INTERVIEW with writer Christina Nelson, author of The Sign of the Sparrow, first in a medieval-esque fantasy fiction book series focusing upon young teen Charlotte Imadara, who comes of age in a mysterious world filled with complex surprises.
Radiating an abundance of positive energy as she approaches the table, writer Christina Nelson sits down for the interview at a popular luncheon spot. Her engaging smile highlights an attractive face, bright hazel eyes and past-the-shoulder dark hair. Raised outside of Richmond, Virginia and a graduate of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA, Nelson is mid-twenty-something. For the interview, she is comfortably dressed in a simple, beige-and-brown print sundress. Silver hoops at her ears catch the light; at her neck hangs a delicate, silver cross.
When I read an early draft of your new book The Sign of the Sparrow, I wondered how much the main character, Lottie, mirrored you.
If you asked my grandma, she’d say that Lottie sounds exactly like me. In fact, when she’s reading [the manuscript] she’ll say, “When you do this…” I have to tell her, “That’s not me, Grandma, that’s Lottie!”
Of course, it’s easier for an author to write about someone that is like them. For writers, a little piece of themselves is automatically in their work, just by the fact that they did it. It’s the same way with all artists, whether painters, sculptors.
Lottie and I have similar qualities, but are very different people. We’re both very enthusiastic. We both can see the natural beauty and magic in everyday life. She does have dark hair like me, but she has brown eyes and is half Cathani, which is the equivalent of Asian in my story, and I don’t have a drop of Asian blood in my body. She is definitely a better artist and musician than I am. Lottie illuminates manuscripts, so she is very good at details and painting, and she likes storytelling, except she’s not a novel writer. She is also more adventurous than I will ever be.
What inspired you to write this story in the first place and when did you begin writing it?
I was a middle-school eighth grader when I got my first bout of inspiration. I was juggling a lot of stories at the time and Lottie was actually a character in a different one. This story [The Sign of the Sparrow] started out with a guy [as the main character]. It’s gone through many incarnations over time. When I didn’t feel like I was connecting with him very well, I realized that I needed to write a character that I could understand. [Now] if I have a doubt about how Lottie would react, I can see how I would react and then make it fit her.
I have always loved fantasy and mythology. Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were a huge, huge influence on me in middle school. I’ve always loved telling stories. Even before I could write, I would dictate and my mom would write them down. And I’ve always loved the medieval stories, probably because I’ve always loved fairy tales. I’ve always gravitated toward stories with adventure and magic and enchanted creatures. I love the idea of knights and kings.
When I went to college and learned more about the different cultures of that same time period, not just England but Italy and France and the Native Americans in the West and the samurai and the grand emperors in the East, I realized how much loving anthropology had to do with it. I love the whole idea of how the world functioned in its time and, even though they had technology back then, there was still an overarching feeling of mystery and magic to the world. I’ve always loved exploring anything – from old house to a library – so mystery has always fascinated me.
In the Sign of the Sparrow, you have introduced an entire fantasy world set on three, separate continents, each replete with their own clans, culture, mysterious powers and spiritual responses. What kind of world did you hope to present to readers? What overall themes guide your story development?
I want it to be very relatable and realistic. There’s a lot in there about finding your purpose in life; a lot about growing up and maturing and yet, somehow, not being completely jaded about how bad the world is; somehow maintaining optimism.
When I read how the main character, Lottie, felt when riding into town on her missing father’s velox, my mind tried to compare it to such an experience today, such as driving into the city on some ancient, special edition of a Harley-Davidson.
Do those exist? (Nelson laughs.) Lottie would definitely be pleased. She thinks the world of that [velox] machine.
You’ve said that you have outlines in your head for several books in this series. How many books do you plan to do and when will they be available to readers?
I’m planning to start sending out the first one to publishing houses this coming January 2011. There will be either three or four books in the series, with the fourth possibly being some kind of appendix. I’ve been working about two years to get this first book to its final stage. So maybe it will take two to three years for each of the other books.
How do you want people to feel after they have finished reading The Sign of the Sparrow?
Hopefully, it will give them some kind of optimism about their lives; leave them wanting more and that it will be an awesome read!