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Interview with Darby Karchut, Author of Griffin Rising

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All her life, the archetypal hero and his journey have enthralled Darby Karchut. A native of New Mexico, Darby spent her childhood devouring one fantasy novel after another. Fascinated by mythologies from around the world, she attended the University of New Mexico, graduating with a degree in anthropology. After moving to Colorado, she then earned a Master’s in education and became a social studies teacher.

Drawing from her extensive knowledge of world cultures, she blends ancient myths with modern urban life to write stories that relate to young teens today.

Darby lives in Colorado with her husband, where she still teaches at a local junior high school. She enjoys running, biking, and skiing the Rocky Mountains in all types of weather. Griffin Rising is her first novel. Visit the author at her website.

Your first teen novel, Griffin Rising, blends ancient myths with modern urban life. Please tell us a little about the book.

For centuries, rumors have abounded of a lowly caste of supernatural beings known as the Terrae Angeli. Armed with the power to control Earth, Fire, Wind and Water, these warriors secretly serve as guardians for mortals in danger.

But for one young angel-in-training, Griffin, life is hell as a cruel master makes his apprenticeship a nightmare. On the verge of failing, a new mentor, Basil, enters his life and changes it forever. It is their father-and-son relationship, sometimes turbulent, often hilarious, always affectionate, that is the heart and soul of the story.

Masquerading as the average teen next door, Griffin struggles to learn his trade, navigate the ups and downs of modern life among humans (including falling in love with the girl next door), and prepare for the ancient trial-by-combat every apprentice must pass at 16 or be forced to become mortal.

How did your fascination with mythology start?

All my life, the archetypal hero and his journey have enthralled me. A native of New Mexico, I grew up in a family that venerated books and I spent my childhood devouring one fantasy novel after another, especially the works of J.R.R Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander. As a teen, Joseph Campbell’s writings made me aware of the power in the great myths from around the world.

Why an angel?

One day, in the summer of 2009, I was browsing in my favorite bookstore and discovered a book about legends from the Middle Ages. Obsessed with all things medieval, I thumbed through it and came across a short paragraph that described a lowly caste of guardian angels that were said to control the ancient elements of Earth, Fire, Wind and Water. Not being particularly interested in angels, I put the book back and forgot all about it.

A few days later, while running the trails in the foothills near my home, the idea of writing a story about clandestine warriors-angels, who live among us while training their young apprentices, just roared up behind me and slammed into my head. Like an avalanche, you might say. And thus Griffin, Basil, and all the other Terrae Angeli were born.

Is the book part of a series? What is the theme of the series as a whole?

The book is the first in a possible four-book saga. The theme is simply: On the road to adulthood, every hero-figure needs a father-figure. Once in a while.

What about your protagonist will make readers want to read about him? What qualities make him a hero?

Griffin is the classic flawed hero. Surviving a brutal past causes him to have moments of self-doubt. Except when a mortal is in peril, than his true nature as a guardian angel shines forth. And, although he is one of the good guys, Griffin can be as snarky as the next teenager, especially to his mentor and surrogate father, Basil.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Since I had never written anything before, I had no idea what I was doing. I was beyond clueless. So I simply wrote the first draft of the book, then went back and studied everything I could about writing. Each time I learned something new, I went back and re-wrote the book. I must have written more than 20 drafts before I began submitting it to various agents and publishers. I also read three to four YA novels a week. The more I read, the better I wrote.

How do you balance your teaching job with writing? Do you have a writing schedule? I’ve trained myself to write whenever I have a 15-minute block of time: lunch break, after school, evenings, and weekends. It does take discipline, but I love writing, so it’s more like play to me. And I never watch TV. Or cook.

I heard you love the revision process. What about it do you enjoy so much? Most writers find it tedious.  OMGosh, I would STILL be revising Griffin Rising if I could. I live to tweak. I find the more I polish a piece of writing, the better it gets. Without exception. For me, the first draft is the hardest part – it’s excruciatingly painful. Even with a strong outline, I have to wrench each scene out of my head word by word. But then once that draft is finished, I dive in and begin tweaking and polishing, adding and taking away.

How did you find Twilight Times Books? Did they offer a contract for the series based on the first manuscript? I began submitting my manuscript to both agents and publishers in the spring of 2010. Since Twilight Times Book has a sterling reputation and is well respected among small and mid-list book publishers, I sent them a copy of the manuscript in April and kept my fingers crossed. In June, I was offered a contract. Subsequently, I have also signed a contract for the next book in the series, Griffin’s Fire.

How do you market your books? It is a multi-pronged approach. Prior to release, I sent out close to 80 copies to various young adult (YA) book bloggers, reviewers, and local bookstores as well as networking within the YA book world via my own blog and website. Anything and everything to get a “buzz” going. As the school year begins this coming fall, I will also be doing author visits to various middle and high schools in my area. My publisher also sent advanced readers copies to the well-known book reviews such as Library Journal, Foreword, School Library Journal, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and so on.

I understand you’re working on the sequel, Griffin’s Fire. When will this one be out? The release date is tentatively scheduled for April 2012.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? I would encourage anyone interested in writing YA books to read extensively in that genre. Best thing you can do as an author is saturate your mind with good writing. There is an old saying: you read and you read and then one day, you throw up a book. Inelegant, but so very true.

Learn the rules of writing, then break them as necessary to make your story better. Everything is about The Story.

Thanks, Darby!

Thank you, Mayra. I had a terrific time visiting with you.

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.