Thursday, February 27, 2014

Anne Elisabeth Stengl - Author Interview

Anne Elisabeth Stengl, welcome! I am delighted you came to visit with us today. As a life-long lover of fairy tales and fantasy, I particularly enjoy reading retellings and spin off tales. I just started reading the first of your Tales of Goldstone Wood, Heartless, and I couldn’t help enjoying the feeling of stepping into a Grimm brothers’ fairy tale.

When did you first fall in love with fairy tales?
I have loved fairy tales for as long as I can remember! But I think I really fell for them when my father started telling us his own made-up fairy tales about the wood near our house. He invented such exciting dramas taking place among those old trees and in those secret hollows . . . and I realized the possibilities of imaginative worlds beyond what my immediate senses could perceive. I will never forget those stories of his!

What drew you to fairy tales?
I suppose I sort of answered this above . . . I love the idea of worlds beyond immediate perception. Worlds that are very close to our own but which we don’t immediately see and understand. That is the fairy world for you. That is the joy of Grimm and Perrault and all the other fairy-talespinners of history. And it ties directly into humanity’s spiritual longings as well, which only makes the love of Faerie that much more interesting.

What are your favorite fairy tales or fairy tale themes?
It varies according to the story I am writing myself at the time! Currently I love the fairy tale theme of contrasts. The wicked sister who spits toads contrasted to the good sister who speaks jewels. Snow White contrasted with Rose Red. The story I am currently writing deals with a strong man who is considered a coward, and a weak woman who is considered courageous . . . and then flips all of those ideas around again! The contrast is what makes the magic in this type of story.
But there are so many wonderful themes to glean from fairy tales, and I could pick any number of others as my favorites!

What started you writing fantasy?
I wrote a story about a cat. My readers will not be surprised by this at all. I was twelve years old, and I wrote about a magical, wish-granting, talking cat (who happened to look very much like how I describe Monster/Eanrin in Goldstone Wood, though I didn’t intend the similarity at the time!). And there were numerous villains of dastardly intent searching for him, while our heroes did all they could to protect him . . . It was quite a rambling little adventure, but I really enjoyed it and the possibilities a fairy tale/fantasy world opened up to me.

Tell us about the Tales of Goldstone Wood. Is it a series best read in order or do the books stand well alone?
Well, I try to write each story as stand-alone as possible . . . but ultimately I still think they’re best read in order. Readers will get all the references and inside jokes that way, not to mention all the subtleties of character development. But each adventure is a story in itself, with a beginning, end, and resolution. Of all the stories I’ve written so far, I think Veiled Rose and Moonblood are the only two that really MUST be read in sequential order. Though some people have managed to read them out of order and still enjoyed them, so I suppose it depends on the reader!

How many more Goldstone Tales do you plan to write?
Bazillions! Roughly speaking. I have 15 full-length novels in mind, and now I’m starting to write novellas as “extras” in between the longer works. Goldstone Wood is rather an enormous world, so I could keep writing stories in this series for many years to come and still not run out of ideas!

Have you traveled much for research while working on a book? 
Only a little bit. I journeyed to Okinawa a couple of years back, and used research from that trip for the book I was writing at the time (Veiled Rose) and more extensively for my recent novella, Goddess Tithe, and my upcoming book 7, Golden Daughter. Otherwise, my research is primarily reading-based.

What locations have inspired you or worked their way into your books?
Well, definitely the wood by my house when I was growing up in England! The Common, it was called. It has inspired much of Goldstone Wood. And Shuri Castle in Okinawa was definitely an inspiration . . .

What was it like growing up with an author for your mother?
Fantastic! And so inspiring. I would color pictures on the backs of a discarded manuscript page and, when Mum wasn’t looking, turn it over to peek at the story on the other side. It was so amazing to think that my own mother had written these characters and conversations! As I grew, I got to read more of her work and comment on story lines, brainstorm with her, etc. And, of course, as soon as I learned how to write I started penning stories of my own.

What kind of influence do you think you have had on your mother’s writing?
Quite a bit, actually, especially in recent years. We brainstorm together a lot and critique each others’ manuscripts. She took a hiatus for seven years since her last book. But I will take a little credit for pushing her into writing her upcoming release, Until That Distant Day, which is far and away the best work she’s ever written! I am really excited about this book of hers. I am currently reading the final draft before it goes to typesetting, and it is so well done. So beautiful. Readers are going to love it.

