The Story of Owen
Release Date: March 1, 2014
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Synopsis on Goodreads:
Listen! For I sing of Owen Thorskard: valiant of heart, hopeless at algebra, last in a long line of legendary dragon slayers. Though he had few years and was not built for football, he stood between the town of Trondheim and creatures that threatened its survival. There have always been dragons. As far back as history is told, men and women have fought them, loyally defending their villages. Dragon slaying was a proud tradition. But dragons and humans have one thing in common: an insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. From the moment Henry Ford hired his first dragon slayer, no small town was safe. Dragon slayers flocked to cities, leaving more remote areas unprotected. Such was Trondheim’s fate until Owen Thorskard arrived. At sixteen, with dragons advancing and his grades plummeting, Owen faced impossible odds armed only with a sword, his legacy, and the classmate who agreed to be his bard. Listen! I am Siobhan McQuaid. I alone know the story of Owen, the story that changes everything. Listen!
I was lucky enough to interview Kate (E.K.) Johnston about books, publishing, writing and more! The Story of Owen is one of ten books nominated for the 2016 White Pine Award, you can check out the other books here. Thank you Kate for joining me on the blog!
1. I think what I’m dying to know most is what inspired you to write about dragon slayers in modern-day Toronto/GTA? Where did that idea come from?
E.J: Well, most importantly it wasn’t Toronto/the GTA. What I really wanted to do was write a book in small-town Southwestern Ontario, and look at community and fame and family in that kind of setting. The Thorskards are from Hamilton (except Hannah, who is from Ohio), but they put a lot of effort into becoming locals of Trondheim, and I wanted to write that. I had this vision of Lottie on the Burlington Skyway, but I knew that all the important things happened after they moved away.
Okay, all that is entirely true, but it sounds overly serious, so here’s another answer: I really wanted to light a barn full of miniature ponies on fire. Miniature ponies are the worst.
2. When it comes to the world building, how did you know what to/not to include? Is it challenging working with an alternate timeline?
E.J: This is where having a very smart editor is handy! Originally there was very little world-building actually in the book (all of the “story of” chapters were missing, except the first and last one), and then my editor said “So, can you put in some more world-building?” and I was all “How much do you want, because I can tell you literally everything, and I assume no one really wants to know that”. He told me what he wanted (thematically), and then I wrote it. It was awesome.
Working with an alternate timeline was actually super easy in this case because I was ADDING things to history (I imagine that taking things away or changing them is where the difficulty begins). I basically took whatever I wanted out of history, lit it on fire, and sent it back in. Also, there’s quite a bit of dragon-lore in existence already, so making it literal fact was fairly straightforward. When the Suez Canal Crisis chapter came together early on, I knew I had it.
3. Looking at all your books, are there any characters you’re really similar to? Is there any one character that’s really fun to write?
E.J: Oh, boy. There are a lot of characters I wish I was more like (my narrator in A Thousand Nights, Hannah in OWEN, Polly in Exit, Pursued By A Bear), but I think if there’s anyone, it’s Courtney from Prairie Fire. She did something her family’s not totally cool with, even though she’s very good at it, she’s an excellent friend, and she is always packed.
The most fun character to write is someone you haven’t met yet. I’m really enjoying writing from her perspective. However, the most fun character I can talk about in public is probably Porter, from Prairie Fire. He is a jerk in all the best ways.
4. Can you tell me about your writing process? When it comes to plot, world building, dialogue, which is the easiest or most enjoyable?
E.J: For me, the easiest part of writing is drafting, because plot, world-building, character, setting, and dialogue are usually pretty connected in my brain, and when I reach for something to put it into the draft, it materializes for me. Then I have to fix it, which is less fun, but I’ve had really great editors thus far, so it’s not too much of a trial.
I am a fast drafter, and can usually produce a complete manuscript in about a month. I think about it a lot before then, though, and take scratchy notes in various notebooks. Once it comes time to write, I write pretty solidly for a month, and then I take a nap. Then I revise. It’s not a schedule that works for everyone (and as I spend more time on promo, I’ll have to change my process a little), but so far I have done well with it.
5. I’m really excited for your upcoming novel EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind that? What was it about Shakespeare and The Winter’s Tale that stood out to you?
