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Maine’s “Lewis Carroll”-Catherynne Valente-Takes Fifth Fairyland on Tour


Catherynne Valente named her Peaks Island, Maine home “The Briary,” the place where the queen lives in Fairyland.

Catherynne Valente’s writing has been compared to that of Lewis Carroll and Neil Gaiman, to name a few, in a review of The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, the fifth volume in the New York Times bestselling Fairyland series that came out this week  (Michael Berry, Maine Sunday Telegram 2/28/16). Perhaps it’s the teen heroine named September who encounters octopus-assassins, sentient bathtubs, changelings, wombats, and a Moon-Yeti in her Fairyland adventures that begs the comparison. When I asked Catherynne how she felt about the flattering comparison, she said,

 “Oh, I love the Alice books so much. They are certainly a deep influence, as are all the children’s classics–Narnia, Phantom Tollbooth, Peter Pan, The Neverending Story, The Hobbit, The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows. And one of the things we never think about with Alice is how intellectual those books are! Sometimes people tell me I use words that are too big for kids–but we think nothing of giving six-year olds these novels full of allusions to Victorian Prime Ministers, Latin puns, chess strategy, higher level math, and references to military battles and politics few children could possibly understand in this day and age. And that’s part of what I love about it! you can read Alice as a child and simply enjoy the nonsense and the adventurous girl, and read it again as an adult and see that it isn’t nonsense at all, enjoying the references and added dimensions of Carroll’s work. Best of both worlds, and I hope kids can do the same with my books.”

As a Maine island resident myself, I know that the natural environment of Peaks Island fuels the imagination of many authors and artists. I invited Catherynne to describe how the island has fed the five volumes of the Fairyland series. She explained,

Fairyland itself is an island, the very one my title character – September – circumnavigates in the first book. The climax of the book also occurs at a place inspired by Peaks Island’s Battery Steele. I have written the entire series on the island, in two houses and my office down front, the Ministry of Stories (the Umbrella Cover Museum in the summer). I even named my home after the place where the queen lives in Fairyland – the Briary.

The beautiful Peaks Island autumn shows up in the magical country of the Autumn Provinces, as does the sense of community in all the little villages of Fairyland. One of the beloved companion characters in the later books is actually a Model A Ford named Aroostook, after the burlap sack over its spare wheel. Think Chitty Chitty Bang Bang but with a wilder magic. Maine shows up in so much of my work, though sometimes it goes by another name.
 girlwhoracedfairylandWhen Peaks Island Press caught up with Catherynne at her island home this week, she was packing to take the last Fairyland on tour and was looking forward to the scavenger hunts and dress-up parties organized to celebrate the book launch at bookstores across the country (Michigan, North Carolina, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and New York). I asked her how her young readers were responding to the heroine named September. She said,
 My young readers are wonderful, and they’ve really embraced September. I always have girls dressed in orange at my readings, and so many of them identify with September’s struggles and plain spokenness and tendency to rescue herself. I never tried to make a perfect protagonist, but a real one, one that was the kind of kid I wished I was when I was young–bookish but brave, loyal, but talks too much, and full of longing for excitement and a magical life.

Catherynne Valente has written the five-volume Fairyland series on Peaks Island, in two houses and her office down front, the Ministry of Stories, which hosts the equally whimsical Umbrella Cover Museum in the summer.


In the year marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, what could be more appropriate than a celebration of a new “Wonderland,” one with Maine island roots? Here are the titles of the five books in the series, in order:

  • The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
  • The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
  • The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two
  • The Boy Who Lost Fairyland
  • The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home
 Written by Patricia Erikson, Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner at

When carpal tunnel strikes a writer: Cat Valente shares her pain

Catherynne Valente. Photo courtesy Chi-Fi.

Catherynne Valente. Photo courtesy Chi-Fi.

As someone who writes extensively on a keyboard and who has experienced the numbness, buzzing, and pain of early phases of carpal tunnel syndrome, I still can’t imagine how advanced stages feel. Islander and New York Times bestselling author Cat Valente is experiencing CTS; she shares her pain with readers and talks about the relative silence of her keyboard recently. On her blog, she writes:

Carpal tunnel is, if your work involves keyboards, more a question of when and how bad rather than if. Of course I’ve had aching wrists before at the end of marathon writing sessions, banging toward a deadline with my usual barrel-girl over Niagara Falls habits. And yes, my hands had been going numb during those last weeks of the book. I woke up in the night completely fuzzed out from the forearms down. But I didn’t think much about it, because I don’t think about much else when I’m pushing my body to finish a project. And then, some combination of finishing Radiance and immediately sitting down at my spinning wheel for hours on end to make Christmas presents pushed me over a line I didn’t know was there. I woke up, not numb, but in agony, with a burning ache in my wrists and forearms and hands. I was trying to cut up fennel for dinner and couldn’t keep a grip on the knife; I dropped it, my hands shaking.

And that’s how I became the Armless Maiden, the Girl Without Hands.

