SpecMusicMuse Double-Whammy—Review of Olde School + Interview w/Selah Janel
Today I have the honor of starting off the Olde School Virtual Tour by giving you a review of Olde School and an interview with the author, Selah Janel. Enjoy! 🙂
Fairy tales meet modernization in Olde School by Selah Janel. One of the most interesting aspects to this book, is that the main protagonists are trolls. One specific troll, Paddlelump, is a bit of a pushover, which isn’t a very trolly thing to be.
Janel does a great job blending old and new into her world while also paying homage to the fairy tales that the history of Kingdom City is based on. She also does a great job in blending campy humor with serious character development and even delves into the horrific in a few scenes. The plot contains many twists, but are weaved seamlessly into each other in a way the reader never has to worry about getting lost.
I enjoyed reading Olde School so much that I nearly forgot that I was reviewing it. The story pulled me in and refused to let me leave.
Oh, and a troll’s gonna troll. 😉
Best to read while listeing to: The soundtrack to Schreck mixed with some classic R&B, and a tad bit of theme music from the Mirkwood scenes in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
Interview with Selah Janel
Tell the readers a little bit about you.
First off, thanks for having me on, Scott! I’m so happy to be here!
I consider myself a fairly typical, albeit quirky, Middle American gal with a huge imagination. I’ve worked in a lot of different fields in the theatre and entertainment industry: I’ve been on stage here and there, studied voice for about ten years, been a puppeteer, done theatre admin work, and I’ve been involved in costumes in various forms for about 14 years now.
As a writer, I have an ongoing love affair with ideas, and I consider myself a very curious personality – I love learning, and I love talking to people and finding out what their experiences are and how they relate to or differ than mine. I’m also a big defender of speculative fiction and curious about how gender roles are portrayed and perceived within them.
I love crafting and dabbling in art forms that may not be my forte, that I can just do for fun. I’m an unrepentant geek – I love graphic novels, books of all types, fairy and folk tales…and I am a HUGE music fan. I studied classical voice and musical theatre, but I LOVE classic rock, glam rock, hard rock, and I probably know way too much about it for my own good. I don’t get into everything, but what I do like I tend to be a big walking, geeky Wikipedia for.
How did you come up with the idea for Olde School?
I may or may not have been frustrated at someone I was around at the time. I tend to be very proactive and forward momentum, and the other parties were most definitely the opposite. It originally started as a short story to vent my frustration and experiment with a few concepts, like technology in a fantasy world. The scenes that were there from the beginning were the first Trip Trap sequence, and the first few Nobody scenes.
For some reason, it never occurred to me to paint myself as a put-upon princess or heroine. From the get-go I was just “ugh, this makes me feel like a troll…” and I began to wonder about what would happen if a Cinderella or other put-upon heroine was actually a conniving wreck. I’ve learned I have a very different concept of what a princess is than most people. When I hear the word I don’t think a tragic heroine or an entitled person – I think of a girl who may have power, who may have hard circumstances for some reason, but also has a lot of personal potential and can go out and have adventures. I got intrigued with playing with how people perceive fairy tale heroines, and Nobody spiraled out of control from there.
I couldn’t find a good ending for the story, so I put it away for years until I began submitting a lot of short fiction in earnest. It spiraled into a novella, then a novel, but I still couldn’t find an ending that felt right. When Seventh Star approached me for a series idea, I realized that the reason I couldn’t end it was because it was bigger than a book.
The other thing that was there from the beginning was the modern tech and pop culture in a fantasy setting. It kind of surprised me that I hadn’t read much done with that idea, so I just decided to go for it, to see what would happen if this fairy tale society modernized and treated the “old stories” the same way we did: either as legends based in history or based in fiction. Originally I wasn’t planning on making magic as big of an element as it was, but when I started remembering elements of international Cinderella-type stories that I loved, I suddenly realized how much fairy tale magic is like Lovecraftian horror. I mean, think of it! In a real-world setting, if an animal starts talking to you and wants you to kill it so its skeleton can help you, or if a tree starts giving you advice…that’s not normal in any setting, I don’t care what kind of fantasy world you live in – that is some pretty mind-bending stuff. The concept of the Olde Ones developed almost immediately from that thought process.
