Ring Out the Bells Upon This Day of Days

16 July 2013

Today I have the honor of featuring Anne Elisabeth Stengl, author of the Tales of Goldstone Wood! She's celebrating the release of the fifth book in her series, Dragonwitch, and I was quite pleased to be included in her three-day blog tour in honor of this exciting occasion. 

Besides being interviewed, Anne Elisabeth has also graciously agreed to give away a copy of Dragonwitch to one lucky reader. If you're interested in entering the giveaway, just leave your email address in a comment. The giveaway will end next Tuesday, July 23rd.

the interview

1. Welcome to Literary Lane! To start us off, would you be so kind as to share a little bit about yourself?

Hi! I am a fairy-tale-loving crazy-cat-lady, which is a pretty good picture of me right there. I have been writing since I was nine years old, and started my professional career at twenty-two. I am married to the sweetest, handsomest man in the world, whom I met at fencing class while researching for a novel, and I now enjoy his superior cooking skills and humbly forego my childhood ideal of being reigning mistress of my own kitchen (some dreams are never meant to be). I boast a grand total of five cats—Minerva Louise the Evil One, Lord Marmaduke Chuffnel, Mr. Fluffy Monster Boots, Mama Magrat Fat-Cat, and Makoose the Moose (or the Goose, depending on his mood). But my most faithful companion is my long-suffering doggy, Milly, who looks like a miniature Newfoundland and is abominably put upon by all the cats, but bears it all with the patience of a fluffy saint (just so long as no one touches her Squeaky Rabbit).

2. At what age did you first realize you wanted to be an author?

I wrote my first “novel” when I was nine years old. And it was about a cat, of course. A few years later, I wrote my first fantasy—also about a cat. (Is it any wonder that the fan-favorite character of my current series is a cat?)

3. Sir Isaac Newton supposedly said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." What literary giants have most influenced your own writing?

Oddly enough, a number of poets, though I am myself quite an indifferent poet. But if you want to explore the realm of Faerie, your best gateway will always be via Shakespeare and, later on, the Romantic poets such as Browning, Shelley, Rossetti, Tennyson, and Coleridge. I’m also a huge fan of George MacDonald’s short fairy tales, such as “The History of Photogen and Nycteris,” and “The Light Princess.” Wonderful stories, told in a wonderful style, with a dash of both humor and tragedy. Brilliance!

More contemporary giants who have influenced my style and approach to storytelling would be the wonderful Sir Terry Pratchett and the inimitable Diana Wynne Jones, both masters of the fantastic upon whom I gaze with great awe.

4. For those who are unaware, what is Dragonwitch about?

Oh, dear. Dragonwitch is by far my most involved and complicated novel in the series so far, and it is about many things. But at its heart, it is the story of the Dragonwitch—Hri Sora—herself, the dreadful Flame at Night. She is a character who has been glimpsed in references and short appearances in the first three novels, and who played an important role in book 4, Starflower. But in this novel, we finally get to see her full story from her perspective . . . and it might not be exactly what we expected.

5. The Tales of Goldstone Wood are known for their beautiful allegory and symbolism. What is your method for portraying the vivid truth of the Gospel in your books without cheapening its value?

I hate to say it, but I have absolutely no method at all. I simply write the story, and I pray while writing it. I never intend to communicate a message or to include any particular allegory or symbolism. But I find the writing of each book quite the burden to carry, so I pray for strength and support as I go. God always provides what I need, and in so doing, He also provides whatever message the story is meant to contain. But it is all His doing, not my own.

6. What is your approach to the writing process? Does it change from book to book?

In retrospect, the process is fairly similar with each book, but while in the midst of drafting, I always feel as though I have to relearn my craft entirely from scratch! But each book probably looks something like this:

The Idea: This gets penned down in maybe a line or two, tucked away in a notebook and rarely/never looked at again. Then it sits in my brain and percolates, sometimes for months, sometimes for years.

Jam Writing: When the time is finally right to begin a certain story, I’ll open either a Word document or a notebook and simply jam write all of the various ideas I’ve had about it. Often these are quite disconnected, completely out of sequential order. But I write them all down and have a hard look at them in written form.

Organization and Outline: I start arranging the ideas in an order that makes some sense, filling in gaps and discarding things that absolutely refuse to fit. A lot of the most fun creativity occurs when I’m trying to fit together two unrelated storylines. By the time I’m done with this process, I usually have a solid outline of all the major character arcs and plot-twists, building to exciting climax and resolution.

Chapter-by-Chapter: I make certain I know what will happen in each chapter in order to best communicate the outline I have in mind. I don’t worry about how at this stage, because that’s where the spontaneity of creativity comes into play for me.

Drafting: I will then draft the book from Chapter 1 through to the end. I rarely skip ahead to write a scene out of sequential order. If I do, I tend to write it only in dialogue (absolutely no narrative, not even speech tags), and I keep that dialogue in the outline until I come to that chapter. Writing in sequential order is a great method for insuring that each chapter is intriguing and forward-moving.

