Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Holly Connors is talking with Natasha Nelson, author of Winter & George: A Path Across the Sea.
FQ: Where did the idea for Winter and George: A Path Across the Sea come from? Was it a story you perhaps told your own children one night?
NELSON: Winter & George was an idea that came to light after a conversation I had with my friend George. We grew up together and on a visit to my hometown in Washington, we decided one night to stop by the pier. We chatted and laughed while I struggled to get my sea legs, falling and stumbling with every wave that rocked the pier. Deciding I didn't want to risk falling in the water, we sat. And as we talked the moon rose over the hills surrounding the bay and hit the water in a soft, inviting way. I asked George if a moonlit path was something we could literally travel on, would he drop everything and follow it wherever it led? The following discussion was what brought about the first draft of the book, the very next day.
FQ: I see from your author’s note at the front of your book that George is based on a close friend. Would you tell our readers a bit about him and what he thought about being the star of your book?
NELSON: George and I grew up together on Whidbey Island. It’s a small place with beaches in every direction and very little else. Now that I think about it, it was a private sort of magical place...the possibilities were only limited by the amount of thought and imagination you could put into them.
George is so many things. He is caring, the kind of person who will make you chicken noodle soup when you are sick. He is also the kind of person who will answer the phone at any time, night or day, just to listen and make you laugh if he can. He enjoys hugs and board games, and cosplays as his favorite anime characters. If you haven't guessed yet, George is fun! He's always up for a spontaneous adventure and doesn't bat an eyelash when asked random questions in the middle of the night on a pier. He was so excited to be the inspiration behind the character George in my book. In fact, I think he used the phrase "dream come true" to describe how he felt about it, or at least something along those lines. He was thrilled. And I was just as thrilled to share it with him.
FQ: Is Winter, too, based on a real person?
NELSON: Winter is a bit of myself and my daughter rolled into one. Winter's fearful nature, her tendency to be cautious, her fear of the dark water—those are all things I struggled with as a child, and still do to a certain extent. I see a bit of that fear in my daughter, too, in those moments when the world feels bigger than any child should have to manage. But sometimes life doesn't give us a choice and we have to navigate it the best we can in spite of our fears and doubts. And that's where the magic comes in. Believing in magic, playing imaginary games, and creating a space where anything is possible is essential in surviving the challenges reality leaves on our doorsteps.
FQ: Winter started out as a cautious child but soon turned into a bold, exploratory young lady. Do you think young girls will see themselves in Winter? What do you hope they’ll get out of watching her adventure?
NELSON: Winter is timid at first. Focused on what could go wrong on their adventure. We all have a tendency to fear the unexpected things that come with taking chances. Winter has her doting brother George to encourage her when fear might have stopped her from jumping onto the path that started their whole epic journey. I think everyone who reads Winter & George can find pieces of themselves embedded in the pages. I know I did as I wrote it. I hope every girl who reads Winter & George will realize that facing their fears is always worth the risk. It's empowering. It teaches us more about what we are capable of and stretches and strengthens us until we are literally unstoppable. Every girl deserves to experience that feeling, that inner knowing, and face life with confidence.
FQ: Is the landscape of Winter and George based on Whidbey Island, WA, where you grew up? It sounds like a magical place.
NELSON: It is and it isn't. Whidbey Island is indeed a very magical place. One I love visiting whenever I can. However, the ocean is my real inspiration. The beauty of it, the mystery of its changeful nature, the secrets it keeps so carefully tucked away in its depths. The beach has always been one of my most favorite places. The feel of sand beneath my bare feet, the way it shifts to make space for me, accepting my footprints as if they were always meant to be there. There is so much to do and experience and discover on a beach, whether it's rocky or sandy, secluded or crowded, sunny or rainy. It doesn't matter, the magic remains the same. I have a few favorite beaches, many of which are on Whidbey Island, but I have also experienced the same magic on beaches in Hawaii, California and even New Jersey. That's the beauty of it. Most of the world is made up of water. So it stands to reason we can find the magic of it almost anywhere. The key is looking for it. I have many adventures both in and out of the water in my future, I can feel it even before I can see it, and I hope the same will always be true for my readers as well.
