When I came across Elizabeth Blackwell’s While Beauty Slept, I knew instantly that I had to get her over to Skipping Midnight! Described as The Brothers Grimm meets The Thirteenth Tale, it puts a mysterious new spin on the fairy tale we’ve all grown up with.
After the interview, leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of While Beauty Slept.
While Beauty Slept is not the official Disney version of the story, but the idea for the book came from watching Sleeping Beauty many, many times with my daughter. The movie has a very distinctive visual style, which I found out was based on medieval tapestries. I began to wonder, “What if this story really happened sometime in the past?” Once I figured out how certain events could be explained without magic, I started envisioning the larger world in which the fairy tale takes place. And I kept going from there!
I imagine this required a bit more research than a modern love story. Can you talk a bit about your process?
Well, the honest answer is that I didn’t have to do too much research, because I purposefully set the book in an unidentified time and place. I wanted it to feel like medieval Europe and be true to that time period, but I didn’t want to get bogged down with specific kings or queens or battles. Any story set in a generic “fairy tale land” forces readers to use their imagination to some extent, and I wanted my readers to have that same experience.
That’s not to say I made up everything from scratch. I had to create rules for my made-up land, and decide how technically advanced that society would be, what the people ate, what they wore, etc. I’ve always loved historical fiction, and books like Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett’s book about the building of a medieval cathedral, gave me a sense of what everyday life was like at that time. (See—reading books you love can count as research!)
What do think people will love most about this book? What do you love about it?
Hopefully, people will like and appreciate the historical-fiction approach. Fairy-tale retellings are often fantasies, and they certainly lend themselves to that genre. You can do amazing things in fantasy. But since I’m a big history nerd, I’m personally attracted to stories that have a basis in real life. I have heard from readers who enjoyed the realistic twists on those iconic Sleeping Beauty moments: the curse, the spinning wheel, the deep sleep. You know they’re coming, but you don’t know exactly how they’ll happen, and I really enjoyed finding a fresh way to approach those elements of the story.
I also really love my narrator, Elise, who is a servant from a poor family who rises in the castle hierarchy. I’m a sucker for Upstairs, Downstairs/Downton Abbey-type stories, and Elise gave me the opportunity to explore this world from different perspectives. I don’t think While Beauty Slept would have been nearly as interesting if it were told solely from the princess’s perspective.
In the spirit of Desperately Ever After and While Beauty Slept, I must ask: If you had to choose, which fairy tale character (doesn’t have to be a princess and doesn’t have to be Disney), would you be and why?
This is such a fun question, but also really hard, since so many fairy-tale characters go through such awful things. At this point in my life, I’d love to have a Cinderella moment: I have kids, and I do a lot of cleaning up and laundry, and it would be great to have a fairy godmother show up, give me a free makeover, and whisk me off to a royal ball. I guess eventually I’d come back to my family (just kidding, guys! Of course I would!), but it would be fun to live out her story for a while.
Even with a large publishing house like Putnam/Penguin, it’s often hard to get your titles out there. How do you make sure your work reaches its target audience?
This is a subject I’ve been grappling with a lot over the past few months. Many (most?) writers are introverts and are perfectly content to sit alone at their desks for hours. But once you’ve got a book out, you’ve got to think like a marketer, which is not something I have much experience with. I will say that book bloggers have been a huge source of support for me (which is why I love doing Q&As like this one). It’s been really fun and rewarding to connect with other people who are passionate about reading and love to discover new writers. Goodreads is another place I try to stay active, and I’ve found a lot of good books that way. Facebook and Twitter are musts for writers these days, but you don’t want to be obnoxious about promoting yourself. I try to talk about what I’m reading and comment on other authors’ pages—it’s a way of paying it forward and being part of the larger writing community.
A writer’s life is certainly not an easy one—from rejections to dwindling sales, to tough reviews, and so on. How did you get through the bad days?
Rejection is an unavoidable part of being a writer. It’s just part of the business, and if you can’t handle it, then you’re better off doing something else. It’s natural to get discouraged when an agent says no or you get a bad review, but over time I’ve learned to accept criticism as a temporary hit. It’s discouraging in the moment, but something I’ll eventually move on from. As I was getting rejected by agents (and later when I started reading online reviews of my book) it really helped to remember that I myself don’t love every book. I read a lot, and sometimes a book can be well-written but it just doesn’t grab me. So I have to accept that other readers might feel the same way about my work.
We all have bad days, and you should treat yourself to whatever you need to get through a rough patch (cookies, chocolate, binge-watching the BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries, etc.). But ultimately, the only cure is to get back to writing and produce something you’re proud of, even if it’s just a paragraph. If you literally cannot stop writing—despite the rejections—then congratulations! You’re a writer!
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received that you can share with aspiring writers?
My writing style is nothing like his, but there’s a piece of advice from Elmore Leonard that I love, which is to leave out the boring parts. When you’re writing plot-driven fiction, you have to keep things moving. For me, that means adding just enough description so that the reader can get create their own mental picture, but no more. It’s advice that forces me to be really ruthless when it comes to editing: if a sentence or paragraph doesn’t move the plot along or explain a character, then it gets cut.
What can fans expect from you next?
I’m currently working on my next book, which is a multigenerational family saga set in the American Midwest. It’s a very different setting from While Beauty Slept, but has many of the same Gothic elements: a mysterious mansion, power struggles, and an examination of what it means to be a woman and a daughter in that particular society. No publication date yet, but hopefully I’ll have news on that soon.
In addition to checking her website, ElizabethBlackwellBooks.com, be sure to keep up with Elizabeth on Twitter (@eblackwellbooks) and Facebook. She promises, “I’ll never fill up your news feed with cat videos or pictures of what I cooked for dinner!” Her books are available at both Amazon.com (US) and Amazon.co.uk (UK).
ENTER TO WIN!
Comment below to win a copy of While Beauty Slept (US addresses only, please). The giveaway will remain open until 11:59 p.m. (PST) Tuesday, May 13, at which point TWO winners will be chosen at random.
Best of luck to you all!
FOR ALL THOSE TIMES MOM POKED FUN AT HER “PRINCE”
In honor of International Chick Lit Month and Mother’s Day, Desperately Ever After has been marked down once again, in both print and e-book formats. If your mother misses “Desperate Housewives” … if she could use a laugh … if she’s ever referred to her home as her “castle” or poked fun the notion of “damsels in distress” … give her an early beach read with Desperately Ever After 😉
Next Wednesday, May 14, bestselling author Miranda Dickinson stops by to talk about her phenomenal career, give away a signed copy of Take a Look at Me Now, and whet our appetites for what’s coming next. Mark your calendars!
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