I first got to know Annie when I fell in love with her fantasy series Annals of Alasia, in particular Prince of Malorn. Her world-building blew me away and I wanted to know what kind of a mind could come up with that stuff. When I found out she was a fellow teacher and world-traveler, we had to be cyber friends. We have since exchanged beta-reading opportunities, and that’s a plus for me either way because I (a) get to see her books sooner, and (b) get expert help on my fantasy / sci-fi books. This woman is fascinating, so I’m going to stop talking now and let her talk. Let me introduce you to Annie Douglass Lima.
LIA: How much of your world-building comes from things you have seen in your world travels?
ANNIE: Well, I’ve lived in Taiwan for nearly ten years now, and I’ve brought several elements of Taiwan’s culture into my Krillonian Chronicles series (The Collar & the Cavvarach and The Gladiator & the Guard). For example, some characters chew betel nut, a mild narcotic sold legally in shops decorated with flashing colored lights. When money is awarded as a prize, it’s given in a red envelope. Cheap boxed meals available at “hole-in-the-wall” eateries are a common and convenient meal for laborers or anyone in a hurry or short on cash. New Year is the most important holiday of the year in both places.
LIA: What’s the most other-worldly place you’ve ever visited on Earth?
ANNIE: That would definitely be Myanmar. What an amazing country!
Two areas of the country, in particular, stand out in my mind. One is the plains around the city of Bagan. They are covered with centuries-old Buddhist temples (we’re talking over ten thousand temples just in that one area!). You can walk right up to them, touch them, go inside, and in some cases, even climb up to the top. Most are still in good condition, even though they date as far back as the eleventh century. Looking out across the temple-studded plain, you could easily imagine you’re on some alien planet. If you like, click here to see my blog post with pictures from Bagan. Make sure you watch the video at the end, showing the hidden stairway we found inside one of the temples!
My other favorite area in Myanmar was Inle (pronounced “IN-lay”) Lake. My husband and I hired a guide with a motorboat and spent a full day exploring a town on the lake. And when I say that the town was on the lake, I don’t mean on the shore, I really do mean on the lake itself. Every building (houses, schools, shops, a post office, restaurants, government offices, a factory, fuel stations) rose on poles out of the water, accessible only by boat. Motoring down the main “street” of town, I really felt as though I were floating through some fantasy world! (You can click here to see my blog post with pictures and video from Inle Lake.)
LIA: How did you land your current teaching job in Taiwan?
ANNIE: Well, I’ve always loved living overseas. I grew up in Kenya, after all, and I’ve traveled to a total of twenty different countries, so international life is just in my blood. My husband and I lived in America for our first few years of marriage, but when both our careers showed signs of being close to a good transition point, we started looking into jobs in other countries. I applied to teach at a number of different international schools, and Morrison Academy in Taiwan was just the one where all the pieces fell into place. So here we are!
LIA: Can you tell us about the annual poetry anthology you do with your classes?
ANNIE: When I teach my poetry unit every spring, I collect the best poem(s) by each student, and then I compile them into an anthology, which I publish on Kindle. The kids get really excited about the project every year! One of them creates the cover; whoever wants to can design one, and the class votes on their favorite. I let the class pick a charity or nonprofit organization to which we’ll donate all proceeds.
LIA: One of my favorite of your books, Prince of Malorn, features a coming-of-age quest in which a youth must bond with a wild horse. What is your relationship with animals in general and horses in particular?
ANNIE: I’ve always loved animals (though sadly, the apartment where I currently live does not allow pets). I grew up with dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, hamsters, and a faithful old desert tortoise. Though I never owned my own horse, I took horseback-riding lessons throughout much of my childhood, so horses have a special place in my heart.
LIA: The worlds of Alasia and the Krillonian Empire are very different. Assuming you were not in one of the oppressed classes in either place, in which of them would you rather live, and why?
ANNIE: I’d rather live in Alasia. It’s a fantasy kingdom, after all, with kings and queens and adventure waiting around every corner! The Krillonian Empire is very similar to our own world, with a few differences, such as legalized slavery and gladiatorial contests. Not the kind of place I would like to live, for the most part. However, I would enjoy the chance to help slaves there escape to freedom.
LIA: Do you ever have dreams about your characters, either before or after finishing the manuscript?
ANNIE: Yes, but not often. Actually, I seldom remember my dreams. Once every couple of years, however, I will have a vivid dream that I think would make a great novel. I usually jot down a quick summary of it when I wake up, in the hopes that someday I’ll get around to actually writing that novel. My very first book, Prince of Alasia, started that way.
LIA: If we ever have a chance to visit Taiwan, what must we be sure to do / see / try?
ANNIE: There’s so much to do and see here! But I’ll list a few of my favorite places and events. The links will take you to posts on my blog about my adventures in those places.
Green Island is a pretty little island just of the coast. It only has one tiny town, and it’s common for visitors to rent scooters to explore its scenic coastal road. You can also go swimming, snorkeling, or hiking on the mountain that covers most of the island.
Many people go to Kenting, at the southern tip of Taiwan, for its beaches. Its night markets are also popular, and it has an excellent aquarium.
Ali Shan is a mountain area famous for its incredible sunrises above the “sea of clouds”. A quaint little railway runs up the mountain to the best sunrise-viewing spot. Ali Shan also has a beautiful forest full of hiking trails. Some of the trees there are thousands of years old.
If you like hot springs, you should definitely visit Gu Guan. It’s a small town up in the mountains surrounded by hiking trails. People go there to soak in the hot springs as well as enjoy the beautiful views.
Dragon Boat Festival is a holiday that comes in early summer. (The exact date varies from year to year, much like Easter does, since it’s based on the lunar calendar.) It’s celebrated by holding boat races in lakes, rivers, or the ocean. Often, you’ll find a whole carnival going on along with the rowing races.
Taroko Gorge has been called the “Grand Canyon of Taiwan”. You’ll want to enjoy a scenic drive along the road at the canyon’s edge, with the option to stop at any of a couple dozen hiking trails. If you’re lucky, you may see monkeys or other wildlife. One particular section of cliff is full of swallow nests.
As long as you’re in the Taroko area, you may want to spend a day at the nearby Farglory Ocean Park. A cross between an amusement park and an aquarium, this little theme park has rides for guests of all ages, as well as tanks full of sea creatures and fun shows to watch.
Yehliu Geopark is known for its interesting rock formations. The most famous one (which appears on lots of Taiwanese postcards and brochures) supposedly looks like the head of Queen Victoria.
Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world at the time when it was built, dominates the skyline of Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei. Every night you’ll see it lit up in different colors, depending on the day of the week and various other factors. It’s worth paying to ride the world’s fastest elevator up to the top – I recommend going just before dusk and staying up there until after dark, so you can see the city lights at night, as well as enjoying a view of Taipei by daylight.
Taiwan is a wonderful country with so many fascinating things to see and experience! Please do come and visit sometime!