When you hear the word ‘sizzle’ what does it make your skin do? I picture the bubbling and crisping like bacon on a griddle and my skin feels the heat. In Grit of Berth and Stone, the first book in Lisa Puls Dunn’s trilogy, The Chasmaria Trilogy, the short, tense opening chapter is all about sizzle as the young protagonist Grit is branded on her sixteenth birthday. Lisa has named her young protagonist well.
Creating characters we suspect could walk through our door at any moment is not the only thing Lisa has done well in her debut series. Her pacing keeps the reader turning pages as Grit and her companions battle kin and spies, sometimes not knowing which is which, all for the sake of protecting the world they inhabit. Of course there is an opposing force that is fighting just as hard to destroy it.
A Writer’s Window: What was the seed for your Chasmaria trilogy and where did it come from? Can you give a brief description of the various sub-genres of Science Fantasy and where your books fall?
Lisa: Chasmaria began with the simple question of what a world without love would look like. How would humanity survive? What would people value? What sort of societies would form? And what would happen if love crashed it all?
I quickly realized that people would need to band together for protection and procreation, but as this story of a culture that valued self-sufficiency at all costs evolved, it became evident that love cannot be divorced from the human condition. So you’ll meet characters in Chasmaria who know something is off, like Coil, who has trained under Sire Stone, a man highly esteemed but often mocked for his devotion to Dame Berth and their offspring.
Even Dame Berth, despite her bitter disappointment in and harsh treatment of Grit, often acts in her daughter’s interest, though sometimes in veiled or misguided ways. I’m not sure if all her affection for Grit is immediately apparent – I intended for readers to have to look for it – but there are little things, like a loaf of bread from Dame Berth’s kitchen, that indicate Berth isn’t as harsh as she first appears, that she is, in fact, very much torn between her upbringing and her unshakeable humanity.
And the Inner Ringers . . . I’d love to go back and delve into their culture-within-the-culture because I suspect some of them were revolutionaries and no one knew it.
As far as where the book falls, one Amazon reviewer said, “Imagine if Katniss Everdeen was the one who walked through the wardrobe.” While I have a long way to go before I’m comfortable with comparison, Grit does begin her journey with the kind of tough exterior we find in characters like Katniss, who is at the forefront of any discussion of strong female protagonists, and she is significantly transformed over the course of the series by her affiliation with Christ-figure Kinsmon. Lloyd Alexander is one of my all time favorite authors, and I had just finished the Prydain Chronicles when I started writing Grit of Berth and Stone. I’m sure readers could find similarities there, too. Basically, we’re looking at classic high fantasy – with wars and journeys across mountains and plains, but without any apostrophed names – with a touch of Christian allegory. I didn’t intend to write a Christian book, but one that would inspire readers of any background to love without fear.
A Writer’s Window: If you could sit and talk with one of your characters, whom would it be and why, and what do you think the topic of conversation would be?
Lisa: I really want to say, “ Talon of March and Swot,” because he has witnessed everything, suffered much, and somehow learned to walk again, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Arrow of the Eastern Pines. Arrow is such a brave, tender soul, and his question always transports me to Harth’s inn. I can almost taste some frothy beverage – a bit like cream soda – as Arrow, with soft voice and steady gaze, asks me questions that cut to the heart. I don’t know what we’d talk about, but it would be a soul-cocooning conversation.
A Writer’s Window: Was there a book you read as a child or teen that fanned your desire to write?
Lisa: I don’t think there was a particular book from my childhood or youth, but I do remembering seeing The High King on the library shelf shortly after I finished that series with one of my children and wishing there were more heroes like Taran.
A Writer’s Window: Do you have a specific, designated writing space? If so, what does it look like? If not, what is your dream writing space?
Lisa: I have four kids, a husband, and a dog, so a specific, designated writing space is a distant dream. I envision an uncluttered desk beneath a second story window overlooking something beautiful, but the reality is I do most of my writing in the corner of the couch or even in bed, propped up by all of my pillows and the husband’s, so I’m not sure I’ll be able to transition to a desk chair, if ever the dream becomes the reality.
A Writer’s Window: What is your greatest reward in writing? (What makes you do the happy dance?)
Lisa: I honestly love the whole process. The stage when ideas are flowing, scenes are forming, words are being strung into sentences . . . It’s mad and beautiful and invigorating. But revising and editing is just as glorious, if a little more gritty, if you can forgive the play on words. While creativity of a first draft stirs my heart, the revision process is where I feel the magic really happens. In the drafting phase, you’re sort of dumping all the pieces on the table and moving them around where you think they might go, but during revisions, you’re locking the pieces into a complete, coherent whole. The stakes are higher now, but if you can pull it off . . . Wow.
A Writer’s Window: When you’re not writing how do you spend your time?
Lisa: Homeschooling four children, currently grades 4 – 11, consumes the bulk of my day. With naturally independent children, carefully selected, open-and-go curriculum, and a few co-op classes for the older ones, I’ve somehow managed not to deplete the world’s coffee supply, though rumors of that industry’s instability do frighten me. This winter I accepted an editorial position at Anaiah Press, the company that published my trilogy, so my evenings are split between editing for my Anaiah authors and working on my own writing – that is, when I’m not binge-watching PARKS AND REC with my husband. I’ve been making more time for reading this year, not for kids or for work, but for my own pleasure. (Recently finished A LONG WALK TO WATER, which was quick and lovely. Currently reading THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin, which is long and weirdly good.) I enjoy camping with the family, provided the weather isn’t too hot and I have access to clean toilets and hot showers. Sleep is pretty important to me, too. I definitely like sleep, even if I’m totally bad at going to bed in a timely manner.
Visit Lisa on her blog for more of her insights and humor. And to purchase her books!
You can also find her here, just not as pretty a site. Amazon author page.