Interview with Diana Bastine
Shapeshifter: Book 2
Helm Publishing (2012)
Reviewed by (age 18) for Reader Views (6/12)
Diana Bastine, aka the Fairy CatMother, is a writer and editor based in the southeastern United States. She has edited all five volumes of the award-winning Myrridian Cycle by Debra Killeen, a fantasy series for young adults, published by Helm Publishing. Her first young adult novel “The Source” is available from Helm as well, along with its sequel “Shapeshifter.” She also sells hand-knit cat blankets, altar cloths, and Fairy CatMother t-shirts. She is a certified Reiki Master as well, and continues to study the Tarot more deeply.
Tyler: Welcome, Diana. It’s a pleasure to interview you today. I’m always fascinated by fantasy writers and their ability to create their own worlds and mythologies. Today I want to talk to you about “Shapeshifter,” but since it’s a sequel to “The Source,” would you begin by giving us a little background about “The Source” and letting us know whether readers need to read that book first before reading “Shapeshifter”?
Diana: Hi, Tyler. I’m delighted to be able to talk to you about my books for a bit. “The Source” is the first adventure featuring Caitlin Flynn and the denizens of Hamelyn, a community of people who have been living underground for centuries. At first, Caitlin thinks they’re vampires, because they drink the red liquid known as the Source, but she quickly discovers they were merely the victims of persecution hundreds of years ago, and agrees to help one of them, Fortescue, find a talisman that will save his people.
I tried to make “Shapeshifter” independent enough to stand on its own, and the feedback I’ve gotten so far leads me to think I was pretty successful. Reading “The Source” first might make the experience a little bit richer, but it shouldn’t be necessary. It’s always hard trying to find the right balance between giving too much back story and boring returning readers and making the background clear enough for newcomers.
Tyler: “Shapeshifter” opens with the fairies coming to Caitlin for help. What is at stake that they need Caitlin’s help?
Diana: Fairies are disappearing when they leave their home for our mundane world, and one of them decides to try to find out why. And since the Goddess Star, the talisman from “The Source,” was under fairy protection for centuries—and Caitlin was the one to retrieve it—they enlist her help to settle that perceived debt.
Tyler: Where does Caitlin’s cat fit into the story?
Diana: Caitlin’s cat just happens to be a shapeshifting fairy, the one who comes looking for her assistance.
Tyler: Ireland has a long tradition of fairies, and you draw on the Tuatha de Danann to create your own fairy world. Will you tell us a little about how you used existing Irish mythology in the novel?
Diana: As any writer will probably tell you in answer to a question like that, I took what worked for my narrative needs! In the Irish tales, fairies were not merely innocent, sweet creatures that darted about like hummingbirds. They were an earlier race of very powerful beings, until they were displaced by the coming of human tribes. Over the centuries, they lost a lot of their power, but they could still be frightening beings. I’ve tried to hint at some of that, without making things too scary—I didn’t want this to be a horror novel!
I also utilized the idea of iron being anathema to the Tuatha de Danann, which played well into the story. I’m not sure I ever ran across any stories dealing with shape-shifting fairies among the old Irish fairy and folk tales, but I liked the idea for my narrative so I used it anyway. And those of us who are familiar with cats know that they all have a touch of the “fey” about them….
Tyler: Diana, in the first book, “The Source” there was also a connection between the fairies and vampires. Would you explain that connection a little to us, and are there vampires also in “Shapeshifter”?
Diana: Well, technically Fortescue and Mortimer aren’t actually vampires, but there is a connection between the fairies and the citizens of Hamelyn, whom Caitlin first believes to be vampires. The talisman that protects the Source was buried within a fairy ring to protect it from someone with nefarious designs in Hamelyn centuries before the action of “The Source” takes place. So, since technically the “debt” owed to the fairies is by the Hamelyners, I had an excuse to include Fortescue and Mortimer in this story as well.
Tyler: Our reviewer, Madeleine Stone, said her favorite character in the novel is Mrs. Doherty. What do you think makes her a memorable character?
Diana: Mrs. Doherty is probably the most grounded character in the series. She’s very solid and dependable, and accepts the bizarre people the Flynns meet with equanimity—if not always trust. She keeps the household running smoothly regardless of the strange characters that keep showing up…. Plus, she’s the most obviously “Irish” character in the novels, so she brings the native perspective to the action.
Tyler: Diana, what attracted you to Ireland as a setting? Are you part Irish yourself?
Diana: Oh yeah, I’ve definitely got Irish in me, although I’m not sure how much. My maternal grandfather was a McCabe, and my paternal side has English, Scottish and Irish, I think, among others. Plus I visited Ireland several times in the 1990s, and fell in love with the place. As the plane was descending into Shannon airport, I had a very strong sense of “coming home.” I know it’s changed a lot since then, with the recent “Celtic tiger” economy, but I don’t think the heart of the culture will be lost any time soon. The power and mystique of the landscape and legends are just too strong, and there’s still so much interest in that, especially among Irish Americans.