E.J: The Winter’s Tale has always been my second favourite Shakespeare play (after The Tempest). I love Paulina’s loyalty. When I was little, I used to imagine all the time Paulina and Hermione must have spent together while Hermione was in hiding. Their friendship is so wonderful.
Less wonderful is the tendency of male politicians to regulate female bodies. One such politician tried to re-open the abortion debate in 2012. He has since been ousted from his seat, but he was my MP, and I was furious. I wanted to write a book where a girl had an abortion, and wasn’t punished for it. To do that, she was going to need friends, like Paulina and Hermione, so that’s what brought me back to The Winter’s Tale.
Finally, Veronica Mars was a huge inspiration to me. Veronica has three really awesome girl-friends: Lily, Meg and Mac, but Lily and Meg both die. I wanted to write a story where Veronica got to keep all of her friends.
6. Do you have any writing or publishing advice to share with aspiring writers? Is there anything you wish you’d known going into the publishing world?
E.J: My writing advice is to ignore all writing advice. Well, ignore most writing advice. You can listen politely to it, find what works for you, and just keep going on your way. The first 100 pages of David Eddings’ The Rivan Codex were useful to me, but they might not be to you.
My publishing advice is:
7. The Forest of Reading program is a great way of introducing new authors. Are there any books you’ve recently read and would recommend?
E.J: I really loved reading Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (spies and pilots in WWII!), Diana Peterfreund’s Across A Star-Swept Sea (post-apocalyptic Scarlet Pimpernel!), R.J. Anderson’s A Pocket Full of Murder (MURDER!), Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper (magic, art, and Brooklyn), Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules (more goats that I was expecting, but in the good way), anything by Tessa Gratton (but the Gods of New Asgard specifically), and Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff.
The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston has a really interesting dynamic: dragons and dragon slayers in modern-day Ontario (Canada). I don’t think I originally read the summary quite right because I expected medieval times so it was fantastic being introduced to this alternate timeline. Johnston gets bonus points for setting her story in Ontario and somewhat near (give or take) to where I live. I found the main character, Siobhan very likeable and Johnston’s book has that feel-good ending to it.
The book for the most part takes place in a small town called Trondheim, and having grown up in a small town, it was really easy to imagine. I’d actually imagine Siobhan and Owen in my old high school, so Johnston’s book had that extra interactive element to it, at least for me. The first couple chapters mentioned Toronto, and how the city fit into the dragon slayer dynamic. I loved hearing about something I’m familiar with combined with dragons. My favourite part was reading about Lottie, Owen’s aunt, going to the top of the CN tower to watch for dragons. I also loved that the author didn’t info dump. Being an alternate timeline, the author mentions historical events and how they’ve been changed by dragons, but only when relevant to the plot.
I loved reading Siobhan’s commentary throughout the book. Her humour was one of the things I instantly liked about her, and I could also see her as a normal teenager – well, as normal as can be when there’s dragons involved. I connected with Siobhan a lot and felt we had very similar personalities. Sometimes I did drift off, but I think mainly because the voice is better suited for someone a couple years younger than me.
Owen was an intriguing character to get to know. His father and aunt are dragon slaying legacies and he has a lot of expectations from other people – will he become a dragon slayer, will he be good at it, etc. Moving to a small town and meeting Siobhan was exactly the thing he needed. I loved how the two grew together and it’s through each other they find things like friendship and confidence. I actually half-expected romance to happen between the two and was pleasantly surprised when that didn’t happen. I wouldn’t have minded if romance had happened, but it was a surprise. Owen and Siobhan have a really endearing friendship; the two come together to break each other out of their shells and discover new things about themselves and the people around them. This was that feel-good ending – I was completely satisfied with the ending.
The Story of Owen is about Siobhan, a music lover, becoming Owen’s bard and telling his story as a dragon slayer – as well as going on dragon slaying adventures and figuring out a few mysteries. This book is the complete version of Owen’s tale and I loved that Siobhan is honest to the reader, letting him/her know how she originally started Owen’s tale and what parts she left out. This book has it all: friendship and bonds to last a lifetime, humour and heart, and most importantly, dragons – if you’re a fantasy lover like me. Johnston is talented and I recommend you pick up this book and others. I’m currently reading A Thousand Nights and am impatiently waiting for her next book Exit, Pursued by a Bear to be released.