Sometimes important details slip from my mind.

When Dundurn Press asked me to participate in the Solomon’s Ring blog tour late last year I had wondered if it mattered if I hadn’t read the first book. While they said it didn’t, I was promised a copy of the first book.

Christmas came and I was reading my favourites, then moved on to books for my travel-inspired book blog at FollowSummer.com. Then I realized I wanted to read something just for me so I picked up Finding Jade. I then realized I needed to read Solomon’s Ring so I could send some intelligent questions to its author, Toronto resident Mary Jennifer Payne. I started reading it and realized Finding Jade was the first book in the series. My apologies, Dundurn!

I ended up not reading Finding Jade before reading Solomon’s Ring, although I do plan to return to it. While it was not necessary to read it to understand the second book, it would have been helpful to figure what happened to Jade and Jasmine five years earlier and to learn about some of the other charcters. While I felt I was missing important details, it didn’t stop the enjoyment/fury/terror of reading this book.

And there was certainly all those emotions while reading this book. It was a good read, with great strong female characters as well as people who are truly trying to make the world a better place. There was also fury on what was happening in Toronto’s political landscapes and terror that the book – and other dystopian pieces of literature – no longer seems that dystopian.

The book got really exciting toward the end so I am looking forward to Book 3.

A copy of this book was provided by Dundurn Press for an honest review. The opinions are my own.

Book synoposis

Twin sisters Jade and Jasmine are finally together after a five-year separation, but there’s no time to enjoy the reunion. As Seers, the sisters are being hunted by demons spilling through the rift, and the city is on high alert against terrorist threats. The Protectors at Beaconsfield have gathered as many Seers as possible, as the countries that haven’t been destroyed by climate change are starting to close their borders. On top of it all, Jasmine discovers that someone has stolen a ring with the power to control the demons, and the Final Battle between the Daughters of Light and the forces of darkness is approaching more quickly than anyone predicted.”

Q&A with Mary Jennifer Payne

Hi Mary,

Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me and congratulations on your latest book in the Daughters of Light series, Solomon’s Ring.

I  found life in Toronto in 2030 absolutely terrifying and downright depressing.

How did you come up with Toronto’s future?
A. When I began writing the first book in the series, Finding Jade, about seven or eight years ago, it was already clear that climate change was going to be our world’s greatest challenge. The crisis in the Sudan, which is often referred to as one of the first climate change conflicts, was one of the seeds of inspiration for the futuristic geo-political and environmental setting of the series.

At the time, Canada’s elected government was heading down what I felt was an extremely dark and dangerous road with regard to its stance on science, climate change, immigration and diversity. It wasn’t a huge leap to imagine that, when the world’s resources were further threatened and eroded by climate change in the next few decades, conflicts would escalate and authoritarian leaders might use fear and division to maintain power and control. What started out as speculative fiction and a hope to warn of one possible future, has quickly become more contemporary.

When we look at the contemporary crises in Syria and Yemen, as well as the rise to power of a government like Donald Trump’s, the world of the Daughters of Light series unfortunately no longer feels futuristic.

Q. How realistic do you think your created effects of climate change are? What can we do to stop it? What are you, personally, doing to lessen your impact on our planet?
A. I spend a great deal of time in Southern California now, including living my summers in the Santa Barbara area. The effects of climate change are extremely apparent there. In fact, I’m writing this from a cafe in Carpinteria while the ash from the Thomas Fire is still falling like intermittent snowflakes in the air around me.

I researched the anticipated changes for the U.K. and Canada for the book, but also used a lot of my experience from being here in California. The droughts, fires, and awareness of the fragility of our beautiful ecosystems, particularly the oceans, are all constants here. I really believe the only way to stop it (if that is possible now), is via a complete paradigm shift.

I have real hope when I hear people like Elizabeth May, Bernie Sanders, and Jeremy Corbyn speak, but feel that those in power and control will never allow the kind of transformative change that is needed to happen come to fruition.

