Happy almost Friday, everyone!
I’m very excited to share this Q&A with all of you, and even more excited to dive into this new YA fantasy! Keep an eye out for my review of the book early next week. In the meantime, read on to find out more about this accomplished writer and his latest project, FISH WIELDER!
Jim has worked as a writer, screen writer, animator and director in entertainment and commercials since graduating from Columbia College of Chicago in 1988. He is the author of The Helm, which YALSA praised as one of 2010’s best graphic novels for young readers, and has directed animated commercial and entertainment projects, including spots for M&M’s, AT&T, and Kellogg’s. He co-founded Character LLC in 2000 and has given story advice to many of the world’s largest brands, such as Target, Verizon, Samsung, McDonalds and Walmart, and has even appeared on NBC’s “The Apprentice” as an expert adviser on brand characters. Jim lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, two kids and two dogs. Fish Wielder is his first novel.
Jim was kind enough to answer some questions about the inspirations behind his first novel, as well as his personal connection to the characters in it.
Q: How did you come up with the names for your characters in Fish Wielder?
A: I read a lot of Tolkien starting when I was about ten and I deciphered my own way through the slew of names his books throw at you. The Silmarillion nearly killed me. And then later, when I was starting to interact with other fantasy fans, I found out that the pronunciations I’d been using were totally goofy and wrong. But, by then, I liked them better than the correct versions. I also read a lot of H.P. Lovecraft stuff (particularly the Cthulhu mythos stories) where the whole point seemed to be to create other-worldishly unpronounceable names. And as I got older, I was also introduced to more “fringe” fantasy stuff (like The Eye of Argon by Jim Theis) and realized that all kinds of writers had been influenced by the same things I’d read and had gotten more and more ridiculously outlandish with their fantasy names. So, when I was writing Fish Wielder, I built my naming convention around the idea of mixing stupidly absurd names (like Princess Nalweegie and Tyncie CheeChaw CheeChee WeeWaw) with parodied fantasy-cliché names (like Lord Elfrod and the Dark Lord Mauron) and outright silly names (like Tofu and Futon) and then a few ridiculously normal names (like Brad and Teddy).
Q: Are there any movies or television shows that influence your writing?
A: Yes. I suppose you want to know what they are? Well, on the movie front (and in terms of Fish Wielder’s influences), I think I’ve been greatly influenced by Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Big Trouble in Little China, Bringing Up Baby, The Princess Bride, Ball of Fire, The Dark Crystal, My Man Godfrey, The BeastMaster, The Wizard of Oz, The Thief of Bagdad and What’s Up Doc.
Q: Your graphic novel The Helm is praised for being one of the best graphic novels for young people. Do you think this could be one of the best novels for young people or for long-time fantasy lovers?
A: I hope that young people really enjoy it as a funny and twisted fantasy novel, even if they don’t get all of the genre references a more experienced fantasy reader might pick up on. When I started writing Fish Wielder, the only real audience I had in mind was myself, so I wasn’t thinking in terms of age. I know it is being pitched as a “YA crossover” novel, which means the publisher believes it will have its greatest appeal with young adults but will likely crossover to a more mature audience. I personally feel that the target age range goes from about 10 to about 102. I’m not trying to exclude people over 102, I just don’t know very many people that old, so I’m not sure it will appeal. I suppose folks younger than 10 could read the book too, but there is an awful lot of ridiculously over-the-top mayhem that might be altogether too entertaining for youngsters.
Q: Do you relate to any of the characters in particular? Do you have a favorite?
A: I relate to all of the characters—from talking fish to evil villains. Every one of them is based on some facet of myself or of people I’ve been in relationships with. But, I do have a soft spot for Brad, the talking koi fish. I think he probably comes closest to representing my personality and point of view in the story.
Q: Your hero Thoral is depressed throughout much of the novel—how do you think the story would have been different if he’d been more excitable or eager for the adventure?
A: Thoral’s depression is centered around a particular deep dark secret from his past, without which, there wouldn’t be much of a story to tell, so it’s difficult to imagine what Fish Wielder would have been like without Thoral’s depression. He is, however, on a growth arc throughout the book and throughout the Fish Wielder trilogy, so it is possible (although I don’t want to give anything away) that people might get to see what Thoral is like in different mental states.
Here is a synopsis of this “funny and twisted” new fantasy: Fish Wielder is kind of like Lord of the Rings, set in Narnia, if it was written by the guys who made Monty Python and the Holy Grail while they were listening to the music of They Might Be Giants.
In ancient times, the Dark Lord Mauron cooked the most powerful magic chocolate dessert ever made, the Pudding of Power. One thousand and two years later, the evil leader of the Bad Religion, the Heartless One, is trying to recover the lost pudding in order to enslave the peoples of Grome. Only the depressed barbarian warrior Thoral Might Fist and his best friend, Brad the talking Koi fish, have a chance to save the world of Grome from destruction, but that’s going to take a ridiculous amount of magic and mayhem. Thus begins the epically silly epic fantasy of epic proportions, Fish Wielder—book one of the Fish Wielder Trilogy.