Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Holly Connors is talking with Theresa Nellis, author of Keeper of the Mirror: The Portly Lady.
FQ: I love the title of book 2 in your series, The Portly Lady. How did you settle on this title? It describes her so well.
NELLIS: Funny you should ask. I first envisioned this greedy woman who’d just as soon devour a foster kid as she would a roast beef sandwich on rye. From that point on, her name stuck like a rat’s tail between her large front teeth. Huh?—Book 3, peeps!
FQ: Along the same lines, one of my favorite lines in the book occurs on the second page of chapter 1, “...Zack is now eye-level with the Portly Lady’s thick cankles.” I think that’s when I realized this was going to be a fun read. Do these very descriptive phrases just pop into your head or are these things that you perhaps come up with when doing a re-edit/rewrite of the text?
NELLIS: About 75% of the time, the snarkiness just hits my head like a baseball at Yankee Stadium (well, before all the fanfare, lawsuits, and nets). Besides, all the best teachers are a bit crazy—or is that just something I tell myself? After talking with tiny humans all day, the mutual brain training is quite evident, don’t you think?
FQ: As I mentioned in my review, Sully the dog was probably my favorite character. Is he perhaps based on your own dog?
NELLIS: Yes, yes, yes! Years ago, I had a goofy boxer who embodied every nonmagical trait Sully has. A scene from The Book of Peter is a true mark of a Boxer:
“Peter drags his feet along the tattered old sidewalk and nearly trips over a particularly tall group of weeds that had forced their way through the cracks. Sully examines the weeds, does a few quick circles, and relieves himself. Omar walks up behind the dog, plucks a reed, puts it into his mouth, and feverishly chews on it as they walk.” (pg. 133)
FQ: Kate Powell kept a lot of secrets from her husband. How was she able to hide her family secrets from Tom? Do you think he might have suspected even a little?
NELLIS: He didn’t suspect nearly enough. But dear ol’ Tom did start to catch on after his death scare from touching the Book of Secrets.
“Mr. Powell grabs at the smoke-filled snake [oozing from the Book of Secrets]. Dark fangs snap at him, releasing thick pools of blood from the meaty part of his thumb. He shrieks and reaches for the snake with his free hand. And like dangling a bone in front of a dog, the snake lunges at his other hand.” (pg. 49)
FQ: The best way, in my opinion, to get readers to dislike a character is to have that character be mean to an animal. And Peter doesn’t disappoint in this—from calling Sully a “stupid mutt” to actually hurting the dog. Was it a hard choice, as an author, to include these things in your story?
NELLIS: As an animal lover, the animal scenes were the most difficult for me to write. In fact, I rewrote three entire scenes until I was satisfied with Sully’s outcome. However, the final book resolves this in a tender way, though it will take a while because Peter doesn’t do anything on a normal timeline.
FQ: The Book of Secrets—such a cool idea. Without giving away any spoilers, was this a concept you had from the beginning of the series or did it develop as the series progressed?
NELLIS: I envisioned an entire story about the Book of Secrets as a spinoff from this series. However, this part seemed to answer so many of the magical questions I had spinning through my head that I simply had to share it with The Portly Lady’s readers, too!
FQ: I really felt sorry for Huxley as the story developed. But then, I’d read another chapter and find myself really disliking him. The same thing happened with Peter, although I can’t say where/when for fear of giving too much away. Was this emotional up and down intentional?
NELLIS: My, my, my—Book 3 has some serious surprises in store for you! On a serious note, I pulled from many of my experiences as a social worker as I developed this character. However, Hux won’t disappoint. That’s it—my lips are sealed!
FQ: The story ends in a big gasp (for the reader). Please tell me you’re working on book 3 and we won’t have to wait too long to see what happens.
NELLIS: I’m delighted to share that Book 3 is in the final editing stages. It is my favorite of the three, and I cried as I typed the last line. Well, not really when I typed it because it was the first line I wrote of the third book—but you get the idea.
FQ: Your series has the tag line— “A YA Dark Magic Fantasy Series – Because Happily Ever After is Best Left for Fairytales!” This is absolutely perfect for your series and it’s definitely a tag line readers will remember. Have you had any feedback from readers about it?
NELLIS: I have had some feedback about this. Although my books are intended for both male and female readers, I have received a lot of great feedback from parents of sons. Their reluctant readers just don’t enjoy reading. This series—and all its snarkiness—was right up their alley. Parents, I’ve got your back on this one. Keep your kids reading all the way through to the end of Book 3!
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