First off, the lovely reviews that Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It has gotten are now posted on the website. You can visit them, if you like, and rejoice with me!
I believe this is the final post about my books, at least until more questions accumulate. The first questions come from Elizabeth: Does A Tale of Two Castles take place in the same world as Ella Enchanted? And does Ever take place in the same world as Ella Enchanted? Basically, how are all the different countries in your books related to each other and which ones are?
Fairest and Ella Enchanted take place in the same world although not in the same kingdoms. Fairest is set in Ayortha and Ella in its neighbor Kyrria. The languages are different, but the exotic creatures (ogres, gnomes, elves, giants) and the fairies are the same. A Tale of Two Castles takes place in an entirely different world,in the kingdom of Lepai, likewise Beloved Elodie and any other books I may write about Elodie and the dragon Meenore. Ever unfolds in a fantasy version of ancient Mesopotamia and The Two Princesses of Bamarre in Bamarre of course. The fairies in the Disney Fairies books flit about in the Never Land of Peter Pan, which was created by James M. Barrie. My Princess Tales romp through the kingdom of Biddle.
I enjoy inventing worlds and especially making up fairy tale and mythical creatures. What can my ogres or my fairies be like this time? I wonder and start writing down possibilities. I think about the roles that the creatures are going to play in my story. For instance, I needed a detective in A Tale of Two Castles, so I gave the job to the dragon. Lately, my medieval fantasies incorporate facts about daily life during the period, but I’m not reliable – don’t count on me for a research paper!
And Caitlin Flowers wrote, ….I know that it took you nine years to get Ella Enchanted published, but what was it like writing the book? How did you think of all the languages? And how did you turn the classic story of Cinderella into something so new and exciting?
Thank you. To take the last question first, the newness comes from the curse, I think, which was merely a plot device to explain to myself Cinderella’s strange obedience and kindness to her horrible stepfamily. I didn’t understand or like her compliance or her unrelieved sweetness, so, after a couple of weeks of misery and writing in circles, I thought of a fairy’s gift, and then I had her. Ella’s magic book was another plot device to help me over the limitations of writing in first person. The book enabled me to drop hints about events Ella would otherwise have been ignorant of.
It took nine years to get anything published but not Ella, which I discussed last week. Much of the novel was written on the train, commuting home from my job in New York City. (On my morning commute, I slept.) Writing it wasn’t so different from writing any of my books. Some parts flew out of my fingers and others dripped out like little beads of sweat. If I remember correctly, the romantic parts with Char, like their letters or sliding down the stair rails, went smoothly, the languages, for example, not so much.
As for creating the languages, I wanted each one to sound different, so I gave the gnomes a lot of throat sounds and the giants those emotive noises. I made Ogrese soft and slithery, a sneaky tongue. Ayorthaian reminds me of Italian, in which most words ends in a vowel; in Ayorthaian they all begin and end with the same vowel. My teacher (I was taking a writing class) suggested that each should look different. Not all do, but Abdegi, the giants’ language, is interrupted often by whoops and hollers. In Ogrese all the double letters are capitalized, and Gnomic is capitalized and punctuated backwards. I kept a glossary. If a word appears twice it means the same thing in both places. I didn’t do much with grammar, though. My languages aren’t linguistically real, like, for example the tongue of the Na’vi in movie Avatar. My languages weren’t hard to write, just dull. But I’m glad I put them in. I think they make the book richer, and I love made-up languages when I read.
The last question goes with this from writeforfun ….how did you make up all the names in your books, like some of the ones for your fairies and the ones for the ogres and gnomes in Ella and Fairest? They are very original.
Some of them in Ella and Fairest derive from the languages. The human names in Fairest follow the Ayorthaian rule; they start with a vowel and end with the same vowel, like Aza and Ijori. Ivi’s name had to change from Ivy to Ivi when she came to Ayortha. The king’s name is Oscaro – take Oscar and add an o at the end. The ogre names are soft, while the gnome names are, to my ear, harsh. Gnomes themselves aren’t, but they are uncompromising, like their names.
Often I try for names that reflect something about the character, like the ogre in A Tale of Two Castles is Jonty Um, which comes from the French gentil homme, which means gentleman. But I don’t like to be obvious. I wouldn’t call a happy character Merry, for example. The young wizard in The Two Princesses of Bamarre is Rhys, which seemed like a mysterious name. For Beloved Elodie, I’m Googling German names.
Last question, this from Brianna: ….why was the ending of the Princesses of Bamarre so sad? (It was, in my opinion.) I think all of your other juvenile books have a relatively “happy” ending.
Spoiler alert! If you haven’t read Two Princesses and intend to, I suggest you jump to the prompts.
Yes, most of my other books end unambiguously happily, although there’s some bitter-sweet at the end of Ever. It’s funny; not everyone thinks the Two Princesses ending is sad. But some agree with you. I received a letter from a girl who had nightmares for months after reading it and wanted me to rewrite the book or write a sequel that fixed the ending.
Seemed to me that if Aza simply saved Meryl it would be too pat, too easy, disappointing. And if Meryl just died that would be just tragic and I hadn’t built up to a tragedy, and everything Aza had done would have come to nothing. So I found a middle way that satisfied me.
Last week the prompts were about fairies. Let’s try some with other creatures this time, a witch, two genies, a golden goose, a little gray man. Think about what these beings are usually like and see what you can come up with that’s different. Here goes:
• In “Aladdin” there are two genies, the lesser genie of the ring and the more powerful genie of the lamp. Write a story about them and how their world intersects with the story. I’d like to know how the lamp genie can make an enormous, ornate, splendid palace overnight and how it feels to do so.
• Donna Jo Napoli wrote Zel, a fascinating young adult retelling of “Rapunzel” that explains how the witch becomes the witch. If you haven’t read it, I recommend you do, but only after you try the prompt, which is to write the witch’s back story and explain why she’s trapped Rapunzel in the tower.
• My The Fairy’s Return is a version of “The Golden Goose.” In it I use the goose as a story prop, much as she’s used in the original fairy tale, and I substitute the fairy Ethelinda for the little gray man. Your challenge is to explain either the goose or the little old man or both. Reread the original fairy tale if you need to.
Have fun, and save what you write!