At the end of an amazing book haven’t you ever wanted to share it with the world? Find out all you can about the author and any plans about the series? For me after turning the last page of Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s Heartless I new I had to get her on Book Whispers for an interview.
It had been such a long time since I had read anything by an author creating new Fairy Tales, especially new Fairy Tales that I could whole heartily say deserved to be up there with the classics.
After trying to find any means of contacting her and getting a interview I was rewarded! Not only did I get my interview, but the fabulous Anne offered to give away signed copies of the first two books in her Tales of Goldenstone Woods series!
(Look out for both of my reviews of Heartless and the upcoming Veiled Rose!)
Shera (Book Whispers): In your own words, introduce yourself.
Anne Elisabeth Stengl: My name is Anne Elisabeth Stengl, and I am a lover of all things Fairy Tale! I am currently writing The Tales of Goldstone Wood series in which I am attempting to recreate the mood and style of classic fairy tales. I grew up in England with a love for the legend of St. George, and many people might recognize some of the themes from the classic St. George and the Dragon storyline in my work.
My first novel, Heartless, debuted last summer, which was quite thrilling! I wrote the first draft of that story at age 21, and am so excited to see it in print. It has been nominated for the Christy Award, so my husband and I are off to the awards banquet in Atlanta in another month. Hoorah for gala events!
I am, deep down at heart, a consummate Crazy Cat Lady. I have three cats of my own: Molly Boots, Minerva Louise (aka The Evil One) and Lord Marmaduke Chuffnell (Duke, when he’s at home). I have also recently started working with the feral kittens in my neighborhood. So far I have successfully gentled one kitten and found her a loving home! Now I have my sights set on a pretty litter of tabbies, so wish me luck.
I am married to the most adorable and long-suffering man in the world, who puts up with my crazy-cat-lady-ness, my writerly mood-swings, my constant bookish babble . . . and actually seems to enjoy it! I suspect I have accidently fallen into one of those Paranormal Romances about angels, because he really is too good for this world. Except, the Evil One is his special pet, so . . . shrugs.
BW: Did you know when you first started writing your Tales of Goldstone Wood series that they were going to be centered on dragons?
AES: Actually, no. Or rather, I didn’t realize that dragons would be so dominant so soon. My earliest plans for the series—jotted down in a spiral-back notebook back when I was 17—included the ongoing theme of ONE dragon, who was bound in some sort of quasi-spiritual/alternate-dimensional chains and which would be finally released at the very end.
But then, Heartless happened. While it was the first novel that I actually wrote in this series, it is possibly the newest conceptually. And, of course, it is positively brimming with dragons! I loved how it fit with the rest of the stories planned for my series, so I altered my plans for the dragons, spun the mythology of my world a different direction, and let the dragons take center stage after all. Obviously, there are now many, many more dragons in question. I cannot imagine the series without them.
BW: The concept of humans becoming dragons has been something I have loved to day dream about. Your dragons definitely take a crueler approach to the transformation from human to dragon. How did you come up with the mythology behind your particular brand of dragons?
AES: If you look closely at the mythology of my dragons, you will notice how similar it is to classic vampire mythology. Una has to invite the Dragon into her home. There is a “kiss” that involves transformation. There is the slow manipulation, the poisoning of something good and turning it evil. Even the sometimes human/sometimes animalistic shape is familiar to those who have read Dracula. Very vampiric, when you think about it.
This was a natural connection to me. I like my monsters frightening. I vastly prefer the horrible Count Dracula to the sparkly Edward Cullen. I get shivers reading Tolkien’s Smaug that just don’t happen when reading Paolini’s Saphira. Not that there is anything wrong with romantic vampires or friendly dragons . . . they simply aren’t my preference.
I love dragons in their classic evil role. All the way back to Spenser’s Faerie Queen when the Redcrosse Knight battles the Dragon of Error . . . which story had a huge influence on the storyline of Heartless, complete with a princess named Una. But, of course, I take my Una down a very different path.
I really liked using the dragon theme to illustrate the evil that hides in all of us. (Spoiler Alert!) Princess Una is not overtly an evil character by any means. She is simply naïve and silly and more than a little selfish. Not evil. Yet the Dragon King takes one look at her and sees down to the very depths of her heart. He recognizes that selfishness and pride of hers as the perfect kindling for a great and terrible fire! I like how it is Una, not an overtly bad character like the Duke of Shippening, who undergoes the hideous transformation.
BW: The Goldstone Woods and the realm of fairies is something I'm looking forward to seeing more of. Are you planning on exploring more of woods in later installments? Or can we look forward to seeing more of the exotic places outside of the woods?