What are some key ways your writing is different from your mother’s?
I write a much denser narrative. My style is more classically inspired. However, I will say that—after a bit of coaxing on my part—she has started experimenting with denser narrative herself to beautiful effect! Otherwise, of course, there’s the key difference in genre—I write fantasy, she writes (primarily) historical romance. I like to include some romance in my stories, but it usually isn’t the major point of the plot, while my mother’s stories tended to be more focused on the romance. (Though, again, she experimented with de-emphasizing the romance and upping the plot tension in Until That Distant Day with wonderful results!)

How do you think being homeschooled influenced and helped your writing?
Well, it certainly gave me the opportunity to focus on my writing and my reading. I was able to tailor much of my schooling to emphasize the creative-writing passion and the literary love.

Please tell us about your most recent release or an upcoming release?
Shadow Hand is my newest release, coming in early March. It is book 6 in the Tales of Goldstone Wood, and it picks up soon after the events depicted in Moonblood.  So readers who have missed Prince Lionheart will get to see his further adventures. They will also get to learn more of the cold Lady Daylily from Veiled Rose and poor, foolish, bookish cousin Foxbrush. It’s an exciting story, loosely based on the Ballad of Tam Lin but set in an ancient jungle . . . I really love it and am excited to share.

What can we expect to see from you in the immediate future?
Well, I am currently drafting another novella set in Goldstone Wood which I hope to release this summer. I haven’t revealed the title of this one yet, but I will give readers some insider hints: It tells the story of how the House of Lights (the one depicted in Dragonwitch) was built and the history of the Gaheris family. And it is chronologically the oldest story set in this world . . . older even than Starflower.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully with MANY more Goldstone Wood books out for my readers! And hopefully no more cats than I currently have (just took in my sixth . . . a poor, toothless old stray kitty who needs someone to love her! Can’t resist a kitty in need).

You’ve written several books in the past few years.  I wonder how you keep up the pace.  What are the biggest challenges for you about maintaining that kind of pace?  What helps you deal with those things?
It is difficult to keep pace with all the projects sometimes. But writing is my love, and as long as I remember that love, it makes the work a lot easier to deal with. I also have a wonderful, supportive husband who reminds me now and then that it’s okay to say no. He also helps me to organize my schedule to best handle the overload of projects—writing, editing, design, mentoring, kitties . . . the whole works. I couldn’t produce as much or as quickly without him.

Besides your publisher, what people in your life have the biggest influence on your writing?  How are they involved in your writing?
My mother, absolutely. My best and most constant brainstorming partner and immediate editor.
In the years since we’ve been married, my husband has developed into quite a fantastic brainstorming partner as well. He also contributes fun extras to my work. For instance, the two different “Smallman Songs” featured in Dragonwitch were both written by him. He also drew out and designed Castle Gaheris where much of the drama of Dragonwitch takes place. His work definitely helped to clarify that setting in my mind so that I could write it with authenticity.
I also appreciate the support of my sister/friend, Erin, who reads all of my projects long before they go to print and provides me with an ego-boost as necessity dictates. J

Your books are called “inspirational.”  What does that term mean to you and your writing?
I like to think my stories inspire people. The consistent theme repeated in my work is one of undeserved grace. I write about flawed characters who suffer the consequences of their flaws . . . but there is always grace provided for them, even when they are unwilling to acknowledge it. I hope this theme of grace will inspire many readers as the years go by. We are not loved because we are worthy of love. But we are loved even so.
Your books are in the “fantasy” category.  That is a broad category.  Can you describe what kind of fantasy you write?
I always describe my work as “allegorical fairy tales.” I think that’s the closest definition to what I do, though some of the more recent books are tending more toward the “epic” direction than my work used to be.

Thank you so much for stopping with us today. We hope you will stop by again soon.
Thank you for having me, Rachel! It was a delight to be featured on your lovely blog.

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.

Check out her books at most major bookstores 
and online at Amazon, CBD, and other retailers.


Ysa Rivas said...

Wow, Rachel & Anne! :) This is so completely cool! :)

I've heard a lot (like seriously, more than about anything else) about The Tales Of Goldstone Wood, and they are on my list for *buying soon*. :)

Rachel Rossano said...

I have heard good things about her writing too, Ysa. I am enjoying her first book. So many good books to read and so little reading time. :)

Rachel Rossano said...

She is having a giveaway over on her website. You should check it out, Ysa.

Becky said...

Thank you for the interview Anne Elisabeth and Rachel. I enjoyed it.

Anne Elisabeth captures the truths of life and relationships in her fairy tales. I love them and hope you all are able to enjoy them soon. Who doesn't want undeserved grace?