Sunday, March 3, 2013

Helga: Out of the Hedgelands by Rick Johnson: Guest Post: Orangeberry Tour Stop


Why I Write Fantasy for Young People
by Rick Johnson
One of the attractions of writing fantasy for children is that it forces us to experiment with “beyond the box” thinking. We cannot make easy sense of a fantasy story if we cling to our usual common-sense understanding of reality. Fantasy requires us to imagine how the impossible could possibly be true. I believe that this effort at “sense-making,” which is at the heart of enjoying a good fantasy story, is one of the simple ways we “play with reality” and, thereby, encourage our minds to remain supple.

Readers sometimes ask me, “How could a cow possibly use a tool?” or “How could animals of such different sizes and lifestyles interact?” Those questions really do not have single answers. The answers lie in each reader’s own effort at sense-making in a situation that goes counter to basic expectations about what “ought” to be. Our sense-making efforts may be quite conscious—spending considerable time in thoughtful reflection as we try to imagine the ways a cow could use a tool. We may also simply ignore the incongruity and move on. At times, the incongruity may continue to play at the back of our minds for a long while, before we at last surprise ourselves with an answer that satisfies our curiosity, at least for the moment.

How many once-certain “impossibilities” are now so commonplace as to have entered our “common sense” understanding of reality! At some point, supple minds played wildly with what was essentially fantasy, and used creative efforts at sense-making to redefine what was possible. This is the power of imaginative sense-making. We discourage this power, or bind it hand-to-foot in the closed world of prejudices and iron-clad assumptions, at our own peril.

A natural relative of fantasy, and close collaborator, is the sense of humor and need to play that are part of human nature. Humor often playfully sets up situations that strike us as absurd or unexpected. In this way, humor, like fantasy, encourages flexibility of mind. As we set up situations that are incongruous in light of the “givens” in our experience, we both laugh and have the opportunity to see things in fresh perspective.

Essentially, humor is a matter of how we look, and re-look, at things we normally take for granted. When something we “know” is shown from an absurd angle, we find it funny. In my own writing, I use humor to poke holes in the expectations that “keep things in their place.”

All of the problems that haunt us today were created by people with a passionate desire to live in the world as they know it ought be. In such a world, some laughter and fantasy may help us be a little less certain about what we know and want others to think. Simply put, Wood Cows think differently. For me, it takes more of a leap of faith to believe that our current society of “boxes” is healthy and serves us well, than to believe that cows can think and talk. That is why I write.


 I am a native of the Great Plains, having grown up on a farm in the Platte River Valley of western Nebraska. I love the wild beauty of the Plains and nearby Rocky Mountains--the too hot, too cold, too empty, too full of life extremes. Typically, the awesomely diverse and the awesomely stark are much the same, even as they are different. Although I have lived in Michigan, North Carolina, and British Columbia, the western plains, mountains, and desert are in my heart.

As my day job, for over thirty years I have been a faculty member and administrator in higher education. Teaching broadly in the liberal arts, including creative writing, my professional publications include educational materials, poems, and 28 stories for young readers. During my spare hours, I have also collected and carefully studied the records of former times upon which the Wood Cow Chronicles are based. It is my privilege to bring this astonishing saga to light.

The Wood Cow Chronicles have been researched and written with the irreplaceable assistance of Barbara, my beloved wife of more than thirty-five years, and our children. Indeed, the essential research into the history of the Wood Cows has been conducted during the odd hours of family reading and storytelling "around the campfire" as we say--even when there is no campfire! This research continues and grows richer as our family expands across generations and continents.

Connect with Rick Johnson on Facebook & Twitter

Buy Now @ Amazon
Genre – Fantasy / Middle Grade
Rating – PG
Twelve-year-old Helga has more danger in her life than most beasts her age—Wrackshee slavers after her, a vicious attack by bandits that nearly kills her, a race against dragons pursuing her, and leading a daring rebellion to save her life and rescue friends and family from the insidious WooZan. And that is just the beginning. But what do you expect when you are a young beast who just can’t see the stupid rules of the world making any sense? Helga can’t accept things as they are and ends up taking on not just one, but two all-powerful, supreme tyrants in two different realms.

Helga never intended to lead a revolution. It just sort of happened because she wouldn’t go along with the “rules of normal” that keep tyrants in power and entire societies enslaved. Beginning on a dangerous quest to solve some mysteries in her own past, Helga leads her quirky comrades on a journey that will not only forever change them, but upset ancient civilizations.

As an author, I’m drawn to eccentric, unexpected characters: those who surprise because they hear a distant galaxy, see a different music, create their own fragrance rather than get hooked on a soundtrack; the child who has her own ideas about how the emperor is dressed; the lunatics and rebels who tell stories on the boundaries. Helga’s unusual story will take readers to worlds they never imagined—definitely a whole new ride.

Time and again, the unconventional heroine and her eccentric comrades overcome ominous tyrants and black-hearted slavers, not by battling to the last beast standing, but by being the first beast to think differently.

Helga: Out of Hedgelands is divided into three books which introduce the epic saga of the Wood Cow clan and their role in overturning centuries of slavery and tyranny. This story will continue in additional volumes of the Wood Cow Chronicles now in development. Over the series of current and future volumes, the entire history of the Wood Cow clan, the fall of Maev Astuté, and the coming of Lord Farseeker to the Outer Rings, will be told.

Next Steps

10th March – Author Interview, Guest Post & Book Feature at Talisman Book Publishing
17th March – Book Review, Author Interview, Guest Post & Book Feature at Promiscuous Diva
24th March – Book Review & Author Interview at Brainy Book Reads
31st March – Guest Post at Gimme the Scoop

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