There are some very positive movements happening, including the #MeToo activism and Indigenous protests against pipeline expansion, etc. It’s a transitional point for our planet and it could be a time of very positive change.

I try to be more aware of my footprint on the planet. I do all the basics of recycling, compost, etc. and try to eat ethically. Living in Toronto, I walk to my workplace in Regent Park, and take TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) or bike, rather than owning a car. I made a resolution for 2018 to not buy anything new that was not a consumable, but broke that yesterday by purchasing a yoga top in Ojai to support local businesses after the fire.

Q. The effects of climate change is frightening enough, but our response to it, and how we treat others, is, to me, more troublesome. One could argue it’s just dystopian literature, while others would say we are heading down that path quite quickly. What side of the fence do you sit on? How can we ensure this doesn’t happen? What kind of skills should we be teaching our children to ensure they have the ability to understand what is the truth?
A. I firmly believe we are heading down a dark path, but things have always been troublesome in terms of humanity’s treatment of each other. For instance, a segment of white America’s awareness of racism, Islamaphobia, and other inequities has been awakened with the rise of Trump and his government. However, the issues are not new and have been the daily experience for so many Indigenous, brown and black Americans, and women. What is most troublesome to me is the legitimization of racist, misogynist and other equally damaging views with the rise of nationalist governments like Trump’s.

However, it’s equally important to not lose hope.

In order to ensure a brighter future, I believe people need to ask questions, talk to others, and recognize inherent power and privilege. It really isn’t time to be complacent. And we need to vote and elect leaders that demonstrate a commitment to social justice, equity and the environment – not to capitalist interests and corporations.

Children are so important to our future. We need to work to ensure that all children who are marginalized are given the tools to deconstruct and analyze the world around them. They are bombarded by information constantly. Their experiences and knowledge needs to be valued and their voices heard. Dominant culture needs to change and allow others to take the lead and shape the future. Education is key, but there needs to be some true transformative changes there as well.

Q. What was the hardest part of about writing this book in particular, and the series in general? What was the easiest? What part did you enjoy writing? Which part did you hate?
A. The hardest part about writing this book was seeing some of the imagined events actually transpiring in some way, shape or form during the final editing process. The sexual violence against Eva’s sister and the implied sexual assault of Jade were challenging to write, but we know the reality of the prevalence of that kind of violence, particularly during times of war, and I believe it was important not to eliminate them.

I enjoyed writing a story where the protagonists are all strong young women whose primary concern is not a boy or girl to crush on. I also love Jasmine’s feisty but vulnerable character and the way she’s become more self-reflective in this novel.

Q. You are a teacher at the Toronto District School Board. What grade/subject do you teach? How does working with child/youth help you when writing this series? Do you discuss climate change with your students? What are their reactions? How do you help see their actions/non-actions are helping to damage the planet?
A. I’ve been teaching special education for many years, and work mainly with students in grades 5 to 8. My students are often the inspiration behind what I write, and I learn so much from them daily. Climate change is woven into much of what we learn and there is a real focus on social justice and culturally-relevant curriculum in my class.

A couple of years ago, my class came up with amazing prototypes for an environmentally-friendly alternative to plastic toothbrushes. One was based on the miswak, which has been used for centuries and holds significance in Islam. The science behind it was fascinating and compelling. My experience has been that students are concerned, want to take positive action, and have great ideas.

Q. What has been the reaction to your books from your students?
A. Really positive. First and foremost, the audience I write for are the kids in Regent Park, and it is their opinions and reactions that matter the most for me. I have one student in particular who I give early drafts of the Seers series to. We’re meeting my first week back at school for a project she’s doing at secondary school in order to interview me.

Q. How did you come up with the idea of this book? Was it always going to be a trilogy? Will there be more than three books?
A. The initial seed for the idea was a student in my class that was being badly bullied by another girl. That girl’s mother was battling lupus. And I’ve always been fascinated by the lore around twins From there, everything kind of spiraled.

