Texas author Melanie Reed said she chose Nanaimo as a setting for her young adult fantasy series the Phantom Forest Saga because of the Island’s natural beauty, and because it’s a place where her Forest People creatures might exist. Photo submitted

Texas author re-imagines Nanaimo’s forests

Melanie Reed working on a series of YA fantasy novels set in and around Nanaimo

A lot of people believe there’s magic in the forests surrounding Nanaimo. But it’s never been imagined quite like this.

Texas author Melanie Reed is working on a five-book series set in and around Nanaimo called the Phantom Forest Saga. As she tells it, there are spirits, monsters, mermaids and portals in the woods, and most significantly, a race of tall, lightly furred, human-like creatures called the Forest People.

The books are written for young adults and in Book 1, Befriended, a fast-paced plot is filled with adventure, action and romance.

“I like the genre, I wanted to bring it to life, but I wanted to do something different because I’m sick of vampires and werewolves and what have you,” said Reed.

Those creatures have existing mythology, but so too do Reed’s Forest People, she said, positing that skeletons of “red-headed giants” have been found in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and exist in Native American legends.

“I found it fascinating. I thought, ‘Let’s bring this to life,'” she said. “It was kind of like I got the whole idea of how it was going to to go, right away.”

Reed didn’t begin writing fiction until retirement after a career as a scientist, working in genetics.

“I had to find something to do. It was weird, not going to the lab every day,” she said. “[Writing] was just an outlet and I didn’t realize how much I loved it until I started it.”

Nanaimo was the right setting for her books because with the surrounding wilderness, she imagined it as a place where the Forest People might exist. Reed has visited Vancouver but not the Island, so she consulted with a friend in Campbell River and researched the area online.

“I chose the area up there because, one, the scenery is beautiful, and I wanted to bring that into the book; I wanted the beauty of the wilderness…” said Reed.

“I enjoy nature. I hope that came forth in the book. Girls these days, well, a lot of people these days have never really taken time to go into the wilderness and enjoy the beauty of nature and I wanted to bring that to life.”

Befriended introduces readers to teenager Gracie McKay, whose family has recently moved to Nanaimo from New York City. After a car crash in the backwoods, she goes looking for help, gets lost and finds herself among the Forest People, eventually meeting a handsome young male, Zari. The experiences, ordeals, friendships and love that the protagonist finds in the forest are life-changing.

Reed has already written three of the five novels in the series and she is well on her way to finishing the fourth. She sells proof copies on her website, www.melaniefreed.com, but she and her agent are still looking for a publisher and have had inquiries about film adaptations. Reed said publishers aren’t accepting a lot of fantasy at the moment because “the market has been inundated,” but she’s certain her novel will be picked up at some point and become widely read.

“This is a fun project for me anyway. It’s brought me a lot of joy to create this…” she said. “Sometimes I actually dream about it, it gets so deep into my psyche.”

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