Interview with Christopher Shields

Every once in a while we all discover something new. Something profound and unique that causes us to become distracted from the mundane and stressful elements of everyday life. We overlook our worries, our pains, our hurts, and even our hang-ups as we escape. For me, one of those escapes has always been found in fiction.

On more than one occasion I have cracked open a book to find myself moved by the words scattered across the page. There is nothing more magical when one can find themselves lost in the realm of fiction, especially one as magical as what I discovered with Christopher Shields book “The Steward: Book one of the Weald Fae Journals.

This story took me back; to a time when I was little, hiking through the woods, where I would create my own world of magic.

The Steward is set in Arkansas along the Ozark Mountains. Christopher has brought us a story where modern day life collides with ancient folk lore that has come alive. Giving us one of the strongest female characters that I have ever read Shields leads us to uncover some of the mysterious history surrounding the legendary town of Eureka Springs Arkansas.

The story follows the life of Maggie, new to the Ozarks and struggling to fit in. But what is far more important is the strength she summons as she encounters the Fae. The discovery of what I once dismissed as silly Celtic lore was both educational as well as entertaining. I highly recommend this for anyone that wants to discover a new type of fantasy…

Christopher Shields lives in Northwest Arkansas with his family and three dogs. Following what he considers to be his calling, he is a professor of criminal justice at the University of Arkansas, in Fayetteville. He loves working with students during the day and writing at night. Chris also enjoys spending time with his circle of close friends, playing his sax, and indulging his life-long passion for the Arkansas Razorbacks. This past week Chris took some time to sit down and answer a few questions… I hope you find his passion for writing both insightful as well as inspirational.

1. All right Chris, first thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. Why don’t you start out by telling us a little bit about yourself…?

I’m a professor at the University of Arkansas … and a recovering lawyer. That last part is a bit tongue-in-cheek, of course, but there’s also a little truth to it. I spent a few years practicing law, and I didn’t like how jaded I was becoming. I went into the field because I had a desire to help people. After a few years I started to make a nice living, but when clients began returning with the same old problems, I felt like I was spinning my wheels. While trying to shed the misery that caused me, I discovered, quite by accident, that I loved being in a classroom. Around 2002, the senior partner in my law firm had me teach a couple of his business law classes when he was in court. I loved it, and at 35, decided that I needed to change the course of my life. It was a difficult pill to swallow. But ten years later, and with a Ph.D., I couldn’t be happier. I love what I do now: working with students, helping them plot a course in the world—it’s a win, win situation.

Changing careers at such a late age taught me to never give up searching for those things in life that make me happy. So, in a way, I’ve found bliss. I live in Fayetteville, Arkansas—it’s a gorgeous town in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. I spend my days on campus, working with students, and I spend my evenings with my wonderful partner of 15 years, my dogs, and more good friends than any one man deserves. When I’m not writing, I meet up with a few friends and jam a little—I play tenor sax.

I started writing, honestly, because I loved the release from reality—that’s probably why I ended up in the fantasy genre. Writing has always given me the opportunity to disappear into a different world for a few hours and let my imagination run wild. It’s also true that I’ve always enjoyed putting a smile on people’s faces, the kind of smile that only a great song, a beautiful picture, or a good story can provide. I hope my writing can do that for others.

2. Okay, you’ve got a book out there: “The Steward” which is a part of a series you are working on… What can you tells us about your book and this series “The Weald Fae Journals” and what causes it to stand apart from other young adult fantasy series…?

I think “The Weald Fae Journals” stands apart because of the concept—I wanted to create a world in which the Fae could blend with the real world, one in which folklore and legend could seem absolutely real to the reader. I spent the summer of 2010 researching Pan Celtic faery lore (as well as Native American legends, and many similar stories from dozens of other traditions) before I developed the “Fae” for my book. I pay tribute to those legends, having a little fun with them along the way, and try to craft a world that readers will simultaneously recognize yet find intriguing and fresh. In the first book, readers are introduced to that world. They’ll get a taste of it through Maggie as she discovers the truth about it, and throughout the series, she and readers will discover the depth and breadth of the Fae realm. The second book in the series is finished and in editing, and I’m chomping at the bit to start working on the third.

3. I love stories that have great lead characters… Your character Maggie is one such character… What inspired you to write a female as your lead, and was she inspired by anyone in particular…?

