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Want to Be a Fantasy Writer? You Need to Travel, a guest post by Jill Criswell

A note from Karen Jensen: We are aware that there has been a tremendous amount of discourse and pushback regarding this post, particularly on Twitter and in the comments section. We discussed taking this post down, but feel like that is perhaps not the most ethical approach. We posted it and that’s on us. We made the following statement via Twitter: “TLT has always made it a practice to allow authors the opportunity to promote their work via guest posts. In March of 2020 as the world closed down, we heard authors far and wide worrying about promoting and selling their books. We really opened our doors during this time in an effort to help promote the thing we love, YA lit. We are aware that the recent post by Jill Criswell promotes a privileged point of view that has harmed our readers and we apologize. Although we will continue to offer our platform to authors, we will try to do a better job on our end of vetting those posts so that this type of privileged harm is not posted on our platform. We sincerely apologize.”

We also want to clarify that although this is a networked blog with School Library Journal, they are not responsible for this post or the title of this post. In fact, when an author submits a guest post we at TLT ask them to provide a title and we copy the title and body of their post as is. These do not always represent our personal views. SLJ has always given us tremendous freedom and has never censored nor really challenged any of our work here at TLT, for which I have always been grateful.

Kingdom of Ice and Bone

Okay, so I know that’s depressing to hear right now, in these times when some of us are barely leaving our homes, much less our countries. (Thank you, by the way, to those of you staying home, being responsible, and helping to stop the spread of this disease.) But hopefully, one day soon, life will return to something resembling the pre-COVID world, and travel will be safe again. When it does, if you’re able, please dive into it and explore!

When I first decided I wanted to try writing young adult fantasy, I wasn’t sure where to start. Fantasy is all about world-building. What world should I write about? How do I make this fabricated world feel like a real, wondrous place? Luckily, I’ve spent years saving every penny so I could afford to travel. I’ve visited fifty countries across six continents, and that accounts for some serious world-building inspiration. It’s not something many get the chance to do, and I recognize it for the privilege it is, but this is how I finally found the fantasy world I was looking for.

I took a trip to Iceland, a place I’d dreamed of traveling to for years. Driving on Hringvegur, or Ring Road, which forms a giant circle around the island, I was definitely north of the wall—it was mid-May, and there were still snowstorms in the mountains and snow-plowed roads lined on both sides with ten-foot-tall embankments of packed snow. Being in Iceland was like being on another planet. There are black sand beaches, troll-shaped basalt pillars rising from the wild North Atlantic waves, rolling blue glaciers, snow-capped volcanoes and vast lava fields, geysers and fumaroles and waterfalls that will make your jaw drop. Add to that the rich lore of Viking Sagas and Norse mythology, and you have a perfect storm of world-building inspiration. This is where my YA fantasy series, the Frozen Sun Saga, was born.

Beasts of the Frozen Sun

The first book in the series, Beasts of the Frozen Sun, takes place in a country called Glasnith, which is based on places I traveled to in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Lira, the story’s heroine, crosses paths with Reyker, a warrior from Iseneld—an enigmatic island covered in ice though liquid fire boils below its surface. The Frozen Sun. Reyker tells Lira stories of his island, and she’s captivated. In the sequel, Kingdom of Ice & Bone, she finally gets to go there herself.

Iseneld is based on—you guessed it—Iceland, and as the plot unfolds, the landscape becomes its own character. The protagonists trek across the country, encountering obstacles and facing threats based on real-life danger that any soul brave enough to journey across Iceland by foot would encounter. Throughout the story, I weave in some of my favorite, iconic places in the land of ice and fire: Þingvellir, Gullfoss, Dettifoss, Reynisfjara, Skaftafellsjökull, Eldhraun, Jökulsárlón, Kjölur, Námafjall, and Haukadalur. The phenomena of the northern lights and the Midnight Sun are also featured, adding beauty and mystery to the backdrop.

I’m grateful to Iceland and its people for the inspiration I found there, and my hope is that readers will be drawn into the realm of Iseneld and want to visit the country that inspired it, too. Beyond that, I hope fantasy stories like mine that are based on real places will inspire more readers and writers to travel—as soon as it’s once again safe—to seek out fantastical settings that happen to exist right here in our own world.

