Most people who know me, know that I love mythology. That’s why I was delighted to chat with author Clinton Festa about his upcoming novel, Ancient Canada, which comes out this December. While writing Ancient Canada, Clinton drew on sources like The Odyssey and The Canterbury Tales, all while using a modern perspective to create his fantasy epic.
What is Ancient Canada about?
It’s the mythological story of two sisters, Lavender and Marigold, who get exiled from their home country and have to survive in an alternate Arctic Circle using Lavender’s unique ability to see life and death. The story is told by revolving narrators, not all human, who each share their experience with the sisters.
What inspired Ancient Canada?
Ancient Canada was inspired by many people and places I encountered throughout my travels in aviation. It was also significantly inspired by conversations with my wife and the life of St. Francis of Assisi, who served as direct inspiration for the Lichen character. The original idea for the story came years ago while visiting a friend in New York City. Looking for a place to eat lunch, the neighborhood was full of wonderful restaurants with food from around the world. Thinking about different cultural traditions–food, language, clothing, mythology–led to the idea of an alternate Arctic Circle. Not wanting to infringe on true cultural traditions, the story of Ancient Canada borrows only the geography of the North and tells its own story of mythology. Other sources of inspiration include The Odyssey and The Canterbury Tales.
What was your process for writing Ancient Canada?
I wrote on weekends, usually Friday and Saturday nights, often from around 9pm when the family was in bed to as late as 3am. Cheez-Its and sweet tea helped. I tried not to let my writing take too much of my family’s time, so I would also write and proof as much as I could when I was traveling for work. But I’m glad I wasn’t a full-time writer, trying to sit down every day and produce something. I needed a few days in between to gather new thoughts (ideas always seem to hit when things are peaceful, like on a run, a long car ride, in the shower, or other inconvenient times when a pen and paper is not available). After a few days without writing, I would usually have a pile of notes and thoughts whirling around that I needed to get on the page before they drove me nuts. Some weekends or nights in a hotel would go better than others, and I’d get a draft of a whole chapter out. Other times I’d get stuck for over twenty minutes trying to reword one sentence. There’s always a moment of excitement when you’re feeling good and the words are flowing, but it’s still important to check back a few weeks later to make sure it wasn’t garbage. The more I built the characters and the world they were in, the more the ideas would come up on their own, or dovetail into previous ideas. The hardest part was getting started early on in the story-building process to create that foundation.
Ancient Canada involves revolving narrators. Why did you decide to write from multiple POVs and how did you keep the different voices distinct?
Mythology comes naturally from within most societies as the stories a group of people tells itself. I wanted that to be the case for Ancient Canada. Myth is also typically a tradition of interconnected stories. I wanted each character to share their own experience, their own story, and their own encounter with our two main characters as they interacted along the journey. Most of all, I wanted the reader to hear it from the characters. To keep the voices distinct, I focused on what each character’s background was, their struggle, and how they would handle it. If this were a story with a modern setting, we might have a character from New York City and another one from North Carolina who may speak differently. But that’s rarely the case in mythology, so the voices of the characters were defined by who they were and what they were trying to accomplish.
How did you draw on mythology when writing Ancient Canada?
I wanted to tell a story that had most of the elements of an ancient epic, but not all of them. For example, I thought it would be more interesting to have two non-violent protagonists, yet still toss them into a violent world somewhat similar to what Odysseus had to go through. To make that realistic, they needed a means to navigate the threat of death, which was Lavender’s ability to predict it. In that sense, modern themes are common in this story, even if the world seems ancient.
Can you tell us anything about what you are working on now?
Earlier this year I put out a casting call for a seven-episode audio series I wrote called The Malone Family in the Enchanted Forest. This was prior to any vaccines coming out, and most theaters were shut down. The response was incredible. We got a great cast together, rehearsed via Zoom, and had a lot of fun making the show. It’s a family-friendly action comedy produced by the Cary Playwright’s Forum that will be available through https://cpfradiohour.podbean.com/. You can listen to the episodes for free at their site. It’s a fun show with all sorts of characters and creatures. It takes place in a world of magic, and as one person who auditioned put it, “We all need a little enchanted forest right now.” Other than that, I’ve got a couple ideas but probably need to mow the lawn and get my driver license renewed before I start any new projects.
What piece of advice would you give to aspiring authors?
For me, joining a local playwrights’ group really helped (the Greensboro Playwrights’ Forum). There are more similarities than differences between a good script and a good novel. Mainly, it helped to hear people’s work read out loud, hear mine, and learn what makes a good story structure. But any support system like that is a big deal, and all the people I’ve met have been fantastic. It also helped me understand how to construct a scene, dialogue, and all those other things that will ruin your good idea if you can’t execute it properly. But you’ve probably heard a lot of that before, and something a little different that I would say is to pick a cognitive effect you want the reader to experience, and learn what will create that. For example, the inside jokes in The Princess Bride give it a sense of charm. It’s not just a comedy where funny stuff happens; it has a certain specific cognitive effect that people like. The language in Macbeth differs from Shakespeare’s other plays in that he finds all the right words and suffixes that give off an eerie, creepy sensation. Likewise, there are a lot of thriller novels out there in the bookstore, all designed to have a certain mental or emotional response. Find what you want your audience’s response to be, seek out the best examples, and analyze them.
Where’s the best place to follow you?
There are a few places, depending on the project. For Ancient Canada, it’s here. For The Malone Family in the Enchanted Forest, it’s here. I also run a small charity called Sentences Book Donations, if anyone has any books they’d like to donate to prisons or juvenile detention centers. The Facebook page for that group is here, and the Goodreads page is here. And for fun, if you’re ever poking around the internet, you may catch a recording of one of my short plays, like this one for example.
Ancient Canada comes out 12/14/21 and is now available for pre-order.