By Alaina Leary
Today we’re pleased to welcome Julie Abe to the WNDB blog to discuss her MG novel Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch, out August 4, 2020!
A charming new middle-grade fantasy adventure, about a young witch whose pinch of magic just might be more than enough, perfect for fans of Kiki’s Delivery Service and Aru Shah and the End of Time.
Sometimes all you need is a pinch of magic…
Eva Evergreen is determined to earn the rank of Novice Witch before she turns thirteen years old. If she doesn’t, she’ll lose her magic forever. For most young witches and wizards, it’s a simple enough test:
ONE: Help your town, do good all around.
TWO: Live there for one moon, don’t leave too soon.
THREE: Fly home by broomstick, the easiest of tricks.
The only problem? Eva only has a pinch of magic. She summons heads of cabbage instead of flowers and gets a sunburn instead of calling down rain. And to add insult to injury, whenever she overuses her magic, she falls asleep.
When she lands on the tranquil coastal town of Auteri, the residents expect a powerful witch, not a semi-magical girl. So Eva comes up with a plan: set up a magical repair shop to aid Auteri and prove she’s worthy. She may have more blood than magic, but her “semi-magical fixes” repair the lives of the townspeople in ways they never could have imagined. Only, Eva’s bit of magic may not be enough when the biggest magical storm in history threatens the town she’s grown to love. Eva must conjure up all of the magic, bravery, and cleverness she can muster or Auteri and her dreams of becoming a witch will wash away with the storm.
I love that Eva, your protagonist, struggles with magic because so many main characters in fantasy settings tend to excel, even if after an initial transition period. Why did you want Eva to navigate this journey?
Oftentimes, I read (and love!) the Chosen One narrative, but Eva is definitely not the Chosen One. This difference was important to me, because as a reader, as a person, I’ve never felt like the Chosen One.
I’ve always felt “semi”—not all one thing or another, and oftentimes never “enough.” Yet, despite all the powers Eva doesn’t have, she continues on, and what she lacks in raw magical strength, she makes up for in heart, cleverness, and dedication. Writing Eva’s story helped me believe more in myself, so I could continue chasing my dreams.
Even before I saw that your book is recommended for fans of Kiki’s Delivery Service, I thought of that movie immediately (it’s one of my favorites). What are some of your favorite books, movies, and TV shows featuring witches and magic?
Kiki’s Delivery Service is such a fun movie! Other magical favorites include Cardcaptor Sakura (an anime, it’s on Netflix now) and Kimetsu no Yaiba (it’s a manga and anime and although it doesn’t have witches, it has unique magic, jaw-droppingly gorgeous fight scenes, and hilarious side characters).
For magical, witchy books, I’m so excited for the release of The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim, out next year. I got to read a sneak peek of it, and it’s so fun and I adore the family relationships. It’s a middle-grade contemporary fantasy where thirteen-year-old Hattie Oh casts a dangerous spell so her adopted sister, Riley, will get a share of her inherited magic, Riley must undertake a near-impossible quest to save Hattie from death.
A recent witchy release that I’m looking forward to diving into is The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez by Adrianna Cuevas, a middle-grade contemporary fantasy about a boy who can talk to animals and has to use his secret powers to save his town from an evil witch.
What kind of research did you do for Eva Evergreen? What was one of your favorite things to learn during the research process?
I need visuals to create scenery, so I’ve got huge slide decks with all sorts of pictures of spots around Japan that have inspired locations within Eva Evergreen. Did you know that there’s a town in Japan with a canal running through it, almost like Venice? Or that cloudberries are a real berry?
But a lot of Eva Evergreen came from before I started writing the first draft. Almost a decade ago, when I was living in Tokyo, I took a trip to the Izu Peninsula, a beautiful seaside area on the eastern coast of Japan. That trip inspired much of Auteri, the town that Eva travels to in her quest to become a full-fledged witch. My time living in and traveling through Japan has heavily inspired the towns and culture of Eva’s realm.
What, if anything, can you tease about the sequel to Eva’s story?
It’s going to be a thrilling adventure! I can’t give much away right now, but I have seen the cover and it’s gorgeous! It’s a different, slightly darker color scheme that matches the sequel so well!
