Apr 22, 2015

Interview: Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

I am so excited to welcome Maria Dahvana Headley onto the blog today to discuss her YA debut novel, MAGONIA. If you saw me at NCTE this year, I pretty much stalked the lovely Harper Collins booth to snag a copy of this book. I absolutely coveted it.

1. MAGONIA has some of the most creative world building and characters I've ever encountered. Where in the world did you get the idea for this world?

From a scrap of medieval folklore. Magonia is a sky kingdom that's mentioned in several texts from the 8th to 11th centuries, a shipping kingdom, essentially a sea in the sky full of ships and sailors. So the idea for this book came from a legitimate source! Then I made things up right and left. I love portal fantasy stories, and I hadn't read one in a while that was for older teens and adults. I love our world so much (as is probably obvious in the book) that inventing a world with parallels - squall whales for example - was really a pleasure. I'm kind of obsessed with the natural world, the way creatures sing and call to one another, the way sound travels, so I brought all that obsession to Magonia, along with a lot of folklore and myth, but hopefully shifted from things you've read before. I used things that came from early UFO and alien lore just as much as I used old weather folklore, medieval miracle books, and Farmer's Almanacs. I'm a magpie, and I grab a lot of shiny things for every project I work on. This one was no exception. EVeryone in my life was sending me weird-weather stories and beautiful recordings of whistled language and birdsong, and I used some of them to build Magonia. 

2. Aza has a lot to overcome - first her unidentifiable breathing disorder and then going into Magonia. How does her character evolve during the book?

Physically, she shifts dramatically, literally into a new body, but that's probably the least of it. Emotionally, I think she comes into herself. She realizes that her strength is in her strangeness, her differences, her weirdness. Her song is strong because of how unusual it is. In the beginning of the book, she'd rather be normal. I'm not saying that being sick is in itself a good thing - far from it - but it's definitely a trial by fire situation. Everyone in my life who's read the book knows that Aza and I have things in common. I got juvenile diabetes when I was a teenager, and it nearly took me out. I had a near death experience complete with hallucinated guys in white overalls, and a lot of other strangeness. So, I know firsthand what a thing it is to return to the living. It's like going to another world, getting really sick. I think Aza evolves also to collaborate with others, to trust other people with her body and song. That's a big deal, and I think about it a lot. Trusting other people, even those you love, can be hard work. 

3. What was your favorite part/character to write in MAGONIA?

I loved writing the parts with Caru, the heartbird. There's some spoilerishness involved with that character, so I can't say much about him, but I liked writing about him because he is very tough, and tough even as he is suffering. I wanted to write a book in which people had all sorts of challenges and still kept pushing for better things. So, there are several characters in the book who have a lot of pain, and stay full of curiosity and verve anyway. 

4. Will you be returning to the world of Magonia?

Yes, there will be a sequel out next year. I'm finishing it up now. Lots of unresolved fun to have still in Magonia, and not just fun.  There are a some major new characters in the sequel, along with new sky creatures. I'm having a good time writing new versions of Magonia's squall whales, for example. An ocean, after all, contains lots of things, whether it's a skysea or one on earth. 

5. What does a typical day in the life of Author Maria Dahvana Headley look like?

Wake up with a Bengal cat already ensconced in my arms. Wampus the cat is extremely love-obsessed, and he is my writing companion, but he's a little bit of a pain, because he likes to hide his face in my elbow. This makes it hard to type.  Then I make strong coffee, or if I'm lucky, someone else makes it for me and brings it to me in bed, but I'm not always that lucky. Ideally, if I don't have coffee in bed, I go out into my backyard and drink it, unless winter is endless as it was this year. Then I write. All day. Lately I've also been making some art, because if I spend all my time writing I lose my way. So I embroider and paint. I like to make new monsters. Somewhere in the day, I usually end up lost in a research fever, and then I spend a while roaming around the internet looking at interesting facts. Lately it's been things about mice singing. (Yes, mice sing.) Then, best case, I cook a lot of food and have a dinner party of part friends, part strangers. My house has a piano, so often there are musicians playing in my living room late at night. I realize this life sounds imaginary. I'm a lucky writer. 

Aza Ray is drowning in thin air. 

Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. 

So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn't think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia. 

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—and as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war is coming. Magonia and Earth are on the cusp of a reckoning. And in Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

About Maria Dahvana Headley:

Maria Dahvana Headley is the author of the upcoming young adult skyship novel MAGONIA from HarperCollins, the dark fantasy/alt-history novel QUEEN OF KINGS, the internationally bestselling memoir THE YEAR OF YES, and THE END OF THE SENTENCE, a novella co-written with Kat Howard, from Subterranean. With Neil Gaiman, she is the New York Times-bestselling co-editor of the monster anthology UNNATURAL CREATURES, benefitting 826DC. 

Her Nebula and Shirley Jackson award-nominated short fiction has recently appeared on Tor.com, and in The Toast, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Nightmare, Apex, The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, Subterranean Online, Glitter & Mayhem and Jurassic London's The Lowest Heaven and The Book of the Dead, and will soon appear in Uncanny, Shimmer, and more. It's anthologized in the 2013 and 2014 editions of Rich Horton's The Year's Best Fantasy & Science Fiction, & Paula Guran's 2013 The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, in The Year's Best Weird Volume 1, ed. Laird Barron, and in Wastelands, Vol 2, among others. She's also a playwright and essayist. 

She grew up in rural Idaho on a sled-dog ranch, spent part of her 20's as a pirate negotiator and ship marketer in the maritime industry, and now lives in Brooklyn in an apartment shared with a seven-foot-long stuffed crocodile. 


  1. I really enjoyed this book and how creative it was. I love hearing from the author especially about a day in her life--sounds wonderful! Thank you for sharing!


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