Turner, Megan Whalen 1965–

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TURNER, Megan Whalen 1965–

PERSONAL:

Born November 21, 1965, in Fort Sill, OK; daughter of Donald Peyton (in the U.S. military) and Nora Courtenay (Green) Whalen; married Mark Bernard Turner (a professor of English), June 20, 1987; children: John Whalen, Donald Peyton. Education: University of Chicago, B.A. (with honors), 1987. Hobbies and other interests: Cooking, traveling.

ADDRESSES:

E-mail[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer. Harper Court Bookstore, Chicago, IL, children's book buyer, 1988-89; Bick's Books, Washington, DC, children's book buyer, 1991-92.

MEMBER:

Authors Guild.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children Book Award master listee, 1996-97, for Instead of Three Wishes; Newbery Honor Book Award, Notable Book and Best Book for Young Adults designations, American Library Association, Young Adult Library Services Association Best Books for Young Adults designation, New York Public Library Best Books for the Teen Age selection, and Horn Book Fanfare listee, all 1997, all for The Thief; Parents' Choice Fiction Gold Award, 2000, and Cooperative Children's Book Center Choice, New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age selection, and Booklist Top-Ten Fantasy Books for Youth listee, all 2001, all for The Queen of Attolia.

WRITINGS:

fiction; for young adults

Instead of Three Wishes (short fiction), Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1995.

The Thief (novel), Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1996.

The Queen of Attolia, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2000.

The King of Attolia, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor of short fiction to anthologies, including Firebirds: An Anthology of Original Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Sharyn November, Penguin Putnam, 2003.

Author's works have been translated into several languages, including Danish and Japanese.

SIDELIGHTS:

Grounding her award-winning young-adult fiction in myth and fantasy, Megan Whalen Turner has also earned comparisons to such writers as Joan Aiken and E.L. Konigsburg due to her sense of whimsy and humor. Her acknowledgment as a talented writer came early in her career; in 1997 Turner's second published book and first novel, The Thief, was one of only four books to be named Newbery Honor books that year. The success of The Thief came as no surprise to readers who had dipped into Turner's first book, the short-story collection Instead of Three Wishes; the seven tales included in that book showcase her light, yet deliberate touch and ability to create likeable, realistic characters who confront the fantastic in their lives by drawing on down-to-earth common sense.

Born in Oklahoma in 1965, the youngest of four children, Turner sampled life in several states while growing up. "When I was ten I read a lot of great books," she once recalled, "and when I couldn't easily find more, I decided I would be a writer and write stories of my own, even though it didn't sound as exciting as reading. The only impediment to beginning my career right then was that I couldn't think of anything to write."

For inspiration, the young Turner looked to her favorite writers. "Joan Aiken said she saw stories all around her, prompted by everyday events…. She'd been telling stories since birth and completed her first novel in Latin class when she was seventeen. And there I was ten years old without a rag of a story to call my own. Roald Dahl said he kept a notebook in which he scribbled his ideas so that he wouldn't forget them." while the young Turner recognized that "this sounded sensible," when she attempted the same strategy "the idea just sat there on the page. It did not magically turn into a story the way it was supposed to. So much for Roald Dahl."

Attending the University of Chicago after high school, Turner studied Greek history, a required course for freshmen. There she was particularly influenced by a reading of Thucydides' history of the Peloponnesian war. During her junior year Turner's love of writing resurfaced. "I had to choose a field and begin a senior project," she recalled. "I thought that writing had to be easier than sitting down to read, say, The Mill on the Floss, and I proposed to study children's literature and write some of my own."

Frustrated by her college writing efforts, Turner got a job as a children's book buyer after graduation, and spent seven years in that career, first in Chicago and then again in Washington, DC. Meanwhile, she married Mark Turner, a professor of English at the University of Maryland. Because of her husband's research, the couple traveled extensively, spending time in Princeton, New Jersey, as well as to several colleges in California. In 1992 the couple moved to Del Mar, California, where Mark Turner held a year-long Guggenheim fellowship. Having left her buyer's job, Turner decided to start writing again, penning several of the stories that would appear in her first published work. "I was pregnant with my first child and my schedule was not so full then," the author explained in an interview for Authors and Artists for Young Adults. "After Jack came along, Mark agreed to take him for long stretches so that I could write, but that was all I was supposed to do. NO DISHES."

