You were only sixteen when you wrote the first novel, Fairytale. What gave you the idea for the story?
It was one of those quintessential July days—drippingly humid—and I was sitting outside watching dragonflies dart about when the first line of the novel almost physically leaped into my mind. I remember getting up very carefully, trying not to disturb that sentence already written in my brain, walking inside, turning on the computer, and typing these precise words: “The buzzing of dragonflies on the hot, humid day seemed intoxicatingly enchanting to Marianne’s idle mind.” At the top of the page, absent-mindedly, I titled the story “Fairytale” because it seemed like a good sort of place-holder title. Only much later into the story did I realize that it had also become the most fitting title.
You wrote the three novels of the trilogy at different stages in your life. Does that have an effect on the books?
Absolutely. The books were written over a span of eight years, and when I go back and read over the multiple drafts of my books, in some ways I feel like I am reading my journals from those years because the writing style is so personally distinctive. That first book is the purest expression of a sixteen year old’s imagination. I reeled off that first draft in a month because it was a story that had been percolating within me for years. In Fairytale I established the main characters of Marianne, Robin, Prince, and Leo, but once I had the characters blocked out, they just starting talking to me.
The second book I wrote while I was finishing up high school and starting college. And I think any college freshman will tell you that college takes your neatly organized drawer of life and upends it, in what will eventually be the best possible way but what at the time seems like sanctioned trauma. So that second book really speaks to figuring out who you are away from the comforts of home. Wandering in the wilderness, if you will.
I wrote the final installment of the trilogy, The Three Crowns, during my last semesters of college and while on breaks from my first year of medical school. It was a time when I gained some perspective about my future and that is reflected in the scope of the third novel.
How important is imagination to your writing?
Although much of The Fairytale Trilogy takes place in a land reminiscent of pre-industrial Britain, I never traveled overseas until college. When I wrote the first Fairytale book at the age of sixteen, my descriptions of dazzling sunsets, bracing rainstorms, and swirling rivers came entirely from paying close attention to nature during my childhood. In my junior year of college, I finally was able to visit England, Ireland, and Scotland, and my first thought was: this land is just as I imagined it!
Have you always liked fairy tales?
When I was growing up, my father would read the Brothers Grimm fairy tales to me as I went to sleep, but what I didn’t realize was that as he read them, he would gloss over the brutality and harsh details of those stories.
One time my dad went on a business trip, so my little self decided that I would read myself to sleep. I lugged that big Brothers Grimm book off the top library shelf and settled on an innocuous-sounding but highly enthralling story. The fairy tale went sailing along until the end, when the wicked lady was dispatched by rolling her down a hill in a barrel studded with nails. (!). When my dad got home, he was met by a daughter who would thereafter ask after every story, “Is that the real ending of the story, or did you make it up?”
What advice do you have for young writers?
Read illustrated children’s books. The best of those books can tell a wondrous story in under 32 pages, and the pictures always get your imagination going. And pay close attention to the world around you; there is often magic in what seems most mundane.
Is there a particular Brothers Grimm heroine whom Marianne is based on?
At first, only subconsciously, I think Marianne reminded me of Snow White. But that was because when my grade school friends would play “Disney Princesses” during recess, there was a fair amount of typecasting. I remember saying, “I want to be Belle,” and my friends said, “You can’t be Belle. You don’t have brown hair!” So the brown-haired Kristen would be Belle. Then I would say, “Okay, I’ll be Princess Jasmine!” To which the group would scoff, “Your hair isn’t long enough!” So Elizabeth (whose hair was a pretty impressive 19 inches—we measured it in class one day) would play Jasmine. And thus it would go: flame-haired Michelle as Ariel, and ballet dancer Ginny wrangled Cinderella.
Because of my short black hair, I was always relegated to the role of Snow White. I was underwhelmed with having to play a heroine whose main talents seemed to be housekeeping and having poor character judgment. But over time, I realized that with my imagination I could turn Snow White into any kind of character I wanted. The great part about us girls pretending was that everyone got to write the script as we went along.
Why is this page called “Fairytale Market?”
Because I love the image of bartering stories.