I’m pleased to welcome Anne Elisabeth Stengl, author of Christian fairy tale novels Heartless, Veiled Rose, and the soon-to-release Moonblood. She has much to say on topics that will be of interest to readers and writers of fantasy alike, so I hope you enjoy reading her thoughts!
1. What book (or books) has played the greatest role in shaping your imagination?
As an author of Christian fantasy, how can I possibly give an answer that does not include C.S. Lewis’s beautiful Chronicles of Narnia? I remember the first time I read one of those books (The Horse and His Boy, my favorite to this day) and saw whole new vistas opening before my seven-year-old eyes. At the time, of course, I wasn’t aware of the many layers of allegorical significance contained in that slim volume, but the story sucked me in and demanded rereading after rereading. And with each new visit to Narnia, I saw more of the Big Story Lewis was trying to depict. It was amazing, magical, and utterly unforgettable.
I also love many of the authors who were major influences on Lewis, especially George MacDonald and Edith Nesbit. I just reread MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin and was surprised by the many subtle influences his work has had on mine, influences that I had forgotten even existed! George MacDonald and Edith Nesbit both, in very different ways, knew how to awaken a child’s imagination, which is why their work will endure.
2. Did you always love fairy tales? What sparked your interest in these sorts of stories?
Absolutely! My interest in fairy tales began before I was reading. I was entranced when my mother read me the adventures of fairy Queen Crosspatch in Frances Hodgeson Burnett’s The Racketty-Packetty House. Before I was old enough to read it for myself, I would pull down an enticing copy of Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare simply to gaze at the beautiful illustration of Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. My father would entertain me and my brothers with made-up stories about an inventor prince who created flyamins (vitamins that enabled flight) and talkamins (vitamins that enabled speech for pets) and all the baddies various who wanted to steal them. Fairy Tales and magic surrounded me throughout my young life, and I cannot remember a time when I was not interested.
3. If you had to narrow it down to just one, which fairy tale would you call your favorite?
I so wish I could be completely original, but I have to say I love Beauty and the Beast. Possibly because Robin McKinley’s Beauty is one of my all-time favorite YA fantasies, but I really do just love the story itself. There are many interesting variations on that theme as well, such as The Lady and the Lion, The White Cat, and even the tragic Yellow Dwarf, which left a strong impression on me from the first time I read it. It’s such a timeless theme with so much possibility for embellishment!
4. Your stories have many spiritual parallels. Did you intend from the beginning to create these analogies or did they emerge over time?
Particularly in my first novel, Heartless, the spiritual twist forms the backbone of the plot. Remove the allegory, and all you have left is the story of a petulant pill of a princess whose problems are all solved by marrying a handsome prince. Yick. Not my favorite storyline! But with the spiritual element, it becomes a story of total depravity and undeserved grace, in a context of classic fairy tale archetypes. Much more appealing!
The allegorical elements developed far more gradually in the rest of my stories. While Heartless began with the allegory, my other novels began simply as plots and characters, and the spiritual element developed with the rest of the story. Nevertheless, I believe that each of my books falls to pieces the moment the spiritual element is removed. So while I rarely go into a new project these days with the idea, “I shall now write an allegory about this!” I am always praying for God to reveal to me the message He intends to communicate through each work.
5. How does your relationship with God influence your writing?
My relationship with God is the foundation of my work. As my career has developed, this truth has become more and more apparent. Each book I have written has been significantly harder to write than the one before, driving me constantly back to my knees for guidance and wisdom. I consider time spent in prayer and meditation an essential part of my work day, and I can always tell the difference in a day when I neglect that time with God and try to “do it on my own.”
6. How long have you been developing the Goldstone Wood world?
Funny you should ask that! Just today, while I was cleaning out and (sort of) organizing my studio, I came upon an old notebook from back in 2004. Flipping open to an early page, I found the scribblings of a short story . . . a short story I recognized as the beginnings of the full-length novel I just finished drafting, Book 5 in the Tales of Goldstone Wood. This made me smile, especially considering how drastically the story has grown since then! Yet the heart of the story remains true, and I am very excited to share that novel (currently title-less) with all of you come summer 2013!
All this to say, I have been developing these stories and this world for quite some time. It is a Fairy Tale world rather than Epic Fantasy, so the development is comparatively simple. I consider the genres of Fairy Tale and Fantasy to be distinct, and I definitely fall into the Fairy Tale category. Mine is no Tolkien-esque universe! Nevertheless, a lot of time, thought, work, and prayer has gone into the invention of Goldstone Wood and will continue to, Lord willing, for years to come.
7. When I first read the back cover copy of Veiled Rose and spied the name Rose Red, my mind immediately went to the fairy tale Snow White, Rose Red, yet upon reading the book I found little connection between your Rose Red and the girl of fairy tale fame. So what led you to choose the name Rose Red?
Interesting question! The fact is, while I was pleased with the fairy tale association of the name, I did not choose “Rose Red” as a reference to the classic story.
As hinted at in Veiled Rose, my Rose Red’s real name is Varvare. When I was first developing the character, Varvare was the name I called her. But she needed to have a more “Southlands” appropriate name while living as the veiled goat-girl up in the mountains. Varvare is a name derived from the Armenian word “vard,” which is “rose.” “Rose Red” is a close translation of the name “Varvare,” worked well as a Southlands name, and carried a strong fairy tale connotation. Thus it was chosen.
Roses, as you will soon discover, play a big role in the upcoming novel, Moonblood. We’ve already seen hints of this (both Heartless and Veiled Rose reference the lack of roses in the mortal world), and we will see that storyline developed.
I particularly like how the name in and of itself creates a link between my work and old fairy tales. The story Snow White and Rose Red includes a man enchanted into bear form. Men and women taking animal shapes is a recurring theme in the Goldstone Wood stories, and I enjoy having a subtle nod to the classic tales that inspired those ideas. Part of the fun of writing, for me, is making these “literary nods,” so to speak. A reader with a quick eye might catch references to classic fairy tales, to Shakespeare, to Robert Browning, to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, to Edmund Spenser, to George MacDonald, and so many more! It’s part of how I like to connect myself to the writers of the past.
Come back Wednesday for part two of the interview, in which Anne discusses dragon mythology, faerie knights, her upcoming novel Moonblood, and more.