Browse around the Cottage Craftsman, a gift shop in the center of Bryson City, and you’ll see candle holders, wall hangings, baskets, pottery, jewelry, a small selection of wine.
Paige L. Christie is too modest to point them out on her own—and they do look a bit out of place— but if you ask her about the fantasy novels displayed on a small stand near the register, she’s more than happy to tell you a little bit about the author.
“I’ve been developing the world of my novels since I was about 14 years old,” Christie said.
Today, at 47, Christie has weathered years of diverted career paths, crushing debt and the threat of losing her shop to arrive at her dream. She has two novels published in a series she calls the Legacies of Arnan—the latest is titled “Wing Wind.” The books are anchored by a resilient heroine, a challenged love and, yes, dragons, and they’ve attracted a small but devoted and growing audience.
Christie is signing and reading from her newest book 6:30pm Friday, Sept. 7, at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva.
“I got tired of all the tropes of the damsel in distress, and I thought ‘What if the woman who is chained to the rock and waiting for the dragon to come eat her or take her wants to be there?’” Christie said. “What if something else is going on—something else has been going on in all those stories—what’s the truth behind the stories we’ve been told?”
Christie grew up in rural western Maine and studied writing and English at the College of St. Lawrence. More than the tracks of serious literature, she has always been drawn as a writer to fantasy.
“You can explore everything about the world we live in and touch on issues of truth and society and religion and politics without starting a fight. You explore different ways of seeing the world and characters other than you,” Christie said of her attraction to fantasy. “The willful suspension of disbelief is the phrase they use and tie it to people’s lives and experiences without having to face it in the immediate now. They can absorb it and come back to it in their daily lives.”
During the early ‘90s, Christie failed to get into grad school, derailing her career plans to teach writing at the college level. For a while, she taught skiing in the mountains of Maine and thought about pursuing photography before moving Bryson City 20 years ago with the man who became her life partner.
Since purchasing the Cottage Craftsman six years ago, Christie’s career has remained a fog. Health issues sent her into deep debt and, just in the past year, she worked in email marketing, cleaned cabins, took a part time job at Best Buy and worked nights in a casino, all while struggling to keep her shop afloat.
Throughout it all, Christie continued writing. She joined a women’s writing group, and National Novel Writing Month inspired her to finish her first book. At a conference, she pitched it to a small publisher in Winston-Salem as “a feminist western with dragons.” Soon, she had a publishing deal.
“Last year was really hard,” she said. “(But) the one thing I’d wanted as a kid, that I never thought in a million years would happen, had happened. I’d been validated by a traditional publisher, and whatever else came after that, I just was going to deal with it.”
This past March, Christie narrowed her workload—or at least shifted it—by becoming the executive director of the Community Table, a food pantry that also serves meals in Sylva. Christie received a boost of morale and awareness when Janny Wurts, one of her favorite authors in the fantasy genre, agreed to provide a blurb for the cover of her second book.
“I about had a heart attack. The screaming and the crying could be heard for a hundred miles,” Christie said. “It legitimized me.”
Her writing group, the Blazing Lionesses, is headed in November to an industry convention in Baltimore. Her third book is already finished, and she’s starting work on her fourth.
“I don’t expect I’m going to be the next JK Rowling overnight, but I’m hoping to make a living eventually from the writing,” she said. “Life has not taken me where I thought I was going to go. I’m carrying a lot of debt and big dreams. But don’t lose your dreams, because you can come back to them when you least expect it.”