Anne Elisabeth has published two novels in her series Tales of Goldstone Wood - Heartless and Veiled Rose - and more are to come (the third, Moonblood, releases April 2012). She has kindly agreed to an interview here at Scribbles to give readers a peek at her inspiration and writing process, and she is also offering a giveaway to two winners, one to receive an autographed copy of Heartless and the other an autographed copy of Veiled Rose. If you would like to enter (and I highly recommend that you do), all you have to do is leave a comment on this post with your email address. The giveaway will end next Friday, September 23.
1. Would you mind telling us a little about yourself? Hobbies, personality, tea or coffee?
I think the primary definition of me as both a personality and a writer is my love of all things Fairy Tale. I spent my childhood living in England right next to a great, wild, beautiful Common full of ancient oaks, wild rabbits, a stone church (complete with scary graveyard), and all the magic a 3-to-10 year old and her brothers could possibly hope to find. From this early age, I sought out stories of fairies and knights and heroes.
Today, not much has changed. I met my handsome husband at fencing class, where I was researching for my first novel, Heartless. In a whirlwind romance of Fairy Tale proportions, I “stabbed” him at a tournament, we fell in love, and were married seven months later! How's that for fairy tale?
I am a devoted tea drinker. I tell my Rohan this is the real reason I married him. He comes from Sri Lanka and introduced me to fine, black Ceylon teas. Hmmmm. And I had thought I was a tea snob from years of living in England! What did I know? My family, also avid tea drinkers, are very pleased to have Rohan added to their number.
I am a consummate Crazy Cat Lady (My name is Anne Elisabeth, and I am a cataholic). My current count is four: Molly Boots (my blonde), Minerva Louise (aka The Evil One), Lord Marmaduke Chuffnell (yes, we are posh!) and Mr. Fluffy Monster Boots (he prefers Monster at home). I spent a significant portion of my time this last summer fostering a litter of feral kittens and finding them homes as well.
And I'm allergic to cats.
Writing is my primary love, but I used to give art classes and paint portraits for a living. I also love to play classical piano, can handle myself in a table-tennis or badminton match, quilt (in cool weather), cook, bake, and a variety of such things. Enough to keep me busy, anyway!
2. Have you “always” been a writer, or was there something that specifically prompted you to start writing?
I started writing my first story when I was seven. It was about three pages long, an epic saga of a wild golden stallion who became a famous race horse, dedicated to my favorite Breyer horse figurine, and complete with illustrations. My second story was a little longer, a romantic tale about a baby flying horse named Purity. By age nine, however, my Crazy Cat Lady side was emerging. I wrote two short novels about an Abyssinian kitten named Berry and his various adventures. At thirteen, I wrote my first epic fantasy, a dreadful catastrophe of literary hodge-podge (but I liked it!) about a wish-granting cat and all the various baddies who wanted to control him.
All this to say, yes, I have always wanted to be a writer. My mother, Jill Stengl, has sixteen published historical romances to her name, and I grew up watching her write, so it was natural for me to pick up a pen myself. I write very different work, however. After about age 13, I knew that fairy tales were my real love . . . well, those and cats!
3. Without giving spoilers, can you tell us what inspired Veiled Rose?
Veiled Rose is actually the second book in my Tales of Goldstone Wood, though chronologically, it takes place mostly before Heartless. It was inspired quite simply out of my desire to take a character from Heartless, Leonard the jester, and learn more about him. This is unusual for me. Most of my stories begin with a plot concept, and I discover the characters as I pursue the plot. But with Veiled Rose, the entire plot emerged from wanting to know Leo better.
Of course, it didn't really take shape until Rose Red stepped into the picture as Leo's foil. I knew I wanted her to be his opposite in every way. Not just being a humble peasant girl . . . she needed to be a complete outcast. Thus was born the mysterious child covered in veils from head to foot, rejected by her community. Once she introduced herself to me, the story took flight!
4. Did you find the writing process of your two published books to be similar or very different? I know the first draft of Veiled Rose was a colossal undertaking; did the deadline make it a harder or easier book to write than Heartless?
Each book is an entirely different project. Deadlines do make a difference for sure, but that isn't the number one factor in the level of intensity. Every time I begin a new manuscript, it is something more complicated and more interesting than the one before. Every time I begin a new manuscript, I learn all over again how to write a book.
I like how Neil Gaiman paraphrases this quote by Gene Wolfe: "You never learn how to write a novel. You just learn how to write the novel that you're writing."
In some ways writing Veiled Rose was easier than Heartless. I was a better novelist when I wrote it, so Veiled Rose went through fewer rough drafts. That being said, Heartless was more fun to draft from the get-go because I was just having fun with it, not doing it for a job. Each one of my stories is a labor of love . . . but the love never diminishes the labor!
5. Can you pick a favorite character from the Tales of Goldstone Wood?
My favorite character is probably Sir Eanrin, Bard of Iubdan Rudiobus, Knight of Farthestshore. If you have read only Veiled Rose, you have only gotten tiny glimpses of him. He gets a much more dominant role in Heartless, a still greater role in Moonblood, and is the lead player in Starflower [the fourth book in the series]. I kind of adore him.
That being said, I also really love writing about Prince Lionheart because he is so real to me. Rose Red and Una also have tender places in my heart. The Prince of Farthestshore is more difficult to write, especially because he is so significant in every novel, but must not remain static. But when I succeed in writing him well, he is the most satisfactory character of all.
6. The Tales of Goldstone Wood are fantasies. Do you see yourself continuing to write fantasy alone, or do you think you’ll try your hand at other genres?
