Today we are thrilled to welcome to the blog Jeff Wheeler, the author of the thrilling new fantasy The Queen’s Poisoner! For anyone who is always looking for new fantasy worlds to get lost in, this is one epic new series you don’t want to miss – especially if you’re a Kindle reader.
King Severn Argentine’s fearsome reputation precedes him: usurper of the throne, killer of rightful heirs, ruthless punisher of traitors. Attempting to depose him, the Duke of Kiskaddon gambles…and loses. Now the duke must atone by handing over his young son, Owen, as the king’s hostage. And should his loyalty falter again, the boy will pay with his life.
Seeking allies and eluding Severn’s spies, Owen learns to survive in the court of Kingfountain. But when new evidence of his father’s betrayal threatens to seal his fate, Owen must win the vengeful king’s favor by proving his worth—through extraordinary means. And only one person can aid his desperate cause: a mysterious woman, dwelling in secrecy, who truly wields power over life, death, and destiny.
B: Often in mythic tales the hero is separated from his or her parents and raised by another – something that also happens to Owen. What is significant about this element of the story?
JW: When I was thinking about the ‘hook’ for this story, I realized that every parent would dread having to face the decision of which child they would send away. I have five kids myself and the choice would be excruciating. It was quite common during medieval times to choose hostages for good behavior. In this case, the parents don’t know if they are sending their child to their doom or if the child will be only one that survives.
B: Ankarette is constantly stressing the importance of trusting your instincts and having the ability to judge a person’s character. Why is this so important, especially for Owen?
JW: As a medieval history major in college, I found it interesting that the split-second judgment of a person could lead to life-and-death outcomes. The decision to forgive an enemy could cause them to betray you later. The era The Queen’s Poisoner is based on is very Machiavellian. So teaching Owen who to trust would be the key of his survival.
B: What fueled your decision to make Owen eight-years-old? Do you think the story would have worked as well if Owen were older?
JW: I wrestled with this a lot before starting the story. I believed I could pull of an eight-year-old because I’m a dad with five kids and three are boys. I based Owen’s character on the personality of my youngest and used his older brother who was eight to test believability. What gave me confidence in the end was researching other writers who took this risk and succeeded. One of my favorite novels from high school was Charles Dicken’s “Great Expectations” and Pip starts out as that age. I found other characters in literature who were also very young (younger than Harry Potter!) and it worked. But after re-watching The Sixth Sense by M. Night Shyamalan, I believed an eight year-old could headline one of my novels.
B: Owen likes to play with tiles, by lining them all up in intricate designs and then knocking them down. Why is this something he feels compelled to do? How does it aid him as a character? How does it affect his character growth?
JW: This is one of the personality quirks of my youngest son. He started doing it when he was very little and still does it today. What’s less important than the ‘domino effect’ (as he calls it) is the time he’s willing to invest. I’ve loved the TED talk by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on ‘Flow’ and found the concept of concentration and persistence to be true in my life. I thought Owen’s interest would later bloom, as it does in subsequent books, into his own special magic.
B: Why does Ankarette stress the importance of discernment being “priceless”?
JW: Ankarette is very wise and has stayed alive because she knows who to trust. We all make snap judgments about people and many times these judgments are based on lack of full information. Ankarette has learned to not just accept one data point about a person but to see which direction the trend is going. Sorry for the statistical analogy, but I still have part of Intel in my blood!
B: Why is it best to judge people not by the word of others, but by their own actions?
JW: One of my favorite quotes by Ralph Waldo Emerson will help answer this: “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” Watching the behavior of others is one of the best predictors of what’s going on inside their heads.
B: There is an emphasis on the value of honesty and trusting someone versus keeping secrets for fear of being betrayed or hurting others. Can one truly value honesty if they still keep secrets?
JW: In the book Ankarette tells Owen that secrets are like butterflies trying to burst out of a cocoon. People want to share secrets and only those with the highest integrity can keep them. When someone is in a position of trust, they can still be honest without divulging what they know.
B: Describe The Queen’s Poisoner in ten words or less.
JW: Even a child can face his greatest fear. How’s that? Part of the inspiration for this book is my little boy who has crippling anxiety when he’s around strangers, even people who have been family friends for years. Sometimes I’ve had to be like Ankarette and get down on one knee, hold his hand, and tell him ‘face your fear—you can do this!’ I think many readers will relate to Owen’s character. We all have fears.