It’s been a while since I’ve done a Random Friday, so I wanted to make sure I got to something fun this summer… and if you read my review of the first Dark Crystal prequel, Shadows of the Dark Crystal then you know the funny story of how I became acquainted with J.M. Lee. We both attended the #MNFanFest event last weekend and got a chance to catch up after his book signing hosted by The Source Comics (one of my fav gaming and comics stores in the metro area) where I was able to get an autographed copy of the newly released second book in the trilogy, Song of the Dark Crystal.
What drew you to the fantasy genre, and specifically to the Dark Crystal story?
I can’t specifically say what drew me to fantasy, since it’s been an attraction that started before I can really remember. I’ve been reading fantasy since I could read, though I suppose before that I was watching fantastical cartoons. I loved everything from the Land Before Time to Fantasia to the Addams Family. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I also was a prime age to absorb all the classic fantasy films that came out around then — including The Dark Crystal. For me, The Dark Crystal was extra special because there were no human characters; something about the complete alienness of the world really drew me in.
Tell me a little about how you landed the Dark Crystal gig?
In 2013, the Jim Henson Company and Grosset & Dunlap launched the Author Quest, a contest to hire an author to write the official Dark Crystal prequel novel. The team worked so well and the Henson group seemed pleased with how the first novel went, so before the first was even approved, we were already making plans to make it into a series.
As an 80s child with a love of all that nostalgia I often visit sites devoted to certain shows (especially Masters of the Universe and Thundercats—both of which got a post-2000 cartoon remake) Where did you go to get source material for the worldbuilding you did in Shadows of the Dark Crystal? Did you get any special access to resources not made public?
When I was writing the first book, my primary source was darkcrystal.com – which had been prepared for Author Quest. I also read the extended universe publications, including Brian Froud’s World of the Dark Crystal and the Archaia graphic novels. Once I had signed on to complete the novel, I was also given access to some really cool archive stuff – Brian Froud sketches and concept artwork. Cheryl Henson also arranged for me and my wife to visit the Frouds in England in 2014, which was after the first novel came out. But it was still an unparalleled look into the landscape that inspired Thra and the world we see in the film. Even more than the geographical experience, having a chance to meet with and talk to Brian and Wendy was a childhood dream come true.
How important will the storyline of Shadows of the Dark Crystal and Song of the Dark Crystal be to the upcoming Netflix series and where do your stories fall in the timeline?
The books and Age of Resistance, as well as the rest of the extended universe publications, all exist in a fluid and well-developed timeline. Everyone from the Netflix show team to Archaia and at Penguin have been fully committed to keeping everything sensical. As for the actual timeline, both the books and the Netflix series take place in the years leading up to the film. More details about this will unfold!
I’m assuming that your hero, Naia from the Swamp of Sog, is drawn on a few life experiences—being a fellow Minnesotan, I’m going to also assume that Sog, the swamplands, are based on my hometown of Verndale Minnesota. You can’t really change my mind about that, but feel free to tell me about your characters and world… Is there anything else you’d like to say, especially to young writers?
Ha! Everyone from Sog is also obsessed with going out on the lake and up to the cabin, in case that part didn’t make it into the final draft…!
In a nutshell, Shadows of the Dark Crystal tells the story of a self-sufficient girl from far away learning that she is part of something much bigger and that both she and the world are in the middle of a great change. The second book, Song of the Dark Crystal, expands on that sentiment — in particular, in finding a place when you’re not what someone might think of as a typical rough-and-tough hero. I mean, we’re looking at likely and unlikely heroes, but I would prefer to think of it as telling the story of people realizing that change is inevitable, but we have a choice in deciding who we change into and how that impacts the world around us.
Also, a fizzgig fart joke. So there’s that.
It’s been lots of fun and hopefully I’ll get to do some more stuff with J.M. Lee in the future! Here’s a little bit about him:
Born and raised in the great Minnesota north, Joe spent his formative years searching for talking animals and believing he could control the weather. After pursuing nerdy interests in comparative film studies, screenwriting, and Shakespeare, he graduated from the University of Minnesota with a much nerdier degree in linguistics with a focus in Japanese phonology.
In addition to writing novels, Joe is an English tutor and writing mentor for teens and young adults of all levels and abilities. He enjoys teaching his dog new vocabulary words and updating his snooty coffee blog. He lives with his wife in Minneapolis.