FQ: Where did your passion for storytelling come from?
NELSON: There is a sort of spell that the written word weaves. I was oblivious to it until about age ten or twelve. I read The Red Badge of Courage—an odd book for a young girl to pick up, I know. But there was something honest and real about it, something vulnerable. It struck a note in me that never stopped playing. Reading became my favorite pastime. During the summer, I devoured adventure after adventure in ten book increments, since that was the limit the library would allow me to borrow at one time. I read until I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore and then picked the book back up again the moment conscious thought was restored to me. Then came high school English class. I realized while writing a particularly long and tragic fantasy story that telling a story can be even more liberating and exhilarating than reading one, even if it doesn't get you the grade you'd hoped for. It's a journey inward; it sparkles and shines and bleeds truths about the author, and as a writer I am privileged to discover things about myself I'd never have known until I read them. The best part is that the honesty and feelings I write with are the same ones I use to connect to people. The way I hope Winter & George connects me to the people who choose to experience it with me.
FQ: In the “About the Author” page, it’s clear that igniting the imaginations of children is very important to you. Do you have any suggestions for parents on how to help their child’s imagination grow?
NELSON: Yes—at least, I can tell you what I do. I play. I think as adults we forget what it was like to be a pirate stranded on a deserted island, or a stowaway aboard the HMS Fury trying to escape an evil wizard who wants to force you into eternal servitude. We get lost in our responsibilities and our realities and we forget that life is so much more than the daily drudgery to keep ourselves afloat. But kids know instinctively how to escape reality; they slip back and forth between worlds as if there were nothing more than a flimsy curtain separating them. The trick is knowing where they escape to and meeting them there. My daughter's favorite thing to do is go to the park, pick a character and embark on an epic adventure. She can be an infamous kitty mermaid pirate or a kitty alien witch with mind reading powers (she has a thing for cats) and it's OK because anything goes. The best part is that it's free! It also creates a safe place for exploration and discovery that parents get to be a part of, which helps deepen relationships. The greatest challenge as parents is letting go and joining in, unafraid of looking like an absolute nincompoop because you are swimming the ocean with your child but the reality looks more like running and flapping through the grass at the park like you don't have a pinch of sense left. To have fun, the sensible logical thing oftentimes needs to remain uninvited to the party.
FQ: I enjoyed meeting Archie the baby squid. While many readers might expect him to be scary and mean, he was squishy and lovable. Did you intentionally select an animal most would view as bad and turn it into a sweet and happy character? If so, why?
NELSON: Giant squid are often the subject of mystery and fear. As humans we are fascinated by the unknown things even as they frighten us and make us feel vulnerable. The same can be true of people and the things that make us so different and beautiful. One of the ongoing themes of Winter & George is understanding and utilizing the ability to create your own feelings and opinions about things from personal interactions and experiences with them. We become inundated with judgments and prejudices from our upbringing and culture. But these are often misleading and confining. I prefer to take the world and people as they come, as they are, believing the best of both.
Winter and George encounter Archie and their instinct is to be afraid. But Winter takes a closer look and sees more to Archie than his big size and tentacles would suggest. She doesn't hesitate to embrace what she finds. Truly knowing, connecting to and understanding the world and people around us requires the courage to see beyond what immediately presents itself. It requires the willingness to go on the hunt for "more" and embrace whatever it is we find. I hope my readers and their parents will find the courage to experience the world and others in more deeply connected and vulnerable ways. Life is better when we make room for who people are rather than confine them to our expectations.
FQ: The back cover of your book mentions that there are more Winter and George adventures to come. Would you give our readers a sneak peek on what they’ll be seeing in the next book in the series.
NELSON: I am very excited about the next book in the Winter & George series. As always it encourages imagination and creativity while maintaining the theme that all creatures great and small deserve kindness and respect. Winter and George encounter two new magical creatures on their next adventure, which happens to have a rather soggy beginning, and I can't wait for everyone to meet them. I'm sure my readers will fall as much in love with them as I have.