Interview with Vancouver author and actor Megs Calleja
Today on What On What’s Good with Jovin Tardif, I am here with author and actor Megs Calleja. Calleja recently released her debut new-adult fantasy novel. In our interview, we discuss her favourite authors, where she finds her writing inspiration, her new book Acorns & Roots, and much more.
1. What authors inspired you growing up and why?
I read a lot of fiction growing up. C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Those books had spirited and imaginative young girls. Lois Lowry’s The Giver quartet really stands out. I remember reading her first in the series, The Giver, at the age of 11, and I think it was one of the first books that worked my brain and stayed with me long after I read it.
To this day, something happens inside me whenever I see it in a bookstore. Growing up and into adulthood, I read a lot of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Shel Silverstein, and Dr. Seuss. They are all brilliant storytellers and build vivid worlds.
2. You wrote stories, songs, and scripts at a young age. What sort of themes were you writing about?
I think my first song was about bees. A real hit, not sure why it never topped the charts (laughs). I was three. Sometimes, I wrote about my dreams. I always had wild, vivid dreams so I would turn them into stories.
What else…my feelings, adventures, pre-teen memoirs. For a while I was really into writing musicals, probably because at that time I was a teenager performing in musical theatre. I think there’s a 1940s-style bootlegger musical in a notebook somewhere.
And some emotional angsty ballads inspired by the sounds of Fiona Apple. As I aged, what I wrote included relationships, death, the meaning of life, all the big emotions that need to be voiced somewhere. Writing was a way for me to make sense of my place in the world. It still is. It’s not all dark, though. I actually write a lot of comedy.
3. Acorns & Roots is based on a manuscript you wrote three and a half years ago. What was the process like changing the manuscript into a novel?
I found Acorns & Roots by chance (the universe?) in an old laptop folder three and a half years ago. It had been dormant there for probably three or four years, but I actually began writing the novel ten years ago. In terms of continuing a manuscript after so many years, the first half was written, and it was surprisingly easy to pick up the story. Once I began reading, I felt as if I was right back in it.
The overwhelming part of the process started in 2018. I was handing it off to editors, landing on a publisher, navigating how my creative work might be sold as a product. I think the most valuable takeaway from that was expanding my view of art from simply being a channel for my own self-expression (which it certainly is), into seeing the novel as a journey I want readers to take. When I think of the book in that way, I have to think about how a reader will be guided through the story.
And that’s how novels go from being a manuscript in someone’s apartment to a book on a shelf. Working with a team to put it all together and make that happen was such a big learning curve; having editors you trust, and a publisher who believes in you, makes all the difference!
4. Can you tell us a little about your debut novel Acorns & Roots?
Happily! Acorns & Roots is a dry-witted, dark fantasy that transports readers into a struggling Enchanted Forest in the midst of an epic battle between light and dark magic. The book is told from the intimate views of a cynical pixie, a clueless human, and a sadistic king in power. Forest pixie Fillii is searching for a way to take down the king and avoid disenchantment, and she quickly collides with unemployed human Amer, who is hiking through what he believes to be a completely normal forest, on a mission to harvest pricey roots and pay his overdue rent.
With the same destination, they are reluctantly thrown together. Fillii is forced to confront her distrust of humans, while Amer struggles to believe in magic. Their quest takes them through magical regions within the Enchanted Forest, meeting fantastical creatures along the way, but there are a few things working against them. King Malo is sending guard after dark spell their way, a secret that changes everything begins to unravel, and the journey quickly turns into a battle of survival, a discovery of what it means to belong, and most importantly, defeating the darkness.
5. How did you come up with the characters?
I was sitting at my parent’s kitchen table one day. This visual popped into my head out of nowhere. Amer throwing rocks at a tree to knock down fruit, and Fillii falling down from above and landing on top of him. And for some reason, I instantly knew they had a story. So I started to write down how they both may have gotten to that point.
The other creatures were taken from my love of nature and magic. I wanted the animals to be larger than normal and have human-like qualities. I also wanted to turn a few things on their head: like a sprite, who many people think of as a delicate child-like fairy, actually being a loud-mouthed drunk who seems rough but means well.
At the time, I wanted to have familiar kinds of characters, to spark a bit of that nostalgic feeling, and just kind of went with my imagination. One thing I tried really hard to do was craft two protagonists who have moments when they help each other, and moments when they need each other. I didn’t want to fall into the traditional trap of one person always coming to the rescue. Both Fillii and Amer have the ability to stand up against the darkness on their own, but they are both flawed. They each also have qualities that the other can learn from and rely on in order to survive.