PENINSULA WOMAN: Spinner of tales, weaver of worlds

PORT ANGELES — Once upon a time in the deep, dark woods, there lived three fierce females.

Mom, her daughter, Amélie, and their heroine, Bertie.

The story of these three opens at 11:59 on the night of Dec. 29, 2006, as Mom — aka Lisa Mantchev of Port Angeles — presses “send.”

With that keystroke, Mantchev punctuated years of tale-telling and travel: She emailed her agent the manuscript of Eyes Like Stars.

This was her first novel, written on a dare and transmitted according to a promise she had made to herself. After writing, teaching and doing theater for years, Mantchev wanted to finish a novel by age 30.

And she got in just under the wire. Dec. 30, 2006, was her 31st birthday.

Eyes Like Stars, starring the teenage Bertie Shakespeare Smith, went on to spark glowing reviews — and win Mantchev a contract for two more novels published by Macmillan Books: Perchance to Dream and her latest, So Silver Bright.

The books follow Bertie across a glittery world of fairies, Shakespearean characters and charismatic young guys. And although the trilogy may be displayed in bookstores and libraries near the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, Bertie is no Bella.

She lives in a Victorian-style building, though it’s not clear where or when. While she does have two romantic interests — a pirate named Nate and the airy Ariel from Shakespeare’s The Tempest — Bertie, at 17, has so much more happening in her life.

“Her journey,” Mantchev says, “is to find out who she is and where she belongs.”

And while the era of Eyes, Dream and Silver remains undefined, Bertie is a girl the 21st-century reader can relate to.

“To me, she feels like a modern, snarky teenager,” her creator says.

Mantchev has always loved writing and theater and Shakespeare. She benefits, too, from another powerful inspiration.

Mantchev and her Bulgarian-American husband, Angel, welcomed their daughter, Amélie, into the world seven years ago. And when Amélie was a bit over a year old, Mantchev began work on her novel.

“I wanted my daughter to read the books later, about a girl who is her own person,” she says.

The Bertie series has turned Mantchev into a star of the teen-paranormal galaxy. She didn’t set out to write a trilogy, but after reading Eyes Like Stars, her publisher wanted more. These days, Eyes Like Stars, Perchance to Dream and So Silver Bright scarcely stay on the shelves of stores like Odyssey Books in Port Angeles.

A line of fans snaked through that shop Jan. 7 when Mantchev and another local author, Gwen Hayes, held a joint book-signing party. And Mantchev has thousands of Facebook fans, from girls to grandmothers.

April Bellerud, owner of Odyssey, devours these “young adult” novels. Her preteen daughter Porter reads them, so “I have an excuse,” Bellerud says.

Bertie’s adventures give mother and daughter a lot to talk about. And this has turned into a tri-generational thing. Bellerud’s mother and Porter’s grandmother Donna Eklund have also taken to reading the tales of Bertie.

This novelist-wife-and-mother thing, Mantchev says, is an art of its own.

Mantchev rises at 5 a.m. to write and edit her work. She wakes her family — husband, daughter and their newest addition, 18-month-old Xavier — at 6:30. Then she sends Amélie off to school, and Angel off to his dental practice in Port Angeles.

“I’m on mom-duty with my son until my husband comes home . . . . If I have a deadline and need more writing time in the evening, then I turn the kids over to him after dinner. We all go to bed early because of my writing schedule,” Mantchev adds with a laugh.

For her Facebook fans — teenagers, “stay at home” moms, many others — Mantchev posts about her array of activities. There’s cooking, baking, attending writing conferences, funny things her kids say and going out on “date nights” with her husband.

Click on the link to her website, Theatre-Illuminata.com, and you step into her other world.

It’s a literary and frolicsome place, laced with Shakespeare’s delicious words. “The course of true love never did run smooth,” a line from A Midsummer Night’s Dream graces the cover of So Silver Bright.

“Shakespeare was my first theater love,” says Mantchev, who got involved in drama as a girl growing up in the Northern California town of Ukiah.

After attending the University of California at Irvine, she went on to teach elementary school in Pasadena, Calif., and run an after-school theater program.

Oh, and her lunch hours were given over to writing stories.

Ophelia, the Prince of Denmark’s love interest in Hamlet, is another Shakespearean element that appears in So Silver Bright. She is Bertie’s mother, while her father is a man called the Scrimshander. Bertie is working on reuniting them, to have “a true family of her own,” as the book jacket says.

