In this week’s episode, Marissa chats with E.K. Johnston about her latest book, the prequel to Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves – THE DRUID’S CALL. Also discussed: how archaeology and writing can be related, writing IP (intellectual property) projects, the pros and cons of them, and how writing fanfiction can prepare you for the job, the fun and complications of inserting Easter eggs into books, and so much more.
Dragon Age (Game): https://www.ea.com/games/dragon-age
What is dressage: https://www.horseandhound.co.uk/features/what-is-dressage-olympics-747995
Find out more and follow The Happy Writer on social media: https://www.marissameyer.com/podcast/
[00:10] Marissa : Hello, and welcome to the Happy Writer. This is a podcast that aims to bring readers more books to enjoy and to help authors find more joy in their writing. I am your host, Marissa Meyer. Thank you so much for joining me. One thing making me happy this week is that the girls and I have decided to host our very first Kentucky Derby party. Or as Delaney says, Kentucky. For some reason, she has a trouble with that t in the middle of the word. We're having a Kentucky Derby party. I've never had a Kentucky Derby party. I've never been to a Kentucky Derby party. I've only ever been to a handful of horse races in my life. It's not like a big part of our lifestyle, but I like dressing up, and I like big, fancy hats. And the girls are super into horses right now. They have been, like, the thing for a long time, so we thought, why not? It's a big thing for lots of people. Let's have some people over and celebrate. And so we spent Craft day yesterday. My mom came over. We made our own hats. The girls have been working on making decorations for the house, lots of cute little jockey, silks, and, of course, horses everywhere. And I'm really excited. And now, next up on my to do list, I have to figure out how to make a mint julip, which, I'll be honest, does not sound like a very tasty cocktail. But I've never had one before, so we will withhold judgment. And who knows? Maybe I will be in love with the mint julip. We will know after this weekend. Anyways, I am really looking forward to it. Of course, I am also so happy to be talking to today's guest. She is a forensic archaeologist what? Who has lived on four continents and also happens to be the author of more than a dozen books for teen readers, including A Thousand Knights and Star Wars. Asoka her newest Dungeons and Dragons honor among thieves, the Druids call came out earlier this year. Please welcome E. K. Johnston.
[02:29] E.K.: Hello.
[02:31] Marissa : Hello and welcome. Your thoughts. How do you feel about the Kentucky Derby?
[02:37] E.K.: I don't really have thoughts, but I was in Australia on Melbourne Cup Day twice, and the whole country stopped. I was in high school at the time, and people wore their hats to school. The school had a hat contest, and then we stopped in the afternoon so that everybody could listen on the radio. And of course, it takes like, a minute and a half. And then it was like I was like, this is the strangest thing I've ever seen. And so that was kind of my first exposure to horse racing, because in Canada, when I was growing up, we had this horse named Big Ben and his rider Ian Miller, and they were in show jumping. So when I was little, I was a show jumping girl.
[03:26] Marissa : You actually did shows.
[03:27] E.K.: I did not. But that was like where my horse obsession went because we had Big Ben and Ian Miller and they were like all over the news all the time. So that was kind of like where my focus was on show jumping.
[03:41] Marissa : No, my girls, after their whole lives were asking, we want to ride horses. Of course they want a horse. We're not planning on buying them a horse, but we've had them in horse lessons for seven or eight months now and they want to do dressage, which I didn't even know that word before we started them in horse lessons. But it's like where you get the horse to dance.
[04:05] E.K.: Yeah, it's always big at the Olympics because there's always like some horse dancing to Thriller or something. It's like a video sensation for a while.
[04:15] Marissa : Yeah, okay, well, if my girls could get a horse to dance to Thriller, I would be all over that post.
[04:23] E.K.: Trotting, and I do not enjoy post trotting. It hurts.
