|The Wizard's Wireless
Interviews with People Inspired by Oz
Hosted by The Daily Ozmapolitan
The Court Magician of Oz
A Conversation with James C. Wallace II
James C. Wallace II has written an fantasy book that seeks not only to entertain, but to teach. I recently chatted with James over a bowl of piping hot potato soup about the many inspirations that led him to pen this new Oz tale.
WW: What first gave you the idea to write an Oz book?
JW: Oddly enough, it was the HBO Mini-series: Tin Man that gave me the initial inspiration to consider writing about the world of Oz. I had really looked forward to its broadcast and when it was over, I recall sitting on the porch around midnight or so thinking about how it seemed much more adult-themed than the books I remembered. I did like the show though and thought about how little the old world of Oz was represented in the modern world. It was at that precise moment that I had an epiphany, if you will, and all my memories of childhood, my time at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, my kids and grandkids came flooding over me and I realized that L. Frank Baum's original vision needed a reawakening. It was as if Princess Ozma herself had reached out from the Land of Oz and took me into her confidence, commanding me to bring forth a new story about an old land that had been lost in the passing of Time.
WW: Tell me about your personal inspirations.
JW: As a father
of 5 children and grandfather of 10 grandkids,
my life revolves
around the issues which affect them. One of the primary issues is
how best to promote literacy skills. I grew up in a loving household
where my parents read to me on a daily basis
and taught me the joy of reading. As I grew up, my love for
reading never diminished and my parents support for
my love of reading never wavered. In addition, I was fortunate enough
encounter a number of mentors who would shape my view of the world and
would find my way in it.
In particular was Captain Kangaroo, otherwise known as Bob Keeshan. His unique program was instrumental in shaping my mind towards the joy of learning. Another was Clyde Crashcup, an odd cartoon character who inspired me to become a scientist and educator. Despite what many psychologists would have you believe, television did not rot my brain. In fact, my fondest memories of childhood were of Saturday mornings in front of the TV machine watching the Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour and eating Captain Crunch with Crunchberries cereal. Another mentor was a NASA scientist; Gene Shoemaker, who, by correspondence inspired me to be an astronomer. This was during the late 60's and early 70's when NASA was king of the hill, so to speak. My most important mentor was my father, who inspired me to try everything and learn from those experiences. He got me involved in Toastmasters International and the International Brotherhood of Magicians. Those two organizations were directly responsible for much of my success as a public speaker and educator.
WW: The Magician of Oz focuses on the flora of Oz. Was this a conscious decision to write an ecological oz book?JW: It was never my intention to write an ecological Oz book, although it does seem to have turned out that way. As a child, my parents would often read to me and one of my earliest memories was of the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). I recall my father acting out the scenes and one particular scene that often frightened me was when the Tin Woodman took up his sharp axe against the Fighting Trees of the Great Forest of the Quadling Country. Of course he defeated them easily, but my father made it into quite the horrific scene of carnage and much spilling of sap. In MGM's The Wizard of Oz (1939), I would always get a bit scared when Dorothy and the Scarecrow encountered the animated Apple Trees of the forest.
When I sat down to put pen to paper, or in this case, fingers to keyboard, those memories of my fathers great reenactments and such came flooding through and found their way onto the screen. I had always wondered what had happened to those trees following their defeat and given their longevity and memories of those early days in Oz, it seemed logical that their story should be told.
WW: Why does Jamie Diggs come from Indiana as opposed to Kansas or Philadelphia?
JW: If you read carefully, you'll find that there is a wee bit of exposition early on that tells of the family's tumultuous move from Kansas to Indiana so that James Diggs, the father could pursue a dream. I myself was born in West Virginia and I married a Hoosier farm girl. Our kids grew up in Indiana so it seemed logical to bring the Diggs family from Kansas to Indiana. The thing I most enjoyed about that idea was being able to write about all the unique aspects of Hoosier life, including potato soup, Morel mushrooms, covered bridges and rural life in Indiana.
WW: You have a large family by today's standards (five children!), did you read any of the Oz books to them while they were growing up?
JW: Yes, indeed.
Like my father before me, it was always my job
to entertain the
kids. I would emulate my father to such a degree that my mom once came
one of my reading performances and was momentarily stunned at the
between our readings. And much like myself, the battle of the fighting
was one of the highlights of the show and I made it nearly as violent
father did. I also liked doing odd voices for some of the characters
kids and grandkids find my Yoda voice to be the perfect choice for the
the Nome King.
such a large family, how do you find time to write?
