Hey, everyone! Today is the last day of Thanksgiving break, so I’m back at school already and slowly readjusting to dorm life. (Everyone is SO LOUD.) We have two more weeks of classes, and then it’s finals week, and then we get to go home! FOR A MONTH!
Anyway, today my City of Lit professor posted the grades for our two major writing assignments, which I’d turned in before leaving for break. I got an A- on my creative pastiche – I wrote a calligram in the style of Dave Morice – and an A on my author profile! My prof said that my profile was “fantastic,” so… yeah, I’m SO HAPPY RIGHT NOW. I love that class, but I’m so glad that I turned in those assignments and now know my grade for each one, because I was majorly stressing out about them.
All this reminded me that now would be a good time to post an author interview. EEEEE MY FIRST EVER AUTHOR INTERVIEW. For the author profile, we could either research a deceased author from the Iowa City area, or interview someone currently residing here.
Well… who wants to do research?! Blehhhhh. I interviewed Sarah Prineas instead, and IT WAS A TON OF FUN. She’s really nice, and the interview was very helpful – I guess some of the other students in my class had trouble getting their chosen authors to give straightforward answers to their questions?
I’m also really happy with my author choice because Sarah Prineas writes exactly the sort of thing I love to read and write. Fantasy! Middle grade and YA! Fairy tale retellings! This interview quickly became more than just a school project – I think it was very beneficial for me to listen to someone who writes the kind of stories I’m interested in. If I’d interviewed, say, someone who writes “literary fiction,” this interview wouldn’t have been very relevant to my reading and writing interests.
I LOVE IT WHEN SCHOOL PROJECTS BECOME SOMETHING MORE THAN SCHOOL PROJECTS. I love getting super passionate about a project like this because it relates to my own interests, and isn’t just something I’m doing in order to cross something off my list of homework.
Anywayyyyy. Now that I’ve told you why I chose to interview Sarah Prineas, let me tell you about her new book and then I’ll move on to the interview!
Sarah Prineas’ latest book, Ash & Bramble, was published in September 2015. It is a retelling of “Cinderella” and the book blurb is as follows:
A prince. A ball. A glass slipper left behind at the stroke of midnight. The tale is told and retold, twisted and tweaked, snipped and stretched, as it leads to happily ever after. But it is not the true Story.
A dark fortress. A past forgotten. A life of servitude. No one has ever broken free of the Godmother’s terrible stone prison until a girl named Pin attempts a breathless, daring escape. But she discovers that what seems to be freedom is a prison of another kind, one that entangles her in a story that leads to a prince, a kiss, and a clock striking midnight.
To unravel herself from this new life, Pin must choose between a prince and another – the one who helped her before and who would give his life for her. Torn, the only thing for her to do is trade in the glass slipper for a sword and find her own destiny.
You can find my review of Ash & Bramble here.
You can also find her website right here!
OK OK IT’S INTERVIEW TIME. I’ve split this review into three parts – the first consists of questions I asked for my author profile, the second is all about Ash & Bramble, and the last third is just pure fun. (The second and third set of questions were asked was the intent of using them in just this post, but some of them eventually made it into my author profile as well!)
Were you a writer as a child? Did you grow up in a family of writers?
No, I didn’t. I grew up in a family of jocks! They were not readers or writers. My mother actually had national records in track… I was a jock, but I was also a very passionate reader, unlike my sisters, and they thought that was odd. I didn’t start writing until I was 33. I was headed towards academia, but I hated research. So I started writing instead.
When my son Theo was a baby, we were living in Germany and according to the terms of my visa, I couldn’t work. I was really lonely. I couldn’t speak German. So I started writing to have something to do, and I discovered that I was good at it. And it wasn’t boring like my dissertation!
What was the first thing you wrote?
It was a story about a grumpy old professor who has little green people living in his garden who worship him, but he doesn’t want them. So the homunculi kill him.
OH MY GOD. That’s great. My next question is… what writers have had a significant influence on you?
There are two: J.R.R. Tolkien and Laura Ingalls Wilder.
That’s an interesting combination!
Yes! Tolkien’s view of fantasy was that it has the power to change its readers in really profound ways. Reading fantasy is a transformation, and not just escapism.
And Laura Ingalls Wilder… well, because Mary was blind, Laura had to describe the world to Mary. She knew how to make her world come alive. Her worldbuilding is phenomenal.
I would never have made the connection between those two authors, in terms of their talent at worldbuilding, but now it makes complete sense! That’s cool. On that note, how would you describe your own style of writing?
It’s very “in the moment,” almost like impressionism. I like to build a discovery of the setting and who people really are, constructed to reflect the experience of living in that world.
And your writing process?
I’m a pantser!
Who do you see as your audience?
