An Interview with Jessica Day George
I hope that you have all had the chance to read, and enjoy, my series of reviews on the Princesses of Westfalin trilogy by Jessica Day George, including Princess of the Midnight Ball, Princess of Glass, and Princess of the Silver Woods. If not you can go read them now, I’ll wait.
After setting off to review my favorite series by Jessica Day George, I found myself with the opportunity to interview her about her many books and her own writing process. Her answers did not disappoint and the same lively voice she uses in her novels came through. Even though the interview was conducted over email, it felt like a conversation. She gave thoughtful funny answers that I believe will be interesting to readers and aspiring to young authors alike. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Before we begin, here’s a little information on Jessica Day George. Jessica Day George is an American author who has spent her fair share of time on the New York Times Best Seller list for several of her fantasy series. She is best known for her books Dragon Slippers and Princess of the Midnight Ball and the series that followed the events of both books. In 2007, Jessica Day George received the Whitney Award for Best Book by a New Author for her premiere novel Dragon Slippers. She also received the Beehive Book Award for Young Adult Fiction in 2009 for Princess of the Midnight Ball and has been nominated for several other awards.
Jessica Day George most often writes retellings of classic fairy tales for young adult readers and came out with a new novel, Silver in the Blood, last summer, 2015. If you like fairy tales or the fantasy genre in general, you should check out her books.
Now, on to the interview…
Can you tell me a little about you writing process?
I call it “Is the pasta done?” I just keep throwing things at the wall until they stick. And by “things” I mean words, and by “wall” I mean computer, and by “stick” I mean somehow coalesces into a story.
Do you force yourself to write every day?
Yes, but it’s not really forcing. It’s my pleasure. I love writing! I am crabby and awful if I don’t get writing time. (Just ask my kids! Or maybe don’t . . .)
When did you get your start in writing? What drew you to writing?
I decided to be a writer when I was 11 and found out that “fantasy writer” was a job you could have. I started trying to get published when I was 20, and finally had success at 29 when I scrapped my serious, grisly urban fantasy manuscripts and wrote something for younger readers. (Dragon Slippers)
Where do you like to draw inspiration from? Do you have a moment of blinding clarity or is it more gradual?
Inspiration comes from everywhere and could strike at any time. Some of my books have just been a blinding flash of: Oh, hey, what if I redid the Twelve Dancing Princesses? And some of them I have to plot out. I wanted to do a version of Cinderella because I wanted to put one of my twelve dancing princesses into another fairy tale with dancing, so I had to really explore that story to find points of intersection.
Of the books you have written which is your favorite?
Right now it’s Silver in the Blood. But ask me again in a week, I’ll probably have changed my mind.
You have written several books based on fairy tales, what is your favorite fairy tale?
East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon has always been my favorite, which is why I retold it as Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow.
What about the fairy tales you have not written about?
I didn’t really have one I hadn’t done up until my kids became obsessed with the Fisherman and his Wife. I can’t imagine doing a retelling of it, but it’s hilarious to read to kids and watch their reactions.
Can you tell me about some of the most influential books you’ve read in your life? Books that you might go back to over and over or books you read as a child that you still remember as an adult.
Dune (Frank Herbert) absolutely changed my life. It changed how I thought, it changed how I saw books. I was obsessed with the Dragonriders of Pern for many years as well. And anything I could find by Diana Wynne Jones instantly became a treasure to be savored, because before Harry Potter it was hard to find even Howl’s Moving Castle in this country. (Harry Potter not only changed publishing, but it is my top ten of favorite series of all time). And of course, The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, which is the book that made me say, I want to be a fantasy writer, too!
You only wrote three books in your Princesses of Westfalin series but had 12 princesses. Did you ever imagine any of the other princesses’ love stories?
Yes-ish. The princesses became so real to me over the course of those books that I just knew as soon as I started Silver Woods which of them were happily married and which were still looking for their prince charming. I purposefully didn’t write twelve books because I felt so protective of them, and I couldn’t imagine putting them through some horrible battle or curse twelve times. Most of them didn’t fall in love dramatically: they just met a nice guy and got married and lived happily ever after, because they deserved it!
