Interview by Brock Eastman
Featuring Golden Daughter
Anne Elisabeth Stengl has been working on her series Tales of Goldstone Wood since 2010 and now has 6 titles in the series. I sat down with her to ask about the newest release, Golden Daughter.
Brock: Anne, for readers who may not be aware of Tales of Goldstone Wood, give us a high level overview of the stories you have written?
Anne: The Tales of Goldstone Wood is a series of adventure novels set in the Near World of Mortals, the Far World of Faeries, and the Wood Between (also known as Goldstone Wood). The novels touch on various periods of history and visit many different kingdoms in the world, but the events of each story have profound effects on all of the others.
Primarily, the series tells the saga of the Song Giver’s love for mortals and immortals alike, and the Dragon’s efforts to destroy both worlds by refashioning the hearts of men and women in his own dark image. Much classical imagery is present in the spinning of these tales, enhanced by vibrant humor, fairytale magic, and a large cast of endearing characters.
Brock: You've envisioned such a magnificent sweeping world, full of many characters and places readers want to learn about. How have you mapped out this world of yours?
Anne: I have been in the process of creating the world of Goldstone Wood since I was fifteen. I began by writing down simple paragraph summaries of various storylines spanning the history of this world (or worlds, rather). I still have many of the old notebooks in which I wrote down early versions of the tales I am now actively writing.
Because I have been developing this world for so long, it’s easier than you might think to keep all of these storylines together. I know how the events of 1600 years ago shaped the events of now. I can write a story set in one time period, remaining fully aware of the history leading up to these events. Thus there is always a sense of Bigger Story in each Goldstone Wood novel—a sense that there is more to the picture yet to be revealed.
Brock: This proves true when you read the series. You are left with this sense of a greater story unfolding. Tell us what drove you to write the latest tale, Golden Daughter? What about Masayi Sairu's story compelled you to tell it before the many other stories you have in those notebooks?
Anne: Part of the decision to write Golden Daughter was pure chronological sequencing. The events depicted in Golden Daughter were referenced very specifically in my third book, Moonblood. After writing Moonblood, I jumped back 1600 years in the history of my world and began writing the books in chronological sequence leading back up to the first three novels. Thus I came to the time period of Golden Daughter and realized I needed to tell the story which had been referenced in Moonblood.
The basic premise of the book came long before the plot and characters. But the story didn’t come alive until I discovered the character of Sairu, who serves as this adventure’s primary protagonist. Originally I had intended to make a different character in the story the primary heroine—the mysterious Lady Hariawan. But she was too cold and distant and, honestly, too powerful. I found her difficult to relate to, difficult to bond with.
So I rethought the story, wondering what it might look like if told from the point-of-view of Lady Hariawan’s handmaiden. And, after all, a woman of such prominence and sacred importance to the empire would certainly have a very special girl as her handmaiden, right?
So the mythology of the Golden Daughters came to be—these intelligent, dangerous, talented young woman trained to look like sweet and innocent flowers but who, in reality, are dangerous and devoted bodyguards. It was such a fun concept to explore, particularly in context with the cosmic stakes of this particular novel. Ultimately it’s a story I couldn’t resist writing!
Brock: What is at the heart of this book?
Anne: This story is about a sacred Dream Walker of the Temple of Hulan, a woman named Lady Hariawan. She has the ability to travel outside of her body into the realm of dreams, where she searches for a gate to the gardens of the moon goddess, Hulan. She is very powerful, and many different factions and nations want to either capture or kill her.
Thus, to protect this sacred woman, the High Priest of Hulan hires a bodyguard—the titular Golden Daughter, Masayi Sairu. And Sairu finds herself in over her head as she battles forces she cannot begin to comprehend in her efforts to protect her new mistress!
But Lady Hariawan has an agenda of her own. And the Dragon is at work in the hearts of men, motivating them to desperate, wicked deeds.
The story culminates in a cosmic clash of false gods and monsters that deals with the painful question: Where is God in times of suffering? Why does He apparently allow such evil to reign in the world?
This story is an epic like nothing I have ever before written, and I am thrilled to present it now to my readers.
Brock: Who is Masayi Sairu?
Anne: Sairu is the heroine of this adventure, a brave and bold bodyguard masquerading as a demure little handmaiden. She is pitted against phantoms, dragons, and assassins in her efforts to protect her mistress, the sacred Dream Walker.
