Anne Elisabeth Stengl – Writer

AE StenglHas writing always been a passion, or is a recently kindled flame?

I have wanted to be a writer since I was very small. I wrote my first “novel” when I was about nine years old, a sweet little children’s book about a naughty kitten and his search for the perfect home. I really loved building my cast of characters and inventing scrapes for everyone to get involved in! Since then, I have always had some sort of story or another in the works.

Your series in Goldstone Wood take a reader on a fairytale journey. What was the sparking idea that began the series for you?

You know, that’s a very difficult question. I began getting the first few ideas when I was around fourteen, but those were very nebulous, and I couldn’t pinpoint them exactly. But when I was seventeen, I opened a red spiral-bound notebook and began writing by hand a whole host of different ideas which had been building in my mind. I still have that notebook, and it is brimming with all sorts of strange, nonsensical thoughts . . . but here and there, the beginnings of the Tales of Goldstone Wood can be found. The first ideas for the story of Starflower, for instance, and for the “Night of Moonblood” sequence which is covered in Moonblood. Also, a fairly complex short-story version of what turned into Dragonwitch, my Summer 2013 release. So the ideas have been brewing for quite some time!

But I have to say, it was Heartless that pulled everything together so that the stories suddenly made sense. Heartless is a relatively new story compared to most of the others. It came to my heart and mind the summer after I left college, and I wrote it very quickly. After finishing it, I began to see how all of those crazy notebook ideas I’d been holding onto for so long could come together and form a cohesive series!

Do you have a favourite book in your series so far?

My favourite is always the one I just wrote. So right now, that would be Book 6, which just received the official title Shadow Hand and will release Spring 2014. But really, they’re all very dear to me. And they’re so interconnected in my mind that it’s hard for me to think of them as individuals!

You have a rather classical style of writing, laced with old-school charm and wit. Where does it come from? Was it a stylistic choice or a natural voice that emerged when you began writing the stories?

The sense of classicism was definitely a stylistic choice on my part. I love the classics, and I love fairy tales and fantasies told in the classic omniscient narrative voice. There’s a sense of depth, richness, and authenticity that I am always trying to capture by “mimicking” the great masters of literature. Though I do, of course, try to include my own flair and humour along the way!

Your characters are often people who are deeply flawed and have to make difficult choices and walk difficult paths. How do you manage to balance their weaknesses with their strengths so that they turn into these achingly real characters?

I’m so pleased that you find the characters real. It’s a difficult process, and I don’t always feel like I hit the right balance. Ultimately, I try to write honestly. I try never to let my characters turn into wooden puppets that I push along from scene to scene, but always to find that understanding of how real people would act in these situations. For example, Princess Una from my first novel, Heartless. Rather than make her a typically sweet or adventurously feisty heroine such as is popular in current literature, I tried to think through how a girl brought up in this situation–a fairly solitary princess, sheltered from the outside world, petted, praised, and catered to all her life–would think and behave. And ultimately I decided that she would be fairly spoiled and immature, well-meaning enough, but unprepared for the realities of life and love.

This has not proven an overwhelmingly popular decision. While I believe Una is a very real young woman, perhaps more like many of us than we would like to believe, plenty of readers have intensely disliked her and been unwilling to watch the story of her humbling and growth. Readers often prefer a heroine who is already strong, mature, and able to handle herself in any situation.

But again, I simply try to write what I believe is honest. It’s not the easiest approach to take, and some results have been more popular than others. But the characters themselves are very real in my mind, and I love them all, with all their faults.

Do you have any ideas for books outside of the Goldstone Wood universe? Is the idea of writing in a different universe daunting after spending so much time in this world?

Oh goodness, right now I can’t even imagine it! I have been pouring so much of my life and soul into building the worlds of Goldstone Wood . . . the idea of going through all that work again is completely daunting! Maybe someday, but not until I am quite done with the bulk of the Goldstone Wood series.

Do you have a process you work through as you write each novel or is it different for each one?

You know, each novel is different–I always feel as though I have to relearn how to write a book every time I write one–but some tricks I use do end up working with every one of them. For instance, I always start out writing by hand in a notebook, and large chunks of the first draft are usually handwritten. This keeps me relaxed and loose, preventing my perfectionist side from interfering with creativity. I also always use an outline, making certain that each plot point builds on the one before and leads to an exciting climax. The stories themselves are quite complicated with many threads twining together to form the whole! If I didn’t outline, I would be so lost . . .

What is your favourite part about working with your editor?

I actually have several editors who are involved in the polishing of each manuscript. I enjoy the professionalism and insight into the market they bring. And it’s always good to get a fresh perspective on my work! They help me to clarify plot points that might otherwise be muddy.

Were there ever moments, on your road to publication, when you felt like giving up? Do you still have moments like that? How do you deal with them?

Becoming published was a fairly easy road for me. I sold my first contract at age 22, and have been writing ever since. But, this being said, yes, I have often experienced discouragement and wondered if I could keep going. And my path has changed courses several times, leaving me baffled. The only way through these down times is prayer and reflection on the difficult roads God has led me through in the past. I am able to look back on the keenest disappointments in my life and see how God turned them into some of the greatest goods. So every time I encounter discouragement in my writing career, I pray that God will someday give me the grace to see how He turns those discouragements into blessings.

Seeing as there is (unfortunately) no secret magic formula for becoming a successful writer, what advice would you give for new writers who are trying to get published?

Read a lot and study everything you read. When you particularly like a story by a certain author, study how that author wrote that story, how she introduced plot threads and characters, how she built to the climax. Then mimic that in your own work. Don’t copy it, but mimic the elements you liked best. You have to write what you love to read. Never write something just to present information to your reader or to push through the plot you have in mind. Every scene needs to be something that you, as a reader, would enjoy picking up and reading for your own entertainment.

If you write what you love to read, you’ll find your audience!

Thank you so much, Cristy, for featuring me on your lovely website. These were great questions, and I enjoyed answering them. Blessings to you and all your writing endeavours!

If you would like to find out more about Anne Elisabeth and her books, look here.

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