Zambreno, Mary Frances 1954- (Robyn Tallis)
ZAMBRENO, Mary Frances 1954- (Robyn Tallis)
PERSONAL: Born January 16, 1954, in Oak Park, IL; daughter of Joseph Anthony (a lawyer and small business owner) and Elvira (a teacher; maiden name, Lombardi) Zambreno. Education: Northwestern University, B.A., 1976; University of Chicago, M.A. 1977, Ph.D., 1988.
ADDRESSES: Office—Department of English, Elmhurst College, 190 Prospect, Elmhurst, IL 60126-3296.
CAREER: Writer. Rich South High School, Richton Park, IL, English teacher, 1977-80; Chicago State University, Chicago, IL, instructor, 1981; Loyola University, Chicago, IL, lecturer, 1981-88; De Paul University, Chicago, IL, instructor, 1986; University of Illinois—Chicago, Chicago, IL, lecturer, 1987-91; Rosary College, River Forest, IL, visiting assistant professor, 1991-92; Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, IL, adjunct professor of English. Kalamazoo Medieval Congress, session organizer, 1990-91.
MEMBER: Modern Language Association, Women's Caucus for Modern Languages, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, National Council of Teachers of English, Midwest Modern Language Association, Medieval Association of the Midwest, John Gower Society, Children's Reading Round Table, Illinois Medieval Association.
(Under pseudonym Robyn Tallis) Children of the Storm, Ballantine-Ivy (New York, NY), 1989.
A Plague of Sorcerers, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1991.
Journeyman Wizard: A Magical Mystery (sequel to A Plague of Sorcerers), Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1994.
Fire Bird ("Voyage of the Basset" series), Random House (New York, NY), 2001.
Contributor of short stories, including "Skinning a Wizard," to anthologies, including Chilled to the Bone, Mayfair (Niles, IL); Vampires, Harper (New York, NY); Things That Go Bump in the Night, edited by Jane Yolen, Harper (New York, NY); Writers of the Future I, Bridge Publications (Los Angeles, CA); Sword and Sorceress, Volumes III and V, DAW Books (New York, NY); Sword of Chaos, DAW Books (New York, NY), and Sherwood: Original Stories, edited by Jane Yolen, Philomel (New York, NY), 2000. Also contributor to periodicals, including Medium Aevum Quotidianum, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, and Dragon. Contributing editor to American Fantasy.
SIDELIGHTS: Mary Frances Zambreno encourages middle-grade readers to explore worlds conjured by her vivid imagination in her fantasy novels A Plague of Sorcerers and its sequel, Journeyman Wizard. A scholar of medieval literature, Zambreno laces her plots with many details. Commenting on Zambreno's 2001 novel Fire Bird, which she contributed to the multi-author "Voyage of the Basset" series of history-based fantasy novels, Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Stefani Koorey found the story of a young girl's voyage back in time to be "well-wrought" and replete with "engaging characters [and] . . . a plot that easily works its way to a satisfying outcome."
Zambreno once commented to CA: "I remember the day when I decided that I was a writer very clearly. I was about twelve years old, standing in my grammar school library, when I suddenly and for no logical reason looked at the books on the shelves and realized that every single one of those books had been written by someone—some real person with a supply of paper and an interest in telling stories." Although Zambreno realized that she too could do just that, her dreams of becoming a science-fiction and fantasy author were sidelined while she established a career as a English professor.
During her free time while working as a college teacher, Zambreno wrote several short stories that found their way into adult anthologies. Eventually, however, she began to realize that her fiction was more appropriate for teen readers. She penned her first young-adult novel, Children of the Storm, as part of an ongoing series, and published it under the pseudonym Robyn Tallis. "There were seven of us writing books in this science-fiction series (mine was Number 7 . . . )," she recalled, "and the whole thing was a lot of fun and a good experience for me."
Zambreno eventually expanded her short story "Skinning a Wizard" into her second novel, A Plague of Sorcerers, which was edited by noted author Jane Yolen and published by Harcourt. A Plague of Sorcerers describes the education of novice wizard Jeremyn Graves, whose efforts to find himself a familiar—a cat, owl, or other wise creature from which wizards typically channel the power of nature—come to fruition when he realizes that his own familiar is a skunk named Delia. Jeremyn finds his learning curve accelerated after a strange and deadly affliction hits the musicians in his region, and he and his somewhat pungent familiar must come to the rescue, under the guidance of a mentor wizard named Eschar. Calling A Plague of Sorcerers "an entertaining tale," Booklist's Karen Hutt commended the book for its "engaging" characters and the "significant but not too painful" maturation of Zambreno's young protagonist.
In Journeyman Wizard, the sequel to A Plague of Sorcerers, Jeremyn moves from the tutelage of Eschar to become the student of Master Spellmaker Lady Jean Allons. When his new teacher winds up dead, the young wizard-in-training suspects dark forces and must find the real killer even as he himself is being accused of Lady Jean's death. Describing the novel as "well crafted," Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Jennifer A. Long praised the novel's depiction of a young man "learning to take responsibility for his actions," while M. Jean Greenlaw noted in her New Advocate review that the book's "taut story line has surprises and a satisfying conclusion."
Zambreno's continuing attraction to the fantasy genre comes from the opportunity it provides her to "enter another world, like my own and yet not-like. It's the exploration and discovery that I enjoy, in teaching and in writing—and in reading, for that matter. The pleasure comes from the 'finding out.'" As she once observed of her writing career, "one thing led to another. I suppose the moral of this story is that you should never stop trying new things, because you never know what you are going to be good at."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 15, 1991, Karen Hutt, review of A Plague of Sorcerers, p. 626; May 1, 1994, Candace Smith, review of Journeyman Wizard, p. 1602.
New Advocate, fall, 1994, M. Jean Greenlaw, review of Journeyman Wizard, pp. 297-298.
School Library Journal, June, 1994, Michael Cart, review of Journeyman Wizard, p. 153.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1994, Jennifer A. Long, review of Journeyman Wizard, p. 102; December, 2001, Stefani Koorey, review of Fire Bird, p. 375.