I'm so excited to be interviewing one of my all-time favorite authors on my blog today! Anne Elisabeth Stengl is the author of the fantasy series Tales of Goldstone Wood. Her latest book, Shadow Hand, is available on Amazon today (you can read a description of the story at the bottom of this post). Now she's taken the time to answer some questions about the book and about her writing in general.
Tell us a little about your “real” (non-writing) life: family, pets, job, church, etc. Does it give you inspiration for your writing? Does it get in the way of your writing, or are there times when you get help from people or circumstances?
Hmmm, let’s see . . . in my real life I am a crazy-cat-lady/introverted bookworm, who somehow managed to meet Prince Charming despite all of the above! His name is Rohan, and we have been married for three-and-a-half years. We live in a little house on a hill beside a bamboo forest. We’ve named our house Rooglewood. Just because we can. The bamboo forest is home to a whole colony of feral cats, so I spend a good bit of my free time rescuing and finding homes for wild kittens—and getting the adults spayed/neutered. I just successfully rescued and tamed my first wild adult, a mother cat from whom we got three litters of kittens before I could catch her and have her spayed! She is now named Mutti, and she is going to live with us, bringing our total cat-count up to six. I told you—crazy-cat-lady.
I am also an artist, and I dabble in design projects for marketing purposes. I’ve been learning the ways of photo-manipulation this last year, which has been very interesting and challenging at the same time. I used to be a pretty decent classical pianist, but I’ve gone quite rusty in recent years. I love to teach, and I have a lovely host of creative writing students whom I mentor online. They are all so talented and inspiring! I’m sure you will all be reading their work someday. I run a small editing business called Stengl Fiction Editing Services. I and my fellow editors provide many kinds of edits to suit stories at various stages of polish.
All of this does, yes, keep me very busy, and it can be difficult sometimes to carve out writing time. But the cats are very inspirational. As is Rooglewood itself, for that matter. My husband helped me create a cozy little writing study out of one of the rooms, and I spend most of my days in here, surrounded by my cats and my long-suffering miniature Newfoundland (aka mutt), Milly. My husband makes a big difference in helping me create time for my writing career . . . he does most of the laundry, cooks better than I do, and brings me mugs of tea or warm milk to soothe me at need. He really is an angel come to earth.
Tell us about working with any people who help you create your books. Do you use beta readers? Hire an editor or proofreader? How do you get your covers?
My mother helps me the most when it comes to creating books. She is always the first person to hear the story ideas, and she patiently brainstorms with me as I chop away the “dead-wood ideas” to get to the solid story underneath. She reads every chapter as I write it and encourages me when I hit rough spots. Later on, she is my first and most detailed line and copy editor, going over the manuscripts before my publishing house even sees them. I seriously could not do these stories without her!
My husband is my other great contributor. Aside from basically just keeping me sane when I’m in the throes of creativity, he also brainstorms, helping me find solutions to problems when I can’t see my way clear of a sticky patch. He has written poetry (Bard Eanrin’s poetic verses have to come from somewhere!) and designed castles and locations. He’s very patient when we go on dates and I spend the bulk of a romantic dinner talking about the weird research I’ve been doing lately.
AE: “Oh Rohan, let me tell you all about guanine, which is this disgusting slimy substance I just read about today . . .”
Rohan: “Happy anniversary, sweetheart.”
AE: “. . . it coats the hides of certain deep sea fish; isn’t that fascinating?”
I recently started working with a new cover designer, Julia Popova. She has been so much fun to work with! I get to be involved in much of the design process, though all of the beautiful artistry is hers. Readers who are interested can see the step-by-step design process of my newest book cover, Golden Daughter.
Since you have several books out, tell us what you think works for promotion. What are your thoughts on ebooks versus print books and different ways to let people know about you and your books?
I mostly work on promoting via the blog world. I do interviews (like this one!) and have done blog tours in the past. I also participate in scavenger hunts (I’m part of a new one this spring), which is a fun way to join up with other authors to promote each other’s work. On my own blog I host fun contests such as the fan-fiction and fan-art contests, which generate a lot of interest in the series and give my fans a chance to demonstrate their own creativity!
