• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

The dragon maker

Author Sarah Prineas drops latest title, “Dragonfell”
Rural Solon author Sarah Prineas.

SOLON– Sarah Prineas created a world where cities run on magic.
Now she’s made another where dragons hoard teacups.
“Dragonfell,” her 11th book for HarperCollins, was released in hardcover in March.
It takes place in an otherworld, on the cusp of industrial revolution, with less room for magic and dragons.
Rafi Bywater, accused by a factory owner of being “dragon-touched,” is cast out of his village, and begins a journey to discover the truth, befriended along the way by Maud, a wanna-be dragon scientist.
“It was really just an excuse to write about dragons,” Prineas said on the standalone novel.
Her dragon is not just breathing fire and flying around, it’s a completely intransigent creature.
“It doesn’t care about what anybody thinks of it,” she said. “It’s just going to be itself. And I really like that about it.”
Prineas, 52, of rural Solon, has been an established fantasy and children’s author since the publication of her first novel, “The Magic Thief,” in 2008.
It has since been translated into 22 languages, expanded into a trilogy and set Prineas off on a new career as a bestselling writer.
Despite her doctorate in English, she didn’t start writing creatively until after the birth of her son.
Originally from Lyme, Conn. (the town for which Lyme disease is named) she attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., where she met future husband John, currently a professor of physics at the University of Iowa (UI).
“I think I got out there and I didn’t even realize how far west and north Minnesota was,” she recalled. “So, cold.”
The couple completed their doctorates in Arizona then crossed the Atlantic to live in Germany in 1999.
That’s where her writing career began.
The terms of their visas restricted her from working, and she was taking care of her baby son.
“I started writing to fill up my time. I was really bored,” Prineas explained. “And found to my astonishment I was good at it.”
The study of literature is very different than actually writing, she noted. She learned a lot more about the structure of sentences and conveying meaning from teaching rhetoric and basic composition than from studying literature.
“I learned a lot by teaching writing,” she said. “I was able to, in turn, put that to use in my own writing.”
Although she devoured all kinds of books as a kid, Prineas had recently read J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and found fantasy seemed like a natural fit.
“I was starting pretty much from scratch,” she said.
She discovered a fantasy and science fiction-focused online writing workshop and started writing short stories as an apprenticeship of sorts, self-teaching and learning from peers about how to write dialogue and how to release basic information to the reader.
It took four years to write a novel, and it was terrible, Prineas related.
“But I think it’s really important to actually finish something of that size,” she added. “Because then you get the shape of the novel you feel what the arc is like. You can’t hold a complete novel in your head at one time, you really have to finish it to know it.”
By this time, they were back in the states. They moved to Iowa when John accepted a position with the UI in 2001. She also was at UI, lecturing and serving as the honors program director of scholarship.
Prineas started a new novel, even though it was a crazy time with her working 50 hours a week and raising two small children while her husband gained tenure.
“And I wrote it really fast. Because now I had the shape of a novel in my head. I knew what I needed to do. And I knew that I needed a protagonist, somebody who did stuff, and got in trouble.”
Up to this point, she had been writing for adult readers.
But her newly acquired agent sent the book, “The Magic Thief,” to children’s publishers.
When Prineas inquired, why? The response was simple, “Because it’s a children’s novel.”
“The Magic Thief” follows a young thief named Conn who picks the pocket of a wizard in a city fueled by magic.
The story about a boy who wants to be a wizard was snatched up by HarperCollins just as Harry Potter was becoming a worldwide phenomenon. The publisher asked for a trilogy.
“I said I could certainly continue this story of this protagonist and these people because they had taken up residence in my head and I was eager to continue writing about them,” Prineas said. “It was really easy to expand the story.”
The book came out in June of 2008, and for the next four months, Prineas was on the road for her publisher promoting it. She went across the country, twice to England, and once to India.
“It was very, very hard work” she said. “I missed my kids, I missed my husband, I wanted to be home.”
She went on in subsequent years to finish the trilogy (“The Magic Thief: Lost” and “The Magic Thief: Found”), as well as a standalone fourth story (“The Magic Thief: Home”) and an e-story (“The Magic Thief: A Proper Wizard”)
The success of the first novel forced her to quit her day job, and the series keeps selling, she noted, having been recently translated into Russian.
Prineas still has not read J.K. Rowling’s series.
“But I’m very grateful to that book for opening library and bookstore shelves for books like mine,” she said.
Over the next 10 years, she followed with another trilogy- the Winterling series (“Winterling,” “Summerkin” and “Moonkind”)- then a pair of edgier feminist fairy tales for young adults (“Ash & Bramble” and “Rose & Thorn”) and another middle grade novel (“The Lost Books: The Scroll of Kings”). Both “The Magic Thief” and “The Winterling” trilogies are available as audiobooks.
While Prineas is fine with being considered a fantasy or children’s author, she finds the categorization kind of arbitrary. Grandparents tell her they buy the books for their grandchildren but end up reading and loving them.
“Anybody can read any book,” she said,
There are methodical, organized writers who map out their plots.
“That is not me,” Prineas said. “I am what’s called a ‘pantser,’ a writer who writes by the seat of her pants.”
Her stories come organically from the wants and needs of her characters.
“It’s writing as discovery,” she said. “I get to find out what happens as I’m writing it, which is really fun.”
As a result, there are times when she has no idea what’s going to happen next.
“But if that happens, usually it’s because something has gone wrong earlier in the text,” she explained. “Knitters get to a point if they make a mistake they can unravel and go back. I basically unravel to the point where I went wrong.”
Prineas tends to write a lot at one time, as much as 10,000 words in a week, immersed in the flow and so into the process she isn’t aware of time passing.
She writes on a laptop in her Morse Road home and keeps a pen and paper by her bed for 2 a.m. ideas.
“That quiet is important,” she said of her rural setting. “Writers need a certain amount of quiet in their heads.”
For her needed dose of chaos, she also works twice a week at Prairie Lights Bookstore, in Iowa City, and since 2016 has been involved in local politics, helming the Jodi Clemens for Iowa House campaign.
Prineas will read from “Dragonfell” at Prairie Lights Sunday, May 5, at 3 p.m. She doesn’t do as much publicity as she used to- the publishing industry has changed- but she still does events, mostly in the Midwest.
She also has fans, sometimes ardent.
“A lot of times they’re kids and they’re so sincere. They love what they love and they tell you what you did wrong in your book which is so great.” She laughs.
In the “Winterling” series, two characters had an incipient relationship never fleshed out in the books, and Prineas received so many emails from junior high students about it she ended up writing a short story about it for them.
“I thought ‘You guys are really inhabiting this world, it’s so great.”
A writer plots with the reader in mind, but the dynamic creates interesting tension, she said.
“When you’re writing, you are creating a plot in order to elicit emotion and engagement from the reader,” she said. “You want the reader to be controlled by the story in a way. You have to read, you can’t put it down.”
For Prineas, the story has its own integrity.
“It is in my head, a whole that’s more than the sum of its parts. It should have its own life,” she explained. “In that way, I’m not writing not writing it for the readers I’m writing it for itself.”