September 10, 2015

Blog Tour: Bearskin by Jamie Robyn Wood

[Disclosure: I received a free digital review copy of the novel from the publisher. I've also been friends with Jamie for over a decade. All comments, however, are my own.]

by Jamie Robyn Wood


Debut-author Jamie Robyn Wood blends fairy tale fantasy with YA romance in Bearskin. Told through the lens of rotating narrators, Bearskin begins when siblings Conrad, Heppson, and Moiria--the three heirs to the Kingdom of Alastair--find themselves targeted by their mother, the Queen and an evil, power-seeking enchantress. When Heppson challenges her power and refuses to kill Conrad, both are banished from the kingdom while Moiria is left behind contemplating her one chance to destroy the witch and take over Alastair herself. At the same time, sisters Lark and Heart live with their grandmother and have their lives turned upside down when magic enters their forest and the enchantress's powers prove far-reaching and deadly long after her demise. Good and evil battle one another as characters are faced with the choices to act for themselves or to sacrifice for the good of others. Bearskin will have great appeal to fans of fairy tales, children's and young adult literature, and the fantasy genre. Jamie's writing is both beautifully descriptive, detailed, and eloquent, capturing the voice of the fairy tale genre. She finely interweaves the narratives and keeps readers guessing what will happen next.


Hi, Jamie! How would you like to introduce yourself to readers?

My name is Jamie Robyn Wood. I’m a wife and mother of five, and I currently live in Coralville, IA. We like to say it’s the middle of nowhere because it’s about 4 hours away from any large cities around. I’ve been reading fantasy and fairytales as long as I can remember, and started writing my own about nine years ago.

When did your first begin writing Bearskin? How did the story change and evolve over time?

I began writing Bearskin soooooo loooooonnnnggggg ago, I don’t even really know when. My earliest draft has a last save date as February 2010—but that would have been when I stopped with that draft, not started. I’ve written many things in the meantime, but I kept coming back to Bearskin—I couldn’t let it be. This story begged to be finished and to be told. Still, it didn’t really even begin to exist until the third draft. One of my main characters sprung into existence in that draft…and she changed everything.

Your novel is based upon a fairy tale. When did you first read the fairy tale yourself?

There is more than one fairytale inside Bearskin. First of all, the fairytale Bearskin, but also East of the Sun and West of the Moon. When my family lived in Orem, Utah we made use of a great section of the library devoted entirely to fairytales. Picture books—their stories and their illustrations are inspiring to me.

How long have you been writing? Are you involved in writing groups or do you prefer to write independently?

I’ve been writing nine years. I have an old writing group from Utah that I keep in touch with, but we don’t get to meet in person anymore.

Your story pits children against their villainous mother. As a mother yourself, was this a difficult choice? Did you worry about the message this may send to kids?

The mother in Bearskin is hardly a mother, and in first drafts of the novel she was more of a stand-in for evil. I never thought of readers considering her a mother-like figure. Only when I began thinking more about Moiria and her insecurities did the mother character become important. It’s the effect she’s had on her children that comes into play. And only in the last draft did we learn more about her and her past. At that point she became interesting to me…but her story isn’t really inside this novel.

Which writers do you admire and look to for inspiration? What have you been reading lately?

I’ll read a lot of different stuff. My childhood authors are Robin McKinley, Diana Wynne Jones, Patricia Wrede, Juliet Marillier. I read a lot of fantasy back then, and it’s still my comfort food. I’ll always pick up a fairytale retelling, whatever genre it ends up inside. I can’t help myself.

What’s your next writing project? Do you think you’ll continue to turn to fairy tales as a source of inspiration?

My current project is not based on a fairytale, and the new ideas swirling inside my mind come from an entirely different world than I usually write inside. But who knows? I’ve always wanted to write a Sleeping Beauty—and I’m sure I’ll find a way to do it sometime.

How would you describe your writing routine? What have been the best and worst parts of the writing process?

I write during afternoon nap-time, although lately I’m trying to switch to mornings. My brain is still a little groggy and confused by the change, but I’m hoping it works out. It’s taken me a long time to build the writing habit. At first, I wanted to write in theory, but I didn’t want to actually sit down and do it. Now I can honestly say I’m to that point where I need to make the writing happen to be happy with my day. I throw it in on Saturdays as well now, which is a huge change from the early years. I definitely think the habit has to happen to produce anything worthwhile. And I definitely think excuses that there isn’t enough time are feeble and boil down to: I don’t want it enough. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t days I don’t want it enough. When I’m pregnant or have a new baby naps win the battle a lot of the time. But that’s a decision I make, and every writer has to own up to what they’re deciding to be.

Did you get to help choose or design the book cover?

The awesome team at Cedar Fort designed my cover, I did nothing at all. And I plan on making Michelle May and Rebecca (I don’t even have a last name!) cinnamon rolls whenever I get to Utah for their amazing design. That cover makes me happy every time I look at it.

Did you work with an agent to place your book manuscript or did you submit directly to publishers?

I did not work with an agent this time around, but that is my definite goal for the future. Here’s to hoping the next novel makes it to the agent block!

Do you foresee continuing to write fiction for children and young adults or do you dabble in other genres and audiences?

I seem to keep my writing head pretty much in middle grade and young adult. I did write a short science fiction story for adults, but I’m thinking it might make it’s way to the young adult world as well. I guess we’ll see.

How would you pitch your book to someone?

Oh! I’m the worst at pitches! They are truly my nemesis! Let’s go with: Getting turned into a bear isn’t the best way to end your day, but Heppson is counting himself lucky that it didn’t get worse. Now it’s up to him and his siblings to restore good to their kingdom and find out who really belongs inside that Bearskin, before evil takes their kingdom entirely.

OK, time for some quick-response questions.

It’s a myth that... chocolate should be rationed.

Favorite writers: Juliet Marillier, Neil Gaimon, Mary Oliver, and Diana Wynne Jones.

Least favorite writers: I don’t know…when I don’t like the voice in a book, I put it down really fast.

Favorite books: Howl’s Moving Castle, The Magic of Ordinary Days, and I Capture the Castle.

Least favorite books: Any book my new reader is painfully trying to sound out.

Favorite quote: Favorite? I don’t know. I will tell you what always comes to mind when I’m reciting mindlessly in my head to get through something boring/painful/etc.: “There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. And when she was good, she was very, very good. And when she was bad, she was horrid.” Weird, right?

When I have writer’s block I... eat another chocolate from my jar, write down all the stupid things I’m thinking, and count it as writing anyway.

Last question. If you could pick five authors from any time period in history to spend a year with on a desert island, who would you pick and why? How do you think they would get along together? When a ship came to rescue you one year later, what would we find?

Oh, that would be dangerous. Wouldn’t we all die because we don’t know how to cook or be materially productive? Which makes me think Laura Ingalls Wilder and Johann David Wyss (Swiss Family Robinson) would be good choices. They might actually keep us alive. Then Maya Angelou to keep us sane and kind. Roald Dahl to think outside the box. And last of all we’d need someone to make us laugh. Funny authors come to mind, anyone? How about Mo Willems! I can read his easy readers time and time again, and that’s kind of like being on a desert island!


Are you interested in reading Bearskin? You can enter to win a free, signed copy, complete with a bookmark and bag of chocolate covered cinnamon bears. To enter, check out Jamie's blog page announcing the contest and details.

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