Friday, August 17, 2012

Strange Places by Jefferson Smith: Character Interview & Review

Raised as a modern-day kitchen slave in an orphanage run by child-loathing nuns, and now stalked by disturbing strangers, thirteen year old Tayna gambles everything on a desperate journey of self-discovery that will lead her to the far corners of two strange and unfamiliar worlds: one filled with shopping malls and televisions, the other with Brownies, Djin and magic.

Strange Places is the first book in the Finding Tayna series - created for those who want their fantasy to be fun and fantastical, but who need more than just an empty adventure story left lingering on the palette once the action has concluded. Follow teen orphan Tayna, self-proclaimed queen of rejection and protector of the helpless, as she sets out to uncover the truth about who she is and where she comes from, no matter who gets in her way.

And plenty of people do.

The Finding Tayna series was born as a collection of adventure tales told by Jefferson Smith to his three teen-aged daughters around the family dinner table. Over the course of several years, the hero of these stories, Tayna, became a virtual fourth sister, who was discussed regularly, as though she were real - she just happened to be absent. So when a fourth daughter was actually born to the clan, her name was a foregone conclusion. Baby Tayna became instantly rooted into the fabric of the Smith family, and now, at age 3, is deeply connected to her nearly adult siblings. After all, she's freaking Tayna!

This book will appeal to both teen and adult readers.

Indie Ink Publishing  |  Kindle  |  Goodreads  |  Google Books  |  Nook

4 Stars
After reading a character interview and finding out a smidgeon about the young protagonist Tayna, I just knew I had to read this book.  A likable, reliable and compassionate young heroine, Tayna also has gumption and an unconquerable spirit.  An orphan who is unloved and unwanted, she discovers quite spectacularly that there is a chance she may find out what happened to her parents.  After escaping from an orphanage, she gets lost and in so doing begins a journey of adventure and discovery that kept me glued to my kindle. Chased by an evil sorcerer, she meets up with a string of unlikely new friends. 

The alternate world is decidedly strange, beautiful, and fearsome. Described succinctly, the author’s carefully chosen words give great depth and clarity to the land in my mind’s eye, and to the various groups residing therein.  Several story lines are woven together, coming together in satisfying dollops at pivotal points.  There is one, however, that was difficult for me to relate to and I had some trouble staying with the story then – I just wanted to skim through those few places because I became frustrated with the odd syntax and structure.  It is to be continued in the following book so perhaps it will make more sense later.  I am looking forward to reading the next book, aptly titled Strange People. 

This book was purchased by me. 

Reviewed by Laurie-J 

Interview with author Jefferson Smith and Tayna, the heroine of his book, Strange Places

Laurie: Hi. Thank you both for doing this interview. I'm really glad to meet you and I am so looking forward to learning all about your world. Mr. Smith, would you like to do the introductions?

Jefferson: Sure, Laurie. Hi folks. I'm Jefferson Smith, fantasy novelist, and sitting here beside me is my heroine, Tayna. Say hello kiddo.
Tayna: (Glances at the door.) What? Yeah, right.

Jefferson: Come on, Tay. Not all the adults in this world are nuns, you know.  Some of them might actually be trying to help. Give it a shot, okay? Like this: (mimicking the voice of a 13-yr-old girl) Uh, hi Laurie. Nice to meet you.

Tayna: (rolls eyes, but a slight grin escapes)

Laurie: (looking nervous) Okay then. Um, what was that about nuns?

Jefferson: Oh, well, unfortunately, Tayna was raised in a rather harsh orphanage, run by the Sisters of Good Salvation. (Tayna throws in a snort of contempt.) The Sisters are pretty strict and some of the kids, like Tayna here, are given a bit more than their share of the tough love treatment.

Tayna: Tough love? Do you even READ your books?

Jefferson: What? You don't think that's a fair assessment? (winks at Laurie)

Tayna: Oh, please! They take any girl who shows any signs of having a brain of her own and move her up to the fifth floor to become one of Sister Regalia's personal house slaves. We do all the cooking, all the cleaning, all the mending, fixing, tidying and fetching, and the only reward we get for doing the work is more work. No trips to the mall. No time off for good behavior. No nothing.

Laurie: (taken aback by the outburst) That sounds horrible.

Tayna: Lady, you don't know the half of it. What's the one thing an orphan girl dreams about, huh? Parents, that's what. Getting adopted and moving into some half-way normal house with some half-way normal people. Maybe with a cat or even just permission to own a toad. I gave up on those little fantasies years ago, but some of the girls on my floor are just little kids. Rachel is only 5! What writer boy here didn't bother telling you is that we don't just do all the work around the place. We also have the privilege of being barred from interviews with potential parents. How do you do that to a 5 year old kid? Huh? Crush the only hope she has? "Tough love," my smelly shorts! The Goodies are vicious, vile old harpies and somebody needs to blow the whistle on that place, but nobody wants to listen to a mouthy kid like me, and none of the adults I've met ever seem to really care.

Laurie: (to Jeff) Is this true?

Jefferson: Well, I think she's being a little harsh. You know kids.

Tayna: Are you serious? (turning to Laurie) Okay, here's an example. You know what the Goodies call us? Do you want to know what beautiful name they've given to this "special collection of children who just need tough love to make them adoptable?"

Jefferson: (scowls at where this interview is heading)

Laurie: Okay, I'll bite. What do they call you? Fifth floor girls? The Naughty Bunch? 

