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Fantasy author talks process

November 2, 2010 12:35 am


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University of Mary Washington English professor Warren Rochelle has written his third book, 'The Called.'

WHEN I was 11 or so, it snowed over the Christmas holiday, and there wasn't much to do for long stretches of time.

Having picked up some paperbacks by a guy named Tolkien, with cool pictures of swordsmen and scary creatures on the cover, I retired to my room for the better part of a week.

There, with a can of sugared pecans and the trilogy that kicked off with "The Fellowship of the Ring," my mind flew away from that little Northern Neck town to a mythic world where the true heart of an unlikely little hero named Bilbo defeated that world's collective evil.

The effect that week had on me--all of a sudden, books were the ticket to other worlds, whenever I wanted--was the first thing I mentioned meeting author and University of Mary Washington professor Warren Rochelle recently.

The professor, who teaches everything from creative writing to poetry to courses on J.R.R. Tolkien himself, appreciated my story.

That's because he had a similar moment in his youth when he discovered C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, a series of books in which youngsters are transported to an equally fascinating world and play key roles in the battle between the ultimate good and evil.

I was excited to talk to Rochelle, 55, to find out how someone who has written successful science fiction and fantasy tales approaches the creation of whole other worlds.

As I expected, the process involves equal parts of inspiration, hard work and a blending of real-world experiences that give fantasy work an underpinning of reality.

"I tell my students that on some level, you always have to write what you know," said Rochelle, who has just published a new novel, "The Called."

It's the sequel to his second novel, "Harvest of Changelings," a fascinating tale in which a librarian in Raleigh, N.C., has his world turned upside down when he meets, falls for and marries a beautiful woman who turns out to be an otherworldly creature.

They have a son, and that boy and three other children in the neighborhood discover powers and play a role in defeating the evil Fomorii, a nasty bunch bent on conquering Earth and the home world of Faerie.

Rochelle, who was himself a librarian for a decade or so in North Carolina, used that experience to make his character ring true in the book, and to set the conflict in a world he could describe with detail that feels real.

The author was born in Durham and raised in Chapel Hill, and he got his master's and doctoral degrees from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He not only drew heavily on his time in North Carolina to get the landscape right, he even returned to Roanoke Island and a spot called the Devil's Tramping Ground to refresh his memory.

"I'm really interested in something called 'urban fantasy,' putting otherworldly characters and happenings in everyday settings," he said of the book, where a great deal of action happens in spots all across North Carolina.

This author said he's taken facets of many different mythologies and earth views, from those of the Celts, Cherokee, Wiccans, Scotch-Irish and the Mayans, to weave the fabric of the world he creates in his fantasy tales.

He notes that planning and inspiration are a part of his writing process.

"I do create a story arc first, to have an idea where the story and my characters are going," he said of his unique group that include youngsters challenged by abuse and more.

But there's still room for inspiration as he writes, something a sabbatical from Mary Washington helped make time for in the creation of "The Called."

Rochelle credits two college professors--Doris Betts and Fred Chappell--for teaching him the art of storytelling and for looking to things like a local dialect, folklore and oral tradition.

It's all there in these two fantasy novels that have both adult situations and the struggles of childhood, serious battle-like action and magic's childlike wonder.

Rochelle said that in his fantasy courses, he underscores the need to write so situations feel real.

"That doesn't mean you have to know what killing or dying feels like; you obviously couldn't," he said. "But you do have to approach it in a way that makes sense for your characters, so they are true to themselves. And so they follow the rules of the universe and situation you've created."

In a long chat about our favorite fantasy and science fiction, Rochelle and I found much common ground.

Including being blown away by "Star Trek" as impressionable youngsters.

And enjoying "The Lord of the Rings" as much the third or fourth time around.

Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415

THE CALLEDBy Warren Rochelle(Golden Gryphon Press)

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.