Of course, things are a long way from easy. Bertie must contend with the angry Sea Goddess, Sedna; fortunately, she has Her Gracious Majesty, Queen of the Distant Castle, to turn to for help.

The Silver plot spins out like a spider web.

“Bertie is caught between her duties and her dreams, just as her heart is torn between Ariel and Nate. But hope glimmers in a Distant Castle, and if Bertie can put on the performance of her life, maybe she can win the magical boon that may save them all,” the Theatre Illuminata website teases.

The book jacket again: “With so many forces pulling on her, how will Bertie be able to choose which wish to make come true?”

Mantchev, in fact, manages to make her personal and professional wishes come true — by being realistic about them.

“Some days I get ‘All The Stuff Done,’” she writes. “Other days, I do nothing but what is immediately necessary. Life with kids and writing requires a really crazy balance of scheduling and flexibility.”

Then there are the times when she slips away, when Angel watches over Amélie and Xavier and she can go to Renaissance, the cafe with the view of Port Angeles Harbor.

“It’s my quiet place. I can sit and write and daydream and outline,” while sipping coffee and nibbling on toast.

It turns out that Mantchev, with all her moving around and fantastical storytelling, is into the “buy local” movement. She patronizes the Port Angeles Farmers Market and Renaissance for products such as Clark Farms’ grass-fed beef, local cheeses and breads.

Another thing Mantchev appreciates about Renaissance: the absence of wireless Internet access.

“That keeps me focused,” she says, adding that her next book took shape at the corner table.

This fourth novel is set in an alternate Victorian England and introduces a new heroine of the steampunk persuasion: a girl with a clockwork heart implant, no less.

And in addition to that project, Mantchev is contributing a short story to an anthology, Two and Twenty Dark Tales: Dark Retellings of Mother Goose Rhymes. Her piece is based on the nursery rhyme known as “The Girl and the Birds.”

The anthology will be available this fall as an electronic book, with proceeds directed to various charities. Mantchev chose the Olympic Peninsula Humane Society as her beneficiary.

This writer, who grew up in one rural place and now lives in another, has always had a pair of companions: imagination and perseverance.

“I didn’t actually set out to write ‘young adult’ novels. Just after college, I started writing short speculative fiction as part of a very active online and small press community. A writer wasn’t going to get published in that talent pool without coming up with ideas and presentations that were unique,” she says.

“Ninety-nine percent of my early rejections said, ‘Nice, but we’ve seen something like this before.’ It really taught me the value of originality.

“Then when I sat down to write my first novel-length piece of fiction, I took my favorite short story and expanded upon it. It just happened to feature a 17-year-old girl as the protagonist. Then it just happened to sell to a YA imprint. That’s how it ended up with the YA label, but I have fans as young as 8 and older than 80.”

At 36, Mantchev makes one think of what Bertie Shakespeare Smith will look like when she grows up. The author even wore silver strands in her hair — Flair-brand hair extensions — to her book signing in January. She chattered at high speed, evidently energized by meeting her Facebook fans in person.

“I spend way too much time on Facebook,” Mantchev says. But “it became the place to connect with teenagers.”

Yet the writing life, even the published-by-a-major-house version, doesn’t necessarily pay a fortune.

“Considering the number of hours I spend doing research, drafting the story, editing it, then revising, copy editing, page proofing and marketing, I’d say it ends up being a minimum wage job,” Mantchev says.

This is also like being a small business. Mantchev and her husband are similar, in that they each have one of those. The difference, Mantchev adds, is that in his dental practice, he has a staff, while she has a computer and two young kids.

Not that Mantchev is complaining, or even talking about being tired. Instead, she’s adding to on to her plate. Mantchev will draw on her theater background as she copresents a three-part course on filmmaking for young people; the afternoon classes start Wednesday at the Port Angeles Library, and are geared toward students ages 12 to 18.

And in April, Mantchev and Gwen Hayes, the Sequim author of the young-adult novels Falling Under and Dreaming Awake, will teach a writing workshop for teens. The four-session course will also be offered free at the Port Angeles Library.

Watching all of this unfold, one might say it’s a modern story of living happily ever after — day by crazy-busy day. But where to uncover snippets of exactly how that is happening?

Find Lisa Mantchev on Facebook, of course.

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