Swanky Seventeener Lianne Oelke recently interviewed Hannah West, author of KINGDOM OF ASH AND BRIARS, a fantasy YA novel published by Holiday House on September 15, 2016.
About the Book:
Bristal, an orphaned kitchen maid, lands in a gritty fairy tale gone wrong when she discovers she is an elicromancer with a knack for shape-shifting. An ancient breed of immortal magic beings, elicromancers have been winnowed down to merely two – now three – after centuries of bloody conflict in the realm. Their gifts are fraught with responsibility, and sixteen-year-old Bristal is torn between two paths. Should she vow to seek the good of the world, to protect and serve mortals? Or should she follow the strength of her power, even if it leads to unknown terrors? She draws on her ability to disguise herself as a man to infiltrate a prince’s band of soldiers, and masquerades as a fairy godmother to shield a cursed princess, but time is running out. As an army of dark creatures grows closer, Bristal faces a supernatural war. To save the kingdoms, Bristal must find the courage to show her true form. Building on homages to Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Jane Austen’s Emma and the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, Hannah West makes a spectacular debut.
About the Author:
Hannah West has swooned over fantasy and fairy tales since before she wrote her first story about a runaway princess living on top of a flagpole with two loaves of bread. Kingdom of Ash and Briars is her first novel, which she began as a college junior while studying abroad in Orléans, France. She’s a freelance writer living in Rockwall, Texas, with her husband, Vince, and Robb, their rambunctious blue heeler.
Lianne: Kingdom of Ash and Briars has all the best parts of many fairy tales, but it’s not told from the usual perspectives. What inspired you to build on multiple fairy tales, and how did you bring them all together?
Hannah: Good question! I only intentionally represented Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella (any resemblance to other legends or fairy tales is purely coincidental). I’ve been a huge lover of fairy tale retellings since forever and I’ve always loved writing snippets of them, but I hadn’t yet thought of a new angle and was just doing it for fun. But while was living in France during college, I wrote the opening scene, which featured a girl who’d been kidnapped getting dragged through the snowy woods by her captors, possibly to her death. I liked this girl but I didn’t know what I was going to do with her yet.
Cue light bulb moment! My parents sent me a care package that included Disney princess pencils (because of course!) and when I saw Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, it occurred to me that their stories could intertwine within the bigger frame of the fairy godmother’s tale, and that the fairy godmother could be the dark-haired girl in the snowy woods – who is so much more than she seems.
As far as the execution, I wanted to make sure that the story briefly hit on the most memorable moments from those two fairy tales, but that it put them in the context of danger, political intrigue and impending war – in the context of Bristal, basically. It was important to me to preserve the sparkly wonder of those special moments but also to build something new around them. That way the classic and familiar could feel warmly nostalgic instead of like a rehashing of the same story.
Lianne: What’s your writing process like?
Hannah: I definitely write on an inspiration basis rather than out of self-discipline. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought “it’s 8 am, time to write no matter what comes out.” I really admire that quality in other people and I’m trying to have more self discipline when it comes to just making myself sit down and gets words out. The beginning of a book and the end are the easiest for me because that’s when the inspiration is the clearest.
Lianne: How did you find your agent/ editor?
Hannah: I looked in the acknowledgments of books that I loved to find out who represented them and then would look for the agent’s profile on Literary Rambles. The profiles are pretty thorough and gave me great info for querying Sarah Burnes, who represents me now along with her assistant, Logan Garrison.
KOAAB is the first novel I’d ever written and it used to be soooo wordy. I had a long journey of revising from the time they first requested my manuscript to the point of getting signed and getting a book contract and beyond. The willingness to revise definitely played a big role in their desire to take me on. But I think it’s important to trust your instincts when it comes to taking advice – one agent gave me advice that would have changed the whole concept and it just felt wrong. But from certain people, that feedback can confirm doubts you already had about your story and help make it more what you want it to be. I was lucky to have that experience with both my agents and my editor.
Lianne: Kingdom of Ash and Briars is unique in that part way through the book, you jump ahead several years, making Bristal technically much older than the average YA heroine. How did you manage Bristal’s growing maturity and experience while keeping the book YA?
Hannah: I kept in mind that she’s a different creature, that years feel like months to her and that she is ageless. I mean, Edward is what, 75? And Aragorn is like 88. But to these otherworldly creatures, age is less important, and Bristal spent a very uneventful time in a cottage in the woods, so she doesn’t have much worldly experience. She’s certainly a little more mature on the other end, but I chose to write her as though she hadn’t changed much because I didn’t feel like she would.
Favorite writing location?
I love this room in my local library with windows on three sides and a really high ceiling. It kind of reminds me of a castle.
Weirdest writing habit?
A lot of people say the best way to draft is to just throw words on the page and fix them later. That doesn’t work for me. I’m a full-blown diamond polisher, and I can’t move on without thoroughly editing a sentence or paragraph. I also occasionally make facial expressions and mouth dialogue to see if it’s natural, but everyone does that, right? Maybe?
What books did you read as a teen?
I loved Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and everything by Robin McKinley! Basically anything with magic and battles and love story. I didn’t get into Hunger Games until I was 20 but that is for sure one of my favorite series, too. I also love Ray Bradbury quite a bit.
Top three favorite beverages?
Sweet tea. Unsweet tea. La croix.
I’d really like to go on the Lord of the Rings tour in New Zealand!
Which fairy tale would you most want to live in?
They can be pretty grim in their original forms, but I’m going to say Cinderella. I love that kindness is rewarded and that cruelty is punished with a measure of grace.
About the Interviewer:
Lianne Oelke has a degree in philosophy and works in the world of low-budget filmmaking, which has inspired her to create some pretty substandard stories of her own. She lives, camps, and thinks about cats in Vancouver, BC.