Shadow of the Spider by Marianne E. Burgess contains those magical elements of YA sci-fi fantasy that make for a surefire winner when done with a deft pen: curses, prophecies and quests. With this interview, BookTrib’s on a mini-quest to find out even more of its secrets, and spoiler alert, we succeeded. 

Jamie and Jeremiah are ordinary teenagers going about their business when a strange vortex appears and transports them to the land of Eleusia in another dimension. They are stunned to learn they were actually born there and were hidden on Earth for their own protection. What’s more, Jamie and Jeremiah are part of a set of triplets, and the third triplet has been living in Eleusia all this time.

They must quickly adapt to a world where magic exists and fairytale and mythical creatures such as wizards, elves, dwarves, dragons, and Greek and Roman gods and goddesses exist. The triplets must save Eleusia from a goddess’ curse that will bring evil and darkness to the land … and they have only 20 days.

The author has a vested and longstanding interest in the genres, and that interest drives her inspiration and writing process. And it takes a lot of drive to build a whole new world in another dimension! We were delighted to revisit that world in our talk with Marianne Burgess. Read our review here

Q: From magic to mythical creatures, Shadow of the Spider includes countless elements of YA Fantasy. What drew you to the genre of YA Fantasy?

A: When I was an undergraduate student at university, I read my first fantasy novel which was The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Since that time I have read and accumulated several hundred individual fantasy novels and series, many of which I have read several times. During my career as a teacher and an administrator, my time spent with students mainly involved the study and reading of YA novels and I found myself drawn to wanting to write for that age group, especially in the genre of YA fantasy.

Q: A majority of your novel takes place in another dimension known as the land of Eleusia. What was your favorite part about creating this new world for your readers?

A: I spent fifteen years creating this novel, working on it whenever I had an opportunity to sit down and write. Eleusia evolved slowly and developing it was a wonderful personal journey. I had always been intrigued by the elves of The Hobbit disappearing into the “west.” Where was this “west” and what would it have looked like? I decided to create my own idea of that “west” which became Eleusia, a home for many magical or mythical creatures both good and evil who had had to escape Earth. Creating Eleusia allowed me to enjoy using my imagination to develop characters and situations that could only have been found in works of fantasy.

Q: Three of your main characters, Jamie, Jeremiah and Portia, are triplets with very different personalities. Which of their personalities was the most fun to develop?

A: Of these three, Jeremiah was the most fun to develop. He was the one that right from the beginning, even before arriving in Eleusia, was always getting himself into a mess. He shouldn’t have been on the ski slope that late in the day; he was the one who got tossed into the lake and almost eaten by the sea monster, and then had the horrifying experience of being carted away by a dragon. Without Tara’s intervention, he might have ended up as dragon fodder. Jeremiah was the one who, despite the hurdles, tended to take everything in stride and deal with situations as they emerged in the best way he could and seldom complained.

Q: Similarly, which of the triplets’ personalities was the most challenging to write, and why?

A: Portia’s character was the most difficult to write. There needed to be one teen who was a problem, one who refused to cooperate and/or tended to alienate her/himself from the others. Portia didn’t want to be there and had been forced against her will as far as she was concerned. However, I also wanted the reader to see the emotionally vulnerable side of her. There was a reason for her animosity. Taking her character from the hostile, bratty creature in the beginning to one who allowed others to see her as a more sensitive, understanding friend at the end had to be carefully done. It was important that the readers gradually warmed to her as the story unfolded.

Q: There are six riddles that must be solved by the characters in order to complete their question. How did you come up with these riddles?

A: Finding riddles that fit into the context of each scene and providing a reason as to how each character was able to guess the answer was difficult. Five of the six were variations on historical riddles I have known for years. The fifth was actually a question that Mikel was asked to answer and was the most important of the six. It was Portia who realized that the answers to the riddles up to hers had all been opposites to the creatures asking them: i.e. answer ‘eye’ when the snake-turtles had none. The first riddle given by the sphinx is, according to Sophocles in Oedipus the King, the actual riddle the sphinx gave to everyone who crossed her path. 

Q: There is a wide range of action-packed and emotional scenes between the teenagers as they move forward on their quest. Which scenes were the most fun and the most challenging to write?

A: One of the scenes I enjoyed writing the most was when five of the characters (which included Calliotrope) were held prisoner on Cerce’s farm and everyone was either in the shape of chickens or ducks except for Tovan. Mikel, now a chicken, had been spirited away to be made into dinner and the others were forced to rescue him, which took some doing. The most difficult section to write was Chapter Seventy-Six, the great battle. It would not have been realistic if all six had come through the fight unscathed. Deciding what to do, with what character, and how to write it was challenging. 

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Marianne E. Burgess, Ph.D., has been an avid reader all her life, but books of mystical quests and magic at both adult and young adult levels inspired her to write a fantasy of her own. She spent fifty years in education as an elementary teacher and principal and as a university instructor in a Faculty of Education. Although she always used books, stories and storytelling to build students’ creativity and their skills in reading and writing, Shadow of the Spider is her first book and the result of many years of creating and combining stories. Marianne has two adult daughters and lives in Calgary, Alberta, with her husband and cavalier spaniel.