Tyler: What age group do you think would most enjoy this novel?
Diana: Well, I hope the middle-school to early high-school age group, since those are the ones for which I’m aiming! Although I have gotten a great deal of positive feedback from the adults who’ve read it, which is nice. But getting positive reviews from younger readers is truly gratifying because I still have fond memories of some of the great fantasy books I read when I was in school, like Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, still one of my favorites.
Tyler: Are there any other writers or books you would say were influences on your writing and how would you say your books are different or similar from those?
Diana: Oh boy, that’s such a hard question for me, because I have read so much over the years. As a kid, I read every fairy tale and folklore book I could get my hands on, and I still love the various mythologies of every culture. I loved the Oz books, too, which were probably my first steps into what we think of as fantasy today. And I read “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” in a day or two when I was home sick in the fifth grade, I think. That made a huge impression. I’ve read many, many classics of literature, and I like to think that all of that “high quality” writing helped make me a better writer—and hopefully a pretty good storyteller too.
I think when it comes to differences and similarities, most writers will tell you that they take what works for them and their stories, and leave out whatever doesn’t. For example, think of the variety of vampire stories out there—from “Dracula” to “Twilight.” All of them probably have something in common, some connection to the universal nature of vampire legends—which you can find in every culture in the world, or so I’ve read. But they all have variations in the details, depending on what elements they need for the stories they’re trying to tell. I tweaked it entirely in “The Source,” by using things that made it look as though some characters were vampires, even though they weren’t. And then I suggest that it was their appearances throughout history that might have given rise to the myths….
Obviously, I’d love it if my books proved to have the staying power of any of the wonderful ones I remember from my youth, but only time will tell.
Tyler: Would you tell us about some of the other characters like Mortimer and Fortescue and how they fit into the story?
Diana: The other most prominent “Hamelyners” are probably Abercrombie and Gabriel. Abercrombie’s the leader of the Council of Elders, the governing body in Hamelyn. He’s the wise man to whom the others go for advice, and he and another Elder, Felicity, have been supportive of Fortescue from the beginning. And then there’s Gabriel, Mortimer’s none too pleasant uncle, who plays a minor but important role in these two books. Gabriel has basically been the only “father figure” Mortimer’s ever had, and he hasn’t been a good one, and one of my favorite things in “Shapeshifter” is the growing close relationship between Mortimer and Niall, Caitlin’s father. Niall becomes something of a mentor to Mortimer, helping him out of Gabriel’s poisonous shadow.
Tyler: The novel includes a gay relationship between Mortimer and Gaylord, although it does not include sexual content. Would you tell us how that relationship came to exist in the novel?
Diana: While Caitlin and Fortescue’s relationship is blossoming, it turns out that Mortimer’s had a bit of a “crush” on Fortescue for some time. And to be perfectly honest, I had no idea that any of that was coming! When I first started writing, I didn’t intend for “Gaylord Silvertoes” to be gay; but he let me know he was—at least for the time being. He suggests that he’s had relationships with women too, and even occasionally “shape-shifted” into a woman himself, in his very, very long life. He’s immortal, or very close to it, and over such a long existence, it’s easy to become bored, I suppose, so Gaylord mixes it up whenever he can, just to keep things interesting.
I certainly had no idea that Mortimer was gay, until all of a sudden the idea hit me and so many things started to make sense for the story. And I absolutely loved the way their two personalities began to play off of each other—Mortimer so quiet and unsure of himself, and Gaylord so exuberant. And, without giving too much away, bringing them together worked well for the plot of the novel.
Tyler: Did you have qualms about including a gay relationship in the novel, or would you say you had some sort of agenda in doing so?
Diana: I didn’t really have any qualms about including a gay relationship for a lot of reasons. I’ve heard from several sources that young readers aren’t nearly as bothered by that sort of thing as some adults are, and also that there are a lot of gay or “questioning” young people that are looking for characters to whom they can relate. My publisher was okay with the idea—one of the benefits of being with a small press, I suppose. I certainly didn’t set out with any sort of “agenda” in mind, other than to tell an entertaining story.
Gaylord definitely just “does what he wants to do”—his character pretty much just wrote himself. I almost felt like I was just “channeling” him sometimes. I guess he’s as uncontrollable in my imagination as he is in the story! And Mortimer just so happened to be the perfect foil for him.
Tyler: What would you say you most enjoyed about writing these novels and what do you enjoy about writing fantasy in general?
Diana: I really love delving into the heads of these characters. Even Gaylord, who seems pretty obvious and straightforward—no pun intended—turned out to be more complicated than he seems on the surface. And Mortimer has just grown and changed so much over the course of the series. Sometimes I think I’m just hanging on for the ride, taking notes and enjoying where they’re taking me.
One of the nice things about writing fantasy is that there are no boundaries. The only rules you have to follow are the ones that keep your invented world consistent, which is really true in any genre, I think. There has to be an internal logic, but within that system of logic, you have free rein to do whatever you please. I never thought I’d end up writing fantasy, but it seems to have laid its claim on me anyway, so I’ll go where it leads me, at least for a while. Maybe it’s because I always loved fairy tales and mythology when I was a kid….