What gave you the idea for the character, Paddlelump? And how’d you come up with that name?
Let me warn you, Paddlelump is one of two characters in the book that had a long evolution, so you may want to strap yourself in for this answer.
Names are a funny thing with me. I tend to either really fret about them, or I just assign one. A lot of the names in Olde School came so naturally, they just sort of appeared and I never really felt the need to change them. Paddlelump, though, is a subtle tribute to one of my favorite series. I wanted his name to flow more as opposed to Ippick and Uljah, who are more snarky and crass. I really love The Chronicles of Narnia – I grew up with the British versions on TV and I read the series as a teen. The Silver Chair blew my mind. I hadn’t realized how dark the series got until that book, and I loved the elements of travel and little mini-adventures that fed into the main goal. They’re staples of fantasy, but I hadn’t really noticed them as themes until reading that book. I love the character of Puddleglum the marshwiggle, and that name has always stuck with me. Padd had a few variations of his name, but all were in tribute to Puddleglum in some form.
Paddlelump as a character came from several places. I loved the idea of writing a fantasy where the main character wasn’t human, but still well-developed. I’d seen hints of supporting characters of that nature in things like Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tale series, but I really wanted to see how far I could go with it. I like trolls, and I thought it would be interesting to have a likeable one, one who really hadn’t gotten the hang of being a troll. However, it’s important to me that he’s more than a gimmick. He has to carry the book and the series, so there has to be more to him than being “nice.”
Paddlelump was probably how I felt about life around the time I started writing this in 2006. We both look younger than we are, people sometimes think we’re both a target and suckers, and I was in a position in life where it felt like everything was happening at once. Just every little thing felt like a personal offense, I couldn’t get on top of it, and it was overwhelming. Actually, when I pulled the story out for the second time in 2011, I had just gotten out of a similar place, but had grown to be able to deal with things better.
As the story turned into the book, though, I realized that I’d matured in ways that Paddlelump hadn’t. I’m a little more realistic and cautious at times because I’ve been burned, and he’s still willing to give people fourth and fifth chances, even if he knows better. We both don’t like conflict, but he runs from it more than I do. He’s wishy washy where I’ve become proactive, and he tends to embrace his innocence a little too much at times, using a lot of his personality as an excuse. This made for an interesting first half of the book, but by the last fourth it became a problem. It was hard to see him as something more than a likeable guy that I wanted to either hug or punch in the face because he didn’t move forward or stand up for himself. I didn’t want him to be so static. It became hard to resolve how he could defeat some of the larger-than-life challenges in the book, and I very much wanted him to be the one coming out ahead so he could grow and continue to evolve into a heroic character in later books.
I was attempting to redo the last fourth of the book to fix those issues when either someone sent me a link or I stumbled upon a link of Tom Hiddleston talking about Shakespeare at Comic Con. At this point I hadn’t seen any of the Marvel movies and I only knew of him as some guy who was supposed to be great as Loki. I tend to dig my heels in when everyone around me recommends something that becomes really popular really fast (especially when I ask how the story is and they all start gushing about the dudes in it. I mean, it’s a modern world and I’m not against a little well-meaning male objectification, but I’d actually like to know what a film is about).