Tayna: (snorts) I wish. No, they actually take this group of desperate, lonely orphan children and you know what they call us? Unlovable! As in, cannot be loved, unworthy of receiving human affection.  And it isn't just some term they use when they're mad or something. No. We are officially referred to as The Unlovables. Do you have any idea what that does to a kid's head? Hearing that over and over, every day and every night for the rest of your childhood?

Laurie: (looking uncomfortable) Well, that does sound rather harsh. Um, maybe we can try another question. Let me see, I have a list here of safe, standard questions. Tayna, tell me about your famil- Oh. Never mind. Here's one. What's your favorite TV show?

Tayna: What minute in that non-stop slave labor day I just told you about do you think has a TV in it?

Laurie: Really? The orphanage has no television?

Tayna: (Sigh.) Well, sure, there's TVs on all the other floors. For the other girls. In fact, the Goodies are a bit obsessed with television actually. Kids on the other floors are required to watch for a couple of hours every night.  While WE are all doing chores. They don't want the girls who actually have a chance of getting adopted to go out into the world and not have a clue about TV, I guess. 

Laurie: Okay, what about books? Can you read?

Tayna: Yes I can read. They DO make us go to classes, you know, so I guess it could be worse, but like I said, outside of lessons, I really don't have time to read. I'm the Senior Unlovable, which means I'm sort of the captain of the slave squad, and that keeps me busy - making sure the other girls get their work done so they don't get... punished. Sometimes though, I get to rebind a damaged book that the Goodies want to give to one of the other girls. When that happens, I can usually read some of it before the repair is done.

Laurie: So, who's your favorite author?

Tayna: Well, I've never actually finished a book, but favorite author is easy.  The big guy here. No doubt about it.

Laurie: (looking between Tayna and Jefferson) Oh? You've read Jefferson's stuff?

Tayna: (laughing) Read it? I AM his stuff. Without this guy, I'm like, nothing, right? Even this sentence you're reading me saying right now? He's typing it, isn't he? So you tell me, who ELSE should my favorite author be?

Laurie: This has got to be the strangest interview I've ever done.

Tayna: Not me. Not by a long shot. It's like living in a sick carnival, being inside this guy's head. 

Jefferson: (interrupting) So, can I tell you about my book now?

Laurie: (closing the folder of scripted questions and giving in to the bizarre ride) Sure. Why not?

Jefferson: Well, Strange Places is the first book in the Finding Tayna series. It's about Tayna here, growing up in this freakishly unfair orphanage and then discovering that she might not actually be an orphan in the first place.

Tayna: Hold the phone! What did you say?

Laurie: Haven't you read the book?

Tayna: Hello! I can only read what he types me reading, right? And so far, he hasn't typed anything about me reading Strange Places. (turning to Jeff) So spill, big guy. Anything you want to tell me about this maybe not being an orphan thing?

Jefferson types: Tayna picks up a copy of Strange Places and begins to read.

Jefferson: (to Laurie) One of the things I really like about Strange Places is that kids dive into it completely, loving Tayna and the adventure that takes hold of her, but I also wrote it for me, and for other adults. While the kids are chasing alongside Tayna, the adults are seeing the deeper stuff - things that really speak to parents, I think, and about what it means to be in a family.

Tayna: (to nobody in particular, still reading) Oh my god!

Jefferson: (continues) Some kids have told me that they've read it several times, and every time it's like a different book, with new stuff they didn't see before. I think that has more to do with them growing up a little and being able to understand more, myself.

Tayna: (Looks up suddenly, eyes wide.) OH! MY! GOD!

Jefferson: (grins at Tayna) See? I told you your life was about to get exciting.

Tayna: Yeah, but an actual world of magic? Seriously? And I'm like some super-powered magical deaf-mute? (tries to return to her reading, but Jeff leans over and takes the book away.)

Tayna: Hey! I was reading that! Are my parents really there? What happens to Elicand? And what about the big Djin guy, Abeni? What happened to his brothers?

Jefferson: Sorry kiddo, but there's just too much in there for you to take in all at once. Maybe I'll let you read a bit more later.

Tayna: (to Laurie, grumbling) You know, I hate being a puppet on his string.

Laurie: (shakes her head) Well, thank you both for coming in. I think that's about all I can handle.

Jefferson: But wait! I didn't get to tell you about being short-listed for a Saskatchewan Book Award! I didn't get to tell you that you can find out more about the book at, or that it's published by Indie Ink Publishing, at

Laurie: Sorry, but my weirdness filter is now full.

Jefferson: Can I at least tell people to check out my blog at, and that the next book, Strange People, should be out this winter?

Laurie: Nope. This interview is now ov-

I’ve spent most of the last 30 years studying and practicing three different passions: computer programming, creativity theory, and a variety of artistic fields, including music composition, creative writing, animation, and cartooning.

For many years, I worked in the Hollywood feature film animation and special effects software industry. I was also a high-tech entrepreneur during the Dot Com Boom and Bust years, and from time to time, I have also worked in the trenches as a composer, a cartoonist and a stand-up comedian.

But I was never able to pull all of these seemingly independent fields of interest together until several years ago, when I returned to graduate school and needed to find a thesis topic that would hold my interest for the duration of my studies. So I jammed all my interests into a ratty old sack and submitted them as my proposal, and to my utter amazement, the Computer Science department actually allowed me to pursue it – searching for a sound and practical approach to developing multimedia software that would enhance the creativity of its users, by the very nature of its design. Very artsy, esoteric sounding stuff for an academic community usually renowned for its… dryness.

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1 comment:

Suzanne Paschall said...

So incredibly cool!!!! Thanks for posting.