The Battle For Oz is a new fantasy novel from a young author by the name of Jeyna Grace. It’s the literary equivalent of a masterful musical mashup–in Jeyna’s world, Alice goes down the rabbit hole to Oz to help Dorothy Gale fight off a new wicked queen attempting to take over The Emerald City. It’s a very ambitious undertaking to throw together classical children’s literature’s two most beloved heroines, meshing their fantastical worlds into one sweeping adventure, but Miss Grace pulls it off, ahem, gracefully. YE was fortunate enough to get some time with the busy author who also works in children’s publishing to discuss her inspiration for throwing these two worlds together as well as her future as an author and creator.
Jeyna has a background in film and television production, studying digital media at the Lim Kok Wing University of Creative Technology in Malaysia where she is from. So how did she end up writing narrative prose? She says that storytelling has always been her passion and her goal, but the medium with which to present her stories has changed a bit over the years. “Growing up, I was very interested in storytelling. I tried my hand at short stories but never won any competitions, so I thought I wasn’t good at it. Not giving up on my passion for storytelling, I decided to dive into scriptwriting at university, and during those years, I realized that I excelled in my writing subjects. When there was a group project, I would also be the producer and scriptwriter. That was when I decided to try writing stories again, which led me to my first novel in 2011. After I graduated, I sought out writing jobs in both the film and publishing industry. But publishers were the ones that called me in for interviews, so that was how I found my footing here.”
And after finding that footing in publishing and literature, how did Jeyna decide that fantasy was the best fit for her storytelling? “Make believe was my favorite growing up. My favorite hobby as a child was playing pretend. I chose fantasy [as a genre to write in as an adult] because it’s the closest to make believe. Anything can happen in the realm of fantasy, and nothing is too absurd.”
Indeed, anything is possible in fantasy, which could account for Jeyna bringing two beloved fantasy worlds together and making them doubly fantastical. On her idea of bringing Alice to Oz, Jeyna says, “I knew of the characters and have watched the films, but I was not exposed to the books as a child. The idea of mashing up both worlds was actually from a friend of mine. He thought it would be cool, so I gave it some thought and gave it a shot.” And presumably kicked her heels together three times, and here we are with Jeyna’s vision of Wonderland meets Oz, The Battle for Oz.
But speaking of the source material, how much of Jeyna’s Alice and Dorothy is her own unique creation and how much of the characters was inspired by the original books? “I took Dorothy directly off the pages. I aged her and imagined what she would be like grown up. I wouldn’t say she is different from the source material, but I dare not say my interpretation is ‘spot on’ either. As for Alice, I made her Asian and I gave her a different background. It’s safe to say she is different, perhaps not wildly, but different from the source material.”
And Jeyna speaks of an even deeper inspiration for the characters and bringing such disparate worlds together:”Putting those two characters together came from the idea of a world without boundaries. Despite living in different countries, and having a different culture and mindset, when people unite for a common goal, our differences don’t matter. Making both of them different inspired an unlikely friendship that all of us can relate to.”
This idea becomes even more obvious an inspirational factor in Jeyna’s work when we ask about some of her own favorite books and fantasy series. “My favorite book series was and still is the Harry Potter series,” Jeyna says. “I’m not too sure if Harry Potter has influenced my work, but I’m certain it has expanded the borders of my imagination.” If Harry Potter is about anything, it’s about not allowing differences to divide us, which then creates an environment that fosters fear, intolerance, and discrimination. So it sounds like Harry Potter has most certainly influenced Miss Grace’s work, and promoting tolerance, cooperation, and friendship is most definitely a movement we can get behind.
Among some of Jeyna’s other favorites is not-surprisingly director Tim Burton. (The Battle For Oz is practically made for a Tim Burton big screen adaptation.) “I have always been a fan of Tim Burton. His quirky style and vivid vision has inspired me to think colorfully and outside of the ordinary.” And of course, she’s got some other fantasy faves: “I love shows like Grimm and Once Upon A Time. As for music, I love listening to Owl City. Adam Young’s songs are rather fantastical themselves.”
So where does this multi-talented young storyteller see her career going? “I have many dreams, and having my own publishing company is one of them. But, I would also love to produce a film or two in the future. Perhaps get involved in a television series if there’s an opportunity as well. If only someone adapted The Battle for Oz into a film, I would be well on my way. Ha! One can dream.” Paging Mr. Burton, Mr. Tim Burton!!!
In the more immediate future, though, Jeyna has some exciting things to announce for her literary career. “I have a completed novel I’m planning to release, though I’m not sure through what medium yet. It is a fantasy take on a true story, but that’s as far as spoilers go. I’m also working on my very first trilogy based off Raindrops, a children’s book I previously self-published.”
Speaking more broadly of her creative goals, Jeyna says, “I want to create opportunities for others with a passion to achieve their dreams, too. Hence the dream to start my own publishing company that focuses on helping authors go further.” And she admits that it would be awesome to have the freedom to transition back and forth between genres in order to tell her stories, but she hesitates to liken her journey to that of any other artist. “I wouldn’t imagine myself living someone else’s life, because I’m excited to see where my own path will take me.”
As she forges new and fantastical paths, we are also excited to see where Jeyna’s journey takes her.