His discussion in the link was about Cymbeline, which I’d used speeches from when I’d auditioned for schools ages ago. I was actually working on Olde School’s edits while listening to this – I’d taken to listening to interviews and British comedies instead of music to try to get a dialect and speech rhythm for the world down – and something made me pause. Not enough to really have an aha moment or something, but I realized he was way more insightful than I’d assumed. On a whim, I started looking up interviews, because I realized his voice had this really pleasant, yet interesting quality. It’s pleasing without being too neutral, and there’s a good hint of strength and flexibility to it. I really needed all the help I could get with Padd at that point, and it clicked that as a voice, I could picture my troll lead sounding like that. (And this is the point where all of his fans put my face up on a target…)
Long story short, I discovered that Tom Hiddleston is an incredibly articulate actor and insightful, multi-faceted person. I’m drawn to actors and artists like that, and I realized that I was doing to him what a lot of people in my book do to Paddlelump: I was selling him totally short because everyone around me gushed about how he was such a “cute, nice guy” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I feel like there has to be better description for good people than nice. A lot of things are nice. Kitties are nice. Sandwiches are nice. Artistically styled doorknobs are nice. I would not lump a person into the same category as a doorknob or sandwich).
I realized that Paddlelump might present this good-guy image, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not intellect there, or compassion, or an inner strength that can be developed. It wasn’t about taking him from zero to hero in one book – it was about showing that he has the potential to be a hero, just as we all do. Although I will never, ever live this down from any of my friends ever, in a convolute way Tom Hiddleston really helped the character of Paddlelump click for me, from his inner potential down to the voice. While I’m not one for avatars, I will say this is where my theatre training saved me – by having learned how to recognize what traits Padd was lacking and by recognizing them through another person’s performance, it made his character so much better.
I noticed a few “Easter eggs” in the story.
I’m glad you did! I really love to include as many little details as possible, and it made sense to throw in a lot of little fairy tale tidbits. As a reader, I love it when authors do that. I feel like I’m in some little club when I catch details like that. I don’t often do it in my short fiction, but in my longer work, I love throwing in Easter eggs. I want people to be able to read a book more than once and catch something new each time.
There are a ton of Cinderella-type story references in this book: the trolls, to some of the characters, to the forest, to the walnuts, and I could go on and on. That being said, there are a lot of other little asides. Things like The Magic Porridge Pot fast food place, a lot of the swears the characters mutter, references to different horror movie franchises – I figured that if I was going to base a world on a fairy/folktale society, I might as well go all the way.
It was also important to me to add in the appendix at the end so that people knew it wasn’t all me – these stories are way bigger than I am – and that they would know where to look for some of this stuff if they were curious and heard of them before. While I can’t reference all the little asides, I was careful to disclaim the biggest ones.
For people who specifically know me, too, there are even deeper Easter eggs – references to Labyrinth (one of my favorite fantasy movies) are there, there’s a very garbled allusion to Hamlet, there’s a reference to an episode of one of my favorite TV shows growing up. I definitely embrace what I love, and while I strive to be original, I like paying homage to the things that have made me who I am. I’ve had readers, family, and friends contact me, asking if certain things were on purpose, or if they’d caught everything yet. I definitely challenge people to read the book and see how many hidden tidbits they can find!
Has music ever been a part of your daily writing routine, or inspired a story or scene?
Oh, definitely. This was one of the few books where I had trouble coming up with music that blended well with the story (I edited it to big band, Swing, and American standards), but I love writing to music. I have eclectic tastes, but when writing I usually do a lot of instrumentals, both classical and more modern. I love David Garrett a lot, I like David Bowie’s instrumental work, that sort of thing. In terms of character building, I love stuff like Sixx: A.M. and G Tom Mac. With books like In the Red, which is currently out of print, it was so much about rock n’ roll that I constantly wrote to bands like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Motley Crue. On the other hand, I’ve been working on plotting out a gritty post-apocalyptic story, and the thing that helps me write it best is boy band music. I’m probably the only person who listens to Backstreet Boys and NKOTB while thinking about killing zombies, but there you go. I’ve gotten back into listening to the radio more, and I like those stations that play random stuff, so it keeps things fun and interesting. I never know when some random tune will give me an idea.
So where on the Internet can Selah Janel be found?
I haunt a few places these days. You can usually find me at…
Any future projects in the works?
