Raffa, the short-statured, brave-hearted hero of Linda Sue Park's Wing & Claw trilogy, possesses the encyclopedic knowledge of flora required of a young apothecary. He easily recalls each plant's physical and medicinal properties, and comprehends how best to combine and manipulate to achieve the desired affects in human subjects. But Raffa holds something more inside him than most "pothers." Witness:
"[Raffa] pounded the stem and leaves of the scarlet vine to a pulp, then added some to the poultice. As he stirred, the paste began to take on a gentle vermilion glow, and in his mind he heard something that sounded like a faraway cowbell…"
The apothecary experiences all manner of extra-sensory events when he's mixing plants. Like a gifted chef viscerally understands food from a place beyond thinking, Raffa knows botanicals.
Park, Raffa's creator, possesses no intimate knowledge of ancient pharmaceuticals, but she does know a thing or two about food. "In a former life I was a food writer," she told Spine. "I loved that." Activities such as cooking and mixing botanicals and knitting, which Park avidly practices, involve both hands and brains. "People who have that kind of passion in their lives, that takes both their bodies and their brains, they're using the wholeness of their humanity."
Raffa arrived on Park's desk via pitch; his hands-and-mind passion for botanicals is what first drew Park to him. Wing & Claw is what's known in the publishing world as IP, or "intellectual property," shorthand for original story ideas and characters generated and owned by a publisher, and written by an author. Before Park entered the world of IP in 2010, she had already earned a name for herself writing stories for the YA and children's marketplaces. Her third novel, A Single Shard, about an orphan in 12th century Korea who becomes a potter, won the 2002 Newbery Medal. She was content working forward into the writing niche in which she'd established herself, until Scholastic editor Arthur Levine came calling.
Levine and Rachel Griffiths, his assistant at the time, worked with Park on the 2007 collaborative novel Click, written by Park and nine other established authors. Griffiths then invited Park to join The 39 Clues team. The well-known IP series, conceptualized by Scholastic editors, includes books written by a whole slew of YA authors. Park added her voice to the crew with Storm Warning (original series book nine) and Trust No One (Cahills vs. Vespers book five). Bingo! Her name popped up on everyone's IP list. She received pitch after pitch, but nothing interested her. "I said no to everything," she recalled.
Then, in 2013, Raffa arrived, or the vaguest hint of Raffa, along with talking animals and a villain. "This was a proposal for a story about an apothecary. That was the first thing that interested me," Park remembered. Harper editor Abby Ranger* stipulated that the project had to include two other necessary elements: the story must be fantasy, and it must stretch across three books, into a trilogy. Park had never written a trilogy before, but she was intrigued. She agreed to wield her pen on Raffa's behalf if the editor was willing to make one major change: the villain's motivation.
"I want the villain to be trying to get rid of all the immigrants," she told Ranger. The editor was interested, but asked Park to clarify further. The American-born daughter of Korean immigrants, Park has always been aware of the problems faced by immigrants. "Things can creep up on us," she said. "How do you let thousands of Japanese be interned? You don't want to know, so you don't see it."
Ranger agreed, and writing commenced.
Early days as a writer Park worked mornings in her first-floor office, committed to creating 500 words a session. These days, two young grandbabies share Park and her husband's home three or four days a week, morning until night. Park loves it, but saves her writing for quiet days. Now, she writes better at night, and says the 500-word count is no longer a goal, but a minimum. "I don't have the seven days anymore. I have to do 500 words, but if I can do more, I have to do more."
Her laptop and regularity — the "sit down to write every day you can sit down and write" — are Park's only must-haves. "If I haven't written in a while, there's a tremendous amount of flailing around, of doing everything but writing," she said. "I have to be able to get my head into the story world easily. That only happens with regularity, with discipline, with habit.
"I recently had a two-week break because I had two appearances. The first couple of days [back] were difficult. If I'm consistent about it, it gets my head into the story world."
The story world of Wing & Claw, stretching across the land of Obsidia, had to also stretch across three books. Park analyzed her options. "I had to decide whether to make each book self-contained, or to have a single narrative arc across all three books," she said.
She decided to approach Raffa's journeys around Obsidia as one over-arching mission: to defeat the villain. Each book covers new geographical territory, but ultimately the books— like fantasy granddaddy The Lord of The Rings trilogy — represent one hero's singular journey against a powerful foe.
Park's had the opportunity to meet a number of Wing & Claw readers, testament to the success of her approach and the series. "Their favorite character is almost always Echo, the tiny talking bat who becomes Raffa's constant companion," she said.
Up next for Wing & Claw fans? Book Three, Beast of Stone, arrives on shelves March 6.
Wing & Claw: Forest of Wonders (Book 1) and Wing & Claw: Cavern of Secrets (Book 2) are available at booksellers. Wing & Claw: Beast of Stone (Book 3) will be published on March 6, 2018.
* Abby Ranger now runs an editorial agency out of Portland, Oregon. Rosemary Brosnan now helms Wing & Claw for Harper.
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Susanna Baird serves as Authors editor of Spine. She tackles her own creative writing and client projects from her dining room table in Salem, Massachusetts. When not working words, she helps lead The Clothing Connection, a local nonprofit getting new clothes to kids who need them. Find more of her writing at susannabaird.com, and find her (re)tweeting regularly on Twitter @SusannaBaird.