Wednesday, August 22, 2012

GUEST POST: Morgan Keyes and Darkbeast

We have a special treat today!

Morgan Keyes, whose middle-grade fantasy Darkbeast is out in stores Tuesday, August 28, is here to give some insight into the research she did when conceiving of and writing Darkbeast.

Kirkus Reviews calls Darkbeast "tightly woven and carefully constructed,"and Publishers Weekly says "It’s a well-wrought tale that finds that difficult balance between accessibility and depth." Check out its Goodreads page for more!

One lucky reader will have a chance to win a copy of Darkbeast (great gift for the adventurous twelve-year-old in your life or, you know, yourself), but first, here's Morgan!:

Many thanks to Kendall, for allowing me to visit here and tell you about my middle grade fantasy novel, Darkbeast.  Due to the generosity of my publisher, Simon & Schuster, I will give away a copy of Darkbeast to one commenter, chosen at random from all the comments made to this post by 11:59 p.m. EDT tonight.

In Darkbeast, twelve-year-old Keara runs away from home rather than sacrifice Caw, the raven darkbeast that she has been bound to magically all her life.  Pursued by Inquisitors who would punish her for heresy, Keara joins a performing troupe of Travelers and tries to find a safe haven for herself and her companion.

Before I became a full-time writer, I worked as a research librarian.  I honed my skills, tracking down obscure information from print and electronic resources.  I prided myself on being able to ferret out the most minute details about difficult topics – especially scientific matters.

When I started to write Darkbeast, then, it was natural to begin researching actual ravens and how they live.  In fact, I expanded my research to cover the darkbeasts bonded to every human in the story – rats, snakes, toads, spiders, and more.

I compiled vast files of information about what and how these animals eat.  I learned about their preferred nesting (or burrowing or webbing or whatever!) arrangements.  I studied how long they lived, both in the wild and in captivity.  I took pride in my research. 

Of course, I knew I wasn't writing a field guide to animal behavior.  (Although, truth be told, when I was ten years old and the perfect age to be introduced to Darkbeast, I spent a lot of time reading Herbert Zim Golden Guides!  I also spent a lot of time reading books about very realistic animals, like Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard and Rascal by Sterling North.)  I knew that no one was ever going to confuse my novel with a guide to keeping snakes or toads or ravens in captivity.

Even after all of my research, though, I was willing to give ravens a voice, to speak mind-to-mind with their bound humans.  I was happy to extend a spider's natural life-span to twelve years.  I was pleased to permit a snake to feed in the wild, then voluntarily return home to its basket.  Those actions were necessary to the story.  They made sense within the world of darkbeasts, within the rules defined by my characters and their unique setting.

But every time I tweaked the real behavior of actual animals, I did it for a reason.  I thought long and hard about how darkbeasts function in their world.  I made sure I didn't make changes that modified the essential nature of the animals.  (Caw would not ring true if he routinely chose to perch on the ground.  He would certainly seem "off" if his preferred treat was a strip of beef jerky!)

So?  What do you think about animals as characters in middle grade novels?  Which ones do you think are the most true-to-life?  


Morgan Keyes grew up in California, Texas, Georgia, and Minnesota, accompanied by parents, a brother, a dog, and a cat.  Also, there were books.  Lots and lots of books.  Morgan now lives near Washington, D.C.  In between trips to the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery of Art, she reads, travels, reads, writes, reads, cooks, reads, wrestles with cats, and reads.  Because there are still books.  Lots and lots of books.

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