[04:26] Marissa : Okay. I only have a vague notion of what that is, but I will say I have learned a lot the last seven, eight months because the girls, they come home with all of this new vocabulary. I have no idea what you're talking about, but that sounds awesome. All right, AK, the first question that I love to start with, I want to hear your origin story in particular. I am really curious about this forensic archaeology thing and how did that translate into you becoming a writer?
[04:57] E.K.: Well, I was never one of those kids who wanted to be a writer. That was not my background at all. It was not really something I thought of doing as my grown up job. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an archaeologist. Well, first I wanted to be a paleontologist, and then I realized that people make things and dinosaurs don't make things. So I switched my fascination to archaeology at like the ripe old age of ten. Here we are. And so by grade eleven, I knew where I was going, much to the amusement of my guidance counselor who was like, you don't have to make this decision for like two years. I'm like, yeah, but I have my future planned out. And then at the end of OAC, I got into Laurier, which is a university hero in Canada, and I went to their Near Eastern Archaeology program which involved multiple trips to Jordan and excavations there. And then when I finished, I knew that I wanted to get my master's and I was going to get it in the UK, in Bradford, because they had forensic archaeology as one of their master's programs. And I'm not sure if this is still the case, but at the time England differentiated between forensic archaeology and forensic anthropology, and schools in North America did not. And I was much more interested in the recovery than the analysis. So that's why I went to England and then after that we had a recession because it was 2008. And so I ended up teaching English in South Korea and bouncing around all over the place. I actually did have an archaeology job at one point, but it really took further grad school off the table. So that was kind of the end of my official career as an archaeologist.
[06:50] Marissa : All right, can I just pause you because I have to know what was the archaeology job that you had?
[06:54] E.K.: Oh, I worked in Alberta and we did forestry consultation, which is basically before they go in and cut down all the trees to mine for oil and gas or in some cases pulp the trees themselves, they have to do an archaeological survey. And so we would go through and find sites. And if we found them, we would rope them off and then they would not cut that site.
[07:16] Marissa : I see. Did you find anything?
[07:18] E.K.: I did, actually. So we found a lot of tools, like from indigenous habitation and the broken pieces that are left when you make a tool, which are called flakes and that kind of thing. Cool.
[07:36] Marissa : Okay, we are going to talk about books and writing, but I had to ask because I joke that if this writing thing doesn't work out for me, then I'm going to go back to school to become an archaeologist because I pretty much think it's like the coolest thing in the world.
[07:47] E.K.: It is pretty cool. Make sure your spine is in good condition.
[07:50] Marissa : Yeah, I know. Probably my dreams of archaeology don't seem to have much hope, but maybe you never know. Okay, so archaeology ends up not working out, then what?
[08:04] E.K.: So I was working a bunch of retail jobs at the same time and it was fall of 2009 and my friend Laura was like, hey, it's almost November and you know what you don't have? And I was like, a grown up job, thanks for rubbing it in. And she was like, no, you don't have final papers, you can do nano rhymo. And I was like, Laura, it's the 28 October, I don't have any ideas for nano rhymo. And she's like, no, it's fine, you just open your computer and start typing. And I was like, okay. About 6 hours later I was working at Toys R US and some kid came through and they were going to a birthday party and their mom had got Jenga because it was $15 and so she figured it was like a good gift for some random kid. And I started thinking about towers and falling over and that became my first nano book. It is of course, completely unpublishable.
[09:00] Marissa : Is it about a tower that falls over?
[09:02] E.K.: It's about an evil wizard who lives in a tower and the stone mage who makes the tower fall down. It's slightly more complicated than that.
[09:10] Marissa : Sounds like a good start.
[09:12] E.K.: Yeah, there's a lot of architecture. It's very tamra pierced, like very tamra pierced. And so that's what I did in 2009. And then in 2010, I wrote another horrifying fantasy book that will never see the light of day. And then in 2011, I wrote The Story of Owen, which ended up being my debut. I sold it about six months later, and that's kind of how it went in hindsight. I always had been a storyteller. Like, I used to do what I now know as live action roleplay in our backyard as either Star Wars or The Chronicles of Narnia, sometimes at the same time. And a lot of archaeology is constructing a narrative around the evidence that you have.
