In February and March, I read all three of Jessica Day George's novels. Dragon Slippers. Dragon Flight. And Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow. Part of me is really glad I didn't get the chance to read Dragon Slippers until this year, I don't think I could have patiently waited for the sequel! I was so very happy when Jessica Day George agreed to do an interview! I loved having the chance to ask her questions. So enjoy!
What inspired you to write Dragon Slippers? (Or how did this novel come to be?)
Ah, it was magical! I was on my way to bed, because my colicky baby was actually asleep for once, and the whole book downloaded into my brain in about three seconds. Painful, and yet exhilarating! I had collected dragons, and loved books about them, since I was a child, but never had a single idea for a book about them of my own until that very moment. And there it was in its entirety! A little gift from heaven, to make up for the last gift (the baby), being such a crankenpuss!
How long did it take you to write it and see it through to the finished product?
It took four months to write, so March to June 2005, met my editor in September 2005, she bought it in November, we edited in spring and summer of 2006, and it came out in March 2007. WHEW!
Were you ever discouraged and frustrated? What kept you going? What kept you motivated?
Oh my yes! Somewhere around 180+ rejections I started to rant and moan. But writing was all I had ever wanted to do, and I knew that one day I would write the book that would “click” with the publishing world. After I wrote DRAGON SLIPPERS, I knew that was the book, and when I was invited to meet an editor from Bloomsbury the day after I finished the rough draft, I knew it was a sign.
Who has been your biggest supporter or mentor along the way?
Hard to pick just one. My parents and siblings have always been rooting for me, since the day I started saying I wanted to be writer. They’ve always introduced me as, Jessica who is going to be a writer, told me about contests and opportunities for getting published. And my husband, from the day we met, has been wonderfully supportive as well. It helps you believe in yourself, when you know everyone who loves you believes in you too.
Do you have a favorite scene?
Oh, I’ve got a favorite scene in every book. In DRAGON SLIPPERS, I just love it when the roof is ripped off the palace. In SUN AND MOON, it was the trolls dancing in the palace of gold. I guess I’ve got a thing for palaces and balls!
I loved the fact that each dragon had their own passion, their own obsession. They weren’t your stereotypical dragons hoarding gold and jewels, what prompted you (inspired you perhaps is the better word) to go a different route? To make them so individualized, so unique, so human?
As I was scrambling to write down the story that had loaded itself into my head that night, I thought, Why does he collect shoes? Then it occurred to me: Why shouldn’t a dragon collect shoes? Humans collect stamps, and spoons, and teapots. Why would EVERY dragon hoard exactly the same thing?
What would you collect if you were to have a ‘hoard’ of something?
I hoard books.
If you could have a pair of magical shoes, what would you want their magical property (power) to be?
Flying. Flying would be the coolest power EVER.
What was your first impression of the cover at for Dragon Slippers? This next question isn’t quite fair, but I thought I’d throw it out there anyway. Do you have a favorite between the U.S. cover and the U.K. cover?
I adore the hardcover US version. I was so nervous about what my first book would look like, and it was so amazing: just perfectly capturing Shardas. I bought the painting, and it’s on the wall right next to me! I do love the UK versions, and the new US paperback picture is darling, but the original will always have a special place in my heart.
Did you know that there would be a second book about Creel and the dragons to follow? Or did this come later?
I was insistent that there wouldn’t be. I had written the story, and to me it was done. Sure, some good dragons died, but there was that little teaser ending, and that was going to be good enough. My editor kept telling me not to write off a sequel entirely, and as I was complaining to my husband about this one day, the idea for the story came. It didn’t come as completely as DRAGON SLIPPERS, but it came.
I have just finished reading Dragon Flight, and it is amazing. Yet I think it has a different feel than Dragon Slippers—not better, not worse just different—was it important for you to show just how much Creel has grown up and grown wise?
I mostly wanted to make sure that the story was different enough that readers wouldn’t be bored. I couldn’t have just another pair of slippers, and another war. I wanted to make sure that it was engaging, but at the same time, have the characters be consistent with the first book. I worried endlessly: did it have the same amount of humor, of action? Did Creel seem more mature, too mature? Arrrgh!
