FAST FORWARD FRIDAY – Christyne Morrell

Kathie: Hi Christyne! It’s great to have a chance to talk to you about your upcoming release, KINGDOM OF SECRETS, which will be released by Delacorte Books on August 3rd. Can you please tell us our readers what it’s about?

Christyne: Hi Kathie! It’s so lovely to be here! KINGDOM OF SECRETS is the story of a girl named Prismena (Prissy for short), whose father is the hot-air balloonist in the kingdom of Oren. Prissy is a budding inventor who longs to build and fly the complicated vessels herself, but her father doesn’t approve. 

One day, a girl named Abi steals Prissy’s only remaining memento of her deceased mother – a silk scarf – and promises to return it only if Prissy smuggles a mysterious box onto one of her father’s flights. Since balloon travel is strictly regulated, that single act of rebellion results in the arrest of Prissy’s father and kicks off a series of events that will pull her out of her predictable life and set her off on an epic adventure through the kingdom. 

Along the way to free her father from jail, she’ll get caught up in a bar fight, nabbed by a malicious schoolmistress, tossed into a home for unwanted children, and thrust into the center of a brewing rebellion. On her journey through Oren, Prismena will uncover secrets that change the way she views her family, her kingdom, herself, and even her beloved hot-air balloons. She’ll have to break a few rules – and even forge metal – to save the people she loves, but she may also get a chance to soar.

Kathie:  You create such a magical world; both Oren and Palma have unique characteristics. I’d love to know if you were inspired by other fantasy settings?

Christyne: Thank you! My goal was to create a world that felt timeless and magical even though it doesn’t actually contain any magical elements. I grew up reading and watching fairy tales that took place in imaginary kingdoms far, far away, and those stories definitely inspired the setting of KINGDOM OF SECRETS. I was obsessed with a TV series called Fairie Tale Theater, which featured retellings of classic fairy tales with all the big stars of the 80s, like Robin Williams and Carrie Fisher (bonus points for anyone who remembers these!). I also recently introduced my daughter to The Princess Bride, one of my favorite movies as a child. As we were watching, it dawned on me that Oren is clearly a descendant of the fictional kingdom of Floren. It wasn’t something I did intentionally, but I do think Oren and Palma owe their existence to decades of fairy tales and fables rattling around in my brain! More recently, I’ve been inspired by books like Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy and Jennifer Neilsen’s False Prince trilogy, both of which create such realistic, well-drawn worlds. 

Kathie: I really loved that you included flashback scenes that added a new perspective to the present day story and helped us understand the characters in a new way. Was that an original part of your story, or did that come later?

Christyne: This story has a very long pre-publication history – I’ve lost track of how many times I rewrote it before it finally sold! In the first drafts, all the backstory was disclosed as part of the present-day narrative. As I revised, and thanks to excellent feedback from my beta readers, I realized I was missing out on a golden opportunity to tell Wren’s story from her point of view. Her scenes completely transformed and deepened the narrative, and also added to the central mystery by presenting another question for readers to answer: Who is Wren and how does she factor into the current-day adventure?

Kathie: Did you ever consider telling this story from Abi’s point of view?

Christyne: Yes! I’d always intended for this book to center around a reluctant rule-follower who gets swept up in a rebellion (Prissy), but as I wrote the story, Abi kept stealing the show (as she’s known to do). So once I was finished writing the book, I felt compelled to go back and spend a little more time with her. It was like writing fan fiction for my own book! I wrote a prologue to the novel that describes how Abi met Halston and joined the group of orphans who later became her family. It gives the reader a glimpse of the world through her eyes, which of course is thoroughly entertaining! As part of my pre-order campaign, I’m giving away hand-sewn copies of that prologue. Your readers can learn more on my website, including how to snag a copy!

Kathie: Can you share one thing you would like readers to know about this story?

Christyne: Would you mind if I shared two? 

Kathie: Absolutely, go right ahead!

Christyne: Thanks! 

The first one is a bit of interesting history and a glimpse at the inspiration behind the story. My husband is a wealth of random information, and years ago, he mentioned that hot-air balloons were used by the Union Army during the Civil War, for reconnaissance missions and to spy on the Confederate Army. There was even an official branch of the Union Army called the Balloon Corps. After he told me that, I couldn’t get the image out of my head – of peaceful hot-air balloons flying over a scene of battle. I knew there was a story there, but it wasn’t until years later that it became the first spark for KINGDOM OF SECRETS. People always ask where my ideas come from, and sometimes it’s the most unlikely, casual detail that takes root and becomes the impetus for an entire novel. Of course, my husband loves to say that he was the inspiration for my book!  

The second takeaway is that, even though KINGDOM OF SECRETS is set in an unfamiliar time and place, this story explores concepts and themes that are relevant to modern-day readers. Fantasy books are often seen as a diversion or an escape – and rightfully so – but that doesn’t mean they don’t tackle familiar issues that middle graders are dealing with, like questioning parental authority, discovering their own unique gifts, forging their own paths, standing up for what’s right, and learning to appreciate different perspectives. Whether they are summoning the courage to challenge unfair rules (like Prissy) or learning to accept the help of a friend (like Abi), I hope my readers will see their own stories reflected in the pages of KINGDOM OF SECRETS, even as they are swept up on a fantastical hot-air balloon adventure!

Kathie: I always thought flying over the savannah in Africa in a hot air balloon would be awesome…until I developed a fear of heights! Have you ever been in a hot air balloon, and if not, do you have any interest in flying in one?

Christyne: I’m right there with you, Kathie! In the past, I’ve gone skydiving and once took a trapeze class on a NYC rooftop, but these days, I’m the person squeezing the armrests when the airplane takes off. My adventurous days were long gone by the time I set my sights on hot air balloons. While I was drafting KINGDOM OF SECRETS, my husband offered to take me on a hot-air balloon flight for research purposes, but I turned him down. I might be willing to go up in a tethered balloon someday… baby steps! 

That said, I did get to do lots of research on hot-air balloons, including an interview with a pair of real-life balloonists. It was fun to learn about these amazing machines and dip into the fascinating history and science behind them. So even though I’ve never flown in one, I feel like I got to go on a vicarious balloon ride by writing this story! 

Kathie: Are you working on another writing project at the moment?

Christyne: I’m currently working on my second novel, TREX, coming from Delacorte next summer. TREX is a contemporary mystery with a sprinkling of sci-fi, about a boy with an experimental brain who shoots lightning from his fingertips. He teams up with a shy amatuer spy, and together they set out to catch a prowler in their neighborhood – which may or may not be an evil scientist trying to kidnap Trex and experiment on his brain. It’s quite a departure from KINGDOM OF SECRETS, but it contains similar surprises and plot twists, which I hope will keep readers guessing and turning pages!

Kathie: Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?

Christyne: You can learn more about me at www.christynewrites.com. I’m also on Twitter and Instagram at @christynewrites. 

Kathie: I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions today, Christyne. I hope your book’s release is a big success!

Christyne: Thank you, Kathie. Thank you so much for having me!

Christyne Morrell is a children’s book author and attorney. She lives in Decatur, Georgia with her husband, daughter, and hyperactive beagle. Christyne has been writing poems and stories since she could hold a pencil, but KINGDOM OF SECRETS (Delacorte 2021) is her debut middle-grade novel. Her second novel, TREX, will be released in Summer 2022.
Christyne is also the author of the picture book Abra, Cadabra & Bob (Clear Fork Publishing 2019), and her work has appeared in Highlights,Spider, and The School Magazine. She can be found online at christynewrites.com and on Twitter and Instagram at @ChristyneWrites.

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