In your Goodreads bio, you talk about loving movies, both cheesy comedies and those that are considered “films.” What are some of your favorite films? Do you ever accidentally use the films you watch as inspiration in your writing?
Well, Silver in the Blood came about because I saw a really terrible movie set in Romania, and wanted to write something set there to use the setting better. The movie shall remain nameless, but the only similarity is that they both take place mostly in Bucharest. But some of my favorite films are Penelope starring Christina Ricci and James MacAvoy, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, and Brave.
You just came out with a new book last summer. Can you tell me a little about it? What was the inspiration?
Silver in the Blood is my baby. As I just mentioned, it was inspired by a crappy movie. But as I looked into Romania as a setting, I realized what a fascinating history that country has had. It was also inspired by the writing of Edith Wharton. I dearly love her book The Buccaneers and wanted to do something that was a mix of New York High Society, Romanian exoticness, and magic.
You have so many fun lively characters, how do you develop your characters? Are they ever inspired by the people in your life?
Well, thank you! There are probably bits and pieces of a lot of people in my books, but no one that I can point to and say, That’s my brother, that’s my cousin, etc. The notable exceptions are that my dog Pippin is in the dragon trilogy, and my sister’s dog Azarte is as well. That’s pretty much exactly what they’re like. Celie from the Castle Glower books is partially based on me as an 11-year-old, but obviously, I’m not a princess and I was a lot moodier as a child. I love to develop characters, though, to just think, Okay, you’re a princess, it’s a country like 19th century Germany, but you’re under a curse . . . What do you do? How do you react? Best part of writing!
You mostly write YA fantasy, what drew you to that genre?
I grew up in Idaho. I know all about real life. Homework. Cleaning your room. Doing the dishes. And now as an adult: paying taxes. Trying to find a babysitter. That’s just no fun to read about. Why read about someone else doing homework when you could read about magic?
How long does it take you to write a novel? How many rewrites do you usually go through?
Both of those depend entirely on the book. Some of my books have taken as little as three months to write, and needed only a few minor fixes, like some long conversations tightened up or some dramatic scenes made a little more clear. Some of them have taken a year or more and have been completely rewritten 2-3 times. What is now the first chapter of Princess of the Silver Woods was originally chapter FIVE. FIVE. Meanwhile, the rough draft of Princess of the Midnight Ball is probably identical to the final book.
Do you ever follow your own fandom? Goodreads, Pinterest , Tumblr?
I occasionally look to see if there is fanfiction . . . but I don’t actually want to read it. I don’t read reviews, either. But there is someone on Pinterest who has a Princess of the Midnight Ball board that I follow, because she finds awesome dresses that look just like they do in the book!
Outside of your own books, who are some of your favorite literary couples (film is okay too)? Please explain why.
Paul and Chani from Dune. So doomed. So sad. So romantic. They are soul mates but he has to be married to Irulan for political reasons. Their first child is killed and she dies in order to have their twins. Mr. Thornton and Margaret Hale from North and South. Because . . . so romantic! And Sirius/Leo and Kathleen in Dogsbody are the greatest couple of all time. Greatest. Couple. Of. All. Time. He’s the actual intelligence of Sirius the Dog Star, sentenced to a lifetime on Earth in the body of a dog. She’s his beloved human owner, a sweet and homesick child, and . . . The ending of this book would make a robot cry.
If you weren’t a working writer what do you think you would be doing?
I would just be a stay at home mom. But career wise I would love to work at the King’s English Bookshop here in Salt Lake City. It’s my favorite spot!
What is your favorite book? (As if that is not like asking you to choose your favorite star in the sky)
The Sarantine Mosiac by Guy Gavriel Kay. It was released as two books, Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors, but it’s just one long book. One long, magnificent book.
Can you tell me some of your non-literary interests?
I knit and I love to watch movies and travel. Mostly to Disneyland, but also to Walt Disney World, and I also like to go on Disney Cruises. (Can you sense a theme?)
If you could live anywhere in the world where would you?
Make sure to check out Jessica Day George and her various must read novels on her website!
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