[09:55] Marissa : Right.
[09:58] E.K.: Plus, I've been writing fan fiction since, like, 2002, so I don't think it was a huge jump to novelist, but it was definitely an unconventional pathway.
[10:08] Marissa : Sure. No, and it's fun. I love asking this story because everyone's got a different path and it seems on the surface, like a bit of a leap from archaeology to writing. But I agree with you. It's not as far fetched as the writers who were a lawyer or something, and now I'm writing fiction for teenagers. Okay, so you get your first book published close to a decade ago. You've, of course, had many come out since then, including your newest. Would you please tell listeners a little bit about Dungeons and Dragons honor among Thieves, the Druids Call?
[10:51] E.K.: So this one is very different for me. I've done IP intellectual property before with Star Wars, obviously, but this was a much, I guess, wilder world. Star wars has a very well defined set of rules, and DND changes their rules every once in a while, and some people like those changes and some people don't like those changes. And so they just kind of like, mash them all together as they go. But it's a very different world for me coming into. And I was a little bit nervous, and then they were like, oh, you know, this movie is going to be really fun. It stars chris Pine. And I was like, okay, I guess that could be pretty cool. And then they were like, yeah, he plays a bard. And I was like, where do I sign? Because whoever realized that the bard is the character that Chris Pine should play knows exactly what they're doing in terms of writing this movie. And I want in. So I put myself through a really quick, like, what's currently the rules in DND because my brother played. So I'm, like, a little bit out of date in terms of how it works. And so I basically put myself through, like, a really quick crash course and started putting the book together. And they had asked me, of course, to write a story about Doric, who is a Druid. She's the Druid character in the movie, and she is sort of the late entry to the team. So she's not in the other prequel novel, the road to Neverwinter because she's not part of the team yet. She joins the team in the movie and they wanted her to have a background story. Also, it's handy to remind teenage girls that they are welcome at the table, literally, in D and D. So I think it was like, both from a business and storytelling viewpoint, it was a really good idea to have that story be told, and I was super excited to tell it. I got to read the script. So I remember getting through the script and I was laughing and at all the jokes. And you get to the part where it's like, Chris Pine's character sings something, and I was like, if this is the shooting version of the movie, it's going to be amazing. It's going to be so good. And most reviewers agree with me, it turns out, but it's just been super fun. And so I worked on it with my editor, Elizabeth, and a couple of people from Wizards on the coast who sort of kept me on the straight and narrow in terms of DND details. And it was a very quick turnaround time. We wrote it in August and it was published in February. I had it planned out a little bit before then, but it was a very quick turnaround for that book.
[13:48] Marissa : That is ridiculous.
[13:51] E.K.: But it was at every stage, it was just fun. Well, not the part where I was sick, but like, every other part of it was fun. So I got to write all these new species in terms of the different kinds of creatures and people that live in the DND universe. And it was really fun to sort of write a scene and then remember that one of your characters is a halfling so they can't run that fast. And then you have to go back and rework the scene and that gives you all kinds of character development potential and people talking to each other when they wouldn't normally, and you're like, Yay, free exposition time, and that kind of thing. As I said, it was very new for me, but it was still a lot of fun.
[14:36] Marissa : Yeah. So for people who have not seen the movie and who have no idea who Doric is, do you have, like, a brief pitch or summary?
[14:47] E.K.: Yes. So Doric is a tiefling bar or Bard? I'm just thinking about Bards.
[14:52] Marissa : Doric is a we just love Bards.
[14:54] E.K.: Yeah. So Doric is a teethling druid. She was abandoned by her parents as a toddler and taken in by wood elves who basically raised her from that point on. And when she's 16 years old, she is sent to The Emerald Enclave to become a druid when it becomes clear that her talents lie in that area. So, as with most of my books, the main villains are internal, and a lot of her growth and a lot of the plot and forward movement of the story is her realizing that she is both tremendously powerful and also lovable, which she seriously doubts on many occasions.
