Navajo Code Talkers & Dragons

I am thrilled to share my blog this week with author Katy Huth Jones. “Mercy’s Prince” is a classic, thrilling and real from beginning to end. I’m looking forward to reading Katy’s other books, and am blessed that she agreed to take time out of her busy schedule to be here today.

Katy, when did you start writing and what inspired you?

I started writing stories in the third grade when we lived in Arlington, Virginia during the early days of the U.S. space program. My teacher, Mrs. White, was passionate about space exploration, and we spent a lot of time studying it and keeping up with the current missions (the last two Gemini missions in September and November of 1966 and the tragedy of Apollo I in January 1967). Mrs. White began my lifelong interest in science but also encouraged me to write my “science fiction” stories about intelligent ants traveling the solar system (illustrated, of course). My longest story that year was TWENTY pages!

Me with GI Joe Codetalker

Me with GI Joe Navajo Codetalker at a school presentation two years ago. I had a small part in this GI Joe doll. Hasbro called my publisher, and they forwarded Hasbro to me to help them find a real Code Talker to do the voice, so I directed them to the president of the Navajo Code Talker Association (who has since passed away; most of them have!) but I suggested they donate some of the proceeds to the Association to help with funeral expenses. I didn’t hear until two years later (2001, I think) that Hasbro did donate $5,000. Yay!

Tell us just a bit more about your Navajo Codetalker book. It sounds fascinating!

The book is Navajo Code Talkers: Native American Heroes by Catherine Jones. I wrote the book after I researched the archives at a nearby Museum of the Pacific War for a magazine article assignment and realized there were no books written for children at the time. My only regret is that I didn’t borrow the money to travel to Arizona and interview some of the Code Talkers personally. I relied on transcripts of interviews instead. I need to get my rights back on this book and re-publish it. I believe I sold so many copies of this book because I developed a multi-media presentation which I gave to schools and civic groups (and still do once a year for the local sixth graders). I always sold out of the books I brought after each presentation!

“Mercy’s Prince” is a phenomenal book and I can’t wait to read the others. What gave you the idea for the land of Levathia and the characters?

I’m so glad you like Mercy’s Prince, Stephanie! The first idea for this story and characters came about as a reaction to a movie I saw with my oldest son in 1988, a fantasy called “Willow.” I did not like their idea of a “strong” woman and set out to prove that a strong female character could also be non-violent. However, the characters were more like 2-D paper cut-outs, and the plot I tried to force on them just didn’t work, even after several rewrites.

Then in early 2011 my father was diagnosed with lung cancer, and I needed something to distract me so I could keep a “stiff upper lip” and help him and my mother hold together during a long, painful year of chemo, hospitalizations, and hospice so he could die at home. I took out the old manuscript, threw away all but the opening scene (over 400 double-spaced pages), and gave myself a writing assignment, not even thinking about publication. I asked Prince Valerian and Mercy to tell me THEIR story, and I just “listened” while they did so and wrote it down. The plot completely changed, the minor as well as major characters became living, breathing people (and dragons), and I felt as if I’d traveled to a faraway land. I “go” to Levathia when I’m listening to the characters. It’s exciting to capture that feeling of wonder I had the first time I went through the wardrobe with Lucy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

What is your favorite genre to write?

When I first started writing “for publication,” I attempted science fiction stories for magazines. I wrote dozens of them (some with “promise” as editors tactfully put it), but never published a single one. I could not translate my love of science into stories that “worked.” My first sale in 1992 was a fantasy story, and I quit fighting it! I do love writing fantasy, but a close second is historical fiction.

Holly and me and dragons

Holly is my enthusiastic niece who asked if we could have a “summer writer’s retreat” in 2011. For two weeks we worked on our dragon stories and spent a lot of time making dragons without a pattern. The long one on the back of the couch is Albinonix from Mercy’s Prince, but I couldn’t figure out how to attach wings. Holly and I had a “writer’s retreat” three years in a row. Fun times!

The Christian content of Mercy’s Prince is skillfully woven into the plot and the book is a thrilling “clean” read that one would not be ashamed to have others read over their shoulders. How did you achieve this? Is that a goal you have for all your books?

The first incarnations of this story were not as overtly Christian, but once I recognized Valerian’s deep faith, I think that helped shape the story into the final version. I’ve always written clean fiction because I don’t separate what I write from my own faith. I try to make sure everything I write honors God, even if it’s not overtly Christian.

What do you want readers to take away with them when they finish one of your books?

I hope they will be encouraged to persevere during the storms in their own lives as they share the journeys of my characters.

Do you have another book planned? If so, would you like to tell us a bit about it?

I’ve published two more books continuing the story in Mercy’s Prince (Mercy’s Gift and Mercy’s Battle), and there are two more planned. I’m currently editing book 4, Mercy’s King, and have begun book 5, Mercy’s Joy. I’m so relieved the first three are complete, because they can stand alone as a trilogy if, God forbid, my cancer comes back before I finish book 5. I can’t publish book 4 until I complete book 5, because the two books need one another to tell the rest of the story.

Your courage in battling cancer is an inspiration. You have continued to keep up with writing and book promotion even through your illness and treatment. You are amazing. If it’s not too painful, could you tell readers a bit about your type of cancer and the prognosis?

