M.P. Kozlowsky on creepy stories and Juniper Berry

M.P. Kozlowsky was a high school English teacher before becoming a writer. Juniper Berry is his first book. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter

Byrt: Are you by any chance a fan of Tim Burton? Or The Dark Crystal?

M.P. Kozlowsky: As a child The Dark Crystal was a seminal film for me. I was both frightened and mesmerized and moved by it – one can’t ask for a better balance of emotion. I always gravitated toward darker material, which, of course, eventually led to Tim Burton. While he can be erratic as a director (there are a handful of his films that I am definitely not a fan of) his style and imagination won me over immediately and I am always eager to hear what he has planned next.

Byrt: What kind of creepy stories did you enjoy, growing up?

M.P. Kozlowsky: In the world of literature it was the Grimm fairy tales, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh (loved the movie too), books by Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis, and in the world of film it was The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Edward Scissorhands and countless others. My grandfather was also a terrific storyteller, and he used to sit me down and amaze me with his own Grimm-like fairy tales (looking back now, I am incredibly proud of myself for having the foresight to record two such tales which have since served as the inspiration for an upcoming children’s book).

Byrt: Juniper Berry is very much a modern day fairy tale (and I mean fairy tale in the old school, Grimm sense) – was there any particular myth or fable that served as the inspiration for this story?

M.P. Kozlowsky: There was not a particular myth that inspired the book – I’m sure dozens of them rattled around in my head, blending into what eventually became Juniper Berry – but I was always especially taken with stories about making a deal with the devil. Those myths have always caught my imagination more than any others and I applied my own spin on it here.

Byrt: Your story features a raven, Neptune – was Neptune a tribute to Poe’s Raven? Or were you drawing on European/Native American myths? Or was it just that ravens are creepy in general?

M.P. Kozlowsky: Of course, you can’t have a raven in a story without going back to Poe, but, in this case, it also goes back to Norse mythology and Odin’s ravens Huginn and Muninn. Yes, the bird is definitely creepy, but as with most aspects in my stories I always try to draw from something in the past to give it greater depth.

Byrt: Where did the name Skeksyl come from? (Inspired by skekSil from The Dark Crystal, perhaps?)

M.P. Kozlowsky: Skeksyl was definitely my little tribute to The Dark Crystal. A very compelling name – just the harsh sound of it, like crunching on glass, mixed with the serpentine last three letters. I believe it reveals so much about the character.

Byrt: Why pick on poor balloons? What did a balloon ever do to you? :)

M.P. Kozlowsky: Perhaps that’s just the thing, balloons never did anything to me. We equate them with innocence, childhood, and I wanted to turn that notion on its head, reveal the danger of a child’s world. I wanted to make balloons so frightening in this story that if you were to see one floating down the street or caught in a tree or in the hand of a little boy or girl, you would think twice, never again seeing them as you once did. A brutal shift in perspective courtesy of Juniper Berry.

Byrt: With Juniper’s parents’ predicament, were you riffing on the soul sucking nature of being a “star”? Or is it just that Hollywood works so well as a shorthand for that ultimate, out of reach dream?

M.P. Kozlowsky:The entire story is about losing one’s self and I figured there would be no better example of that than Hollywood, although such deviation could occur along many different paths in life, and I hope readers make such a correlation.

Byrt: Speaking of Hollywood – if Juniper Berry was to be made into a movie, would you want it to be animation or live action?

M.P. Kozlowsky: I could imagine it either way. I think animation is such a strong platform with such intimate handling and care that often the end result is stronger than most live action films. But I always had this fantasy that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie would play the parents (maybe just the voices), riffing on their own public image in roles I’m sure they could identify with in some way. I’d like to try and convince them to work together again, filming something their children could watch.

Byrt: What do you want readers to take away from your story?

M.P. Kozlowsky: Juniper is on a quest for truth – it is why she always carries around her spyglasses. So often the truth can be lost or blurred or manipulated and none more so than the truth of ourselves. It is easy to betray who it is we really are. Juniper valiantly fights this and I believe it is an important message, particularly with younger readers.

Byrt: And lastly, what’s coming up next for you? Any projects on the horizon?

M.P. Kozlowsky: I’m always writing one thing or another. On the children’s book front, I finished an allegory of my childhood, with beastly creatures, much like Sendak’s Wild Things, standing in for my family in a fantasy world full of strange sights and curious magic. My youth was very dark and mature and so this story has become so as well, perhaps too much for a young reader, something I may have to reconsider. Currently, I am writing a different sort of modern fairy tale based on stories my grandfather told me as a child. This one is even more traditional and loyal in theme to the Grimm classics than Juniper Berry. Then, on the adult front, I’ve completed drafts of a novel and a memoir, which I’m putting the final touches on.

Thanks again to M.P. Kozlowsky for stopping by the BookYurt!

To celebrate Juniper Berry‘s release, Walden Media is holding a writing contest for readers age 9 – 14, you can find all the info here.

(And our review of Juniper Berry is here.)