I just re-released Mooner, a historical vampire story, through Mocha Memoir press on e-book, and I’m teaming up with Fortress Publishing later this year to do an issue based around my fiction. I’ve got a few things reserved for future anthologies, too. In terms of other stuff, I’m polishing In the Red, the rock n’ roll urban fantasy/fairy tale novel to shop that again, and I want to finish up a short novel that’s a mash up of the horror and chick lit genres. Beyond that, I’ve got a few half-written manuscripts that I want to develop into some short novels or novellas, and they all deal with folklore elements, but use them to explore some really deep emotional issues that people go through.
And, of course, there’s always Kingdom City! The plan is to do a collection of shorts that explain the tales of the lost dreamers in this first book a little better, and then get crackin’ on book two!
Author: Selah Janel
Featured Book Release
Book One Kingdom City Chronicles
May 26 to June 1, 2014
About the Author: Selah Janel has been blessed with a giant imagination and a love of story since she was little and convinced that fairies lived in the nearby state park or vampires hid in the abandoned barns outside of town. Learning to read and being encouraged by those around her only made things worse. Her work ranges from e-books to traditional print, and she prefers to write every genre at once rather than choose just one. The stories “Holly and Ivy”, “The Other Man”, and “Mooner” are available online through Mocha Memoirs Press. Her work has also been included in The MacGuffin, The Realm Beyond, Stories for Children Magazine, The Big Bad: an Anthology of Evil, Thunder on the Battlefield: Sorcery, The Grotesquerie, and the short story collection Lost in the Shadows, co-written with S.H. Roddey. She likes her music to rock, her vampires lethal, her fairies to play mind games, and her princesses to have adventures and hold their own.
Catch up with her thoughts and projects at
Book Synopsis Olde School: Kingdom City has moved into the modern era. Run by a lord mayor and city council (though still under the influence of the High King of The Land), it proudly embraces a blend of progress and tradition. Trolls, ogres, and other Folk walk the streets with humans, but are more likely to be entrepreneurs than cause trouble. Princesses still want to be rescued, but they now frequent online dating services to encourage lords, royals, and politicians to win their favor. The old stories are around, but everyone knows they’re just fodder for the next movie franchise. Everyone knows there’s no such thing as magic. It’s all old superstition and harmless tradition.
Bookish, timid, and more likely to carry a laptop than a weapon, Paddlelump Stonemonger is quickly coming to wish he’d never put a toll bridge over Crescent Ravine. While his success has brought him lots of gold, it’s also brought him unwanted attention from the Lord Mayor. Adding to his frustration, Padd’s oldest friends give him a hard time when his new maid seems inept at best and conniving at worst. When a shepherd warns Paddlelump of strange noises coming from Thadd Forest, he doesn’t think much of it. Unfortunately for him, the history of his land goes back further than anyone can imagine. Before long he’ll realize that he should have paid attention to the old tales and carried a club.
Darkness threatens to overwhelm not only Paddlelump, but the entire realm. With a little luck, a strange bird, a feisty waitress, and some sturdy friends, maybe, just maybe, Padd will survive to eat another meal at Trip Trap’s diner. It’s enough to make the troll want to crawl under his bridge, if he can manage to keep it out of the clutches of greedy politicians
Olde School if Book One of The Kingdom City Chronicles
Tour Schedule and Activities
May 26 SpecMusicMuse Review/Interview
May 26 Vampires, Witches, and me oh my! Guest Post
May 27 Alexx Momcat’s Gateway Book Blog Character Post
May 27 Watch Play Read Review
May 28 Fantastical Adventures in the Paper Realm Review
May 28 Sheila Deeth Blog Character Post
May 28 Close Encounters with the Night Kind Review
May 29 Deal Sharing Aunt Promo/Spotlight
May 29 Workaday Reads Reviews
May 30 Exquisite Corpse Guest Post
May 31 Bee’s Knees Reviews Review
May 31 I Smell Sheep Character Post
June 1 Seers, Seraphs, Immortals and More! Interview
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