Local Fantasy Author Stirs the Imagination
By Eve Quesnel
Moonshine Ink, Lake Tahoe - Arts & Culture
If you’re a “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” fan or just a fervent fantasy follower, then “Return to Now: The Infant Prince” is the book for you. From one scene to the next you will be swiftly swept away alongside Jack Grayson, the 11-year-old protagonist, who enters through secret passages into a variety of landscapes, adventures, and harrowing predicaments.
The basic plot of the first book of Brian Shepp’s series “Return to Now” involves a sourceweaver who sends Tija’l, a kid who can turn into a fox, to escort Jack back to the land of “the Now” to save its people from a terrible scourge. Jack seems unknowing and confused with his appointed tasks, but with the aid of Tija’l and Jack’s Tinkerbell-like miniature flying dragon, Orange, Jack finally decides to do what’s right and fulfill his destiny. In order to understand the human condition and to grow into adulthood, and to, yes, save the world, Jack will fight off raven-like korvidai, spin in and out of an ice tunnel, watch evil forces grow a volcanic city, and be projected into a magical “amphitheater at the top of the world” to learn of his mission. And these are only a few of Jack’s undertakings.
Written for young adults ages 11 and up, but recommended for adults who thrive on fantasy fiction, the “Now” series promises to fulfill an appetite for out-of-this-world flights of the imagination.
Shepp, a former screenwriter, filmmaker, fine artist, children’s theater actor, jack-of-all-artistic trades, landed at Donner Lake to fulfill his dream of starting and completing the fantasy fiction series. After completing the first two books, Shepp is in the midst of writing his third. He also designs and draws all accompanying illustrations, the artwork looking much like topographic maps with the characters emerging out of contour lines.
I met with Shepp to discuss his writing process and the origin of the “Now” series. As a preview, Shepp disclosed the exciting news that his fourth book (out of a complete set of 5) will be set at Donner Lake – or rather a fantasy version inspired by it.
MOONSHINE INK: Have you always wanted to write fantasy fiction?
BRIAN SHEPP: I wrote my first fantasy book in seventh grade. And I’ve always kept journals and written stories. All my life, I’ve been called imaginative, and I’ve always had this compulsion to share stories, in whatever medium.
MI: Before you began writing fantasy fiction, you worked in theater and film in Los Angeles. What brought you to Truckee?
BS: I came to Truckee because my brother lives here and I needed somewhere quiet, a place where I could be alone and write. I wanted that Thoreau cabin-in-the-woods experience. I’ve lived at Donner Lake for almost two years. To pay the bills, I work as the graphic designer at a local print shop. But when I’m not working, I’m pretty much writing or sleeping. Sometimes both.
MI: What is the origin of the “Now” series? And how did the mythical lands and creatures evolve?
BS: The fairy tale world, like the world of dreams, is more about meaning than physical rality. I took a workshop of shamanism, wherein drumming (rhythm as catalyst) takes you to another state of mind; it’s like a kind of meditation. On these journeys, portals provide a means to transfer you from a waking state into the other world, and in these trancelike states, you learn to let ideas and images emerge. Tija’l (the fox-boy in “Now”) is one such character that came to me in one of the drumming journeys. I also believe that everyone carries their entire lineage with them. Jung called it the collective unconscious – and journeying is a way of accessing that wisdom.
MI: What is your writing process?
BS: First, I have to find the story, and that’s a process that can only be pushed so fast, letting big ideas come and go. Walking often helps me flesh out the details of the story. When I walk, I’m aware of my footsteps, much like being in tune to the rhythm of drumming. Next, I sit at the computer – for months – and write, and write, and write, I write in gusts of paragraphs, and then place them in order. It’s like building a house. Once you have a structure, you smooth the drywall by adding detail, choice words, and grammar. I check to make sure paragraphs flow, and at some point I return to each character to maintain consistency in his or her physical appearance, dialogue, actions and point of view. It’s also important for me to get away from the writing. If I leave a section behind for a while, I can return with new eyes.
MI: In your first book, “Return to Now: The Infant Prince,” you present several morals. For example, the sourceweaver says to Jack: “You will find that life is full of things we much do simply because they must be done.” And in another section, you discuss the differences between truth and falsehood. Are your themes intentional?
BS: Yes and no. Some themes create themselves and others I know I’ll develop through a kind of building repetition. In the first book, I touch on bullying. Bullies provide the bad guys, conflict, and foreshadow the much deeper evil encountered in the other world. In one chapter, I address environmental degradation. Overall, my books are about perception. Ultimately, how will we perceive the world around us and our place within it? Will we be the kind of person to stand up and help others in need? And what, ultimately, will we decide to perceive as the truth?