Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Magic Pumpkin by Benji Alexander Palus: Character Interview, Interview and Excerpt

 






Tell us about your current release.
 

My current release is called The Magic Pumpkin. It's a fantasy tale about two young brothers who are all alone in a magical land. The story begins when the boys have been in the land for a good while, following their adventures and light play as they continue to explore the wonders of the land, enjoyed in the joy and safety provided by their magic pumpkin which watches over them. The story soon takes a darker turn, however, as we learn how the boys got there, why they can't go home, and that terrible danger and monsters exist even in that beautiful place.

     The book explores the bond of love between the brothers, and the selflessness and sacrifice that such love demands of them, as well as the courage and hope that it provides them. Ultimately, the book is about the beauty of childhood innocence and the tragedy of its loss.

 

How did you start your writing career? 

I began my writing career on April 17, 2012 - the day I wrote the first sentence of The Magic Pumpkin. Of course, I didn't know that at the time. I had no idea that I had just begun a novel - something I had never done before. That first sentence popped into my head while I was looking at a painting I had done five years earlier, a Christmas gift for the two boys in the painting; two young brothers who meant the world to me. I kept writing as a way to spend time with them every day. I started to think that others might enjoy what I was writing, so I kept going. The story grew bigger and darker until what started as a simple children's story had grown into a full length novel, as much (if not more) for adults as for younger readers. You can see the painting that started it all - it became the cover of the book.

 

Where do you research for your books? 

The bulk of my research takes place within my own memories. Almost all of the books come from things that really happened, slightly adjusted to fit the circumstances of the story. Some of the things that the boys say in The Magic Pumpkin are actual quotes that I wrote down at the time they were said. For instance, the boys' imaginary ducks at the Make-Place come directly from a real life conversation they had in the back seat of their Mommy's car one morning. I was so enthralled by their imaginative ideas and the differences in their sense of humor that I wrote the whole thing down on a napkin as I listened from the front seat. As it turned out, I didn't need to write it down. Even four years later I remembered every detail, including exactly where we were and where we were going at the time.

 

What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing your book? 

The Magic Pumpkin, and the novel that I'm currently working on, A Day in the Life of Derwent Osgood, both have children as the main protagonists, and both are drawn mostly from memories - of the children that mean so much to me as well as of my own childhood. Aside from the surprise of just how many memories are floating around in my head and how clear they are, what surprised me the most was my capacity for the darker threads of the books; just how much I cause the characters to suffer. At one point during the writing of The Magic Pumpkin, I called a friend to ask, "Have I gone too far? I can't really do that to them, can I? What's wrong with me?" Somewhat against my better judgment, I leave all of that stuff in, but I have to admit that what it suggests of me is a bit disturbing.

 

Plotter or Pantser? Why? 

Pantser! Definitely. I like to let the stories create themselves. I start with a very broad outline and just a few points to hit, but I find that my best writing happens while I'm filling in the spaces in between. That's where spur of the moment ideas click into place, enlarging the story and taking it in new directions. I love being surprised when something I wrote in the first few chapters comes back around to tie into later events that I didn't know were coming. Not having much of a set plan also allows me to make big changes without having to painfully let go of something else. There has been a moment during the writing of both books when I suddenly realized how they each must end. In neither case was it what I had originally intended, and in both cases it came out of nowhere, like a perfect lightning bolt striking in my mind. I know that's a bit cliche', but I swear it really happened that way, ha ha ha! I think that if a book is plotted out too carefully, the rigidity blocks those moments of true inspiration along the way.

 

Do your friends think you are an introvert or an extravert? Why? 

Interesting question. I sometimes wonder about that. My best guess would be that I'm seen as an ambivert - capable of the behaviors of both. I assume my friends find this aggravating, lol. I've had periods of being an extreme extravert, spending most of my time in others' company with no problem being the center of attention. I've sung and danced on bartops, dressed in panties, heels and fishnets for a Rocky Horror themed Halloween, and easily enjoyed myself with perfect strangers. But I've also spent months in solitude. Following one personal tragedy I spent almost two years avoiding people, even my closest friends, as much as I could.

 

Is there one passage in your book that you feel gets to the heart of your book and would encourage people to read it? If so, can you share it? 

One of my favorite passages comes to mind. I even remember the morning I wrote it. An hour afterward I was at work telling a friend about it, and was surprised to find tears welling in both of our eyes. Of course, taken out of context it won't seem as powerful, but it was this:

 

     "The tears had not yet stopped flowing from his eyes, but Oliver opened them and was granted the gift of the dawn. He was touched by its beauty, which was reflected in his glistening tears. Brilliant waves of gold seemed to have been frozen just as they were crashing upon the shores of the warm, pink sky. Behind Oliver, the last stars faded low on the horizon, but he did not look that way. He faced the rising sun. It had barely crept into the sky when it was joined by the moon, a pale yellow sliver that almost seemed to be winking at the little boy who watched it rise."