Well, my books are middle grade and YA. But I think the ones who “get” my books tend to be smarter than the average bear. They want to be challenged.
I didn’t intend to write middle grade and YA. MG, YA, adult – those are bookstore categories, not reader categories. Fantasy and science fiction are gateway genres to reading – I’m really just writing for readers who want adventure and wizards and dragons.
LIKE ME. I WANT A DRAGON. (I need a dragon, TBH.) Anyway… what are your thoughts on the teaching of creative writing? This is something we’ve discussed a LOT in my class. Like, Flannery O’Connor thought writing was all about talent and kind of looked down on people who she thought didn’t have that talent.
Well, she would, wouldn’t she? She was brilliant!
I’ve taught creative writing before, and afterward I told myself, “Never again.” I taught using the toolbox approach from Stephen King’s On Writing, so that helped. But out of about one hundred students, maybe three had that spark, where they could make it as authors. Some other students had the work ethic, and maybe they could eventually make it that way – you can be taught to be competent, but inspiration can’t be taught.
Who is your favorite character in Ash & Bramble?
Templeton! And Zel, because she says she was “beautiful like an affliction from birth.” I’m writing a sequel, with the working title Rose & Thorn, featuring Templeton and Zel’s children, and it’s set fifty years later. They adopted some of the characters who were abandoned by Story.
Awwww. I noticed that you listed Malinda Lo in the acknowledgements of Ash & Bramble, this book reminded me of her novel Ash in some ways. Did Ash inspire Ash & Bramble?
It did not. I haven’t read it. We’re acquaintances, though, and I heard her speak at the Sirens Conference. [A conference for women writers of fantasy and science fiction.] One of the things that she talked about, that did find its way into Ash & Bramble, was the question of what fairy tales can be used for. We can change them to make readers thin about gender and issues of power. So many fairy tale retellings are straight retellings – literally! They’re very heterosexual.
I tried to avoid all this with Ash & Shoe and Templeton & Zel.
So what did inspire Ash & Bramble?
When I was a grad student at the University of Arizona, I went to a protest against sweatshops. The athletic gear used by the school’s teams was made in sweatshops. We had a sit-in at the president’s office, and I had that idea for years – where does the stuff in fairy tales come from? Who makes all the dresses and shoes and carriages?
I can’t believe I never considered that before… I read tons of fairy tale retellings, and that thought never occurred to me until I read your book. OK, my next question is… well, Ash & Bramble is about “Storybreakers” – those who would resist the traditional narrative of a fairy tale. If you were a character in this book, would you be a Storybreaker like Pin, who resists the idea of ending up with the prince to whom she’s been assigned?
Out of all my books, the character I am most like is Pin. So yes, I would be a Storybreaker. My life doesn’t revolve around my husband and kids. It was hard for my mother’s generation to resist that narrative. It’s less difficult for my generation, but there’s still that narrative to break. It’s easier for your generation.
What was the hardest part of writing Ash & Bramble?
My editor said I didn’t include enough “relationship stuff,” so I had to add more kissing scenes… which were the scenes I ended up loving the most, because they added layers of feeling and experience.
How did the story change as you wrote it?
It fell into my head as a three-part story. I wrote the first draft – about ninety thousand words – in five weeks. That’s the first time that has ever happened! Other than logistics, and the kissing stuff, it was pretty much in its final form already.
What is your favorite fairy tale retelling?
Princess Tutu! It’s an anime. [Inspired by “The Ugly Duckling” and “Swan Lake,” according to my incredibly professional research done just now on Google.] It’s about a girl who was a duck, but she’s turned into a girl by a storyteller. Her superpower is making people get along. And she does ballet! It was the first anime I ever saw… anime logic is not our logic.
Ehehe, I’ll have to see if it’s on Netflix or something. Do you listen to music while you write?
I don’t. At all. Ever. I need silence because I need to be completely immersed in the rhythm of the writing and the story.
Aaaaaand my LAST QUESTION is… do you have any writing quirks?
When I get published, I go out and buy a new pair of stomp-y boots and I stomp around in them. It’s like, “I’m so over this book. Whatever.”
DSJGHDKGHDFSKJHDG THIS INTERVIEW WAS SO MUCH FUN. I was nervous beforehand because I thought I would forget a question, or say something ridiculous, but… well, I didn’t forget any questions! (I probably did say something ridiculous at some point, but…. I am just a ridiculous person and should get used to that.)
Thank you soooOOOOOOoooooOOOOOOoooooooOOOO much for this interview, Ms. Prineas! When we discussed our author profiles in class, it quickly became obvious that I was one of the few who interviewed an author of genre fiction, and I was the only person who interviewed someone who doesn’t write solely for adult audiences. But I didn’t feel self-conscious at all, because that’s what I’m interested in. I had so much fun working on this assignment, and that’s all that really matters!