Today I am so pleased to welcome Laurel Wanrow to Joyfully Jay. Laurel has come to talk to us about her new release, Guardian of the Pines. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
I’m a total nature lover. I always have been.
Growing up, my family not only hiked and camped, but my dad worked for the National Park Service, so we lived in National Parks.
I followed my heart for my career, studied outdoor recreation in college and worked seasonally for a variety of National Parks, then permanently for a county park system.
Having kids eventually changed my workdays from full-time to part-time, and then while homeschooling, I turned to writing as a creative outlet. Of course, my stories featured plants and animals, and I have always been a fantasy reader, so magic crept in. I began making the two play off of each other. I also love a ‘Happily Ever After’ so my stories include romance, as well as friendships.
One look at my author photo and you’ll know I’m white, a woman and middle-aged. When I started writing in 2007, my white characters had straight romances. Being new to writing, I attended monthly workshops and annual conferences to hone my craft. Diversity and inclusion were popular workshops, especially among the teen & young adult offerings.
I attended, asked questions and did more research. I branched out and included diverse secondary characters in my stories. During this time, my nephew and my niece came out. So did my daughter. She wanted me to tell those characters’ stories—and she believed I could do it.
Still, I hesitated to write a diverse point of view character, someone whose head I would inhabit. Could I portray this person’s truth accurately and sensitively?
By this time, I’d written stories from a cyborg man’s point of view, a shape-shifting polecat’s point of view, a proper Victorian lady’s point of view, and a teenager’s point of view when I’m mumble-mumble…(no longer a teen!)
My Windborne world already had two gay characters, but as I wrote the second in this YA fantasy series, I was also attending my first book fairs. Kids were shopping with their parents, and my The Witch of the Meadows novel appealed to girls.
Not so much to the boys.
Four different boys at two different book fairs, two black and two white, had moms who wanted them to get my book. All of the boys had the same “you’ve got to be kidding” look.
That message rang out so clearly. I have a son. Few boys want to read a book—even a fantasy adventure—with a girl on the cover. And this was white girl, further from being relatable to some of these boys.
I felt awful for them not finding the book they wanted. And I felt awful about my fantasy world not being there for everyone.
These kids were my tipping point, the catalyst that made me take the plunge into something new and hard. I’d started writing that second book with the same witch heroine as the lead character. That changed. And as I pushed the new, boy character to be the lead, my subconscious began to work out who Cor would be. Not just a tree-crazy, outdoor-loving warlock, but also black and gay.
I read more diverse YA novels, looked up more resources and sought out sensitivity readers. They became my partners in making sure I kept Cor on track. In the end, they were happy, and so was I. My novel may find some critics who don’t like that a white, cis writer has written a diverse book, but I’ve done my best at producing it sensitively. And I’ve achieved what I set out to do: I wanted more kids to be able to see themselves in my characters and their outdoor fantasy adventures.
Soon, I’m going to do it again!
Someone caught his arm. “Hey, Cor?”
Bloody hell, it was the witch from this morning, the one who’d traded duties with him—Penelope.
She was removing her name tag. “Did you forget we were getting tea?”
“Right, I did,” he admitted while walking out the door with her. Potter’s was on the way to the estate. How could he make his lapse in memory not seem so bad? He didn’t want to hurt her feelings. “I have to pack,” he said while trying to think of some reasonable excuse that wouldn’t involve arranging another get-together.
Right, that would do. “Yes, I unexpectedly had something come up today. Sorry, but I don’t know when I’ll be returning.”
She looked so disappointed, and he was hungry…
“See here, I can take a half hour before heading home.”
She talked. He listened. And exactly thirty minutes later, scones devoured and tea cooled, he said, “I’ve got to go.”
“Want to get together again next week?” she asked.
Tell her. “Don’t know if I’ll be back…” He stood up, suddenly too warm. So did she, and he tried desperately to form the words. “I…” Don’t want to see you again if you want to prebond. “I’m not”—into witches—“I’m sixteenth year.”
“Oh,” she said, frowning. “I’m, uh, eighteenth. When’s your birthday?”
They were out the door. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and looked down the street. Just tell her. “I…can’t,” he said and walked off.
Great Orb, what was wrong with him? He knew people who had no problem saying they were gay. His parents and sister knew and didn’t care. Aunt Syl was gay, too, and the rest of the estate staff accepted it. Many probably assumed he was, wearing earrings and all. Why couldn’t he just say it when he needed to?
Because of the two times he had, a witch had burst into tears the first time, and the other, the guy had punched him and told all the other kids. It’d been a miserable summer in that enclave.
Without him…they will die.
At sixteen, Cor can protect trees with his magic, but his lonely life is full of secrets. He could accept a role in the family business in the city, but his magic draws him to a hidden island of ancient pines. They. Are. Brilliant. And on the brink of extinction. Cor can save them, if only the elders will let him help.
Is it his youth? Or because he’s different?
Novice witch Fern becomes caught up in Cor’s quest. Her magical mistakes anger the elders and foul up her relationship with her boyfriend, yet Cor’s yearning speaks to her.
When he befriends Oyster, an island boy waging his own quiet battle, things get freakin’ harder. Cor’s struggle to understand the magical power of the massive pines is just as challenging as discovering his even more powerful feelings for Oyster.
If Cor wants to save the Pines and not lose Oyster, he will have to do something he’s never done—let Oyster and the others see who he really is.
GUARDIAN OF THE PINES joins new wizards with old friends as a generation of magic-wielders restores its connections to nature and community.
Preorder Guardian of the Pines now!
Special .99 sale before 4-26-2019 release.
Before kids, Laurel Wanrow studied and worked as a naturalist—someone who leads wildflower walks and answers calls about the snake that wandered into your garage. During a stint of homeschooling, she turned her writing skills to fiction to share her love of the land, magical characters and fantastical settings.
When not living in her fantasy worlds, Laurel camps, hunts fossils, and argues with her husband and two new adult kids over whose turn it is to clean house. Though they live on the East Coast, a cherished family cabin in the Colorado Rockies holds Laurel’s heart.