Meet Jill Criswell

Jill Criswell is a writer of young adult fantasy. She was born and raised in the swamps of northeastern Florida. She earned degrees in English and Psychology and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida. Her greatest passion, besides reading and writing, is traveling the world; she’s visited fifty countries across six continents, falling in love with places like Iceland, Namibia, and Cambodia. She works as a university English teacher and lives in South Carolina, near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with her husband and daughter (who is named after a volcano in Iceland). She is the author of Beasts of the Frozen Sun, the first book in the Frozen Sun Saga.

Author Links:

Author Website: https://jillcriswell.com/

Author Twitter:  https://twitter.com/JillCriswell

Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorJillCriswell/

Author Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/authorjillcriswell/

Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18483321.Jill_Criswell

About Kingdom of Ice & Bone

Kingdom of Ice and Bone

Lira and Reyker have lost everything. Including each other.

Lira of Stone watched her home burn and her clan fall beneath the sword of the warlord known as the Dragon. She believes the man she loves, a warrior who defected from the Dragon’s army, is dead. Alongside her exiled brother and his band of refugees, she will fight the forces that conquered her island. But the greatest danger may come from Lira herself—with the blood of banished gods running through her veins, she’s become a weapon, and no one is safe from the power of her wrath.

Reyker Lagorsson thought he was done being a Dragonman. That was before he saw Lira leap from a cliff and vanish into the sea. Determined to honor her memory by protecting her people, Reyker must feign loyalty to the warlord, undermine him at every turn, and seek alliances with renegade soldiers—without succumbing to the battle-madness that threatens to possess him once more.

When the Fallen Ones offer Lira a chance to defeat the Dragon, her quest leads her to a place she never expected—Iseneld, the warlord’s homeland. Her journey into the heart of the Frozen Sun will put her on a collision course with Reyker, costing both of them more than they ever imagined, and leaving her with a terrible choice: to save their countries, she must forsake everything she loves.

Coming September 22!

Want to support independent bookstores and get a signed hardback copy of Beasts of the Frozen Sun or Kingdom of Ice & Bone? Click below and order from Hub City Bookshop!



ISBN-13: 9781982556280
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Publication date: 09/22/2020
Series: Frozen Sun Saga Series #2
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years


  1. This smacks of middle class white, classist and ableist drivel. Congratulations, you are able to afford to travel hundreds if not thousands of miles for your craft, some people are stuck being unable to afford that due to their circumstances but you wouldn’t care about them. How about that physically unable to travel but still aspiring to be writers?

    Take this rubbish down and stop promoting it on social media, it’s not a good look for anyone involved.

  2. Really? “NEED” to travel? Please, that is such a privileged and tone-deaf thing to say. There’s plenty of ways to be an excellent writer of fantasy or anything else without NEEDING to travel. Travel is wonderful and mind-expanding; it can help you become a better writer. But you don’t NEED it. So fix that headline before underprivileged kids reading this think, “Oh, guess I can’t be a fantasy writer then, because I don’t enough money to travel.”

  3. Yeah, Jill Criswell can bite me. I can’t afford to travel. I have busted my ass for three decades, and I’ve never gotten good opportunities. Travel just is not an option in my life. This is a horseshit opinion and a bad post. Take it down.

  4. This is not helping the library profession look less privileged and hobbyist. Next up: an article about how working for so little that you can’t afford your student loans is character building. This profession is full of those who don’t “get it”.

  5. This is absolutely sends the wrong message. Please check your privilege.

  6. Different genre, but Jane Austen famously didn’t go too far afield — she’d ask friends and relations to describe places they had been in great detail, then incorporate that into her writing. I suppose if you lack emotional depth/honesty, talent, and imagination, it’s easier to tell yourself you simply need to book a few more tickets, but…travel can only do so much for mediocrity.

  7. So…yeah, I’m the author of this article. Yesterday, I checked twitter for the first time in over a week. That was the first time I was made aware of this controversy. If you want to hear my response, I just wrote a blog about it:


  1. […] Question of the day: If you want to write stories that involve far-away (or entirely fictional) places, do you have travel to be able to do so believably? That’s an actual question you hear from writers, and the idea that you must travel widely before you can write (this actually comes up in epic fantasy a lot, his argument that to write a fictional universe you must experience many cultures and geographies up close) is surprisingly common even among writers who should know better. […]

  2. […] article in question, “Want to Be a Fantasy Writer? You Need to Travel” by Jill Criswell, sparked a lot of […]

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