Unlike your first book, The Swan Maiden, this book is not based on one specific fairy tale. Can you tell us how you came up with the concept for Aurelie?
Aurelie actually did start as a classic fairy-tale retelling, set in a fantasy world based on French folklore and Louis XIV’s opulent court at Versailles. Over the course of several drafts, the plot evolved away from the tale I’d started with. Minor characters clamored to tell their version of events and lead characters pulled the story in new directions. Finally my editor, Reka Simonsen, helped me see that, like the scaffolding that comes down at the conclusion of a building project, the remaining elements of the original framework had to go for the novel to stand on its own.
With Aurelie, I hoped to mirror the intrigue and danger I’d found in French history, as well as explore traditional beliefs that the countryside harbored much stranger creatures than most people can see. As always, I asked myself questions and wrote for the answers: What if it was dangerous to meet the Fae? How did their view of humans differ from our understanding of them? How could their friendship be gained, or lost? Add in betrayal and misunderstandings, dragons and ice-boats, turn up the heat and stir well . . . working with fairy-tale material is like making soup. You start with familiar ingredients, and hope that the end result satisfies your reader’s palate.
This novel is told in four different voices. What challenges did this present for you?
I struggled with keeping the voices distinct. Although they’d spent time together as children, Aurelie, Garin, Netta, and Loic came from varying backgrounds, countries, even worlds. I tried to make each one’s conversation and attitude reflect his or her personality. The tricky part was when I “heard” the speech patterns from one character cropping up in another one’s chapter, or realized that characters would have different perspectives on a particular event.
How else was the writing process different this time around?
With The Swan Maiden, the book’s series of events didn’t change much through the drafts. Revisions were focused on adjusting the pacing and intensifying the emotional qualities of the story. In contrast, Aurelie needed a couple of Extreme Plot Makeovers. As mentioned above, I gave big chunks of story the heave-ho and added lots of new material. On a personal note, we’d moved onto our sailboat and were docked in Mexico at the time I was rewriting Aurelie, so it felt like a more solitary effort. I missed my stellar critique group’s regular comments!
The main thing your two books have in common is the fantasy element. Can you describe what about fantasy inspires you?
You know the scene after the tornado in The Wizard of Oz movie, when Dorothy steps out of her black and white Kansas world into the Technicolor realm of Oz? I love reading fantasy for those “aha” moments when something new and strange and beautiful appears, more vivid and more mysterious than the everyday world supplies. Oz, Narnia, Earthsea, the dark forest, the castle on the hill . . . when you’re reading these stories, you never know exactly what’s lurking around the corner, but you can’t wait to find out.
If you had to choose a non-fantasy topic to write about, what would it be?
It’s hard to decide between adventure and mystery. As a kid, I kept my dad’s childhood copy of Swiss Family Robinson in the back seat of our car. When I got to the end, I’d start over. What an industrious, self-sufficient, fearless family! These days, of course, I’m hoping NOT to be shipwrecked, but I’m sure some of our sailing adventures will find their way into future novels.
Sherlock Holmes is another long-time favorite. I love how his powers of observation allow him to make mental leaps that astound everyone around him. And yet his flaws keep him from being obnoxiously perfect. I think that in today’s world, when so much information is available online, a teen cyber-detective novel would be fun to write. A basic problem for teen mystery protagonists is that it’s hard for a character to be taken seriously. But if your clients hired you online, how would they know how old you were? And why would they care, as long as you got results?
You live on a sailboat—is that as romantic as it sounds?
We moved aboard more than a year ago, so I have a better sense of the tradeoffs. It can be frustrating when engine troubles or bad weather disrupt our plans. Daily life requires more preparation, chores more effort. While at anchor, we have to run our generator for half an hour to get hot water for showers, and then make them snappy, to conserve our tank of fresh water.
On the other hand, it’s been eye-opening to learn what this suburban nest-builder can do without. And living five feet off the water, you appreciate nature in a whole new way. That snorting noise outside the porthole? Probably a sea lion, chasing fish. Night sailing, too, can be an otherworldly experience, especially when phosphorescence in ink-dark water outlines the boat’s hull, schools of fish, and dolphins shooting through the waves. That’s magical!
If you could meet one character from any book in person, who would it be? Why?
If I had to choose just one, it would be the Lady from Elizabeth Marie Pope’s The Perilous Gard. Beautiful, mysterious, complex, definitely dangerous—she’s a figure that jumped off the page for me. When heroine Kate confronts her, late in the book:
“Only the [Lady’s] eyes had changed. There was no brilliance in them now, and no mockery. They seemed almost weary, intent and sad—or rather, filled with something that would have been sadness if it was possible to imagine any human sadness so wholy free from the least touch of human misery or human longing or human shame or human compassion or human regret.”
Among other things, I think Pope’s a genius at making the reader participate in the development of her characters. So I’m curious to see whether the Lady is at all how I’ve imagined her.