As a professor, I’ve always been impressed with students who successfully fit school, work, and family into a 24-hour day—especially my female students with children. It’s fair to say that I’m enthralled by strong women—one raised me, and I count many such women among my personal and professional mentors. I felt like I had to use a female protagonist. I’ve never had children of my own, and I grew up with a brother, so the challenge of writing from the perspective of a teenaged girl was terrifying, but both fascinating and exhilarating at the same time.

I finished a Master of Arts in Sociology, and that study, more than any other, taught me to evaluate my own beliefs about gender roles, cultural capital and social capital. Because of my training in sociology, and intersectionalism in particular, I also wanted Maggie to be mixed-race and to know poverty first hand. Like so many of my students, she had to have an inner strength that she could draw on when people failed her. Maggie is strong, but she also has a tendency to retreat from others, to try to solve problems on her own. I see that a lot. Not asking for help, I think, is one of the many things fighters do, even when they help is readily available to them. Learning when to let others in, and how to trust them, is a big challenge for Maggie.

I think I also chose Maggie in particular because, like so many of my students who are just starting their adult lives, she has no idea what to expect out of life when the story begins. Because of Maggie’s history, and her jaded view of “how things work” in the world, she can’t imagine being important. That’s so intriguing to me. I’ve seen a lot of my students come to realize that they can have very important roles, whether in shaping policy, or impacting the people around them. There’s a struggle there, when preconceptions clash with possibilities, when doubts and the spark of confidence and self-worth lock horns—I wanted Maggie to experience that as well.

4.I love the Ozarks. I’ve spent many vacations there; Eureka Springs, Branson, Beaver Lake; What inspired you to write a book set in the Ozarks mountains…?

After studying “Fae” and similar lore from all over the world, I really wanted to create a story centered in North America. At the heart of the Ozark Mountains are the remnants of the Saint Francois Mountains (in S.E. Missouri), the oldest mountains in North America (some claim they are perhaps the oldest in the world). Writing about a “species” as ancient as the Fae (as I portray them in my story), the Ozarks seemed like a natural fit. That’s not the only reason I chose the Ozarks, though.

My family settled in this area in 1850. My late grandfather was an extraordinary storyteller, who honed his craft until the day he passed. He never wrote, unfortunately, but his stories about the Ozarks, his blending of folklore, legend and reality, stirred my imagination as a boy. Growing up in the Ozarks, I found that many old-timers told similar stories. It really was part of the culture of the region, although a part that has slowly disappeared with each successive generation. I grew up on Osage and Cherokee legends. The old-timers told me stories about terrifying creatures that roamed the forests, like Smokey Joe (a.k.a., Momo, the Missouri name for Bigfoot), the massive cat-like Ozark Howler, and the fierce and ill-tempered razorbacks that terrified even the most hardened mountain folk. They told me numerous tales of magical “folks,” who lived in “hollers” that everyone with sense avoided.

Each town, whether it’s Fayetteville, Chester, Eureka Springs, Prairie Grove, Cane Hill, etc., is replete with wonderful old legends and ghost stories. So the Ozarks seemed a natural setting, and one, it always surprises me, that has not been used more often. I think anyone who has experienced a foggy morning in a remote Ozark valley, visited the ruins of Monte Ne, hiked in the trails of Devil’s Den, witnessed the beauty of White Rock, or spent any time on the Buffalo River gets a sense of how perfect a setting the Ozark Region is for such a story. There is just so much to work with.

5. If you could choose any writer; dead or alive; to sit and talk to for just one hour who it would it be and why…?

Only one? That’s a tough question. I suppose I’d pick Samuel Clemens, but hopefully on one of his happier days. His writing has always intrigued me–his use of language and grammar, and his non-conventional views on politics, patriotism and religion, are also a draw. I think, given just an hour, and because of his legendary wit, it would make for an amazing time.

6. Can you tell us what else we can expect from you going forward…? Any plans after “The Weald Fae Series”…?

Oh yes, I’m just getting warmed up. With each sentence, I try to improve my skills, to advance as an author and a storyteller—right now, that’s paramount. Currently, I have a total of four books planned for the Weald Fae Journals. I’ve finished rewrites of the second and am about to send it to my editors. With my teaching schedule, the third and fourth book will keep me busy for the next year. Afterwards, I’m considering a number of projects in the Fantasy genre, and some outside that genre. I have no shortage of ideas, and writing for me is about escapism, so I can’t imagine ever stopping. Right now, it’s just a matter of getting to them.

To purchase simply click on the link image below:

You may find Christopher Shields:

His website at: http://www.wealdfaejournals.com

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