Ebooks are great. They provide a whole new, wonderful way for readers to access good fiction. I’m a huge fan! My husband and I try to run free or low-priced specials for my ebooks, and we make certain to run ads for those with various companies such as BookBub or BookGorilla.
For the most part, I adhere to the philosophy that your “front list sells your back list.” That is to say, the more books you put out, the more all of the books sell. So I try to always have the next big thing in the works for my readers, whether it’s a full-length novel or a novella.
Have you done anything writing-related, but besides actually writing your books, that seemed to get a lot of positive response? Something that encouraged you?
Well, my husband and I also run a small publishing imprint called Rooglewood Press. We hosted an exciting writing contest last year—the Five Glass Slippers contest. This was for novella-length retellings of Cinderella. We ended up with submissions from across the world! So many wonderful stories were sent in. And the result is a fantastic collection of Cinderella retellings which will be releasing this summer. This contest was so successful, we’re hosting another one this year, based on another fairy tale. Info on that will be available in June! This was definitely an exciting writing-related task, and one I hope to repeat and improve in years to come.
Rooglewood Press is also excited to be releasing a new historical-fiction novel this spring. It is called Until That Distant Day and was written by award-winning novelist Jill Stengl . . . who also happens to be my mother. J It is a beautiful book set during the French Revolution, and I can hardly wait until it hits the shelves!
Tell us about Shadow Hand. Make us want to read it.
Shadow Hand is a dark fairy tale featuring the most frightening villain yet seen in Goldstone Wood . . . the disembodied, soulless parasite, Cren Cru. We rediscover familiar characters from the first three Goldstone Wood books and learn how their stories directly entwine with stories from the past. Many questions of the series are resolved in this tale . . . and many new questions are asked. It is a story about blood and love . . . and all things that lie Between.
Dragons are a common theme in fantasy, but the ones in your books are very different than most! Why have you chosen to portray them like this, and where did you get the idea?
I have always particularly enjoyed stories featuring evil dragons. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a good dragon now and then, but I never met a friendly dragon that could compete with Tolkien’s Smaug for pure, delightful fascination. So I knew that my series would be peppered with evil dragons . . . though when I first began developing Goldstone Wood, I didn’t realize how important the dragon theme would be!
The original idea for my dragons and their origin stems from classic sources. Many people have compared the idea to C.S. Lewis’s Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but the idea is actually much older than that. Fafnir, the most famous dragon of Norse mythology, underwent a transformation similar to Eustace’s (a likely source of Lewis’s inspiration for that tale). The notion of “dragons of the heart” is very old and interesting.
It also fit the point I was trying to make when I wrote the book Heartless—that ultimately my heroine, Princess Una, was her own worst enemy. Her own sin nature, as represented by her dragon form, was the true, crippling villain of her story.
This theme worked so dynamically in Heartless that it went on to become one of the core themes of the entire series.
What is the “message” of your writing? (For example, is your purpose to promote old-fashioned values, encourage romance, or do you have different purposes in different books?)
I always say that the central theme of this entire series is undeserved grace. I don’t write about perfect heroes or heroines. My characters never make sudden transformations, nor do they discover some brilliant talent that suddenly enables them to conquer all. They are flawed individuals, very much like you and like me. They struggle and they often fail. They never deserve to succeed, for they are as flawed at heart as any of the villains they face. But grace is offered to them despite their flaws. The same grace, by the way, which is offered to the villains. For ultimately everyone in this series is offered the same gift, whether or not they choose to accept it.
What’s the worst trouble you ever had with getting a book written (plots, finding needed information, getting a cover done)?
The opening of Dragonwitch proved the most difficult piece of writing I have ever attempted. While the plot was strong, and I loved the premise, I struggled and struggled to find the right place to open that story! I tried five different beginnings, all of them about 40,000 words long . . . all of which had to be scrapped as I tried again. I nearly had a nervous breakdown trying to get that story started! I have always struggled a little bit with openings, but nothing before or since has equaled the Dragonwitch opening. And this was all on a very tight deadline, I hardly need add! I finally had to start that book in the middle, write to the end, then go back and plug in an opening that worked. This is not a method I would ever recommend—I’m a firm believer in the organic unfolding of a plot—but it is what finally worked for Dragonwitch. I love that book, but I will always look back on the drafting of it with a shudder!
