Interview by Brock Eastman in 2014
Featuring the Tales of Gladstone Wood
Tales of Goldstone Wood has piqued the interest and engaged thousands of fans around the world. I had a chance to ask Anne Elisabeth Stengl about her vast series and the latest installment. I especially enjoy world building and losing myself in an author’s immense world. Tales of Goldstone certainly delivers on that!
Brock: Anne, thanks for being here with us. How did you come up with the idea for the Tales of Goldstone Wood series?
Anne: You know, I honestly don’t remember. I have been working on ideas for this series since I was a kid, penning out short stories and notes in various spiral notebooks. Some of those original short stories have matured and turned into the novels (Starflower and Dragonwitch, for example). Some of the characters and poems and legends have carried over as well. But I’ve been writing Goldstone Wood for so long (and intend to keep on writing it for so much longer!), that pinpointing an original inspiration would be impossible.
Brock: Take a moment and tell us about the main characters in Shadow Hand?
Anne: Shadow Hand features Prince Foxbrush, who has recently been named heir to the throne of Southlands . . . an honor he always rather thought he deserved over his cousin, Lionheart, but never really expected to get. And he’s discovering (as my characters often discover along the way), that getting his dream-come-true is really not all it’s cracked up to be. But he’s betrothed to the girl he’s loved since childhood, the beautiful Lady Daylily . . .
. . .who opens the book by running away on the morning of their wedding, determined never to be seen again. She is a deeply repressed young woman with a mind teetering on the verge of madness. In her bid to escape, she lands herself in far more danger than ever. Worst of all, she becomes more dangerous than ever.
Brock: In three sentences what is Shadow Hand about?
Anne: When Lady Daylily runs away on the morning of their wedding, Prince Foxbrush sets out to find her, plunging into the dangerous Wood Between, where Faeries live and mortals die. In his mad pursuit, Foxbrush finds himself stepping into legends out of his own country’s past, and he himself standing in the legendary hero’s role . . . which means Lady Daylily herself has become his enemy. He must fulfill the strange, dark bidding of an ancient poem if he is to have any hope of saving both Daylily and his kingdom.
Brock: How many books are planned for this series?
Anne: I don’t have a set number in mind. This is a series about a world, not about a specific cast of characters. And it is a large, varied world with so many possibilities, I could keep on writing in it for years to come. I currently have 15 full-length novels in mind, not to mention numerous shorter works (such as my recently released novella, Goddess Tithe) and several spin-off series ideas. Each book is written to be as stand-alone as possible, but the series itself is far too complex to package up in a set number of volumes . . . at least at the current time. I could easily see this turning into my own small version of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series . . . which has 40-some novels, plus multiple shorter works and companion stories!
Brock: You really could lose yourself in this series. One thing that seems to happen too often, is we (readers) get attached to our characters or their world and then lose them in a just a few books. That’s always hard to say goodbye, when there really is more to the world we’ve been reading about. Do you outline, or do you write as you go and let the characters take control of the story?
Anne: There’s no outline for the entire series. But there are individual series threads that cover multiple volumes within the series, and these are all carefully outlined ahead of time. I also take the time to carefully outline each novel before I write it, checking the storylines and timelines against the other novels to make certain things are lining up properly.
Brock: With so much outlining and such a vast series, do you have to do any research, or does everything come straight from your imagination?
Anne: Lots of research went into this book, actually. Before setting pen to paper, I spent hours poring over long (and extremely dull) passages of Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, which is a desperately dry but useful volume on the history of magic and superstition throughout the world. A fantastic research tool when it doesn’t drive you utterly mad with boredom.
Shadow Hand is a very loose retelling of “The Ballad of Tam Lin,” certain Saint Patrick legends (specifically those dealing with Crom Cruach), and a George MacDonald fairytale. I spent quite a lot of time studying these texts and making notes as I went.
I also spent a good bit of time researching the cultivation of fig trees. Not something I ever expect to use again, but interesting research nonetheless.
Brock: You mentioned 15 books planned, and potentially many more to come. Are you working on the next book? And if so can you give us a hint at the next book?
Anne: I’m actually a couple books down the road already from Shadow Hand. Book 7, Golden Daughter, is scheduled to release in November. Here is the write-up for that story:
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.
I’ve also written a new short work titled Draven’s Light, which should release next spring, and I’m in the process of putting together book 8, which doesn’t have an official title yet, but which should release next autumn.
Brock: I think the interview already makes this pretty clear, but I must ask. What is your favorite genre to write for?
Anne: Fantasy, without a doubt! It’s what I love most to write and to read. Specifically fantasy written in the omniscient narrative. Always a favorite with me.