I also saw the chapter header art today, and Shan Jiang (the artist for the cover and inside art) has completely blown me away. I can’t wait to share it!
You’ve spent a lot of time in Japan. Can you share one of your favorite memories from a trip there or something you loved seeing or doing?
One of my favorite parts about Japan is cute, cozy cafes. I remember a summer day that turned to rain, and I’d forgotten an umbrella. I took cover in a nearby cafe and ended up having the most peaceful, wonderful break from my busy day with a fluffy slice of cake and a cup of tea, as I watched the rain fall outside.
Spending time with my grandfather was one of my absolute favorite parts of being in Japan. As he got older, he never enjoyed going out much, but he still loved it when we went together to his favorite sweets shop in Tokyo. Or, for lunch, he’d make his one-of-a-kind “Jiichan chahan” (Grandpa’s fried rice), which was a peppery fried rice that was special because it was such a rare treat.
Are you a plotter or a panster?
I’m definitely a plantser—half plotter, half pantser. I do a sweeping, big picture outline, run it by critique partners and my agent, and then dive into the story.
I did a bit of ceramics a while back, and my writing style kind of reminds me of that: I’ll know I want to make a vase, but I can’t feel the texture of the clay or know its exact shape until I sit down at the potter’s wheel and start forming it by hand.
Are there any fantasy tropes, or common plot devices, that you absolutely love, and any that you dislike and tend to avoid?
I’m not sure if this counts as a trope or plot device, but I love companion animals, particularly in fantasy stories! I had so much fun writing Ember, Eva’s flamefox sidekick, who’s based on my furry Shiba, Momo. She acts like a cat even though she’s a dog, and very food motivated like Ember. But most of all, she’s as loving and as loyal as her flamefox doppelganger.
There aren’t many plot devices/tropes I don’t like. For me, it depends on the story and characters, and what each story needs to emotionally resonate on its own.
Do you have any advice for debut authors, especially debut middle-grade authors?
Enjoy the journey! Find trustworthy friends who understand the road to publication. But also take time off from writing and experience the real world!
What other books do you think Eva Evergreen is in conversation with?
I hope readers who love the Nevermoor series by Jessica Townsend and the Keeper of the Lost Cities series by Shannon Messenger might enjoy Eva Evergreen too. (Though this is in part because I like those middle-grade series so much!)
Do you have any recommendations for published or forthcoming children’s and YA books?
A recent read I love is A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat—this middle-grade fantasy set in a Thailand-based world simply swept me away. It’s a mesmerizing, beautiful story that’s a Les Mis retelling, but feels completely unique.
A few upcoming books releasing in 2021 that I’m really looking forward:
Made in Korea by Sarah Suk—a YA rom-com about a Korean-American teen who sells K-beauty products out of her locker and has a successful business—until a new boy with his own business comes along.
Like Home by Louisa Onome—a YA contemporary about a girl whose life is turned upside down after one local act of vandalism throws both her relationships and neighborhood into turmoil.
Jade Fire Gold by June Tan—I read an early version of this YA fantasy and it was gorgeous. In order to save her grandmother from a cult of dangerous priests, a peasant girl cursed with the power to steal souls enters a tenuous alliance with an exiled prince bent on taking back the Dragon Throne. The pair must learn to trust each other but are haunted by their pasts—and the true nature of her dark magic.
There are so many books I’m looking forward to reading that these are just a few of them! Although change takes time, I’m excited that there are more diverse books to read year after year.
What’s one question you wish you were asked more often (and the answer)?
I love being asked, “What are your writing dreams?”
I’ve had two major writing dreams. First, when I was young, I could never find fantasy stories with characters who had dark hair and dark eyes like me. I found books about Japanese American kids in WWII internment camps, but that was my grandparents’ story, not mine. I’m so grateful for my gorgeous cover that features Eva so prominently—with dark hair, dark eyes, and tanned skin like me—and it’s the kind of cover I would have been thrilled to see as a child.
And the writing dream I will always hope for: From when I was very young, I’ve always found reading to be an escape from tough days. When I changed schools or felt alone, books were always there for me. My writing dream is that my stories will do the same for readers, too.