[15:34] Marissa : Right. So you mentioned that your brother plays DND. Had you played before writing this book, or have you played now?
[15:42] E.K.: So the main thing that's keeping me out of DND right now is time. It is such a commitment, and I know people who do it. I have friends who play multiple games, and I'm like, I'm sorry, I don't have time for that. And it's not something I can fit into my schedule at this point. But I did play one. It was an all bards panel at San Diego Comic Con. So it was 45 minutes long, and my character was called CronkA the Ox. I was an ORC, I think. Yeah, I was an ORC bard. And so it's the only time I've ever played. And it was a panel at San Diego Comic Con.
[16:27] Marissa : Oh, my gosh, that's hilarious.
[16:28] E.K.: Everyone's a bard and you can't engage in combat. So it was a lot of fun. And as an introduction, it was probably a little bit strange, but it was quite fun.
[16:40] Marissa : Yeah. So how did you get approached to do this project? Was it because of your IP work with Star Wars or what was the connection there?
[16:49] E.K.: Yes. So in a nutshell, I had pitched a Star Wars book to Elizabeth at Del Rey, which is now Random House World, and she came back with, we can't do that right now, but are you interested in this? And I was like, I guess so. And then they told me about the barred part, and I was like, yes, I'm so, yeah, it was kind of a combination of both. It was the editor knew me and knew what my background was. And then there was also a bit of right place, right time.
[17:19] Marissa : Sure. Yeah. So take me through this crash course that you went through in learning about DND, and I will say so. I have a book coming out next February that's a contemporary, but the main character plays DND, and that's like, a really big part of his storyline. I played briefly when I was a teenager, but I also had to do kind of a deep dive into, like, okay, remind me, how does this work? So I know exactly what you're talking about as far as the crash course into D and D goes. But for you, how did you go about that?
[17:54] E.K.: Sort of two ways. The first was I sort of immediately realized that I couldn't watch either Dimension 20 or Critical Role because both of those are their own thing right now. Like, they're not as reliant on the actual Wizards of the coast rules. So they gave me Wizards of the coast gave me a membership to their website where you can go and research things and make up character sheets and all that kind of stuff. So I had that, and then I very carefully engaged two or three different friends in increasingly contextless questions that they were all able to answer without asking follow ups because they know that I can't tell them. And then when the book was announced, they were like, oh, that's why you wanted to know about teethlings. And I was like, yeah, that's why I wanted to know about teethlings. And then the other thing is that my friend Marika wrote the Critical Role book. I think it's called Kith and kin. And so I talked a little bit with them about what it was like to write a D and D character because when you're playing DND, you level up by dice and by combat and by experience and stuff like that. And I wasn't entirely sure how best to turn that into a book. Like, was I going to roll the dice every time she came to a thing? And whatever the dice said was going to affect the outcome, which I did not do. Although I still think that would have been funny.
[19:24] Marissa : Yeah, it'd be fun to write a book that way.
[19:28] E.K.: So I kind of had to come up with a way to take something that is very technical, almost like stage directions in a way, right? Like taking a play and turn it's like taking Shakespeare and turning it into a novel, right? Like, you have all you basically just have dialogue and some stage directions. And to turn that into a book, you kind of have to take some creative liberties. And that's basically what I had to do with the DND game format as well, was to take what would have been dialogue and stage directions in the form of the dice roll and what the DM has going on and turn that into a narrative.
[20:06] Marissa : So you had the script, which is so cool, that would, of course, been quite a long time before the movie actually came out. And that was for me. I watched the movie and then read the book. And so I loved seeing just all of the little foreshadowing elements, like how much did the script really inform what you wanted to do with the story?