What’s your next project? Tell us so we can’t wait for it to come out!
Well, the next book to release is going to be Golden Daughter. This one is book 7 in the series, and it picks up just a few years after the (historical) events of Shadow Hand. It is set in the far eastern Noorhitam Empire, which was an extremely fun setting to write about and to research! The cast of characters includes Sairu, the titular “Golden Daughter,” who is a highly trained bodyguard. She is given the task of guarding a temple girl, one of the sacred Dream Walkers, who is being stalked by a variety of assassins and villains, all of whom want her for different purposes. Sairu is not told why but is left to sleuth out her new mistress’s secrets on her own.
Of all the heroines I have ever written about, Sairu might be my favorite. She is smart (almost frighteningly so), intuitive, and extremely tough. She is a bright, perky, lighthearted, ever-smiling young lady—the exact opposite personality one would expect in someone with her training and performing her role.
She also owns three fluffy little dogs whom she adores: Dumpling, Rice Cake, and Sticky Bun. You can imagine how much Bard Eanrin (the fan-favorite poet-cat) enjoys interacting with them . . .
What future writing projects do you have in mind?
There are MANY more Goldstone Wood stories to come! I am currently working on a new novella set far back in the ancient days of Parumvir (loooong before Dragonwitch) during the time the Brothers Ashiun still served the Near World of mortals. Once that is complete, I’ll be getting to work on book 8 in the series (the title of which is still secret). More news on that should be forthcoming!
What is your favorite of your books/characters?
My favorite book is always the one I just finished. So right now, that would be Golden Daughter, though I have high hopes of surpassing Golden Daughter with my various plans for book 8. My favorite character is Eanrin. I do love all of my characters, but I am a crazy-cat-lady! So you know I’m going to love the cat. He’s also just so much fun to write. Every scene in which he features is bound to be interesting and entertaining. I know him very well, having been writing about him since high school days. He and I seem to understand each other rather well.
Thanks for having me on your blog, Annie! These were fun questions to answer. J
Anne Elisabeth Stengl is the author of the award-winning Tales of Goldstone Wood series, adventure fantasies told in the classic Fairy Tale style. Her books include Christy Award-winning Heartless and Veiled Rose, and Clive Staples Award-winning Starflower. 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 practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. She studied illustration and English literature at Grace College and Campbell University.
Shadow Hand, book 6 in the Tales of Goldstone Wood, releases on March 4, 2014. Golden Daughter, book 7 in the series, is coming November 2014.
To learn more about Anne Elisabeth, visit:
Facebook: Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Author
Shadow Hand (available now):
This is a story about love, and blood, and the many things that lie between . . .By her father's wish, Lady Daylily is betrothed to the Prince of Southlands. Not the prince she loves, handsome and dispossessed Lionheart, but his cousin, the awkward and foolish Prince Foxbrush. Unable to bear the future she sees as her wedding day dawns, Daylily flees into the dangerous Wilderlands, her only desire to vanish from living memory.
But Foxbrush, determined to rescue his betrothed, pursues Daylily into a new world of magic and peril, a world where vicious Faerie beasts hold sway, a world invaded by a lethal fey parasite . . .
A world that is hauntingly familiar.
Golden Daughter (coming November 2014)
BEYOND THE REALM OF DREAMS
IS A WORLD SHE NEVER IMAGINED
Masayi Sairu was raised to be dainty, delicate, demure . . . and deadly. She is one of the emperor’s Golden Daughters, as much a legend as she is a commodity. One day, Sairu will be contracted in marriage to a patron, whom she will secretly guard for the rest of her life.
But when she learns that a sacred Dream Walker of the temple seeks the protection of a Golden Daughter, Sairu forgoes marriage in favor of this role. Her skills are stretched to the limit, for assassins hunt in the shadows, and phantoms haunt in dreams. With only a mysterious Faerie cat and a handsome slave—possessed of his own strange abilities—to help her, can Sairu shield her new mistress from evils she can neither see nor touch?
For the Dragon is building an army of fire. And soon the heavens will burn.