Tyler: Diana, since you’re also an editor, and I am too, I’m curious how you think editing books may have influenced or shaped you as a writer. Any thoughts?
Diana: In my case, I was a writer before I ever did any work as an editor. I offered to edit Debra Killeen’s first novel because I had the background—I had a BA in English literature, I’d taken a writing course offered by “Writer’s Digest” magazine when I was in college, and I had an abbreviated version of the manuscript for “The Source” that she had read and enjoyed, along with a story or two. She, on the other hand, had this really great idea for a fantasy tale, but had been a pharmacist for fifteen years. She knew that I could bring the technical expertise that was less familiar to her. Interestingly enough, helping her become a better craftsman—she was already a good storyteller, from the beginning—helped me identify things I could improve in my own writing. Now she’s gained so much experience that she goes through my manuscripts with suggestions for improvements!
Tyler: What’s next for you, Diana? Do you plan to write more books in this series or will you turn to writing something else?
Diana: I’m really glad you asked that, Tyler. I’m just finishing up the final revisions on the third novel in this series, before submitting it to my publisher. Readers will finally get to meet Caitlin’s aunt Kathleen and her partner, Anna. The plot of this one revolves around their characters, as well as the returning ones, including Gaylord and Fiona, the fairy siblings from “Shapeshifter.” The folks from Hamelyn are still involved, including Mortimer’s uncle Gabriel.
I had thought that was going to be the final volume in the series, but earlier this year, Gabriel poked me in the brain and let me know in no uncertain terms that it was time to tell his side of things. And that took me to places I never imagined….I’ve only gotten through the first draft of that one, and—as of now, anyway—it’s the final one of this series. I don’t really want to say too much about it yet because it’s in the very early stages right now.
Tyler: I saw on your website that you’re also writing a steampunk novel (I admit I only heard the word for the first time less than a year ago, although I’ve long been familiar with such works). For those not in the know, would you describe what “steampunk” is and why it fascinates you?
Diana: Steampunk is that wonderful subgenre of fantasy/science-fiction that has descended from, or was inspired by, Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. Back in their day, it was just fantastic fiction, I suppose, but things written of that ilk and in that style today are collectively called “steampunk.” I first came across the term a couple of years ago, and when I asked a writer what it was and she described it, my reaction was, “Oh, I’ve been reading that kind of thing for a while; I just didn’t realize it had a special name.” Alan Moore’s graphic novel “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” is a great example, and I’d been a huge fan of that. I just didn’t know it was something called “steampunk” when I first read it….
I love science-fiction, but some of the really hard-core stuff is over my head. Some of the writers can be so technical—which is wonderful, but can be a struggle to understand for someone like me, who never had much of an education in hard science. Steampunk seems to fall somewhere in the middle, with some degree of science but not overly technical. So it’s much more fun for me to read because I don’t have to scratch my head trying to figure out all of the details.
Tyler: Are you able to share anything about the steampunk novel you have in the works?
Diana: Funny you should mention that, as I’ve only recently thought of some major changes I want to try with it…. It’s based on the life of the 19th century labor organizer and all-around agitator “Mother” Jones. A family member loaned me a biography about her, and as I was reading it, I kept thinking, “Wow, what a fascinating life this woman led. And wouldn’t it make a great historical novel?” And then it hit me that her life and times were a perfect fit for steampunk. Her historical adversary was John D. Rockefeller, Jr., whom I’ve turned into a clockwork man for the needs of the story. That’s actually working out quite well in many ways, including the revised ending I’ve only just dreamed up. So I’ve got airships, and clockwork folks, and that whole “weird West” aspect of steampunk. (As opposed to the more familiar “alternate Victorian” approach.) It’s definitely taking some new directions these days, though, so I’m not sure where it’ll end up….
Tyler: Thank you again, Diana, for the opportunity to interview you today. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what other information we can find there about “Shapeshifter”?
Diana: My website www.fairycatmother.net is something of a catch-all at the moment, for all of my various endeavors. I have a brief page for each of the books, as well as a couple of pages of my poetry. I also have some links to all sorts of people and things: fellow authors, people I’ve met at various SF/F conventions, music—you name it. If it catches my interest and I have a URL, I’ll put it up! I also sell other stuff, including t-shirts with my Fairy CatMother logo—and a Fairy DogFather one too—and the items I hand-knit. I sell these at conventions as well, and sometimes that leads to a sale through the website.
And, of course, as soon as the links are available, I’ll be posting those for the review of “Shapeshifter” and this interview. I already have the link for the review of “The Source” and I’m proud to have a note up there regarding its second-place finish in the Reader Views Literary Awards for 2012!
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about the new book, and the great questions. I appreciate your time.
Tyler: Thank you, Diana. I wish you much success with “Shapeshifter” and all your books!
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