[20:30] E.K.: I think because I haven't been able to see the movie yet. I live in the middle of nowhere. There isn't the movie. Yeah, there isn't a convenient movie theater. And I've been absolutely slammed with work. So it's just come out on digital. So I'll probably rent it this weekend. But I have not been able to make it. The closest movie theater is like 45 minutes away.
[20:48] Marissa : I'm so disappointed by that. I was hoping you were going to be like, oh, yeah, I totally got to go. Red carpet opening night in Hollywood.
[20:56] E.K.: I mean, I thought they had like a local preview opening that I thought about going to. And then I woke up that morning and I was like, I can't. It's 5 hours out of my day and I have to work.
[21:06] Marissa : That's a bummer. Well, you're going to love it.
[21:09] E.K.: I'm super excited. But no, the thing about my what I assume the difference is between the script and the actual movie is that for me, reading the script, I only see doric when she's talking. So there's a lot of scenes that she's present for, but she's doing something actiony or she's like reacting to something, but she's not actually speaking. So in the script, that's very bare bones, but in the movie it will be a lot more developed. So for me, it was really easy to hone in on what the movie writers thought were important because that's what's in the script. And so I was able to kind of take that her encounter with Simon and the flashbacks to her childhood, the elf at the beginning of the movie, and her feelings about humans. And then, of course, the owl bear was basically what I knew starting to write the book. And we just kind of went from there.
[22:09] Marissa : Was it weird writing? I mean, I guess you've obviously done it before with Star Wars, but I was going to ask, is it weird writing a character that you yourself did not create?
[22:21] E.K.: Not really. I think part of that is that I did come up through fan fiction. Yeah. Fairly intensively. I think I have like a million words on FF net or something like that.
[22:31] Marissa : No, I think I just about rival you.
[22:35] E.K.: I haven't had time for it in the last few years, which kind of sucks. But yeah. So it was basically something I'm used to, is to writing other people's characters and matching the voice and coming up with reasonable extensions of what we don't see on the screen and that kind of stuff. So I think it was, for me, in addition to the Star Wars stuff, fairly normal to kind of take that story and run with it.
[22:60] Marissa : Yeah. So having talked to authors who have done various IP projects, I've heard mixed reviews. I myself have not done one, but sometimes you hear from authors who I loved it. I loved getting all of the feedback and having so many people giving their input and helping to guide the story along. And then you have the opposite end of the spectrum where it's like, oh, it's writing by committee and I have no freedom. And they wanted to change everything I wanted to do for you. What was your experience as far as some of the good things that you like about writing for IP and maybe some of the unique challenges to it?
[23:41] E.K.: I think the thing I like the most is actually the teamwork. And I didn't get this experience quite as much in DND because it was just the movie. But in Star Wars, I have comics to draw on, I have video games to draw on, I have other books to draw on. I have obscure animated television shows and like the Ewok special to draw on. Like you have all that stuff that you can kind of bring to the table. And I love that. I love talking to other authors and being like, so in this scene, did you mean this? Because when I write the older version of the character, thinking about that time, I want to make sure that we're both on the same page. Most recently, I did that with Kira and I'm actually doing it between Ray Carson's most wanted and Mer Lafferty's solo novelization. So I kind of had to slot her in between those two takes. So I wanted to have somebody who fits with an extension of Ray's version of the character but isn't further down her journey than Mer's version of the character because she hasn't got there yet. And that's the kind of stuff I love. And having an editor who knows all of the things and the story group in the case of Star Wars, really kind of takes a weight off. We did do some fairly substantial changes to the Druids call. I think I ended up rewriting almost a third of it because Wizards of the coast is changing some of the rules around. So some of the things that I had put in the book based on my outline and based on the research I'd done, were no longer current. So we had to do some shifting around and also some shifting around geographically for the same reason. So that was probably more complicated than I'm used to in IP, but also I'm much more familiar with Star Wars than I am with DND, so I was kind of expecting that going in. But I wouldn't say that was a bad thing, necessarily. The one thing that I run up to pretty frequently in IP projects is you're kind of stuck with the lack of diversity that they had to put into the movie. So in the case of the Padme books, all of the handmaidens are her body doubles, which means I had to write a book about six white girls, which I very rarely do. And in the case of Doric, she is a very human looking teethling and the book gives a reason for that. But teethlings are usually like red or blue and very large and taller than she is, and their tails are much bigger than hers is. And a lot of that is just special effects and not wanting to have Sophia Lillis spend 9 hours a day in makeup, but like in the makeup chair before she shoots. And so a lot of that was a practical decision. But it means that when I go to write the book, I'm usually stuck with characters who are a lot straighter than the characters I write in my normal books. And I think especially with DND, which has such a big queer membership in terms of the people who play it, I knew that and so I wanted to make sure that I presented a DND world that was welcoming, but also representative of the people I knew who played it. And that's probably for me, the most frustrating thing is that I get a character and I'm like, fine, I guess she's straight, but I'm going to pretend she's not just while I'm ready. No one will notice. Okay. Yeah. Okay.
