I’m an adult reader of middle grade fantasy. I’ve enjoyed the big names – Rowlng’s Harry Potter, Riordan’s Percy Jackson, as well as some that I think should be more well-known, like Jessica Day George’s, well, everything. I actually just finished reading George’s Saturdays at Sea a couple of days ago, and I’m really in need of a new middle grade fantasy to start.
Fortunately, Randall Allen Dunn was ready for me. His new release, The Island of Myste, releases on November 16. I’m excited! I’ve been looking forward to reading this story that features so many things that intrigue me — a diverse adoptive family, a mysterious island, magic.
I offered to blog about Randall’s story, and he kindly obliged my demand that he write his own interview questions. (Thanks for enabling my laziness, Randall. You’re the best.)
In all seriousness, Randall is an easy-to-talk-to guy with a great sense of humor. I’m happy to share his self-interview, and I hope you’ll preorder his book and read it with your kids. Be sure to check out the contest he’s holding as well.
Without further ado, here’s Randall.
What’s The Island of Myste about?
It’s about a nine-year old adopted girl, Yumiko, and an inescapable island full of mythological creatures. Yumiko is Japanese, adopted by African-American parents, and they search for her birth mom in Tokyo. While there, a freak storm sweeps them into another dimension, where nothing exists but this enormous island, on which strange creatures have been trapped for centuries. The island was recently taken over by a spoiled human boy, Rodney, who has used stolen magic to enslave all the creatures there. Yumiko discovers that she’s destined to rescue everyone, not only from King Rodney, but also to return them back to her own world.
What led you to write this story?
I originally wrote it for my niece, Emily. When she was in grade school, she told her teacher, “My uncle is a very great writer.” I was so touched because I didn’t even have anything published back then. But I felt awful because she was giving me such praise and I was writing action thrillers for adults, and I didn’t have anything she could actually read. So I interviewed her to find out what books she loved and why. She told me about Harry Potter and other fantasy books, so I decided to write a fantasy. But that was years ago. Emily is now married and starting a family, but I dedicated the book to her and also to my own adopted kids, as something they can connect with.
What sets this book apart?
It features an adoptive family that’s also a mixed family, which has not been done very often in stories. We have plenty of fictional heroes who have been adopted, from Superman to Harry Potter, but not many who are clearly of a different race. It’s also unusual to have African-American parents who have adopted from another race, which is becoming more common.
Another fun thing about this story is that it incorporates a lot of mythological fantasy characters and connects them together – mermaids, centaurs, minotaurs, fairies, gargoyles – they’re all part of the same group of Nephilim, created as one tribe with different roles and abilities.
Tell me how you handle the Nephilim in your story.
The Nephilim in this story are purely fictional, based on a combination of the Nephilim and the “living creatures” referenced in the Bible. In the visions that Daniel and Ezekiel and the Apostle John had, some bizarre creatures are revealed to have multiple wings and multiple eyes. These supernatural beings are all part of God’s creation, though we’ve never seen them. I used those images and the references to Nephilim as leaders and heroes among men to create a world in which God assigned special duties to the Nephilim, just as he did with angels and other supernatural beings. But it’s not a representation of what I think Nephilim would actually be, and it’s not meant to be a biblical study of the Nephilim. It’s just a way of presenting fun characters that help depict God and his vast creation, which we’re a part of. Every creature God made has a purpose, including us.
How biblically accurate is it?
It’s very similar to The Chronicles of Narnia as an allegory. We all know that God is not a talking lion, but the character of Aslan helps us think more deeply about God’s true nature. The Island of Myste presents creatures that are not drawn from history, but mythology, and used to illustrate God’s creation and our role in it. C.S. Lewis used fawns, centaurs, minotaurs, and other creatures in his story, and I do the same thing. The main difference is that these mythological creatures are referred to as the Nephilim and are said to have had a large role in helping mankind to understand and honor God, but like humans, they fell from grace, and they were banished to another world, the same way we were banished from the Garden of Eden.
How is this different from your usual writing?
I usually write PG-13 action thrillers, mainly for teens but also for adults. They’re clean and I don’t use gratuitous violence, but some references and scenes in my other stories could be too intense for kids. The Island of Myste is action-packed, but it’s safe for kids can read on their own or with their parents. And it’s easy to draw life lessons from it, which any parent or teacher can talk about with kids. It’s also very funny.
What was the best thing about writing this book?
Creating a fun fantasy world with unique tribes of creatures and unique characters within each tribe. Each group acts a little differently, like separate families with their own values and goals, and their own unique way of speaking and acting. It was really fun to make them all different, once I figured out how to do it.
How hard was it to create these individual characters for your world?
It was tricky at first, because I had so many tribes to work with, and each one had to be unique but also have individual characters within them. But I had learned that the original Star Trek series based its alien races on specific cultures, such as basing the Klingons on Soviet Russians during the Cold War. I applied the same technique. The Centauri (Centaurs) are like a proud and noble Arabic tribe, very fierce and very focused on larger goals. The giant Rocs are based on Soviet Russians, very proud and full of bravado but also very passionate and focused on honor and dignity. The Meral (mermaids) are based on the French, focused on passion and art and things of beauty, along with nurturing relationships.
Okay, what is a “giant Roc”?
They’re gigantic birds of prey, like a giant crow or condor. They showed up in Sinbad the Sailor movies when I was a kid (because I’m that old!), but they haven’t been around in fiction for a long time. In mythology, they’re large enough to snatch up an elephant in their talons. Mine are a little smaller, like those in the Sinbad movies. They’re about as big as a living room.
Who are your favorite characters in the story?
King Rodney, the spoiled boy villain, is hilarious. I also love Yumiko, the main character, and Lura, a Nephilim who has deep regrets about what she did to trick humans, which is why she was banished to Myste. I have other favorite characters, too, that show up later in the series: mainly Aramad the leader of the Centauri, and Kun, the giant Roc.
What was the hardest thing about writing this book?
Figuring out how to format it. It was originally written as one book, but when it got to be about 400 pages long, I knew I needed to break it up. I can’t expect many kids or parents to read a 400-page book. So I split it into three parts.
So this is a trilogy. What can we look forward to in the next books and when will they be available?
There’s a sneak preview at the end of this book for Book 2: Terror on the Island of Myste, which comes out in December. That story introduces a few new central characters and Yumiko makes a bold decision that changes everything for the Nephilim. Book 3: Escape from the Island of Myste releases in January, when the Nephilim attempt to escape from King Rodney and the island. There’s also a contest people can enter to be named as a Nephilim in the final book.
What’s the contest?
People can link to my website to learn how to create their own Nephilim name, here: http://www.randallallendunn.com/2018/10/17/learn-your-nephilim-name-for-the-escape-from-the-island-of-myste-contest/
All you have to do is choose which Nephilim you want to be, then follow the naming pattern to turn your own name into a Nephilim name. You can become a fairy, gargoyle, minotaur, or whatever you want.
Once you have your name, just email it to me at Randall@RandallAllenDunn.com, with a contact address for you or your parents. If you have trouble creating your name, email me your name and I can send you your Nephilim name in 2-3 days.
Then I’ll add your Nephilim name to a page where you can ask people to vote for your Nephilim name. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1Q4Uq0xkqx6es95DhDwJkuqdKgdQKoJVJf_MBxCOR9Bg/viewform?edit_requested=true
The top 3 voted names by midnight of December 31st, 2018, will be published in Escape from the Island of Myste!
Thanks for sharing all of this with us. It sounds really fun and exciting and we’ll look forward to the trilogy and the contest!
Thank you for having me here. It’s been a blast!