Aimed at middle-grade readers, Instead of Three Wishes contains seven stories in which unexpected magic alters the lives of ordinary people. In the title story a little girl repeatedly refuses the offer of three wishes from an elf dressed in a business suit, while "Aunt Charlotte and the NGA Portraits" finds a young girl stepping into a painting in order to find a missing object. Other tales in Turner's imaginative debut introduce readers to a New Hampshire town in the throes of a leprechaun hunt, a ghost who haunts a factory and snares the heart of a young worker, and a modern-day boy named Leroy, who is transported back to the Viking heyday to save a frustrated monarch from an infestation of cockroaches.

The intersection between the everyday and the fantastic in Instead of Three Wishes impressed reviewers and readers like. Turner's prose style "helps the reader easily suspend disbelief," noted a Book Report, while a Publishers Weekly reviewer cited her "expansive" style and her ability to salt her mix of realistic background details and magic with a dash of wit. In School Library Journal Jane Gardner Connor wrote that the author's "mild humor … will elicit gentle chuckles and smiles," and Sarah Guille noted in her Horn Book appraisal that Turner "combines a shrewd wit with an eye for the endearingly absurd." While each story resonates with history and the "eternal truths" that resonate in much of literature, Carolyn Phelan maintained in Booklist that the "real magic" of Instead of Three Wishes is its author's "ability to convince readers that the realms of fairy tales can intersect with contemporary life."

Published the year after Instead of Three Wishes, Turner's debut novel The Thief was inspired by a vacation she and her husband took to Greece, where they became steeped in the history and landscape of the Mediterranean. The intricately plotted novel introduces readers to the enigmatic Gen. An expert thief, Eugenides—or Gen as he is known—lives in Eddis, a country very similar to ancient Greece, where life is overseen by a pantheon of gods. Imprisoned after boasting that he could steal anything, even if it belonged to the king, Gen is unexpectedly released from his dungeon cell on the orders of a scholarly man who is magus to the greedy King of Sounis. As readers soon discover, the magus's interest in the thief stems from his desire to gain possession of a legendary stone known as Hamiathes' Gift, which will give to its owner control of a neighboring kingdom. Ordered to seek out this stone, Gen is joined on his quest by the magus, several soldiers, and a group of aristocrats. The travelers eventually reach their goal: a temple maze that remains hidden under water for all but two days each year, whereupon readers discover what a Publishers Weekly reviewer called "one of the most valuable treasures of all—a twinkling jewel of a surprise ending."

Along with several awards came heaps of critical praise for The Thief. In School Library Journal, for example, Patricia A. Dollisch praised the novel's clever protagonist, writing that Turner "does a phenomenal job of creating real people to range through her well-plotted, evenly paced story." Citing the book's "believable characters" and "well-realized setting," Phelan called The Thief "a refreshing change of pace for readers who enjoy adventure stories with a touch of magic." In Horn Book, Martha V. Parravano added special praise for Turner's hero, writing that Gen "is simply superb: she lets the reader know so much about him—his sense of humor, his egotism, his loyalty, his forthrightness, his tendency to sulk," all the while "manag[ing] to hide the most essential information" to keep the denouement in shadow. A Kirkus Reviews contributor maintained that, in reading of the young man's adventures, "no adolescent will be able to ignore Gen's resentment, embarrassment, and pain, made palpable through Turner's compassion and crystalline prose."