[27:15] Marissa : I would like it to be known.
[27:16] E.K.: Yeah, she kind of likes a boy a little bit in the movie, kind of, but that doesn't mean she couldn't have liked a girl before, that kind of thing. So there's usually some wiggle room.
[27:28] Marissa : Sure. Right.
[27:29] E.K.: And fans are generally really positive about it, too. So it's nice to know that the people I'm writing for are going to be just as thrilled as I am that I get to do this, basically.
[27:42] Marissa : Did you feel like when you were writing this, how much were you thinking of your audience? Were you thinking, like, I really want D and D fans to love this. I really want the movie fans to love this. I really want teen girls to love this? All of the above. None of the above. How much were you thinking about the end reader?
[27:59] E.K.: Not much.
[28:01] Marissa : Fair.
[28:03] E.K.: It happens so fast. No, I think I always try to write for the same archetype, I suppose, which is girls who are coming into the awareness of their power socially or whatever, and the various ways in which the world tries to beat that out of them. And so I try to present characters who have similar problems, although usually in a fantasy setting, and they are able to sort of maintain that power. So I'm always writing, I think, in my heart for the teenage girl. But I also kind of am very proud of the fact that there's like nine reviews on YouTube that are, like, some 30 something white guy with a bunch of Warhammer miniatures behind him. And he's like, you know, I wasn't sure about this one. And it is like a Ya novel, but I really liked it. Like, I cried and I'm like, you're welcome. And I got that a lot with Padme and Asoka as well. I really got that with Padme. I kind of expected it with Asoka, but I really got it with Padme, so I kind of know how to get them, is what it comes down to, and make it accessible, but still make it accessible for people like my mother, who have no idea what DND is, but would like to read my book.
[29:27] Marissa : Yeah. And that can be a weird line to try to height rope along. You want to please the fans and the people who are just going to know the world inside it out. But also, you don't want to exclude people who are going to be entering into this for the first time. And that can be kind of a challenge.
[29:47] E.K.: Yeah. And the movie does that really well. It does. I was able to kind of lean. On the script for guidance in how to do that because I had this great example of how they did it in the movie and then I could kind of channel that into the book.
[30:07] Marissa : Yeah. Were you trying to are there Easter eggs, like fans littered about or anything like that?
[30:18] E.K.: Sorry. I've written, like, three books since then. I know. Probably. That definitely sounds like something I would do. Honestly, I honestly do not remember. I know that sounds terrible, but I have literally written three books since then.
[30:33] Marissa : Yeah, no worries.
[30:34] E.K.: And I'm in the middle of number four, so it's like hugging right along.
[30:39] Marissa : I know.
[30:41] E.K.: Write this stuff down as I go and then I wouldn't make a difference. But I do enjoy putting in, like, little winks and nudges sometimes. I always joke that keeping the Star Wars references out of my Star Wars books is incredibly difficult because I naturally communicate with many Star Wars references.
