DEDICATIONS, ILLUSTRATOR, TRANSLATION, AFTERWORD
Brooklyn’s Fairy Tale is dedicated to the memory of my father, Mushtaq Ahmed. I inherited my creativity from my dad, who produced a critically acclaimed, award-winning film in his glory days in Bangladesh. He asked me to write my story, and I finally wrote it. He was a gem of a human being, the kind of father every child should be blessed with. Here's a picture of Dad looking like a matinee idol.
This website is dedicated to the memory of my cousin, Sameena Ahmed, who died too young of ovarian cancer in November 2013. It was she who encouraged me to have a website to promote my book the last time we had lunch together at her home. She was working on a children’s book of her own. Joyous, loving, virtuous, and beautiful, she was the light of our family. Here's an old picture of Sameena in her cheerleading uniform. As she still expressed via whiteboard in her last days - "Fort Hunt rules!"
Elisabeth Alba is a young rising star among illustrators. Her artwork has been published in the children’s market by Scholastic and Simon & Schuster, among others. I discovered her portfolio while browsing the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s website. Elisabeth’s style has the classical quality of the Renaissance masters, but also the dreamy innocence of Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit watercolors. It was "art love at first sight," and the seed of a suggestion for a promotional website suddenly sprouted. I contacted the artist about commissioning a few pieces for Brooklyn’s Fairy Tale, and fortunately she liked my idea, and had time to squeeze in a private client project between major freelance work. Because she specializes in fantasy, fairy tales, and middle-grade (middle-school, known as junior high in the old days) fiction, my story was a good fit. She completed three pieces for my book: the cover art, a map, and an interior illustration.
The interior illustration - The Witch’s Magic Bean Dream - is my favorite. The luminous chimera of the glowing wisteria and magic bean are stunning. The witch’s eyes are so expressive – gorgeous, but troubled, and somewhat menacing. This is a very moody, atmospheric piece with lots of movement, deep shadows and rich light.
Yamsville is the setting of Brooklyn’s Fairy Tale, and the sepia toned map of Yamsville has that antique look of a Thomas Hardy or Tolkien map. How many illustrators will tell you you’re missing a river to make the water mill turn? It was fun pondering names for the river after Elisabeth's remark on the omission. The name of the chasm was my daughter Keera's idea! Maps make imaginary places feel very real.
Elisabeth and I spent a lot of time brainstorming the cover art. After eliminating some possibilities at the thumbnail sketch stage, we decided on a montage in the style of some Tamora Pierce book covers Elisabeth asked me to peruse, because they were good examples of middle-grade/ young adult covers. I had misgivings about Brooklyn at the center of the cover design, but trusted the artist, and as you can see, the final product is intriguing and appropriate for the target audience. After patiently combing through my wish list, Elisabeth captured the essence of my book. Her use of swirling snow and water to seamlessly join elements of the montage is dramatic. She also gave the Ivory Opossum his bone necklace. It was perfect for this character, and ironically, she got this great idea without the benefit of having read chapter 6, because I only sent her limited excerpts for background.
Throughout this project, Elisabeth’s artistic point of view not only resulted in fitting, professional illustrations, but it pushed me to consider angles that I missed, and to make my story better. Since publishers generally don't consult writers about artwork, this was an experience I would not have had in other circumstances. Our collaboration was a wonderful creative journey. Thank you Elisabeth, for being such an important part of my literary endeavor.
Check out Elisabeth's portfolio on her website.
Chapter 5 is a flash back to World War II Normandy, and includes German dialogue between Valentina and a wounded German soldier. Christoph Wilhelm, who is a native of Germany, and a University of Virginia Architecture graduate, translated my English text to German. Thank you, Christoph for helping to make this scene authentic.
At the core of Brooklyn's belief in the supernatural are her Aunt Rubi's Benagali folk tales. The presence of jinn and ghosts in the story is sometimes impressionistic. There are the town's unusual, unexplained occurrences. And it's unclear, for example, if the disappearance of twin girls in the woods and their "legend" is anything more than rumors and wive's tales following the tragedy of their deaths. Natural phenomena like deadly whirlpool also suggests the existence of supernatural interference. But in the very domestic, flesh and blood fire witch, Valentina, the supernatural is fully realized. She is a hybrid of a jinni (genie) and a dainie, an old village witch in Bengali folklore. The basis for her character is rooted in my own childhood recollections of jinn stories, as well as the imagined influence of human behavior and how it impacts the world. I consulted Lal Behari Day's Folk-Tales of Bengal, 2012, Project Guttenberg, and retold or reimagined key elements in Rubi's folk tales.
While Brooklyn’s Fairy Tale is a fantasy, there are historical anchors in the story. The U.S. war in Afghanistan and the economic recession impact the life of the protagonist, Brooklyn Fellows. World War II weighs heavily in the past of the immortal witch, Valentina Maltemps and Army veteran, Norman Halladay.
Through his own wartime memories, Sargent Halladay brings a perspective that is foreign to his grandson and Brooklyn and alters their outlook. The aggregate histories of many World War II heroes who served on D-Day were the basis of the character of Sargent Halladay and some of the battle episodes in the book. In researching the events of D-Day in Normandy, France, I consulted Rudder’s Rangers: The True Story of the 2nd United States Ranger Battalion’s D-Day Combat Action by Ronald Lane and June 6, 1944: The Voices of D-Day, an oral history by Gerald Astor. There was one Ranger in particular whose story resonated with me and was the model for Halladay.
Dark Skies Island is the imaginary occupied Channel Island, where Valentina is born, and is the setting of her first contact with Sargent Halladay in his youth. The events that take place after her arrival in Normandy shape Valentina’s future. I drew from The Normandy Diary of Marie-Louise Osmont: 1940 – 1944, translated by George L. Newman, in recreating Valentina’s first experience in a communal living environment, as well as her experience with the violence that spilled into rural Normandy, and affected civilian life in villages. Osmont’s chateau was occupied by both Americans and Germans. Within the framework of the occupied chateau, I imagined how Valentina discovers she is a fire witch. I even borrowed Osmont’s sense of empowerment from the “old stones” of her chateau and gave it to Valentina during the maturation of her magical powers. Drawing subtle parallels between Valentina’s past at the chateau and her present at the boarding house was a literary device I used to show how and why she assimilates to life among small-town mortals.
I employed the diary itself to break up the narrative voice. The diary is a manifestation of the mystery of the inner self in ultimate isolation. In Brooklyn’s Fairy Tale, Valentina keeps a witch’s log, which gives the reader an alternate interpretation of her emotional life.
Walter Isaacson’s approachable biography Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, informed me of many lessor known contributions and idiosyncrasies of the most iconic of our founding fathers. Groundhog - a character I later reduced to a scant appearance - emulates Ben Franklin by mirroring his intellectual curiosity and fascination with experiments and mysteries.