I first contracted non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (a cousin to leukemia) in 2004 but it wasn’t correctly diagnosed until 2005. By then, two different strains of it were growing in my lymph nodes and it took nuclear-bomb strength chemo to put it in remission. Each year it stayed in remission, my doctor was hopeful it wouldn’t come back, but it did so painfully, with a vengeance in June 2015, and chemo put it back in remission. Each time it recurs it’s more difficult to kill, and eventually I’ll run out of treatment options. But I put myself in God’s hands and pray without ceasing. The good thing about cancer is separating the wheat from the chaff in one’s life and focusing on what’s truly important: honoring my Savior, growing in faith, spending time with family, and encouraging others as long as I have breath in my body.

You said in one of your posts on “Clean Reads” that because of your cancer, your goals are different than most authors. Could you explain that a bit?

When I first began writing for publication in 1986, it was more about making money. I hoped to someday make enough money from writing that my husband could retire early, and we could travel. He has been so good to be the chief breadwinner while I homeschooled for twenty-five years. I had my “15 minutes of fame” in 2002 with a non-fiction book I had published about the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II, and I still give my multimedia presentation to the local sixth graders each spring, even though the book has been out of print for several years. Now I just write the stories pressing on my heart, hoping a few people will read them and be encouraged. My hopes are no longer focused on earthly rewards, but on our heavenly home.

Bode drawing Merry and Valerian

Something important to me: The drawing of Merry and Valerian was done by a former student of mine after he suffered a severe brain injury when an explosive went off at the base of his skull (he was in a World War II re-enactment, and one of the “grenades” was not thrown properly). His therapist urged him to read to get his fluency back, and he chose Mercy’s Prince. He said the story encouraged him so much, he wanted to draw the characters for me. Before his accident, he couldn’t draw a stick figure! I have never been so moved by a gift before.

When you are not writing, what is your favorite genre to read?

Since I read E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web in the third grade, my favorite genre has been fantasy. I prefer to read Christian fantasy, but I will eagerly read any clean fantasy and have found many wonderful writers in the Clean Indie Reads group! As in my writing, a close second is historical fiction.

When you are not writing or reading, what are some other activities you enjoy?

I have played flute since age 11, but gave up all thoughts of performance to marry, have children, and later homeschool them—although I taught music classes and later a homeschool band for 16 years while teaching private flute at the local schools. Once a year the local symphony conductor would ask if I could play with them, and I turned him down. After chemo in 2005, I stopped saying “no,” and it has been a joy to play with such a quality regional symphony. I’m actually the piccolo player and double on flute. I love to take photos of birds and other beauties of God’s creation, and I used to sew clothes and costumes and other fun stuff, but haven’t done much lately. My husband and I like hiking, and I love fishing, but don’t do it often.

Do you have a publishing company or do you self-publish? What effort do you put into marketing and promoting your books?

I’ve worked with five different publishing companies, three of which are out of business. That’s how I stumbled onto self-publishing, because I didn’t want my two fantasies about Leandra and the talking birds to die when the original publisher went “belly up.” Then when my cancer came back, I stopped querying publishers and agents for the Mercy series and decided to self-publish from the start. Pauline Books & Media, who published Treachery and Truth, expect me to do all the same marketing as I do for the self-published books, except that I have NO control over prices, back blurb, or even the title!

All I can recommend is that an author search for the right audience, whether it be schools (I’ve targeted private schools for T&T) or advertising with discount sites (I had great results with Pixel of Ink, and now they’re closed, bummer). I also look for bloggers who have reviewed similar books, with good results. Because I’m not trying to make a living as a writer any more, I just try to find readers who I think might like my books and don’t worry about becoming a “best seller.”

What else would you like your readers to know about you and your books?

The Mercy series is marketed as YA Christian fantasy, but readers as old as 87 love the story! I dedicated book 3 to my second oldest beta reader, book 2 to my cancer doctor, and book 1 in memory of my father, since it’s not possible for me to separate the story from those last few memories of him. I researched the 12th century to make some of the details feel authentic, but there are dragons of all sizes, hence the name “Levathia” for the land (like the levathian described in chapter 41 of the book of Job). The chapter titles are Scriptures from the old King James Version, but I didn’t cite the chapter and verse. If I am able to compile a companion volume, it will include the citations of all those verses, along with Valerian’s history of Levathia, Mercy’s book of herbs, a genealogy of the royal family, and an index of places and characters. I have music to the words of one of Kieran’s songs, but need to put the others to music, too.

Book 1 of my other fantasy, Leandra’s Enchanted Flute, is an allegory of the cancer journey, but with talking birds instead of dragons in the land of Finian Jahndra. My YA historical fiction, Treachery and Truth, is the story of “Good King Wenceslas” from the point of view of his servant, and takes place in 10th century Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). I also published a collection of poems I wrote inspired by my cancer journey, illustrated with color photos, entitled Carpe Diem.

Katy costume closeup

The closeup with the costume is one I purchased to wear at school visits for Treachery and Truth. It’s as close to authentic 10th century Eastern Europe as I could find.

 Universal links to Katy Huth Jones’ books:

Mercy’s Prince myBook.to/Mercys_Prince

Mercy’s Gift myBook.to/Mercys_Gift

Mercy’s Battle myBook.to/MercysBattle

Leandra’s Enchanted Flute myBook.to/LeandraFlute

Return to Finian Jahndra myBook.to/ReturnFJ

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Navajo Code Talkers & Dragons

  1. Thank you so much for a lovely interview, Stephanie! I didn’t notice until I read it here that I misspelled “leviathan.” Oops! My fingers automatically spell “Levathia” now….

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