that keeps things running smoothly, when "running smoothly" simply makes no sense. Her quirky personality is funny, but also deadly serious. Her character has some of the same questioning, seeking, and challenging of assumptions that makes the middle-grade years both exhilarating and confusing. She takes that internal energy and proves she can do it, no matter what it is. I like her because she is a cow who, by the normal genre rules, has no right to be the heroine of an epic adventure. In short, she would be my best friend because she’s a Wood Cow, and Wood Cows think differently.
5. Can you tell us about any other books you're writing?
I am currently working on Volume Two of the Wood Cow Chronicles. Volume Two picks up the story where Volume One, Helga: Out of Hedgelands, leaves off. The saga begun in the first novel continues to unfold, with some mysteries from the first volume becoming clear and previously unknown elements of Helga’s background being revealed. Many of readers’ favorite characters from Helga: Out of Hedgelands return in Volume Two, as well as some new characters being introduced. Readers will be surprised to learn that some minor characters and subplots from Volume One emerge as central to the story in the second novel in the Helga series. The new story also foreshadows developments in the storyline that will be central to Volume Three.
6. What do you do in your spare time?
Being blessed to live in the beautiful Rocky Mountains, in my spare time, you will often find me hiking the backcountry with my wife. I also enjoy reading on our back porch with the mountains in view.
7. Who's your inspiration?
My greatest life inspiration has been my mother, who grew up in a struggling working class family in the depths of the Great Depression. She always told me to get the best education I could because, “education is the one thing that no one can ever take away from you and you can never lose.” I am grateful every day for that advice and the fact that my parents helped me to love learning.
8. If you were stranded on a desert island which character do you want by your side?
Helga: Out of Hedgelands has many capable characters and I’d be grateful to share a desert island with many of them. Most of the characters, even the villains, have diverse, resourceful personalities that would make them good allies in a desert island situation. I avoid simple good/bad dichotomies, and create characters that, for the most part, have faced challenges in their lives and overcome them. It is also true that some characters who appear to have certain qualities in one novel in the series, my actually reveal or develop quite different qualities as the series unfolds.
9. Team Edward or Jacob?
Just by temperament, I’m not really into romance…with either vampires or shape-shifters. That’s not saying anything about the genre, it’s just not my deal. But, having said that, I think wolves rock!
10. Team Peeta or Gale?
Like I said above, romantic competition isn’t my thing, but I admire Peeta’s capacity to channel anger into words that can affect a situation.
11. What are you reading now?
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I had missed this amazing book when it first came out, but saw the movie recently and then got the book. The book, as is often the case, is much better than the movie. Mitchell’s creation of worlds that fit together in a puzzle-like way is brilliant.
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