Teens can identify with fantasy characters
The characters in local author Jeri Baird’s second fantasy novel, “Curses and Warfare,” face many of the same issues as the teens reading it, but for twins Alexa and Zander, the stakes are much higher. They have been called by fate, Moira, to become leaders as their village, Puck’s Gulch, prepares for war. They are tasked with uniting the tribes of the village in opposition to invaders — no easy task for anyone, but especially difficult for young people struggling to fully own their new identities. This is a novel adults and teens can relate to and enjoy because of the action and the relatability of the character’s struggles.
LaReina Kalenian: One of the secondary characters, Greydon, tells Zander, “It seems to me that only a man of peace can be trusted to go to war.” This idea is central to Zander’s internal struggle and one of the overall themes of the novel. Explain more of your thinking about why a peaceful leader is better during times of war.
Jeri Baird: You’ve picked one of my favorite lines in the book! I believe that a leader who comes from a heart of peace understands that war is sometimes unavoidable, but would never embark upon that course of action without considering the cost in lives and suffering. In “Curses and Warfare,” Zander has one chance rather late in the game to negotiate for peace. When that fails, he does what is needed to defend his village. Even then, he struggles internally at the loss of life and devastation to both sides of the conflict. Without a heart of peace, he might have exacted revenge for his losses, instead of ending the war in the way he did. (No spoilers!)
Kalenian: As a fan of donkeys in general, I loved the use of Dorothy, the donkey, as a patron for Zeph. How did you arrive at the idea of using Dorothy as his patron?
Baird: I’m the kind of writer who sits down and writes without knowing what’s going to happen next. Yes, I basically know the end of the story, and I’m writing toward that, but I don’t outline or plot. Dorothy was a surprise to me, but she turned out to be perfect for Zeph. She’s different from any other patron, and that was a bit embarrassing to Zeph. Her placid demeanor was a boon to Zeph in situations where he might have panicked. And the twist at the end, where we discover Dorothy’s surprising ability, was vital to the war efforts. I loved writing Dorothy!
Kalenian: You’ve had a few careers before your current stint as a published author. What is your evolution as a writer? How do the other aspects of your life inform your work as a writer?
Baird: I think every life experience informs the work of a writer. I’ve always been insightful to people’s emotions, and others share with me because I’m a good listener. I like to think that being empathetic makes my writing deeper and richer. In a book, I’m always more interested in what’s going on internally than details of setting or even lovely description. And I don’t particularly like stories of war. I put off writing the war scenes until I realized that the internal struggle was more important than the actual fighting, although, of course, there is that too.
Kalenian: I think the line between adult and young adult fiction is often blurry, and I, like a lot of adults, enjoy reading both. Do you consider yourself a young adult writer or do you view your work with a wider lens?
Baird: At this point, I think I have more adult readers than teens. Statistics show that adults are a big percentage of readers of young adult books. I think it’s a testament to how well young adult is written. Especially in young adult fantasy, I easily identify with the main characters.
Kalenian: Although the setting of your novel is quite different from modern life, the struggles your teenage characters face are the same: alcohol abuse, developing one’s own identity, dysfunctional family relationships and taking on responsibilities they feel unprepared for. Were you purposeful in including these conflicts, or did they come up naturally because they are a timeless part of growing up?
Baird: They came up naturally. I had a fairly easy adolescence, but for 10 years, when I lived in Illinois, I worked with an alternative high school for teens who had dropped out of school or were at risk of dropping out. Many of those students struggled with the issues I write about now. I had utmost respect for them for working hard to change their lives for the better, often without family support. The teenage years are traumatic, no matter the time period, and I hope my stories resonate with my readers (of all ages!).
Kalenian: When can we look forward to the third novel in the Tokens and Omens series?
Baird: I wish I knew the answer to this! The third novel is with my publisher, but I don’t know if they’re going to take it yet. My editor left Jolly Fish Press, so it will depend on whether another editor is willing to pick it up.