Guest Post: Krissi Dallas on Creating a Phantom Island

Cynthia Leitich Smith & Krissi Dallas

By Krissi Dallas

Every magical world is first created here in the real world, born out of the author’s own experiences and perspective.

Stephen King says the novel idea happens when two previously unconnected ideas suddenly converge and you go, “That’s it. That’s the story I have to write.”

(Sorry, Steve, I majorly paraphrased you on that one. See his book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, for the actual wisdom imparted there.)

I had been playing with the idea of writing a novel, feeling that illusive itch to create something, but toying with different plot ideas. It was my addiction to the show, “Lost” (before my Season 5 bitterness set in) combined with my love of summer camp that sparked the idea…Camp Fusion (the world I knew) and the White Island (a world I had yet to create).

Four tribes. Four elements. Magic. Mystery. Secrets.

One epic journey for truth and purpose.

I knew I wanted to capture the everyday magic of the real world, and then explore its connection to the supernatural magic of a new world. My series, unlike most fantasy series, was shaping up to be about the importance of both places.

Learn more.

Surely I was not the only one to deal with the depressing letdown of leaving Narnia, or returning to the Dursley’s house after a school year at Hogwarts, or realizing along with Milo that the Phantom Tollbooth is gone and he can never return to his new friends who taught him so much.

For my Phantom Island series to work, there just had to be something about these two worlds colliding that enriched both places and changed these characters for the better.

For me to like my own books, the real world would have to be just as vivid and real as the magical world.

So I set out to write the fantasy novels that would somehow end up being “fantasy for those who don’t like fantasy” – a phrase coined by readers who were surprised to find how much they loved the books.

One of my secrets was to make my new world “accessible” by naming places and characters in such a way that they were easy to pronounce and quick to learn. If I could tap into a reader’s prior word knowledge, I figured they could focus on enjoying the journey instead of wasting concentration on understanding the new world. So I used root words to name my four Island tribes… (Forgive me. I’m a junior high teacher.) For example, “aero” is air/wind and “dora” is gift. So my four tribes became…

  • Aerodora – Wind-gifted Tribe
  • Geodora – Earth-gifted Tribe
  • Pyradora – Fire-gifted Tribe
  • Hydrodora – Water-gifted Tribe

By 8th grader Sonia Pennington

In addition to that, I’m a lifelong follower of Jesus Christ. The Bible shapes my worldview and my heart, thus shaping the ideas that flow out of me. There are certainly biblical allusions contained in my series because of it. All of the Island characters were given Hebrew names and some of them have a subtle connection or parallel to a biblical story. To name a few,

  1. Ezekiel – the Aerodorian Elder – named for Ezekiel in the Bible who received a vision from God in a “windstorm.”
  2. Joseph – the Geodorian Elder – named for Joseph in the Bible who saved the people of Egypt from famine by storing up crops and provisions ahead of time.
  3. Eli – the Pyradorian Elder – a shortened version of the prophet Elijah who called down fire on the mountain.
  4. Simeon – the Hydrodorian Elder – Simeon is the Hebrew version of Simon, named for Simon Peter, the disciple who walked on water to meet Jesus.

In each of those biblical stories, the presence of a particular element was important to that person’s experience. Likewise, I wanted my own elemental tribal leaders to have a parallel connection in how I named them.

Krissi and her husband, Sam

I also tried to link experiences on the Island to similar experiences we have in our world… like dance clubs, festivals, magical versions of cell phones, sports (yes, they play a version of dodge ball on my Island that is way more dangerous and, um, juicy), fashion and colors, everyday items like mouthwash, makeup, and perfume… The list goes on and on.

I loved taking what I enjoy about my world and playing with how another world parallel to ours might come up with the same ideas or “technology.”

Worldbuilding became fun when I found creative ways to translate my own world into an alternately magical world. I don’t even really like calling it the “real world” versus the “magical world” because both worlds are equally real and uniquely magical to my characters.

Even when writing fantasy, we are still conveying truth about the world around us… It just gets layered in there with all the fantastical stuff. And you can read it on a surface level for enjoyment or dig deep to find all the layers of meaning and truth.

Cynsational Notes

Texas author Krissi Dallas loves pop music, mismatched socks, and fried chicken. She is the author of the YA urban fantasy series Phantom Island and her fourth book, Watermark, comes out later in 2013. To find out more about the books, the author, or what Phantom Island tribe you belong to, visit  here.

3 thoughts on “Guest Post: Krissi Dallas on Creating a Phantom Island

  1. I have to get my hands on this series. I'll visit Krissi's website. I loved what she had to say about worldbuilding and her faith.

  2. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to join Cynsations today! (That is seriously my favorite pic of us.) 🙂 Love you and all that you do for writers, authors, YA fiction, and TEXAS!

  3. I've been friends with Krissi since middle school-I can tell you from years of reading her work (including short stories she tested out on us in high school) that it's definitely worth your time! With Krissi as a person, what you see is what you get. She is REAL and awesome! As an author, well-I had no clue she had THIS in her. I knew she could write, but I continue to be impressed with where she takes her books!

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