 

Tell us about your next release. 

My next book should be released by late Spring of next year. It's called A Day in the Life of Derwent Osgood. It's about a seven-year-old boy who gets lost in the city and spends the day trying to get back to his mother. He is very shy, too timid to ask for help, and so aside from a few unknowing helpers he is on his own - for the first time in his life. Over the course of the day he faces many fears and dangers, but he also explores the wonders and magic to be found in the world when seen through the eyes of a child. The boy and his mother both learn about themselves and their feelings for one another as they search the city, their troubled relationship becoming clearer to them through its absence and the possibility that it may be gone forever. Of course, you'll just have to wait and see if they ever find each other...

 

What do you find most rewarding about writing? 

I absolutely love getting feedback from my readers. I've learned so much about both the book and myself that way. I love to hear what has touched them the most, what different things symbolize to different people; I even love to hear about what they didn't like, lol! I am often surprised by how personal the book feels to my readers, and the intimate associations it draws from them, things that never would have occurred to me. When a reader lets me know that they have been moved to laugh, or to cry, or to think...that is an amazing feeling for me.

 

 
This interview is with Oliver, age three.

 

Where do you dream of traveling to and why? 

I wanna go home sometimes, to see Mommy and Daddy, and my doggie. I think my doggie misses me. I wanna go to the North Pole to see Sanna Claus, and I like the fi-yuh tchwees in Autumnland. Owen tole me about the jungle. He said that they-uh lions and tiguhs but the cow-pies would sit on they-uh heads and squish 'em if they tchwied ta eat us.

 

Is Owen your big brother? 

Yeah! He takes cayuh me. He won't evuh leave me and he won't evuh let the shadow eyes get me evuh again!

 

Are you afraid of the shadow eyes? 

Uh huh. They scayuhd me and made me cuh-why. They made Mommy mad a' me. Owen said it wasn't weal but I was scayud. They can't get us anymoa-uh. They can't get in owuh cave!

 

What do you want to be when you grow up? 

 (Tilts his head to its thinking spot) I dunno! I wanna be tall like Daddy! And I wanna be buh-wave wike Owen! He said when I get bigguh I can dwive the punkin!

 

What is your favorite meal? 

I like pawwots! I save the weaves fo-uh Mommy! They-uh pwetty! But I don't like punkin-apple seeds. They-uh pwetty but taste baaaaaad!

 

What makes you happy? 

Punkin'! I like flyin' on duh punkin'! And scaywing buhds! And baffs in duh White Wiver! And catching weaves! And stohwies at duh Make Puh-wace! And pinkbehwies! And painting! And snowmans! And my caws!
 

It sounds like a lot of things make you happy! If I came to visit early in the morning would you impress me as being more like a chirpy bird or a grumpy bear? 

You gonna come visit me? 

I'd like to. 
 

Yay! Imma chuhppy buhd! But not Owen (giggles). Sometimes he's guh-wumpy bayuh wike gwampa!

 

What are you going to do now that your interview is over? 

(Tilts his head back to its thinking spot and lays a finger on his chin) Hmmmmm...I gonna woll down owuh hill and squish Owen! (Laughs and laughs)




 


Far above a magical land, an enormous pumpkin flies across a bright sky with five-year-old Owen and his three-year-old brother, Oliver, riding on top. The two boys hang on tightly and laugh with pure joy as the beauty and wonders of the land below nurture their innocence and their imaginations.

Even so, there is a darkness that threatens to extinguish the light of their childhood. Although they enjoy the home they have created in a cozy and shadowless cave, the boys miss their parents and long for a way back to them. Every night, the pumpkin sits motionless outside the entrance to the cave, keeping the boys safe from harm, but the pumpkin cannot protect Owen and Oliver from all danger.

Shadow eyes wait in the darkness, and other creatures even more deadly. When the boys are torn from the pumpkin's safety, they must find strength and courage in their love for each other if they are to survive and find their way back home.

This poignant fantasy tale explores the bond of love between two young brothers as they take an enchanted journey through the extraordinary miracle of childhood, through its hardships and fears, its discoveries and triumphs, its vulnerability and its resiliency. With only each other to depend on, the brothers must find their way through the darkness, and back to the light.