Q. What do you enjoy about writing for young adults?

A. I know that young people are very astute and I enjoy being able to cover issues of importance for that audience. It’s also cathartic for me. I teach in an amazing community that is resilient, creative and innovative, but it’s also a neighbourhood that deals with an enormous amount of tragedy. My writing helps me work through some of that.

Q. Your first book, Since You Have Been Gone, is completely different from your Daughters of Light Series (first Finding Jade, then Solomon’s Ring). What did you like writing better? Which book did you find easier to write? How is writing a standalone book different from writing a trilogy?
A. I’ve also written another novel, Enough, with Orca Press. It’s set in Regent Park and deals with many of the same issues as Since. I definitely find the urban contemporary fiction easier to write. The trilogy has been a challenge as it’s my first foray into fantasy/cli-fi. I’ve enjoyed the world-building process, but there’s definitely a challenge to making sure all of the threads are tied up in a trilogy versus a standalone book. That being said, Since, always felt like it needed a follow up.

Q. What is your writing process?
A. I wish I could say that I make a plan, an outline or something as equally organized as that. I simply write and revise as I move along. It sounds a bit odd, but I just let the characters and plot unfold as I write. I paint in much the same way. I try to write whenever I can: for half an hour at night, waiting for planes, at cafes before meeting friends.

Q. What do you like best about the writing process? Least?
A. The worst part is my lack of time. I wish I had more time to dedicate to writing, but I also love teaching. At the end of the day, I’m just grateful to have two careers that I am passionate about. I love sitting outside at a cafe and writing. There’s something about being around other people and fresh air that not only makes the process enjoyable, but that I find inspiring.

Q. What are you looking forward to about your upcoming publicity tour for Solomon’s Ring?
A. I’m looking forward to connecting with readers like yourself!

Q. Anything else you would like to say?
A. Just a huge, heartfelt thank you to all my readers.

CONTEST

Intrigued by Solomon’s Ring? Dundurn Press is offering two copies of the second book in the series to Book Time readers who are Canadian residents 18 and older, excluding residents of Quebec.

To enter for your chance to win a copy of Solomon’s, leave a comment below. The contest runs until Sunday, Feb. 4 at 11:59 p.m. (Eastern Time Zone). I will contact the winners through the blog. The winners have 48 hours to respond via email to contestsforbooktime@gmail.com with a Canadian mailing address and their first and last name. The winner’s name and mailing address will be forwarded to Dundurn Press and Book Time is no longer responsible for the prize. The prize is valued at $12.99.

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Sponsor: Dundurn Press

Eligibility: The Contest is open to all legal residents of the Province of Ontario that are eighteen (18) years of age or older at the time of entry. You are not eligible to enter if you are (or you live with) an employee, officer, director, representative, agent, consultant or supplier of the Contest Sponsor or any of its affiliates (collectively, the “Promotion Entities”). Contest Sponsor reserves the right to verify the eligibility of the potential winners. Incomplete or illegible entries, bulk drop offs, photocopies, scanned copies, facsimiles or other mechanically or electronically reproduced entries will not be accepted and will be disqualified.

Contest Entry: To enter the Contest, leave a comment and your name within the blog post. The Contest Period begins at 4 a.m. ET Jan. 17, 2018 and ends at 11:59 PM ET Feb. 4, 2018. Limit of one entry per email address per day. The prize will be awarded to randomly selected entry. The winners will be selected by 10:00 AM ET Feb. 5, 2018. One name and email address and Canadian mailing address will be to forwarded to Dundurn Press. A representative from Dundurn Press will contact the winners directly, and award them their prizes. Book Time and its affiliates are no longer responsibly for receiving the prize.

Prize: Dundurn Press’ Solomon’s Ring book valued at $12.99.

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