[31:02] Marissa : Yeah, and you would think the readers, a lot of readers would want that. Like, you would feel like you're in on the inside joke, but it might also kind of take you out of the story. That'd be a tough one.
[31:12] E.K.: Yeah, because it's like other characters lines and stuff. Right. The number of times while writing asoka I erased that's not how the force works from the book was, like it might have been in double digits. It was a lot. But it's still fun to figure out what you can do and what you can get away with. And I think that's one of the things I enjoyed about the DND book as well, was putting in little things for myself and for other readers who might pick up on them.
[31:43] Marissa : Yeah. So one thing that really struck me about this book is Doric. So you're writing kind of two parallel storylines, the present and the past. So we've got Doric as a teenager setting off on her quest to become a druid, but then we also get these flashbacks of her childhood, which is a horrifically sad story. There's neglect and abandonment and she's an outcast and nobody trusts her. And it's just awful, truly, which I say laughing, but it's one of those broken hearted laughs. And yet the book just overall has so much lightness to it. I mean, it's a really fast paced, fun read. Was that difficult for you to strike that balance?
[32:32] E.K.: Not really. I love a good frame structure and most of my books have them. So most of my books have, like, five chapters and then a break, and then five chapters and then a break and then five chapters a break. And this was two and one. So every two chapters got a flashback that helps me while I'm drafting to kind of keep the structure of the novel and the plot arcs and all that kind of stuff in my mind. But I think as a reader, it can be fun to change the style every once in a while. In the original outline, I will say the story was chronological. And I was already thinking about asking if I could switch them up so that part one was like dispersed between part two, three, and four. And then I got a note back from Elizabeth that was like, I really like this, but what do you think about doing the flashback? I was like, perfect. It's going to be fun. And so that gave me a little bit more gave me a little bit more room to make them even more relentless because they weren't all happening in a row. So rather than getting this huge weight at the beginning of the book and then kind of the recovery, which I did do in etherbound, so it's not like it's impossible, sure, but I like the idea of having that sort of here is the story, and then here is the thematic flashback. And then here is the story, and then here is the thematic flashback, which I straight up stole from Gail Foreman. And if I stay but no, I'm serious. I remember there's the part where her this happens more than once during the book, but the part where she overhears that they've taken her little brother off life support and it's like a matter of time. Immediately cuts to his immediately cuts to a flashback to him being born. And she cuts the cord. And I'm just like I know I'm being manipulated. I know it. I know I'm being manipulated. And I don't care. And I think every time I do a book that's what I'm aiming for is that feeling of me sitting in the front of a Starbucks realizing that I was going to have to go home because I was crying too much.
[34:37] Marissa : So you had the script existed, so dork's character existed. But in the movie, we get very little. If anything. I don't really remember clearly, but we don't really know much about her. When you were given this project and read the script, were you kind of given free rein to create her background? Or did they already have some ideas of where she came from?
[35:01] E.K.: Sort of. So they knew she came from the elves that's in the script, and they knew that she had met Simon at some point, which is in the script. And when I read the script, I was like, she's the only one that doesn't have a character arc because she's the deadpan snarker, right? So she's already super powerful. She's not there for a learning curve. She's already reached her peak. She's brought in as the ringer, like that kind of stuff. And she does have some growth. So it's not fair to say she doesn't have an arc, but a lot of her growth is in response to the other characters story arcs. And so right away, I was like, excellent. That means I get to write how she got there. And that will be the main arc. And then the other thing is that in Dungeons and Dragons, traditionally, you can't wild shape into an owl bear because an owl bear is not an animal. It's not an animal, it's a monster or something like that. And I was like, Excellent. That's going to be like the turning point of the entire book. Why she can turn into the owl bear became the whole point of the book. And so I sent in my first outline, which was kind of a little bit vague. I like to be a little bit vague on the first outline so I can figure out what I can get away with. And then Wizards of the coast came back with, oh, we really like that. But also, I don't know if you're aware you can't usually wild shape into an owl bear. So if you could make that part of the book, that would be great. I was like, I'm really glad to hear you say that because it is the whole book. Like, it is the whole emotional journey of the book. And it might be like the coolest thing I've ever added to a preexisting canon, the reason why she can do this. And plus it makes for great storytelling. So that part was kind of ideal.
