Deep in the Smoky Mountains, Dorothy Papadakos is hard at work. She is penning “The Kingdom of Spring,” the second book in her four-part “The Kingdom of the Seasons” series. It continues the story of Sir Windham the North Wind in his quest to save the seasons. Speaking over the phone from a writing retreat, she sounds eager to further promote environmental awareness. The popular first installment, “The Kingdom of Winter,” takes readers—children to adults—through an exhilarating fantasy adventure. On Feb. 23, Papadakos will speak about “The Kingdom of Winter” at a fundraising luncheon for the Library Foundation of New Hanover County.
“I love that libraries are depositories of humanity and civilization, and our evolution of thought and creativity,” Papadakos says. “I just love them.”
Deep thinking and creativity are no strangers to Papadakos; they seem to course through her veins. After graduating from the Juilliard School in New York City with a master’s in organ performance, Papadakos quickly gained international recognition as the first female organist of the largest Gothic cathedral in the world: the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. The appointment opened the door to a plethora of creative outlets, and Papadakos is not one to pass up on them. Among the opportunities was a chance to express her love of silent film.
“We had this old man—he was 90 years old—Lee Erwin, and he was one of the great silent movie accompanists,” she says. “He would come every Halloween to do concerts for two silent movies. One year, he fell, hit his head, and couldn’t do it. So they called me and said, ‘Dorothy, you’re on, kid.’”
Though at first timid about her lack of experience, Papadakos took the two days she had to prepare and learned the art of improvising to film. It became an annual tradition for her, even following her to Wilmington every October, wherein she performs scores spooky silent films like “Nosferatu” and “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” at St. Paul’s. Papadakos also has toured with the four-time Grammy Award-winning group, the Paul Winter Consort. She composed and wrote an original musical, “POMPEII,” which sold more than 6,000 tickets in two weekends and won encore’s Best Theatre Production in 2006 (read more about our Best Of on page 30). It still holds the record for Thalian Hall’s best-selling single musical and is now under development as “BACCHUS.”
Between all of her accomplishments, finding inspiration (much less the time) to write a successful young-adult fantasy novel may seem rather ambitious. Yet, for the musician, it came naturally.
“When I was a kid growing up by Lake Tahoe—and this would have been in the ‘70s—a camp counselor would take us out [to snorkel],” she says. “[We would] go out quite far, and we’d just float there in this crystal clear water. You could literally see a 100 feet to the bottom in every direction.”
After returning to Lake Tahoe eight years ago, Papadakos decided to revisit her childhood passion of snorkeling in the lake. But she was devastated to discover everything had changed. Carbon emissions heated the water. It catalyzed an algal bloom, which left the water murky and the lake’s white sand coated in orange-yellow. Combined with an extended drought, the impact to the lake’s health was disastrous. “That’s what started the book,” she says. “I thought, What’s going on? So I started doing research.”
Using what she learned, Papadakos conveyed complex issues in ways understandable to any age group. Elements of nature are embodied as characters, such as the evil Fire Witch, who represents global warming. Papadakos strives to educate all people on the issues of climate change. “Sometimes people just shut off,” she says. “If you start breaking it down in a fun way, it really becomes clear how it all works. It is fixable.”
At the upcoming fundraiser for the Library Foundation of New Hanover County, Papadakos will discuss further the inspiration and vision behind “The Kingdom of Winter.” The Library Foundation’s mission is to support NHC libraries through fundraising, which provides books, materials and programs. Each week NHC libraries host a dozen or more educational events for children and adults.
Funding also supports the annual Story Extravaganza, which celebrates children’s literature with live performances and provides parents with childhood literacy tips. The foundation supports technological expansions and free Internet access in all NHC libraries. A mélange of lectures, seminars, workshops, and other events are supported through the Library Foundation, too.
“Libraries are sanctuaries for the mind and soul,” Papadakos says. “The library is one of the most important things we have in our community, so I hope folks come out and support us.”
The fundraising luncheon starts at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 23, and will be held at the Northeast Regional Library. “The Kingdom of Winter” is now at Barnes & Noble in Mayfaire Town Center and will be available to purchase at the fundraiser.