I have dabbled in comedic fantasy, strict fairy tale retelling fantasy, historical fantasy, etc. But it always comes back to being fantasy. Once or twice I have toyed around with thoughts of writing a historical and even a contemporary or two. But my mind doesn't tend to work that way. I can enjoy reading just about any genre, but the tales that take shape in my mind always morph into the fantastic. I wouldn't necessarily be against writing another genre . . . it would just have to be a dominant enough idea to shoulder aside all the fairy tales currently taking precedence!
7. What inspires you most: books, movies, your cats, your family…dish-washing?
Great writing. If I have hit a wall in my own work, the best solution I have found is to back up and read the greats. Whether rereading favorites or discovering brilliance for the first time, I am always inspired by the beauty of well-written plots and compelling characters. A novel I am reading (or poem, depends on my mood) can have absolutely NOTHING to do with anything I am currently writing . . . but it might still be exactly what I need to spark my interest again. For instance, I just finished Joseph Conrad's heart-breaking Lord Jim. I will never even consider writing like Conrad (he uses stream-of-consciousness), but the gorgeous depth of his prose and the power with which he communicates his message in the context of a vivid story is a huge inspiration.
Good writers are my best encouragers. The more great writing we read, the more motivation we have to excel.
I also spend large chunks of time brainstorming with my long-suffering mother. I think with my mouth (I am a girl, after all), so sometimes just talking through ideas and conundrums is all I need to get me started in the right direction. My dear Rohan has, in this first year of our marriage, proven himself a willing and insightful brainstorming partner as well.
Cats are great for purr-therapy. Never underestimate the importance or power of purr-therapy. Or a cup of tea. Dish-washing, however . . . meh. Not my favorite. I get VERY inspired by a handsome husband who does the dishes for me, though!
8. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the writing process?
This isn't to say there aren't significant moments of joy throughout the process. Writing my fifth professional novel, however, I am discovering that those moments of joy are fewer and farther between than they used to be. What I once did purely for pleasure is now my profession. It's work. And it is hard, hard work, even while it is what I enjoy most and do best in this life. I used to get to the end of a scene that went really well - all the plot threads twining together, all the thematic elements shining, all the characters as real as real can be - and sit back with a sigh, content. Now, I might still have those fantastic scenes, but there isn't as much satisfied sighing. I'm a better writer now. The work can always be better still with rewrites. I'm always looking for that one trick necessary to improve what I have done. It's good work, even glorious work . . . but it's still work.
Least Favorite: Starting!
I really have come to hate beginnings. Used to be that they were the easiest part for me, back when my stories were simpler. Now, each of my manuscripts goes through at least five very different opening scenes. I believe in an organic development of plot and character, which means each scene needs to build naturally on top of the one that came before. Which means that the opening scene needs to be right before it leads to chapter two. Not that it needs to be perfect, by any means. But it needs to be solid.
So, yes, openings are my big hang-up these days. I can sometimes write 50,000 words’ worth of manuscript before realizing that I have the wrong opening! Once I hit on the right one, though, I can write a novel in two to four months. It's just getting the right one!
Beginnings are killers for me, too. (Can't we just skip that bit and go straight to the middle?)
9. If you were forced to pick a single favorite author, who would it be?
Such a cruel question!
Well, I suppose if I'm being forced, I must say C.S. Lewis. His beautiful Chronicles of Narnia alone earn him that place! But on top of those, he wrote such gems as Till We Have Faces, The Great Divorce, Perelandra, not to mention his fascinating non-fiction. He amazes me with his extreme versatility, and yet his voice is always truly and distinctly his own. He knew that fiction was meant to be fun and wonderful . . . he also knew that it was not meant to be the Poor Man's Television. He knew fiction was to challenge and inspire and invigorate. Entertainment need not be mindless.
Yes, I adore him and his work.
10. What is your primary goal in your writing? What ideals and beliefs dictate how and what you write?
My primary goal is to bring glory to God by writing to the very best of my ability. I believe the whole purpose of mankind is worship, and I believe each of us best worships God when doing what we do best to our very best. Writing is my great skill, a gift from God and a talent for which I know he has plans. So it is to his honor when I study and strive and work and learn to better my craft. And I hope and pray that my desire to communicate truth through these simple fairy tales becomes ever-more evident to those who read them.
I also long to bring a sense of classicism back to the CBA market. There is a sad tendency in Christian publishing to simply follow the modern trends, to focus entirely on entertainment and not on true beauty and true art. A lot of lazy writing is being called "great," and knowledge of the classics is fading swiftly from both our readers’ and writers’ memories. I hope that stories like the Tales of Goldstone Wood, written in a classic omniscient narrative, will motivate people to go back and read the much better stories that influenced and inspired them—the works of Lewis and MacDonald, Coleridge and Milton, Spenser and Shakespeare, and so many more!
11. I know Moonblood is the next book due out. Which book in the series are you actively writing now?
I am currently drafting Book 5 in the Tales of Goldstone Wood, which is under the working title Dragonwitch. I suspect that title will change, however. Most of the time, my publisher likes the titles I pick, but I'm not even sure I like that title, and I don't know what they'll think of it. We'll see what happens. I just finished drafting Book 4, Starflower, which will come out October 2012. It is in a polish-up stage and about to be sent out to my editors for their perusal. I can hardly wait to share it with all of you! It is my personal favorite. But then, my newest piece is always my personal favorite! It will probably be supplanted by Book 5 in another month or two . . .
I am eagerly awaiting Moonblood and its sequels. Thanks so much for sharing!
Anne Elisabeth Stengl's blog is over at Tales of Goldstone Wood, where you can read more about her writing and an author's life (and her cats - life isn't complete without a few cats). She is currently doing a series of answers to questions readers have, so if you are curious about something regarding her books or about writing in general, be sure to drop her a comment or an email.
Don't forget to enter the giveaway!