Thursday, August 1, 2013

I HEART YA: Author Interview: Krissi Dallas (The Phantom Island Series)

Author Krissi Dallas drops by to chat about her young series, The Phantom Island Series, do's and don'ts she can pass along to aspiring authors, which of her own characters she would like to trade places with and which three authors she would have dinner with.

TeamNerd Reviews: What inspired the world and characters behind the Phantom Island Series?

Krissi Dallas: The characters started with my two best friends – Melody and Sam. Mel and I have been best friends since middle school and even went to college together. It was there that we met Sam, who became a close “guy friend” for both of us. Little did I know that my senior year of college I would end up dating Sam and eventually marrying him. I love the friendship that I have with both of them—it’s loyal and true and has not faded with time. I know this is a rare gift, and as I pondered the memories and connections there, I easily had my Whitnee, Morgan, and Caleb. When writing my three main characters, I just had to think, “Okay, how would Sam respond there? Or what look would be on Mel’s face if that happened?” Writing my preteen characters came very naturally too. I live at the middle school level, so it was fun to bring that age group to life in the book. I soon discovered that with Amelia and Kevin’s characters, I could ask the questions that the reader was probably wondering or clarify the information the reader needed. The natural inquisitiveness of that age group, as well as their endearing personalities, gave a jumping off point for setting up my Island. Plus, I just couldn’t write a series and not feature middle schoolers somewhere—they’re the best! And since I still attend camp every summer as Camp Fusion Co-Director with my husband, I wanted to capture the real life magic that happens at summer camp—where lives are changed and new relationships are formed.

Creating the Island was a totally crazy and exciting experience… I cannot adequately explain where all of the ideas came from because I don’t always know. Sometimes they came to me while listening to a song in the car, or epiphanies out of my sleep in the night, or through conversations with friends. I was once a huge fan of the show Lost (prior to the Season Five Disappointment, ugh) and I would read people’s conspiracy theories online. That’s where I discovered the term “phantom islands” and became interested in the idea of “lost lands.” I thought, what kind of craziness would ensue if a bunch of teenagers discovered a portal to a magical island that floated around somewhere in the world? As a young girl, I was mesmerized by the Bermuda Triangle and the stories of Atlantis, so I just let my imagination take over according to my own preferences and dreams. I’m also an avid reader and studier of the Bible, so many of the names on the Island contain biblical significance and Hebrew origins.

TeamNerd Reviews: Tell our readers about the characters from the Phantom Island Series.

Krissi Dallas:

Whitnee: A dramatic seventeen-year-old girl who largely wants to do the right thing, but finds herself caught up in the fascination of another world and a first love experience. She has a fish phobia, loves her friends fiercely, and prefers to take a nap when life is just too difficult to handle. She thought she had come to terms with her father’s disappearance, but this particular summer at Camp Fusion brings those insecurities to light and makes her question everything she once thought was true.

Morgan: Whitnee’s BFF who is a peacemaker and a loyal friend. She is the balance scale to Whitnee’s weaknesses. Where Whitnee is dramatic and impetuous, Morgan is laidback and cautious. When Whitnee is selfish, Morgan provides her proper perspective. However, Morgan would never miss out on a sneaky adventure with her friends, no matter how careful she thinks they should be.

Caleb: Whitnee’s logical best guy friend who likes to get under her skin. He’s secretly in love with Whitnee, but has to play it cool since she hasn’t figured out how she really feels about him. He is everything that is stable in Whitnee’s life and has somehow blossomed this summer at Camp Fusion into the “hottie next door.” Unfortunately, he remains totally friend-zoned by Whitnee and Morgan.

Gabriel: The hot Island guy who controls the element of Fire and acts as a guide to the group of Travelers when they land on the Island. He is volatile, mysterious, and so freaking gorgeous that Whitnee struggles to cool her own fiery feelings around him. He has major control issues and Whitnee brings out the crazy in him. There’s no friend zone when it comes to Gabriel. Haha.