JW: I find my best times for writing to be from about midnight to four in the morning. The town is quiet, the dogs are quiet, even my wife is quiet. I likes the quiet.
career has included work with The Children's Museum of
Indianapolis. Did this have an impact on your story in
JW: One day, while engaged in testing some educational software about Geography for 6th graders, I encountered quite a number of children who could not read, literally. It's one thing to suggest that there are kids in America who cannot read. It's quite another to come face-to-face with them. I found myself at the end of the day sitting in my car in the parking lot shaking with remorse and resolving to do something about what I had just witnessed. I then spent the next year in various teachers lounges having lunch with teachers and trying to understand how they could allow a child to go through school without mastering the art of reading. Although some teachers cared deeply about their students, many cared only for their paycheck and thought little of the impact their negligence and disregard for the future of the next generation caused. This was reinforced by a school administration hamstrung by budget concerns and state-mandated test scores.
As a result, today's child has lost the art of reading. No longer do children sit down to read a book, to linger within the world of fiction and fantasy. Nowadays, kids are glued to the computer screen and read in snippets. In fact, with the advent of text messages, most kids now understand a truncated language that would have Daniel Webster spinning in his grave. Only in the last few years has the Harry Potter effect taken hold and inspired kids to pick up the traditional book and immerse themselves in another world.
Despite this momentary reawakening, most kids still reach for the cell phone and communicate with their thumbs. Most kids would have trouble taking the time to sit down with a good book and giving themselves over to the realm of fantasy. They prefer the instant gratification that comes with a world overflowing with technology. The book has become a lost art, and with that thought in mind, I chose to reinvigorate the original dream of L. Frank Baum.
WW: Did you have an agenda in creating a male character who goes to Oz, as opposed to the mainly female characters that L. Frank Baum used?
JW: In writing about young Jamie Diggs, the great grandson of O.Z. Diggs, the original Wizard of Oz, my most sincere desire is that children will pick up my book and rediscover the joy of reading. If, by writing about this wonderful land and all of its unique characters I can inspire children and introduce them to the joy of reading, even if it be only a single child, I will have made an impact that reaches far beyond my own lifetime. To this end, I have committed all my efforts towards creating an environment where kids will want to pick up that book and put aside that cell phone for a few moments. If I can serve as a mentor promoting Literacy to our youth, then I will have realized my dream.
WW: Who is your favorite Oz character and why?
JW: There are actually two characters for whom I feel an affinity and consider my favorite.
1: Polychrome, Daughter of the Rainbow. Her grace and charm, as well as her means of transportation are legendary in the Land of Oz. For me, as one who has studied Physics and specialized in Optics, I can empathize with anyone who can ride a beam of light at will and live among such lovely colors. Although nearly all of Oz is quite beautiful, whenever Polychrome is near, the beauty of Oz increases exponentially.
2: The Queen of the Field Mice. I am very fond of Her
Queen of the
Field Mice because she demonstrates courage and loyalty, even in the
of very large cats, which Oz has a few of. So often has she and her
made themselves available to aid and assist those in need, asking
return. That epitomizes friendship and loyalty and those are
that should be taught in more abundance nowadays. In addition, whenever
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is reprinted,
invariably, the role of the Queen of the Field Mice and her subjects is
out. I have oftentimes felt just like that and so I can feel empathy
feelings at having been removed from a most wonderful story.
WW: If you were to go to Oz for a day, what would you want to do?
JW: I would truly enjoy spending my time sailing the various waterways of Oz and meeting the fine country folk who live there. I'm inclined to believe that the rural life of both Oz and Indiana are quite similar in many ways.
you think you might ever
write an outer space version of Oz? Something like "Sputnik in
JW: Hmm... Now
you've put me in somewhat of a bind. In order to
question, I would have to give away a major part of book two; Shadow Demon of Oz. Let's just say that outer space and
the heavens above play a significant role
in the next volume of my three volume storyline about the Diggs family
Land of Oz.
I did have a Chihuahua once named Sputnik. ∆
James C. Wallace II, originally a native of West
lives in Terre Haute, Indiana with his wife Amanda. They have been
married over 25 years, with a herd of 5 children and 12 grandchildren.
published on June 19, 2009 by Scientia Est Vox Press
Blair Frodelius is also from West Virginia, has 6 children
and is a full-time musician. He currently lives in upstate New
York and is the
editor of The
Ozmapolitan, The Ozmapolitan Express and OzProject.com. He can be
--Interviewed by Blair Frodelius; August 3, 2009Home Again