Janet Lee Carey is well known for her rich and engaging fantasy novels, including Dragon’s Keep, which received a starred review from School Library Journal that stated, “Nonstop action may keep readers glued to this page-turner, but strong writing and character development are what will make it linger in their memories.”
In Stealing Death, you have constructed the parched wilderness of Zoyla, a melting pot of different ethnic groups whose complex cultures resemble our own with their varied social and economic class distinctions, languages, and spiritual beliefs. What type of research did you undertake in order to construct the intricate workings of Zoyla? For instance, did you travel to any drought-ridden locales to get a feel for the landscape?
I love to travel and would like to do more. Every trip offers so much delicious detail if your eyes and ears are open. It’s been years since I passed through the kind of arid landscape found in Zolya, but some of the red earth and rock formations I saw driving through deserts and camping under the stars stayed with me. Since drought and scarcity sets up the tale, I also read fiction and nonfiction about Africa, knowing I wanted to set Kipp’s adventure in a similar landscape. In my imagination, the land, and people really came alive.
One striking feature about Stealing Death is that it explores other interesting issues beyond the question of whether or not Kipp can stop death. For example, many immigrants who come to Zoyla are labeled as “Pales” and are met with extreme prejudice. Another issue would be gender equality-a father thinks it's acceptable to marry off his daughter as payment for his gambling debts. What are your hopes for Stealing Death and the type of reflection it will stimulate with teens?
Thank you for asking this. Another word for fantasy is speculative fiction. One of the reasons I love the genre is because it allows me to thoroughly explore cultural values. Creating new societies allows me to look at things in a new light (such as the prejudice against pale skinned people in Zolya). Prejudice is a learned belief and behavior. We all know that, but turning things around in a story can stir up some new & interesting conversation. The same is true for the treatment of women in Zolyan society. Zolya isn’t much different from many places in the world today. Woman still have a long way to go. Zalika is strong enough to challenge women’s roles in her culture (something she’ll continue to do in book two). Her predicament in Stealing Death should engender some interesting discussion.
The names of the characters in Stealing Death are all very unique-- Zalika, Sor Joay or the Death Catcher “The Gwali” being just a few examples of them. Did you carefully select each character name to convey a certain meaning representative of their distinct personalities? Also – is there one character in particular that you are especially fond of?
I go for sound and meaning. Zalika is Swahili for well-born. The name intrigued me. The Z and K are strong and defining, the As and Ls softening. They are contradictory, just as she is. I knew Kipp was Kipp and Jilly was Jilly from the very beginning. The right name brings the character alive in my mind. It took a long time to find the Gwali. The Catcher was called the Gower for a long time but my editor, Ruth Katcher, pointed out that it didn’t sound Zolyan and I agreed. As soon as I came on “Gwali” I knew it was right.
Is there one character I’m especially fond of?
Kipp, Zalika, Jilly, and Sor Joay are all my family. I’ve lived with them in my head for more than a year, so I can’t pick. I can say I’m not fond of Sag Eye or Zalika’s father (though villains are a blast to write!).
Do you have a favorite line, scene or passage within Stealing Death to share with us today?
I like the one on the back of the book:
He looked skyward, letting his mind reel out and out, beyond the mountains, the far off sea, his childhood home of Gare in the damp and freezing north, beyond the earth where he’d known little happiness in his seventeen years of life.
In his mind he was flying through silent space where dragons soared, a place beyond the tether of time.
“There you go,” said Sa Minn, as if she were seeing right into his dream.
She left him there with the bloodstone in his hand and the witch’s jar in his pocket. A rock, a small glass jar of sticky magic potion, all he had against the power of death.
The bag that the Death Catcher uses to steal the souls of the dead is called “Kwaja”. Kwaja is a mysterious, fascinating aspect of your novel. Can you discuss the soul sack in more depth- how it works, the inspiration behind its depiction in the novel, etc?
The original idea for writing a “death tale” was from the Appalachian story, Soldier Jack, where young Jack captures death in a sack. The idea fascinated me. My first exploration of the idea was the Death Catcher in The Beast of Noor. In that book he’s called the Darro. I wanted to give a whole book to the idea, thus Stealing Death. I discovered after writing Stealing Death there is a Hindu God of death, Yama who captures souls in noose. These images have been around a very long time. My novel takes a different slant, but Kwaja is mysterious, and remains so even to me.
Do you often hear from readers about your novels? What sort of feedback do you receive from readers and can you share with us one of the most positive comments you’ve had?
As part of your book launch for Stealing Death, you are joining with schools and readers to raise money for a PlayPump that will provide clean drinking water to a village in sub-Saharan Africa. Can you tell us more about this project and also any other special plans you have to celebrate the launch of your novel?
When I researched drought-ridden sub-Saharan Africa to create a realistic landscape for Stealing Death, I was profoundly moved by the suffering I saw and knew I had to do something. Play Pumps International builds clean water pumping systems in sub-Saharan Africa. The pump is designed as a child’s merry-go-round. Children at play pump the communities clean water! It’s an elegant solution. We hope to raise 14,000.00 (enough to build a new pump!) for the Stealing Death Water for Life Challenge. I’ll be talking about Play Pumps International on my school visits this year, raising awareness and funds, school to school. I’m pretty psyched about it.
We had a terrific book launch party at Parkplace Books 9/12/ 09 with a live marimba band, dancing, drums, and book sales and PlayPumps fundraiser.
On your website it says there will be a sequel to Stealing Death. Can you discuss this with us and also any other writing projects you are working on?
I’m working on three books just now. Bound By Three a medieval fantasy following Dragon’s Keep Dial Books 2010. The sequel to The Beast of Noor Egmont USA 2010, and, yes, the sequel to Stealing Death. More adventure awaits!
"I want that soul sack,” he said suddenly.
“What?” the witch asked around the scrap of meat she was chewing.
“I want it so no one I love will ever, ever, ever have to go inside again.”
“It’s not for mortal hands to have.” The witch spat out a bit of bone.
“You know magic. Give me the power to steal the sack.”
When fire steals his family from him, Kipp is left with only his little sister to protect as best he can, and he’s determined that death will not come to her–or to the girl he loves but can never approach.
But who would dare to master death? As Kipp finds out, it’s complicated, and possession of the soul sack is no guarantee of success. Dragon’s Keep author Janet Lee Carey has crafted a stirring and original fantasy set in a harsh and beautiful desert landscape, in which a young man who has lost everything finds the strength within himself to care for those he loves–and to allow those he cannot keep close to him to take a path he cannot follow.
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