Brock: With so many books releasing and so many in the works, are you a full time writer?
Anne: Yes . . . when I’m not also a marketer, designer, blogger, networker, etc. But I would consider myself a fulltime novelist, even if that doesn’t always mean fulltime writing!
Brock: How long does it usually take you to write a single book in the series?
Anne: Anywhere from two to six months, I think. At least for the rough draft. I try to draft as quickly as possible and allow myself time for polish and revision. I have written full-length novels in two months before (and Goddess Tithe was drafted in under two weeks!). I believe the longest I’ve taken over a novel is six months, though. I rather expect book 8 will take me longer since it’s the most complicated plot I’ve tackled yet . . .
Brock: What’s your view on e-books and the new publishing revolution? Any e-book only plans in your future?
Anne: I am a big fan of e-books! I still read primarily paperback, but that’s more force of habit than anything. I got my first e-reader last year and am slowly building up a nice little e-book library. And I absolutely intend for all my books to be available in paperback and e-book! Goddess Tithe was primarily an e-book experiment, but my fans wanted a paperback version too, and it sells pretty well in both.
But yes, e-books are awesome. What a wonderful way to get work out to so many more readers! My international audience would never be what it is today without the blessing of e-books.
Brock: Something must have inspired you or intrigued you to become a writer. What was your favorite book as a teen or child?
Anne: As a child, my favorite book was Felix Salten’s Bambi . . . which is not to be confused with the Disney movie! A dark, beautifully written tale, and not really as appropriate for children as I remembered (this I discovered upon a recent re-reading). But I was fascinated with that book as a child, and I read it more times than I can recall!
As a teen . . . Robin McKinley’s Beauty was definitely high up on the list. I didn’t discover Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series until my late teens, but I’m going slip that onto the list too . . .
Brock: What were some of the challenges for you writing your book?
Anne: Beginnings are always tough for me, and Shadow Hand was particularly difficult to begin. It picks up where both Book 3 and Book 5 of my series leave off . . . but those two books are set in completely different periods of history, separated by approximately 1500 years. So finding the right place to start—a place that will work at least decently well for new readers as well as for established fans of the series—was definitely a challenge. I think I’d written more than half the book before the right beginning finally came to me.
But I shouldn’t complain. Beginnings are almost always the hardest part of drafting for me. Once I get into the meat of the story, everything tends to smooth out, at least from the creative point-of-view.
Brock: What do you want readers to take away from Shadow Hand?
Anne: This book, like all of my books, is a story of undeserved grace. My characters are flawed people—their internal struggles are as great, sometimes greater, than the external struggles they face. They never discover innate brilliance or magical powers that suddenly enable them to conquer all odds. What they discover is grace. What they discover is the triumph of brokenness. And this is what I hope my readers will take away: We don’t need to be epic heroes. God chooses the humble things of this world to shame the proud.
Brock: Wow, I love how you put that. It’s clear that your stories bring forth your Christian beliefs. In what ways does your faith impact how you approach writing?
Anne: I never go into any of my stories with a set message or moral in mind. I never intend to write allegorical themes. But I treat my work as the truest form of worship in my life. As a form of worship, the storytelling keeps me open to God’s leading, keeps drawing me back to my knees in prayer. It never ceases to amaze me how God will speak to me through the stories I create . . . and then speak beyond me to the readers for whom I write.
Brock: Now for a few fun tidbits. Favorite place to vacation and why?
Anne: I do love to go back up to Minocqua, Wisconsin (in the summertime), to see my family. They live in a beautiful log house on a lake, so I get family time and resort-vacation time all rolled into one!
But the number one place I want to vacation is Sri Lanka, my husband’s home country. Really looking forward to going back there with him one day!
Brock: Do you have a particular drink or food you consume when you write? Like coco, raspberry tea, animal crackers?
Anne: Ceylon Tea. Strong, black Ceylon tea with a little cream and a little sugar, proper British fashion. This is the beverage of choice, and has been for many years now. (I don’t go in for those fruity or green teas . . . no, sir! It’s good black Ceylon tea from the mountain plantations of Sri Lanka for this cookie!)
As for food, I tend to go on “food kicks” during which I only want one snack food for weeks, get sick of it for years, and move on to the next one. Currently, I like pickles (which, no, don’t go well with the tea). A few months ago it was samosas. A few months before that it was fresh avocado on crackers. A few months before that it was peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches . . . You get the idea. But the tea is a constant!
Brock: Anne, thanks so much, you certainly made me chuckle as well as provided great insight into the world of your writing and stories. I know I’m looking forward to your next book.
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.