The dame of the dome

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IMAGE (AND DESIGN/ARTWORK) COURTESY OF AND BY THE TALENTED MIGNON KHARGIE

My friend Mignon Khargie—San Louie collaborator, generous designer of the cover of my book, and curator of A plate a day—just launched the second book in her children’s book series about a young girl (and sometimes two) and a magical snowglobe (and sometimes four) that leads to a magical world in need of saving.

Mignon, who goes by the pseudonym MK Fowler, graciously agreed to answer a few (which may have turned into 15) questions about The Dome of Tubes and the inspiration behind the series.

Where did the idea for this series and world come from? Do you have a snowglobe collection?

I have a virtual snow globe collection. I own three real ones, several kits for making them, and I have a snow globe ring I bought in New York. That one happens to be my favorite. So, not much of a collection, nothing like this guy’s.

I am fascinated by the old magic of portals, and snow globes are the ultimate portal. I’m also drawn to stories that feature an intersection of alternate worlds and real life, the thing that happens when you find yourself wondering, what if I were to do . . . this?

snow globe ring

IMAGE COURTESY OF MIGNON KHARGIE

Given that you have a daughter about Libby’s age—or at least she was, once upon a time—did you draw any inspiration from her in creating Libby?

Hannah helped me discover children’s books! I read more grownup books as a kid so I had a lot of catching up to do. I’m still catching up.

Kids are fascinating to watch. Equal parts scaredy cat and fearless warrior. I’m sure there’s some Hannah in Libby. Or, Libby in Hannah.

Names are so important to fantasy and a fictional world and you had plenty to come up with. How did you go about naming Underdom, Graupel, Nor, Solifugia, Zastrugin, etc.?

I went a little overboard at first I think, and realized it when my best friend said he was losing track of who was doing what where. Most of the names have some relation to winter, snow, ice, dark places. For instance, Zastrugin was taken from the sharp ridges that form on snow by wind action.

Graupel reminded me equally of BB (your dog) and the lion in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Is there any accuracy to either comparison and, if not, where did he come from?

This made me laugh out loud. BB is such a nutty pup. Graupel wouldn’t be able to stop barking at him. I’d be honored if anyone thought Graupel reminded them of Aslan. I love dogs. They have such huge hearts and are so intelligent. Our first dog died of cancer and I still miss him. I wrote a slightly overwrought ode to him.

Did you know when you started writing that you were working on a series? Do you think that has changed your approach to the writing process?

It’s almost too easy to write a series I think. You love the characters so much you keep looking for a way to go back into their world. Books need to stand on their own and that’s a real challenge for a book that picks up characters and essential details from a previous story. I worked hard at separating the two books and tried to put enough context in there for it to make sense without the reader needing to go into the first, unless of course he/she wants to.

Anyhow, Libby and Claire deserve a break from me. Lately I’ve been curious about shorter pieces and tried a couple. Except I now seem to be working on the world’s longest short story.

Do you know how many books you have left in the series?

There’s a third and last book in me. This one will be Claire’s, but before I get to her book I have to finish the WLST.

What’s it like doing all the design and artwork for your own books? Is it liberating? Stressful? A little of both?

A little stressful since there’s never any time. I’d love to paint the covers. And I wouldn’t mind seeing how an illustrator would interpret the book, what the characters might look like to someone else. That would be amazing I think.

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What’s your writing process like? Do you have a preferred place and time of day?

No preferred place. Most times I just go straight from work to writing. I do have a preferred time: 4 a.m.

Given that you are also a perfectionist, is it ever difficult to decide you’re done with a particular passage, chapter, or book? How do you know when something is “done”?

I’m afraid to talk about this because The DOT took over a year to edit. Yes, it is an endless process of read and rewrite, read and rewrite, rinse and repeat. And it’s hard for me to move on if something doesn’t feel right, but I don’t mind all the time I spend doing this since it’s a world I love. For me DOT was/is very much a living thing. I got so lost in it and was grumpy when I had to come out.

To answer your question, I know it’s done when I can read a chapter and get to the end of it without stopping.

This second book is situating Libby in a very dark place emotionally. In fact, it was a little uncomfortable to read at points. What was your inspiration for this? Was it difficult to write?

You know, characters decide where they want to go. It was a little hard to write. I’ll tell you what things inspired me in general, and maybe you’ll find something in that list. Those things are: childhood, magic, growing up, that “what if” moment, snow with sparkle in it, animals who talk, writers of books, the Pacific Northwest, portals and the places they can take you, trees, grandfathers, robots, bird song at 2 a.m., loss, heartbreak. Sentences.

Something I always wonder reading children’s books, because the kids spend so much time forced to hide what they’re doing from adults who would never believe them, even nice adults and good role models like Libby’s father and stepmother, is why do we, as authors, do this? What do you think would happen if the adults knew? Would the magic die?

Yeah, I don’t think grownups would approve of portal travel. They’d probably make you take a sweater and you’d have to call from whatever dungeon you land in to let them know you’re OK.

I already kind of know the story, but I love it too much not to hear it again. How did Cat Cat help inspire a passage in The Dome of Tubes?

Let’s give everyone a few visuals. The fact that Cat Cat took over this humungous dollhouse was amazing. There’s a character in the book who was giving me trouble and when I saw your photographs I knew exactly what to do.

The first chapters of both books have something in common that connects them as a series for me, and it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the characters. I’m not going to say what that is but I am very grateful to Cat Cat for making it fall into place in book two. Both excerpts are linked here for anyone who’s curious.

When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always wanted to be I think, but it probably was when I first read Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee. I read that book at least once a year, and one of my copies has a clipping of Lee’s obituary, mailed to me by a good friend. I’ve given away many copies of Cider With Rosie. My goal now is to get Hannah to read it.

What do you do when you’re not writing children’s books?

 Think about the part that’s stumping me 🙂

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Just that MK Fowler is a pseudonym. This is me and I work at Grist.org, which is mostly what I do when I’m not writing.

And, if the first two people to read this are interested in reading The Dome of Tubes I’d be happy to send them a copy of the book. They just have to promise to leave a one-sentence review on Amazon.

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