Amelia: The 12-year-old camper who blackmails her way on the adventure. Amelia has a bad attitude, is in desperate need of love and acceptance, and is kind of the big mouth of the group. Though she represents one of Whitnee’s biggest challenges, she is a catalyst for some growth in Whitnee’s maturity and a motivating factor for them to get back home.

TeamNerd Reviews: What was the writing process like for Windchaser, the first book in the Phantom Island Series?

Krissi Dallas: I really see Windchaser and Windfall as one complete story arc, since they were originally written as one book until my publisher split them in half. Before writing, I spent about a month just planning out the White Island and my main characters. I chose names for their particular meanings, created an entire history to the world, and carefully constructed the rules of magic based on my own interpretations of the elements: wind, earth, water, and fire. The first scene I wrote was when Whitnee landed on the Island and met Gabriel, who she initially mistaked for a random (albeit, attractive) skinny dipper. I explored the dynamics between the two of them, Whitnee’s first impressions of the Island, and Gabriel’s way of explaining it to her. Once I had a basic draft of that scene, I was like, “Okay. Time to go back now and tell the story of how she gets here and what dynamics are really happening at this point in the real world.” It was so much fun! I just wrote that summer until I reached the end of Windfall. The real magic in my writing took place in a much lengthier revision stage that has now produced what we know as Windchaser and Windfall, the first two books that make up the WIND volume of the Phantom Island series.

TeamNerd Reviews: Which character would you trade lives with from the Phantom Island Series for a day and why?

Krissi Dallas: Wellllll… I wrote Whitnee out of my own desire to go on an adventure like she does, and she’s largely based on myself, soooo... She’s probably the obvious choice. But to be honest, I’d love to spend a day as Abrianna, a powerful female character on the Island who seems to have all these admirable traits—elegance, beauty, talent, and POWER. But at the same time, she’s mysteriously damaged and dangerous. I think I’d like to be inside her head for a day. I’d like to know more about how she really feels (since half the time she’s faking it) and I’d like to know what it’s like to have that kind of power and control at the snap of your fingers. Ha. SIDE NOTE: It’s this particular fascination with Abrianna that inspired some verrrry interesting scenes in Watermark that might change the perception of my readers. We’ll see…

TeamNerd Reviews: What elemental power would you have if you choose one and why?

Krissi Dallas: Oh, that’s easy. The power of Wind. There’s something so free and refreshing about the wind. That’s why the Aerodorians (Wind-gifted) on the Island live in huge treehouses, love music and dancing, and are creative little free-spirits. It’s my favorite village. Plus, I simply must have moving air around me all the time or I feel suffocated. Aeros also have gray eyes (like me) and special communication powers within their minds (not like me).

TeamNerd Reviews: When did you begin your journey to become a writer and what are some do’s and don’ts you can pass along to aspiring authors?

Krissi Dallas: The moment I could form words and thoughts on paper, I was a writer. I spent my years in school penning my own stories, songs, poems, and novels. It’s like these fully-formed worlds or characters or situations would enter my imagination and I couldn’t let go of them until they had taken a physical form of recorded words. And I made sure every story I wrote found its way to an audience, whether it was just my mom at home before bedtime or my friends on the back of the bus heading to volleyball tournaments. I would say to aspiring authors that you DO have to actually WRITE your ideas out and complete them. DON’T just dream about being an author—DO IT. And DO NOT give up. Persistence and perseverance pay off at some point. There will be rejection and nobody will love your “baby” the way you do (some will even love it MORE than you do, haha), but no one who quits is successful. Find a group of writers who can support you and encourage you on the days you want to quit! Believe in your work, be humble enough to continue improving on it, and push to the finish line.

TeamNerd Reviews: What was one of your favorite scenes to write from each of the four books in the Phantom Island Series?