Absolutely, we will see more of the Faerie Realm! I don’t believe we actually see any of it in Heartless . . . just the Wood Between, which acts as a barrier between the Far World and the Near. It will also be developed in more depth. You’ll get glimpses of it in Veiled Rose, but it’s in the third novel, Moonblood, that we will finally take the plunge into the Wood Between and on into the Faerie Realm.
There are also more exotic lands in the mortal realm as well, which we will visit in Veiled Rose. These I tried to model after familiar countries and cultures. Noorhitam and the City of Lunthea Maly, for example, I crafted after Far Eastern archetypes (though with some distinct changes). I traveled to Okinawa a few years ago and was completely enthralled by the beauty of that island and the strong Chinese influence to be found in a distinctly Japanese culture. These were things I tried to incorporate in the Noorhitam Empire—the various cultures, still individual but thrown together, not always blending naturally. This was a fun land and culture to write about, and I hope to someday set a whole novel there . . .
But the Faerie Realm is a realm of the fantastic, built up of hundreds and hundreds of demesnes, each with its own strange culture and strange masters. I don’t think I will ever get tired of writing about the Far World, and I look forward to hearing reactions to the places I’ve explored so far!
BW: How do you handle killing off characters? Do you ever find yourself rewriting a scene trying to save one of your favorites?
AES: There aren’t any characters I really worried about killing in Heartless. I didn’t have to start dealing with that stress until midway through Veiled Rose and then on into Moonblood. Nevertheless, I think I kept pretty careful control of my stories even then. While it made me sad to kill certain of the characters, I always knew they had to die and for very specific reasons. People don’t tend to die merely for dramatic effect in my stories.
That isn’t to say that I haven’t ever rewritten to save a favorite! The character of Sir Oeric (who has a bit part in Heartless) is one such save. He originally featured in a novella I wrote as an exercise back in high school . . . and he died quite dramatically at its end. But when it came right down to it, I just couldn’t let him die! So as the Tales of Goldstone Wood developed, his story was rewritten to let him live. Now he has his little moment in Heartless (notice his conversation with the Dragon . . . they have a history!) and has a much greater, more heroic role by Moonblood. So, yeah . . . sometimes it’s hard to be bloodthirsty, isn’t it?
BW: When you're in a writing jam, is there a particular author you look to for inspiration? One that makes you ask, "What would ‘insert author's name here’ do?"
AES: Excellent question! I definitely have my stack o’ favorites I turn to in a crisis. My current work-in-progress has been especially heinous going (my favorite story so far, but ridiculously difficult to write!), and I have found myself more often than not grabbing stacks of books and carrying them to my computer-side . . . just to have them there if nothing else.
Diana Wynne Jones is the first name that comes to mind. She understood fairy tale and what it meant to tell a story in ways that few authors get these days. My writing is very different from hers save that I like to work in the omniscient narrative same as she did. But simply reading some of her turns of phrase and soaking up a page or two of her genius is often all I need to kick-start a scene.
Terry Pratchett is another one, though my work is generally more serious. I just adore how he blends tragedy into his otherwise laugh-out-loud comedy. He is without peer in my esteem.
Others would include Shannon Hale with her lovely Goose Girl, Gail Carson Levine’s adorable Ella Enchanted, and Megan Whalen Turner’s incomparable Queen’s Thief series. All very different works, but all inspiring to me. For inspiration on my current manuscript, I even picked up Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel at one point. Talk about a strange and spooky read!
BW: Seeing as your books revolve around dragons, are dragons your favorite mythological creatures? Or is there something else that makes your magical animal senses tingle?
AES: That’s an interesting question. I do love dragons, very much. But I tend to love any mythological creature that gives me that mood of Faerie and the Fantastic. This usually has to do with how it is written more than what the creature actually is. For instance, I absolutely love Peter S. Beagle’s unicorn in The Last Unicorn, but wasn’t as moved by those in Bruce Coville’s Unicorn Chronicles. It wasn’t that they weren’t well-written . . . they simply didn’t give me that haunting feeling of magic and otherness. These days the fantasy market is SO full of fantasy creatures, both classic and new, that it becomes harder and harder to find any that still give you that trembling thrill you once knew in childhood. We are becoming inured to magic . . . which is sad. So my goal is always to look for ways to return to the old forms, to seek out the stylistic methods that worked best.
So, to answer your question, yes, I love dragons, but I really can’t claim them as my favorite. I will generally gravitate more toward a book with dragons on the cover than those with vampires or werewolves, though.