Redrafting: These days, my first drafts are usually in good order, and only need one slight redrafting, possibly two, before I let my editors and beta readers see it.

The entire process takes me anywhere from two to six months to complete a 130,000 word manuscript (though the two months it took me to write Veiled Rose were absolutely and utterly beyond all reason insane, and I don’t recommend it!)

7. Which character in Dragonwitch was the most difficult to write?

My heroine, Leta, was probably the most difficult for me to get a handle on. She went through several incarnations, and I always found her so insipid and frustrating . . . until I realized that this truly was her personality: insipid and frustrated. And I realized that she and I could find common ground in that dichotomy. Then suddenly, she took on all sorts of life and became my favorite character in the story!

8. Your choice of using the omniscient perspective is a unique one. What is it about this point of view that best suits your books?

Omniscient narrative is my favorite narrative voice to read. All of my favorite novelists—both classic and modern—employ this narrative, so it makes perfect sense to me that I would write in it as well. It also suits the “fairy tale” style I’m trying to achieve with the Tales of Goldstone Wood. All the classic fairy tales, from Grimm to MacDonald, are told in omniscient narrative. I want my stories to remind people of that style of storytelling.

At the same time, I want it to be fresh and appropriate for contemporary readers. That is why I find such novelists as Diana Wynne Jones and Sir Terry Pratchett so inspiring! Both of them write in the omniscient narrative, and yet neither of them is out of touch with their time or audience. They know how to take the best of this classic-style voice and make it new. I admire their abilities tremendously and hope to mimic them in my own small way.

9. Which three characters (one wouldn't exactly be fair) in the Goldstone Wood series are your favorite? Why?

Well, Eanrin of course. He is a cat! And he is awfully charming, arrogant poet though he may be . . . .

I also really adore Beana/the Lady of Aiven. She hasn’t yet had a chance to shine in her own story, but that will come in time. And I enjoyed her so much in her role as Rose Red’s guardian in Veiled Rose and Moonblood.

I suppose Prince Lionheart is my other favorite. I was so in love with him when I first drafted Heartless that I almost didn’t finish writing that book, so badly did I want him to come through and not fail the way he does! When that story was complete, I was curious to explore his side of the story, and thus Veiled Rose and Moonblood were born. His story continues in Shadow Hand, and he remains an interesting, complex character.

10. Last month you released the cover and synopsis for Shadow Hand, the next book due to release in the series. Can you tell us about some of your other upcoming projects?

Well, I am currently drafting book 7, which boasts the working title Golden Daughter. It takes place soon after the events of Shadow Hand and fulfills several different storylines begun in previous books. Most importantly, it tells the story of the original Night of Moonblood (which was heavily referenced in book 3, Moonblood). We will also learn the origin of the Gold Stone for which Goldstone Wood is named. I really shouldn’t say more than that at the moment, however!

I am also excited to introduce my upcoming Super-Secret project: my first novella in the Goldstone Wood series. It is called Goddess Tithe, and it will be releasing later this year, between Dragonwitch and Shadow Hand. It marks the first of (I hope) a series of shorter stories set in the world of Goldstone Wood. Cover reveal coming soon!

11. And finally, what advice would you give to aspiring authors?

I always tell aspiring novelists that the best thing they can do to improve their craft is to read. Read as much as possible, in as many different styles and narrative voices as possible. Find the authors that inspire you the most, and read everything you can by them, studying what it is in their work that speaks to you. Read poetry, nonfiction, fiction in genres you never thought you’d try. Read the classics . . . read as many of the classics as you possibly can, and even if you think they’re dry as bone, figure out what it is that makes them classics. And read things that you just simply enjoy, no matter how fluffy or silly and trite, because reading is supposed to be a pleasure as well as edifying!

Thank you for dropping by, Anne Elisabeth! To all my dear readers, make sure to follow the link to Onto Her Bookshelf, the next stop on the tour. Also, don't forget to leave your email address in a comment if you're interested in winning a copy of Dragonwitch. The Rafflecopter below is for the giveaway Anne Elisabeth is hosting for a grand prize of the first five (5) Tales of Goldstone Wood novels — feel free to enter that as well!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Anne Elisabeth Stengl is the author of the award-winning Tales of Goldstone Wood series, adventure fantasies told in the classic Fairy Tale style. She makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a passel of cats, and one long-suffering dog. When she's not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and studies piano, painting, and pastry baking. She studied illustration at Grace College and English literature at Campbell University.

3 epistles:

  1. A wonderful interview, Elizabeth and Anne - thank you so much! I have to say I am becoming increasingly piqued by Tales of Goldstone Wood as I read all these tantalizing interviews, snippets, and reviews of Stengl's works. I am an overly cautious reader of the fantasy genre, especially by authors besides Tolkien or Lewis *blushes*... but the more I hear of these stories, I can see they have a godly worldview and inspiration and that's a wonderful thing.

    I definitely would be interested to join in this giveaway! So here is my email: fullnessofjoy16@gmail.com ^_^

  2. Love her books! They were really inspiring!


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