 
 
 
 
 




     "Sop, Owen! SOOOOOOOPPPPPP!"
     Oliver was crying so hard that Owen did not understand what he had said. Oliver panicked. He got up and started running after the cow-pie, crying as he ran. His bare feet felt frozen. He covered about half the distance before he stumbled and fell. Oliver wanted to stop and curl up where he had landed, but he was too scared of being left behind. His panic forced him to his feet and he continued to chase the cow-pie, still wailing loudly.
     Owen watched as Oliver fell twice more. Owen was painfully conflicted but he refused to help. His anger was forcing him to make Oliver do it himself.
     Crying harder than ever, Oliver picked himself up for the fourth time and clumsily ran the last bit to the cow-pie. He held out his arms to Owen, who finally relented and heaved his sobbing baby brother up onto the cow-pie's back. Owen brushed the snow from Oliver, put Odie in his hands and wrapped him in the blanket.
     The boys looked at each other. Owen looked at Oliver shivering and crying and thought, Good! Oliver looked at the swollen red blotch on Owen's face where his kick had landed and suddenly felt very sorry. The cow-pie finally turned its head and looked at the boys with its dull stare. It gave them a loud snort and then went back to the business of moving along.
     The boys rode on in silence. Owen buried his hands in the animal's fur, but he did not join Oliver under the blanket. He didn't feel so cold anymore.
     As the herd traveled, the air continued to grow warmer. A heavy snow began to fall. The snowflakes stuck together, looking almost like tufts of cotton gently falling from the sky. The cow-pie that the boys rode began to slip more frequently. The animal's slips caused the boys to look up and pay attention.
     They had entered a forest. The boys looked confusedly at each other. Where had all those trees come from? They were not evergreens. The bare branches of these tall trees stood out against the cloudy sky and the snowy landscape. The bark of the trees was very smooth, and a warm, dark gray. The snow continued to fall, muffling the sound of the cow-pies' hooves. It clumped on the boys' eyelashes and covered their heads. Within minutes, the trees were covered in soft snow. The boys were spellbound by the enchanted presence that the snow gave to the winter forest. Every last branch, down to the tiniest twig, was swathed in a heavy, yet delicate, layer of snow. The boys did not speak. They simply gasped at the wonderland around them that had seemingly come out of nowhere.
     As quickly as it had come, the snowfall ended, casting a colossal stillness upon the land. The clouds began to clear, letting just enough sunlight through to make the snow on the ground and in the trees sparkle endlessly. The boys' necks craned in every direction, taking in every last detail that they could.
     A mist slowly began to form, giving the winter landscape an eerie look and feel. Soon the trees became vague shapes that seemed to pass the boys like ghostly forms. The mist thickened until the boys could no longer see the ground over which they passed. The only sound was that of the herd's hooves crunching in the snow, but even that was muffled by the mist. There was a heavy dampness in the air that saturated the boys' clothes.
     The boys were not scared. They were roused from their trance, excited by this new phenomenon that they were discovering. They had forgotten that they were supposed to be upset. There was a change happening. The boys sensed it and it awakened an alacritous feeling inside them. They looked all around into the haze that surrounded them.
     Oliver pulled the damp blanket off of himself. It was still cold enough for the boys to see their breath, but after the two frozen days they had just endured, the air felt comfortably warm.
     "Dis cuh-wazy," Oliver said. His voice sounded harsh in his own ears after the long silence.
     Owen said nothing, but the beginnings of a smile formed on his face. He peered into the fog ahead. He could see tall shapes looming toward them.
     Oliver tilted his head, listening. There was a new sound. It was a faint and sporadic dripping sound. Unable to see, Oliver used his ears. He tuned into his hearing without the distraction of sight, intrigued by this new and interesting way of perceiving his surroundings. He tilted his head the other way. There was another new sound! He analyzed it. It was the sound that the cow-pies' hooves made, but now the crunch was different. He heard the snap of a twig.
     Oliver leaned over the side of the cow-pie and peered at the ground. Owen leaned over the other side. The boys could just make out the dark brown earth through the fading mist. They could see the ground!
     "Snow?" Oliver asked.
     The question made Owen laugh. "I dunno," he answered.
     The boys were transfixed, staring down at the ground as it gradually became more visible. They watched shapes become clearer.
     "Owen! Weaves!"
     "I see 'em!"
     "Owen! Wocks!"
     "Uh huh!"
     "Owen! Duht!"
     "Yup!"
     "Owen! Yeh-woh!"
     "That's not yellow." Owen peered harder. "It's like tan."
     The boys had entered the rolling hills of Autumnland...





Benji Alexander Palus was born in 1972 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the middle of five siblings. At the age of twenty-six he moved to New Orleans where he still resides in the city's French Quarter.

Palus is also an artist of note and a rising figure in Contemporary Realism, having one of his paintings selected for the Seventh Annual International Realism Guild Exhibit in Carmel, CA. His artwork can be viewed at http://benjialexanderpalus.com.

Palus has spent a lot of time at Children's Hospital of New Orleans working, playing, and caring for children affected by pediatric cancers. The Magic Pumpkin, his award-winning first novel, is a moving fantasy tale inspired by the courage, strength and resilient joy of these littlest heroes.



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