BW: Reading Heartless made me feel like I was discovering a whole new fairy tale. Did any of the classic fairy tales inspire your books?
AES: Did they ever! Especially Spenser’s epic poem, The Faerie Queen, but many others as well. You know how while reading many of the old fairy tales you want to strangle the heroine for being so dense? (Sleeping Beauty . . . why the heck did she touch that spindle? Snow White . . . didn’t the dwarves warn you not to let anyone in the house?) Una is one of those heroines. A classic fairy tale princess whom you want to strangle. But I tried to make her more realistic. I tried to show why that classic archetype is what it is by giving Una motivations that, while not necessarily respectable, are nevertheless relatable. She is that Disney princess you want to shake, though without the sugar-sweet goody-two-shoes side. Despite her flaws, however, you want to see her grow up, you want to see her learn and finally leave behind childish dreams for things more real and more beautiful.
I like to think of Heartless as a new fairy tale. My first version of it was written in the short fairy tale style . . . but after some enthusiastic responses, I decided to go ahead and flesh it out into the full-length novel. My hope is that it still retains that old-timey fairy tale feel, even with the greater stakes and complicated storylines.
BW: Is there any more plans for more books in the Tales of Goldstone Wood series beyond book three? Or are there some other projects you're working on?
AES: "I definitely have plans for more books in the series, developing stories hinted at in these first three. At this stage in the game, I can’t talk too much about future plans, but be sure to check out my blog, anneelisabethstengl.blogspot.com, to keep updated on all things Goldstone Wood related!"
BW: Even though this is outside your writing genre, between a vampire love interest and a werewolf love interest which do you prefer? (What team are you on? Team Vampire or Team Werewolf.)
AES: Hmmmm . . . like I said above, I tend to like my monsters monstrous. I’m not usually into love-interest monsters. There’s a goblin with a romantic role in Moonblood, though . . . can I pick goblin?
I suppose I’d have to say werewolf if push came to shove. I’m writing a novel with a Faerie that shifts into wolf shape, so kind of a werewolf (though not according to classic werewolf lore). And I have main characters who take animal shapes in Heartless, so that’s a natural leap for me. So, okay, werewolves it is!
BW: Go wild! Let us know something funny about you, share something that's on your mind, or anything else that's important about your books.
AES: Let me tell you a true story . . .
After selling Heartless, I decided that I should probably take fencing classes. There are a couple of fencing scenes in my novel, and I thought I should at least have some basic grounding in the sport, just to be certain I didn’t completely embarrass myself in print. So I signed up for classes and began to learn.
There was this very handsome young man in my class. Black eyes, dark complexion, dashing, and well-spoken. Kind of adorable, in fact. So I did what every self-respecting girl does in such a situation.
I ignored him.
He ignored me too. Sadly. An entire term went by, and we were never even matched up to spar in practice. We didn’t speak, we didn’t interact, we merely waved sabers in the same room.
Then the term tournament came around. Lo and behold, I was slated to fight the handsome stranger first! Oh, dear. He was so vastly beyond my skill-level, such a match could hardly be called a match. I knew I was in for a slaughter, and it didn’t help that my slaughterer was so darn cute. I decided to do what I could to even the odds: Pure intimidation.
I slid up to him right before our fight and said, “I want your blood.”
He turned to me, wide-eyed.
Me: “You should be afraid this night. Very afraid.”
He laughed. “Absolutely! I’m shaking so hard, they’ll have to tape the saber to my hand!”
A moment later, we were called up. Ten minutes after, the match was over.
And I had won. Against all odds, my blade carried the day!
After the match, my handsome opponent laughingly congratulated me and insisted that, no, he had not given it to me easy, but I had won fair and square. He sat and chatted to me the rest of the evening when we weren’t fencing.
The next week, he asked me out.
The week after, he asked me out again.Seven months later, after a whirlwind courtship that took everyone (including ourselves) completely by surprise, we were happily married and have been so for nine months now. I’m so glad I decided to research for Heartless. That fencing scene is one of my favorites in the story, and look how it changed my life!
Have to give a huge thanks to Anne for not only agreeing to an Interview, but for generously offering some of her books for a giveaway!! So thank you Anne!
The two books up for grabs are a signed copy of Heartless and Veiled Rose!!
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Anne Elisabeth Stengl makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she enjoys her profession as an art teacher, giving private lessons from her personal studio, and teaching group classes at the Apex Learning Center. She studied illustration at Grace College and English literature at Campbell University. Heartless is her debut novel.
You can find out more about the Anne’s books and life at her blog!!