The Thief proved to be the first volume in a trio of novels that feature Gen. In The Queen of Attolia the young man shows that he has honed his survival skills well as he finds himself a pawn in the war between the queens of Attolia and Eddis (the latter being his cousin). Having incurred the animus of the queen of Attolia, Gen suffers when he is captured by her troops: she order his hand cut off before casting him out to make his way back to Eddis. Surviving this ordeal, Gen becomes involved in a plan to kidnap the queen, but the complex plan backfires when he recognizes his love for her and ultimately becomes her king. Calling The Queen of Attolia a "spellbinder of a sequel" to The Thief, a Publishers Weekly writer praised Turner's sequel as "every bit as devilishly well plotted and grandly conceived," and also praised the author's dramatic flair and "engrossing" storyline. Although Bruce Anne Shook described the battle scenes "lengthy and tedious," in her School Library Journal review she deemed the novel "a story of love and war in which love wins out." While noting that The Queen of Attolia requires a familiarity with The Thief in order to follow the complicated intrigue, Booklist critic Sally Estes wrote that Turner "maintains her well-created world and believable characterizations."

Gen has risen to the level of ruler by the time readers open the first pages of The King of Attolia, which Horn Book reviewer Deirdre F. Baker praised as "one of the most fascinating and original children's fantasies to appear in years." Unfortunately for Turner's hero, Gen's assumption of the Attolian throne upon marriage to the kingdom's queen has not won the slippery thief many friends. The soldier Costis counts himself among King Eugenides' many enemies, but when he is ordered to serve as the novice monarch's bodyguard his antipathy mellows into a grudging affection as he begins to understand Gen's complex character. Within her story Turner inserts "well-constructed puzzles and intrigues," as a Kirkus Reviews writer noted, the critic adding that readers can also enjoy her inclusion of "characteristic secrets and subtle revelations." Focusing more on relationships between characters than on the ongoing battle between Eddis and Attolia, The King of Attolia centers on "the amazingly charismatic and beguiling character of Eugenides," according to School Library Journal contributor Sharon Rawlins, the reviewer continuing the admonition of past critics that to best enjoy Turner's series the three novels should be read in order. As with her other works, Turner "excels in intrigue," as Claire Rosser explained in Kliatt, and tantalizes readers by slowly revealing that "people and situations [are] not … what they appear to be." Predicting that fans of the series will "devour" The King of Attolia, a Publishers Weekly reviewer dubbed the novel a "complex tapestry" richly woven with "ample detail."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

books

Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 31, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.

periodicals

Booklist, October 1, 1995, Carolyn Phelan, review of Instead of Three Wishes, p. 309; January 1, 1997, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Thief, p. 863; April 15, 2000, Sally Estes, review of The Queen of Attolia, p. 1543; January 1, 2006, review of The King of Attolia, p. 86.

Book Report, December, 1995.

Horn Book, May-June, 1996, Sarah Guille, review of Instead of Three Wishes, p. 337; December, 1996, Martha V. Parravano, review of The Thief, p. 747; March-April, 2006, Deirdre F. Baker, review of The King of Attolia, p. 195.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1996, review of The Thief; December 15, 2005, review of The King of Attolia, p. 1329.

Kliatt, March, 2000, Claire Rosser, review of The Queen of Attolia; January, 2006, Claire Rosser, review of The King of Attolia, p. 14.

Locus, September, 2003, review of Firebirds: An Anthology of Original Fantasy and Science Fiction.

New York Times Book Review, November 5, 1995, review of Instead of Three Wishes, p. 31.

Publishers Weekly, July 24, 1995, p. 66; October 21, 1996, review of The Thief, p. 84; May 1, 2000, review of The Queen of Attolia, p. 71; January 16, 2006, review of The King of Attolia, p. 65.

School Library Journal, September, 1995, Jane Gardner Connor, review of Instead of Three Wishes, p. 204; October, 1996, Patricia A. Dollisch, review of The Thief, p. 150; May, 2000, Bruce Anne Shook, review of The Queen of Attolia, p. 176; February, 2006, Sharon Rawlins, review of The King of Attolia, p. 138.

online

Megan Whalen Turner Home Page,http://home.att.net/~mwturner (November 2, 2006).*

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