[37:02] Marissa : I love that. Is there any talk of Wizards of the coast we might need to work this into the next dungeon or the player's handbook for how you can I.
[37:14] E.K.: Don'T know what they're going to do. I know the Wild Shape rules have changed in the current edition, but because I didn't have to worry about the mass part of any of the spells, I could just have them do the spell and not worry about the math part. But the actual math part of Wild Shape has changed. So I think you can do it earlier, but now you have to pick the type of animal so you can't be like a dolphin and then two days later become a bear. You have to do a progression of animals instead. I'm not sure, but I got to do the sort of back and forth of what animals make the most sense, what animal would be really inconvenient right now, that kind of stuff, and come up with how they were going to put it together.
[38:04] Marissa : I love that. My last question before we go into our bonus round. So you've written very widely among different genres. Sci-fi, fantasy. We've written different IP projects with DND and Star Wars. Is there a franchise or something that you haven't had a chance yet that you would just jump at the chance to write for if it came?
[38:29] E.K.: There is, and they know because I've been trying to pitch them for like two years. I have a Dragon Age trilogy of Ya novels planned and I really desperately want to write them. The licensing is kind of a nightmare, but it would be hopefully as the the fourth game gets closer, the licensing stuff will sort itself out, and then I can pitch it to an editor instead of, like, the ether, the marketing department or whatever. But, yeah, definitely dragon age. I have thoughts and plans and hopes and dreams.
[39:03] Marissa : Oh, cool. Well, I hope I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. All right, our bonus round. What book makes you happy?
[39:10] E.K.: Oh, boy. Weirdly. Codename Verity. Oh, that's a good book because it's, like, super emotional, but it's also so good. So good. From a craft perspective. It's the only book I've ever I had an advanced copy and I stopped it. Like, I finished it and then went back to the beginning and immediately read it again. It's the only time in my life I've ever done that.
[39:35] Marissa : What are you working on next? You've hinted that there's a lot of irons in the fire.
[39:40] E.K.: There is. So right now I am working on a book called Titan of the Stars, which is a Sci-Fi that will come out next fall from Penguin Canada, and it is essentially Titanic by way of Alien. So nice. Big spaceship with a few design flaws and a vast class difference in the passengers. And then also the aliens from Alien. Nice.
[40:09] Marissa : Lastly, where can people find you?
[40:11] E.K.: I can be found online on Instagram at Ek underscore Johnston. My Twitter is the same, though I am not there very often. And my tumblr is Ekjohnston with no underscore. Oh, and I do have a TikTok, which is Ek underscore again, but I am currently on hiatus because I need to finish this book.
[40:30] Marissa : You will not be on TikTok until you at least get to go see the movie.
[40:34] E.K.: Yeah.
[40:35] Marissa : Awesome. Ek, thank you so much for joining me today.
[40:38] E.K.: No problem. Thank you for having me.
[40:40] Marissa : Readers, be sure to check out Dungeons and Dragons honor Among Thieves. The Druids. Call, and definitely go see the movie if you like. Ek have not been to see it because it is super fun. Of course, we encourage you to support your local indie bookstore if you can. If you don't have a local indie, you can also check out our affiliate store that email@example.com shopmarissamyer. And don't forget to check out our merchandise on tpublic and Spring. You can find those links in our Instagram profile. Next week, I will be chatting with Melissa Blair about her newest fantasy, a Shadow Crown. If you're enjoying these conversations, please subscribe and follow us on Instagram at Marissa Meyer, author, and at Happy Writer podcast. Until next time, stay healthy, stay cozy, and whatever life throws at you today, I do hope that now you're feeling a little bit happier.
[41:39] E.K.: You our.