Monday, March 19, 2012

Visiting the Emerald City with J.A. Beard

The Emerald City
by J.A. Beard
Genre – Young Adult Fantasy
Format – Ebook

In this loose re-imagining of the Wizard of Oz, Kansas teen Gail Dorjee has tried to escape from the pain of her parents' death by retreating into a hard shell of anger and sarcasm.

When her aunt and uncle ship her off to an elite Seattle boarding school, Osland Academy, she spends her first day making enemies, including the school's most powerful clique, the Winged, and their leader, the ruthless Diana.

Social war and the school's uptight teachers are only mild annoyances. Mysterious phone outages, bizarre behavioral blocks, and strange incidents suggest Osland is focused on something much more sinister than education.

Now Gail has to survive at Osland with a pretty pathetic assortment of potential allies: her airhead roommate, a cowardly victim of the Winged, and Diana's cold but handsome boyfriend, Nick.


Why Bother Spending Time Reading Lies?

Fiction, it’s been said, is nothing but entertaining lies. It’s an interesting idea when you think about it. In general, most societies function with the idea that people should generally be truthful when dealing with each other. Of course, with fiction, we know it’s a lie. Does that make all the difference? 
I’ve met more than a few people who claim that fiction who see no point in reading fiction. They only have time for “truth” and not tales filled with lies, clever, entertaining, or otherwise. Such thoughts are ancient. There’s a scene in the 11th-century Japanese novel The Tale of Genji where a young woman has to defend her enjoyment of fiction from the insults of the main character. In the far distant past, many stories we now consider fiction, such as myths and legends, were told for entertainment value but often not considered fiction in the same sense as we think of the, for example, the typical Patterson novel.
Many books are read for nothing more than simple entertainment. I certainly know that motivates a lot of my reading. There’s nothing wrong, after all, with just wanting to relax and absorb an enthralling tale or two. If anything, in this hyper-connected world of twenty-four hour news and constant change, it almost seems like we all should spend a bit more time relaxing and just absorbing a bit of creative untruth.

I’ll take it a step further and defend fiction as a source of truth. We live our existences as defined by our memories and interpretations of experiences. No matter how we fancy ourselves objective judges of reality, we are blinded by our own biases. Even if we were totally objective recorders of reality, we’d still be limited by our perceptions. Consider the importance of camera angle in a movie or television program. The camera relays only what it captures. It doesn’t interpret the information, but an ill-placed (or well-placed) camera can make all the difference in the world how a viewer perceives something.
Fiction offers us something similar to those camera angles. It allows us to see one interpretation of a set of experiences through others. While the characters provide us points-of-view, interpretations, and different ways to experience life, the crafting of the work itself also reflects a certain point of view and choices by the author. The author passes along their own truth, of sorts. In reading stories, we learn something about how other people perceive the fundamental aspects of life: love, friendship, death, humor, metaphysics, and so on.
Even if an author tries to not inject their own world-view into a work, the choices they make in creating a story to please an audience still communicate something about how they perceive society. Indeed, many attempts at censorship and other related controversies concerning novels have focused on what sorts of messages, what sorts of truths if you will, they threaten to pass along into a “vulnerable” society.
So, in reading fiction, we gain new perspectives, and these new perspectives can help us perhaps get just a bit closer to objective truth.

J.A. Beard likes to describe himself as a restless soul married to an equally restless soul. His two children are too young yet to discuss whether or not they are restless souls, but he’s betting on it. He likes to call himself the Pie Master, yet is too cowardly to prove his skills in an actual baking competition. So, really, he’s merely a Potential Pie Master.
While writing is one of his great passions, science is another, and when he’s not writing or worrying about baking, he’s working on the completion of his PhD in microbiology.
He blogs at and is on Twitter as @jabeard_rf

Excerpt 1:
A “network not found” message greeted me when I flipped open my phone. Annoying, sure, but I really didn’t want to talk to my uncle. I doubted he would care anyway. His insolent niece, now thousands of miles away in a different state, wasn’t in his hair now.
“Oh, those don’t work here,” Lydia said. “There’s a phone in the common room in the dorm, but it’s broken right now. Miss Norris said they’ll get it fixed soon. If you need to make a call, maybe you could go to the administrative office.”
“What’re you talking about? How can cell phones not work here?” Outside, in the middle of a major city, there was no way I shouldn’t have been able to get a signal.
She scrunched her forehead. “Well, Miss Norris said it has something to do with metals in the ground. But there’s a rumor a hundred years ago some Indians killed these striking union guys, so now the union guys are ghosts and haunt the school blocking cell phones.” She sighed. “Not Indians. I mean not like Leandra. I mean Native Americans.”
I stared at her. How could I even respond to something like that? I didn’t care that much about political correctness, but cell phone blocking ghosts bordered on crazy.
After a few seconds of thinking of a ghost dodge, I said, “Miss Norris? That’s the dorm manager, right? I remember my uncle mentioning her.”
He loved reminding me if I got in trouble, Miss Norris and the security guards would make sure I wouldn’t leave campus. That’s what sucks about a boarding school, or Osland at least. I was trapped and couldn’t escape at night even if I wasn’t in trouble. Just like prison. Yeah, a prison complete with a gang who called themselves the Winged. They were even led by a sociopath. Perfect.

Excerpt 2:
The sound of shattering glass filled the air. I spun around. Miss Higashi’s glass was strewn across her desk, broken into dozens of shards. Her blouse was soaked and her face contorted in rage. She lifted her gaze from the remains of the glass and glared at me. Okay, now that was unexpected.
I put up both of my hands up in front of me. “You can’t blame me for some weird accident.” If Higashi tripped, would she blame that on me too?
“I see. It makes more sense now.” Miss Higashi sprang to her feet. “Get out. I’m through with you for today, Miss Dorjee. If you’re involved in anymore incidents, you’ll be very, very sorry.”
Startled, I spun back around and hurried out of the office. I slammed the door behind me and took several deep breaths. What the heck was going on? The cell phones were easy enough to explain but the fountain and the glass? Was someone messing with me? Glasses didn’t shatter on their own.
I walked down the hallway as various bizarre scenarios passed through my mind. Diana and her cold boyfriend might have set me up somehow. It would be easy to anger a tightly wound teacher like Miss Higashi and make my life even more miserable than it’d be at the hands of the Winged. I didn’t know. That was a lot of effort to mess with one new transfer student, but Diana probably wasn’t used to someone being so defiant.
A sudden realization smashed into my mind. Diana wouldn’t soak and humiliate herself in front of Leandra. Someone might be setting up both of us.

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J.A. Beard said...

Thanks for having me.

Patti Hultstrand said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your book with us here.

I have some people in my life that has said that they don't read fiction because it wasn't TRUE or wasn't REALITY. Thanks for tackling this issue for all of us, FICTION authors.

Patti Hultstrand