Brock: How do you think your readers will connect with her story?
Anne: Sairu is an apparently strong young woman who hides deep wounds behind her smile. She is a damaged character, but the extent and nature of that damage is not readily apparent. As readers dig more deeply into her story and motivations, they begin to uncover the truth of what has been done to her over the years, and they realize how truly vulnerable she is. In this vulnerability, she is very relatable.
She is possibly the most complex and interesting heroine to yet feature in the Tales of Goldstone Wood, and I have no doubt readers will enjoy her story.
Brock: You’ve mentioned several villains. Can you explain who they are and their motivations?
Anne: Well, there are many villains featured through the epic that is Golden Daughter! There are the Crouching Shadows, a legendary band of assassins bent on protecting their goddess at all costs. There are the barbarian Chhayan warriors, angry at the loss of their land and desperate for revenge against the emperor whom they see as a usurper. There is the tragic character of Sunan, a half-breed Chhayan who longs to leaves his barbaric heritage behind, but who is forced into an evil role and ultimately pursues his own destruction.
But at the core of this story is the Dragon himself, also called the Death-in-Life. He longs for nothing so much as to see himself as the dark god of all worlds, to see mortals and immortals alike formed in his own image. He is a terrible creature of malice and destruction, and quite a formidable foe!
Brock: The Dragon is indeed a terrifying villain. The threat he puts upon Goldstone Wood, parallels the dangers in our own. How does this villain differ from other villains in your series?
Anne: The Dragon has featured many times throughout the series, either as the primary villain or as an agent of evil behind the scenes, so to speak. Sunan, however, is a particularly interesting villain in that he has had small features in previous stories. He makes a short appearance in Veiled Rose, my second novel, when he helps the hero of that story on his journey to the Far East. In my novella Goddess Tithe, Sunan plays the heroic lead. His history is hinted at in both of those tales, but Golden Daughter begins to reveal the truth of his story . . . a story which is continued in my upcoming autumn 2015 release, Poison Crown.
Brock: The latest release was not released by Bethany House, but instead Rooglewood Press. Can you tell us why you made that decision and tell us about Rooglewood Press?
Anne: Rooglewood Press is my own independent brand. That’s right! After six books, four Christy Award nominations, and three wins, I am moving indie. And I am very excited about this new direction my series and my career have taken. My goal is to continue producing books of the same quality and caliber as my readers have come to expect, but now I get to make more creative decisions about series direction, length of the books, thematic elements, etc.
Brock: What sort of advantages have you found in indie publishing? What sort of disadvantages?
Anne: I absolutely love the creative control afforded by indie publishing. I used to labor long and hard to fit my epic storylines into the short word counts my publisher gave me. Now I get to determine the length of the book—and while I still try to write each story as short as it can be (tight writing is strong writing!), I can tackle much bigger ideas and premises than I ever dared try before. It’s a wonderful feeling, and Golden Daughter is easily the book I am proudest to have written.
The disadvantages of self-publishing go hand in hand with the advantages. Assuming creative control also means assuming much more labor than I ever had to deal with when publishing traditionally. I am now in charge of managing my own editing, formatting, cover imaging, typesetting, marketing, etc. Whether I’m hiring freelance artists and editors or learning new skills and putting in the work myself, it’s all time- and labor-intensive. But the rewards are tremendous, and I’ve never been afraid of extra work.
Brock: What sort of advice would you give to aspiring novelists?
Anne: My advice to aspiring novelists is always the same: Write, write, write, and read, read, read.
The more you write, the better you’ll get. Like any other art, writing must be practiced to be perfected. Don’t expect yourself to write literary brilliance right away! And certainly don’t rush into publication. Develop your voice, your style, your technique. Develop your confidence by putting in those long hours of practice.
And, of course, the more you read and the more broadly you read, the more you’ll know what is possible for good writing! Spend time on the classics, discover those authors who have lasted through the ages. Spend time on modern voices who are succeeding in the current market, and learn what they know. You can never read too much if you want to be a novelist!
Anne Elisabeth Stengl makes her home in North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a kindle of kitties, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. Her novel Starflower was awarded the 2013 Clive Staples Award, and her novels Heartless, Veiled Rose, and Dragonwitch have each been honored with a Christy Award.
To learn more about Anne Elisabeth Stengl and her books visit her blog.