Interview with Charlie Holmberg

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Charlie N. Holmberg was born in Salt Lake City and graduated from Brigham Young University with a major in English and a minor in Editing. As a teen she was a huge Star Trek fan as well as an avid writer, but she couldn’t seem to win any prizes in elementary school. After carrying this trend over to the number of rejection letters she received trying to get her manuscripts accepted, Charlie found success with novels such as The Paper Magician, Followed by Frost, and The Fifth Doll. In 2016, she sold the movie rights of her bestselling novel The Paper Magician to Disney.

Find Charlie online at http://charlienholmberg.com and @CNHolmberg on Twitter.

Kayla Wactor: Thank you very much for taking the time to interview with Tucson Tales! I’ve read a lot of your books and I’m blown away with the amount of imagination you put into them, particularly in The Paper Magician Series. What brought you to the idea of magicians bonding to their materials?

Charlie N. Holmberg: Thank you! The magic system for that series came from the idea I had of bringing origami to life (which I’ve learned was done in an anime called Read or Die, and is now done quite prettily in the movie Kubo and the Two Strings). But I wanted the origami to be part of a bigger magic system, so I started brainstorming aspects of paper that could apply to other things. I came up with man-made materials. I learned from Brandon Sanderson that limits are more interesting than the powers themselves, so I made the characters bond to something specifically instead of willy-nilly controlling whatever they wanted.

KW: Were there any difficulties with your magic system that you didn’t anticipate?

CH: Yes. More than one person has asked me why cloth isn’t one of the magic materials. Guess I didn’t think of it! I also failed to specify in the early books that to control a material, it has to be man-made—a glass magician cannot do spells with naturally made glass, and a fire magician can’t do anything with naturally caused fires. A lot of this is clarified in the upcoming fourth book, The Plastic Magician. There’s also a skewed line between mystical and more literal spells, but I choose to keep it skewed so I have more space to do whatever I want, ha!

KW: If you existed in the realm of your books, which material would you bond to if you could choose?

CH: Either fire or paper. Paper would be incredibly useful, and it’s very aesthetic. But throwing fire is pretty B.A., though “Pyre” spells also have the smallest repertoire. So . . . probably paper.

KW: Is there something in particular about historical England that made you want to use it as your setting throughout the series?

CH: Yes. I was watching Downton Abbey at the time! Sometimes current pop culture trickles into my novels. If you read The Fifth Doll, for example, I think you’ll be able to figure out when I started watching Stranger Things. I do love the feel of historical England. Actually, The Paper Magician was originally an other-world story based on Edwardian England, but in edits my editor had me make it historical. (Though the characters still speak in mostly American vernacular. Hey, it’s fantasy. You can do whatever you want, right?)

KW: You’ve mentioned before that you were really into Star Trek and sci-fi as a teen. What made you get into writing fantasy novels? Have you ever considered writing a sci-fi story?

CH: I grew up watching Star Trek, and I still love it. But let me tell you—actually having to use my brain to come up with science that makes sense just hurts. I’m not wired that way. I tried to write a science fiction short story once and seriously could not get past the rocket landing on the planet. That said, I feel like science fiction is limited by the bounds of our own technology. With fantasy, there are no bounds. You can break the laws of physics and no one bats an eye. It’s great. The thing that got me into writing fantasy was actually an anime called The Vision of Escaflowne that aired on FOX when I was thirteen. I loved that show. I wanted to write a story that was like that story. And so the adventure began.

KW: Is Star Trek still a guilty pleasure of yours?

CH: Yes. Though I will confess to not being a fan of the original series or these new series they’ve been coming out with. Once you experience the high-tech of Voyager, you can’t go back in time to old tech. It’s boring to me.

KW: What was the inspiration for Followed by Frost? Did you already know the ending when you started writing?

CH: Oddly enough, the inspiration for that book was me scraping off my windshield in the dead of winter! I came back inside and my fingers were frozen. A thought popped into my mind: What if I always felt this way? And thus the book was born. I don’t think I knew the ending ahead of time. I mean, I always write some form of happily ever after, but that one I had to feel out as I wrote closer to it.

KW: Did your novels Followed by Frost and The Paper Magician change much from the drafts you initially sent in? Did your publisher request that you make any big changes and, if so, how did you come to a compromise about them?

CH: Followed by Frost did not change much. The Paper Magician did. I changed it from other-world to historical, so I had to alter a lot of the settings to match historical landmarks and places that actually existed in 1902. In the original draft, the big catalyst with the villain happens earlier; I added two chapters to the beginning of the book to push it back. The use of “doors” between scenes was also an addition.

KW: What do you wish you would have known about publishing your first novel? Is there any advice you would give to someone looking to do the same?

CH: I wish I could go back and tell myself to put more work into it, beyond what the editor told me. I wish I had the forethought and the time to make it really historically accurate, since it was heading in that vein. If you’re already under contract, put the effort in now, even when you’re burnt out!

KW: I’ve heard that The Paper Magician is being made into a movie by Disney. Congratulations! What was it like giving the rights to a movie, especially to such a big animation studio?

CH: Thank you! I certainly hope they make a movie. VERY much hoping, ha! They have the rights to the original trilogy, but that doesn’t mean they have to make a movie, just that they can. So fingers crossed! It was absolutely crazy when I got the phone call that Disney was considering purchasing movie rights. That was a dream come true! All of it was very slow going and drawn out, but I’m very happy with where we ended up. And Disney. I feel like a boss when I get to say their name. It’s pretty amazing.

KW: If you could have say about who gets the roles of Ceony and Emery, which actors would you pick?

CH: Ha, I get asked this a lot, and I still don’t have fantastic answers. Honestly, I think a lot of people could play Ceony, and I admit I don’t know actors in her age range very well. My dad is very gung-ho about having Colin O’Donoghue play Emery.

KW: Last but not least, your next novel in The Paper Magician Series will be coming out next year. Could you give us a couple of hints about whether we’ll be seeing Ceony and Emery again?

CH: Yes, it is! I’m so excited for it. Alvie, the main character, has been my favorite protagonist to write. It’s got a little bit of a different flavor from The Paper Magician, but will feel very familiar as well. And of course there will be cameos in it. How could there not be?

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