Read Catherynne’s full post here and join me in wishing her a full and speedy recovery. And before you feel symptoms of the early phase of this condition, learn as much as you can about how to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome – proper working position (office ergonomics), proper keyboard habits, frequent stretching, and many more factors.

Stay well and stay in touch.

Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner at

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two: Cat Valente

An illustration from The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland

An illustration from The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland

Peaks Island author Catherynne Valente has just published “The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two,” her third in a five-part YA fantasy series that has placed her on the New York Times bestseller list.

A reviewer for Booklist said, “As usual, Valente enlightens readers with pearly gleams of wisdom about honesty, identity, free will, and growing up. September often worries who she should be and what path she should follow, but the lovely truth, tenderly told, is that it’s all up to her. Thanks to a dramatic cliff-hanger ending, there is sure to be more empowerment and whimsy to come. Grades 5-8. –Sarah Hunter” and Times Magazine called it, ““One of the most extraordinary works of fantasy, for adults or children, published so far this century.”—Time magazine, on the Fairyland series.”

Recently, Valente spoke at Portland’s beloved Longfellow Books in Portland and this spurred some television coverage. I thought you might like to watch the television interview with Cat here or below

Interview of Cat Valente

Interview of Cat Valente

or watch a trailer about the series

Valente and Nash Soar in Best Books of 2012 Amazon List

A little over a month ago, I crowed that two island authors launched books in the same week – Scott Nash with his High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate and Catherynne Valente with her The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. Now, to my amazement (and yet, why should I be surprised?), both of them have soared to Amazon’s top 2012 Best Books of the Year list for Children’s Middle Grade readers.

With much love and awe, I applaud them both and invite you to do the same. I already have my copies, do you?

Two island authors launch books this week

Catherynne Valente’s newest YA novel

Island Reading by Scott Nash of new novel

Islanders seem to be launching books as often as they launch boats these days. It’s a phenomenal literary week here on Peaks Island as both Scott Nash and Catherynne Valente celebrate and hold events for their respective new books. Catherynne has just released her next YA novel, a sequel to the New York Times Bestselling The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Her new book, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, has led Cat off on a month-long book tour of 19 different cities across the country – an epic journey she’s hashtagged #halloweentour. Good luck trying to keep up with her on her twitter stream @catvalente. Fair winds and following seas to you, Cat!

Scott’s epic launch party will occur tomorrow, Friday, at  7:00 p.m. at Portland’s beloved indie bookstore, Longfellow Books, where a three-dimensional window installation teases us to rush for the shelf and buy his new book. He’s also treating islanders to a reading on Saturday, October 6th from 1-3 p.m. at the Seaside Shop. Come help celebrate the publication of his middle-grade graphic novel, The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate.

Island Authors Featured at Bangor Book Festival

One of the advantages of living on an island is that we all funnel onto our sturdy ferry and cross the harbor together for a full twenty minutes (each way), a period of time sufficient to catch up on our neighbors’ lives. This counts as one of my favorite things about Peaks Island. On one such crossing Friday, I learned that two of our island authors were embarking for Bangor to present at the Fifth Annual Bangor Book Festival.

Anne Sibley O’Brien and Catherynne Valente joined 33 other authors in 25 events over two days. Annie presented “How Fascinating!: Multi-Culturalism in Children’s Literature” with Margy Burns Knight. Cat led a “Journey into Fantasy” workshop and joined Ellen Booraem and Jennifer Richard Jacobson on the “Creating Characters in Children’s Literature” panel.

Congrats to Annie and Cat for representing our island literary community!

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland: Released Today

We need look no farther than Ana Juan‘s illustration of the twelve-year-old girl named September and the Wyvern in chains to know that Cat Valente‘s newest novel offers something both classic and surprising. Today, MacMillan releases The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making to bold reviews. Already Amazon has declared it the “Best YA Book for May.” Publishers Weekly said “This is a kind of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by way of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — it’s the sort of book one doesn’t want to end.”

The journey of this book to publication intrigues reveals much about the author. When Cat and her husband, Dmitri, first moved to Peaks Island, they faced employment and financial challenges familiar to many of us these days.

Crossing Casco Bay aboard the "Island Romance"

Cat remembers: “I didn’t want charity, or something for nothing. I wanted to work, and support my family. I decided that in the world of new media and online literature, I could try to do what I do best: write a novel. I could offer up a book to the world, and try to feed us with it. I wanted it to be free, so that everyone could read it, not locked behind a password. But we needed money—so I posted to my blog and asked my readers to pay whatever they thought it was worth. Word spread fast, and help came. We were literally saved—because of a book, and a story, and a tribe of wonderful people who spread the word, and donated, and took care of my family in this New Depression everyone is getting to know.”

Those days are behind her now. Cat’s Fairyland tour reaches from California to the Pacific Northwest to New York. Our island has worked its magic upon her, though; she’s sure to return on the first ferry available, celebrating her newest book of her own making.

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