Krissi Dallas: While I do love action and adventure in stories, I really get the most invested in the drama between my characters. I love writing dialogue and giving the characters voices. In Windchaser, I remember being in love with the scene between Whitnee and Caleb on the rock cliff at Camp Fusion discussing their “more-than-just-friends” feelings. It’s awkward and sweet all at the same time. And it’s so obvious how well they fit together… if Whitnee could just see him with different eyes. In Windfall, I thoroughly enjoyed writing the Coconut Launch scene—making up a magical version of a dodgeball game was super fun, as well as exploring the, um, explosive emotions that take place immediately after it. (You’ll know what I mean when you get there.) In Watercrossing, the Yum Vortex scene between Whitnee and Caleb when they’re stuck together in the pantry STILL makes me smile, but the Truth or Dare scene between Whitnee and Gabriel came just as naturally to write. It’s interesting to explore the differences in Whit’s relationships and bring those heart-grabbing contrasts out. Every person in Whit’s life serves a purpose in her own growth and decision-making. And I can’t share my favorite scene from Watermark yet since it won’t release for another few months. But all of my favorite scenes tend to explore awkward teenage moments that come with the territory of first love. So. Much. Drama.

TeamNerd Reviews: As a teacher, what lessons have you learned that have helped with writing your books?

Krissi Dallas: As a teacher, I have this daily access to Teenage World and all the good and bad that comes with it. It definitely helps me stay connected with my audience, which keeps my dialogue current and my finger on the pulse of what turns the hearts of teens. Being an English teacher in particular has its advantages because I get to discuss all the best aspects of story components and strong writing, which sharpens all of us in the classroom—students and teacher. I derive a lot of inspiration and motivation to keep writing after a day with my students. There are so many unique personalities, hilarious situations, and climactic moments within a school environment that it begs to be written down! Some days I think, “Was that for real? That’s going in a novel someday.” Be careful what you do and say around me… I WILL write you.

TeamNerd Reviews: What is your writing routine like? Do you have any favorite snacks or music on hand when writing?

Krissi Dallas: Snacks… Mmm. If I’m being faithful to a healthy lifestyle, I have an orange with a bottle of water. On non-healthy days, I sneak a Coke and Junior Mints. Ha. If I’m writing action scenes, I prefer loud, rock music (usually Skillet and Red). For romantic scenes, I’ll take anything that makes me fall in love or FEEL something. I make playlists for each book I write and just keep adding songs to them, which means anything hitting the pop charts is usually cycling through my iPod when writing. (Shazam is my favorite app for discovering new music wherever I am.) Now that I teach part-time, I’m able to write more frequently throughout my day. My mornings are probably the most productive with revision happening more in the afternoons. If my evening is free, I’ll do #wordwars or #1k1hr writing sprints with friends on Twitter to help knock out some more scenes. Accountability in the writing world is important and I’m really thankful for the local writing friendships I’ve developed in the last year or so. We meet regularly (usually Wednesday mornings at Panera Bread) and spend time eating, talking about life and our projects, and sprinting for new material.

TeamNerd Reviews: If you could have dinner with any three authors, dead or alive, which authors would you choose, what would you serve and what would you ask?

Krissi Dallas: I used to love the Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew books as a young girl and would love to sit down with those authors just to hear how they maintained their characters and built new mysteries over a long stretch of series. I wish I could spend a day with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, not just to discuss worldbuilding techniques in fantasy (because that would DEFINITELY be on the schedule of conversation), but also to talk about the biblical significances contained in their magical worlds. I look up to those men in so many ways. And, seriously, I have not given up hope that someday I will get to meet J.K. Rowling! Harry Potter will always hold a significant place in my heart and for that, I just want to hang out with his creator and talk over some frozen butterbeer about Hogwarts as if it were real.
Okay, that was more than three authors, so I guess I would just have to throw a little party here in Texas. It would be catered with good Mexican food—fajitas, chips, salsa, queso, etc... And there might be a mariachi band playing in the background somewhere. Just for atmosphere.

Thank you so much for having me and asking such great questions! I’m a TeamNerd Fan. You guys rock.

Enter to win WINDCHARSER, WINDFALL, AND WATERCROSSING, the first three books in the Phantom Island Series under the SWAG Pack Giveaway Pile on the I HEART YA page!

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