The Emerald City
by J. A. Beard
~~~~ A YA fantasy ~~~~
In this loose re-imagining of the Wizard of Oz, Kansas teen Gail Dorjee has tried to escape from the pain of her parents' death by retreating into a hard shell of anger and sarcasm.
When her aunt and uncle ship her off to an elite Seattle boarding school, Osland Academy, she spends her first day making enemies, including the school's most powerful clique, the Winged, and their leader, the ruthless Diana.
Social war and the school's uptight teachers are only mild annoyances. Mysterious phone outages, bizarre behavioral blocks, and strange incidents suggest Osland is focused on something much more sinister than education.
Now Gail has to survive at Osland with a pretty pathetic assortment of potential allies: her airhead roommate, a cowardly victim of the Winged, and Diana's cold but handsome boyfriend, Nick.
This book is definitely not the typical "Wizard of Oz" style story. There are a few similarities, mostly in the characters' personalities; otherwise it is a completely different story altogether. I was expecting to read a remake of the "Wizard of Oz" and was pleasantly surprised at the twists and turns throughout the story. The characters are likeable and realistic, for the most part; and the magical element is plenty fanciful and strange. My only negative is that I had to read slowly in a lot of parts and sort of absorb what was going on. The story has a few parts that don't quite flow, otherwise I have to say the story is quite intriguing and interesting to read. Overall a good YA fantasy by author J. A. Beard.
~~ A Guest Post by author J. A. Beard ~~
Underestimating the popularity of a Broadway show almost killed The Emerald City before I wrote down a single world. The story, though I now love it, was not birthed from some deep and long-lasting desire to write a modern young adult urban fantasy version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. While I’ve always liked the original Oz book, I’m really more of Alice in Wonderland man. So why do I now have a story about a Kansas girl and her heartless, cowardly, and scatter-brained friends instead of a story about a girl named Alice? Musicals.
I happen to love musicals. After watching a concert version of the musical Chess on PBS one night, I became intrigued with some of the performers, in particular Adam Pascal and Idina Menzel. I acquired several l cast recordings of some their respective Broadway works. As it so happens, Idina Menzel originated the role of Elphaba, The Wicked Witch of the West, in the Broadway version of Wicked. For those of you unfamiliar with original book, it’s a revisionist take on Oz that presents The Wicked Witch of the West as a sort of tragic figure.
When the Broadway traveling show of Wicked rolled into town, I eagerly snapped up a ticket. Well, I attempted to snap up a ticket at least. Apparently buying tickets only three hours after they went on sale was enough to ensure I could only get matinee tickets for the final performance day.
I loved the show. I also found myself inspired by the show. All the music and angst planted a seed of a new idea in my head. I knew I wanted to do my own take on Dorothy Gale and Oz, but something that was a bit more modern. Even the musical structure, in a way, worked its way to my story. Singing plays a key role in several chapters of my book.
At the time, I was actually working on something completely different, a Regency paranormal romance. Once I finished off the main draft of that book, I decided I would work on this new Oz-inspired book a little bit each day as well. That was December of 2010.
A “little bit each day” became “four to six hours each day.” By the end of December, I completed a first draft. Things had already changed a lot just in that one month. Characters and plot points were adjusted. My lead, Gail Dorjee, went from a juvenile delinquent to more of a law-abiding but hot-headed type.
Something just wasn’t there. I liked the story and the characters, but I just wasn’t feeling it. The Emerald City was supposed to be a story about a girl hurting from the loss of her parents and sent away from her Kansas home to Seattle against her will. For all the supernatural weirdness that occurs, the story was supposed to be a strong emotional journey as well. I wrote the darn thing, but the emotions came across as muted.
So I rewrote the entire manuscript. Now, it’s not as bad as you might think. What I did was transform the third-person manuscript into a first-person manuscript. I shuffled some scenes around and added a lot of emotional insight. After those changes, the story finally spoke to me. My lead, Gail Dorjee, finally seemed real. Fortunately, my beta readers and editor also liked the changes.
At times I wonder about my last day Wicked tickets. If I’d waited a few more hours and the show sold out, it very likely might have been years before I was inspired to write this book. I guess it was a good thing I got up early that day.
J.A. Beard likes to describe himself as a restless soul married to an equally restless soul. His two children are too young yet to discuss whether or not they are restless souls, but he’s betting on it. He likes to call himself the Pie Master, yet is too cowardly to prove his skills in an actual baking competition. So, really, he’s merely a Potential Pie Master.
While writing is one of his great passions, science is another, and when he’s not writing or worrying about baking, he’s working on the completion of his PhD in microbiology.
He blogs at riftwatcher.blogspot.com and is on Twitter as @jabeard_rf.
His current release, a young adult urban fantasy, THE EMERALD CITY, details the transition of a Kansas teen to a sinister Seattle boarding school. It’s available for sale at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords.
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-emerald-city-ja-beard/1108613536?ean=2940014100717&itm=1&usri=the+emerald+city+beard
*I received a free digital copy of this book for this review through VBTC (Virtual Book Tour Cafe). See my Policy & Disclosure page for more info.