Creel is such a strong character. She’s brave. She’s confident. She’s determined. Did you set out to write her as a role model of sorts? An alternative to the damsel-in-distress stereotype?
I didn’t have an “agenda”, per se, but I’ve always thought that there was no reason why a smart, strong girl, even in an old-fashioned society, couldn’t make her own way in the world. If you look back in our history, you find wonderful women who ruled countries, started businesses, ran farms, and still had babies and wore long dresses and enjoyed being women. I wanted Creel to be that type of person, though I wasn’t consciously thinking that she would be a role model for girls.
Which leads me to ask about our nameless “lass” of Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow. What inspired you to write the novel? With the flavor of ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (and Cupid and Psyche) how did you hope to retell this motif in your own unique way?
‘East o’ the Sun, West’ o the Moon has always been my favorite fairy tale, and I decided in high school that I wanted to write my own version of it. But I wanted to make sure it had lots of authentic “flavor”. I minored in Scandinavian Studies in college, and took Norwegian and Old Norse because they fascinated me. I’ve been to Norway, tried to keep up my languages even after college, and a year or so ago it hit me that I was as ready to write it as I’ll ever be. And I dived in! I wanted the basic points of the story to be there: the girl, the bear, the four winds, the trolls, but I wanted to ground it in the Norway that I loved: dark and cold and rich with folklore. The lass being nameless almost started as a sort of joke. In the story, she’s only identified as the woodcutter’s youngest daughter. No name is given, as is often the case with fairy tales anyway. So I thought: what if she didn’t have a name at all?
What is it about Norse tales (fairy tales, mythology, whatever) that intrigues you so?
My ancestors are actually from Denmark, and I was always interested in fairy tales and in Vikings. I guess it just called to me!
What’s next? Are there more novels in the works?
There always are novels in the works! I’m editing a retelling of The 12 Dancing Princesses right now, and have a sequel planned for that. I’ve finished a rough draft of something I like to call DRAGON GLASS, tease tease, and I have notes on at least six more books.
Each of your three novels have great—truly great—first lines. Especially Dragon Slippers and Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow. Dragon Slippers: —“It was my aunt who decided to give me to the dragon.” Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow: “Long ago and far away in the land of ice and snow, there came a time when it seemed that winter would never end.” Does finding that “perfect” first line come easily and naturally. Or is it something you struggle with as a writer? Is this just one of your super-powers as a writer?
Those were easy ones! “It was my aunt who decided to give me to the dragon” popped into my head, followed by the rest of the book. “Long ago and far away” is the traditional beginning of Norse fairy tales. It’s coming up with ways to top those that are giving me headaches!
What do you love about writing? What do you find the easiest? What do you find the hardest?
I love opening up a fresh, blank Word document and starting a new book. That really is the easiest thing in the world. The hardest thing is keeping that same enthusiasm going through the middle bits, when you’re just trying to figure out how to get your heroine from the exciting beginning of her tale to her dramatic conclusion.
Which female characters (fictional characters) made an impression on you growing up? Did you have any favorites?
Aerin and Harry from Robin McKinley’s Damar books. Janet from Pamela Dean’s TAM LIN. Who doesn’t love girls who like to read, and get to have adventures too? Plus Aerin and Janet are redheads. We have much more fun than blondes!
Whose work has influenced (or inspired you) most?
Again: huge McKinley fan. Also Patricia C. Wrede, Connie Willis, Tad Williams. (Though, unlike Tad’s editor, mine won’t let me turn in a 1,500 page manuscript, darn it!)
You write fantasy books. What do you love about the genre? Did you grow up reading fantasy? Do you have any favorites among the genre that you’d want to recommend? What series is your favorite? What author?
I love fantasy because you can do anything with it. You can have talking dragons who enjoy tea and scones by the far, or you can have your dragons little more than big firebreathing lizards. You can have computers and unicorns in the same book, people with blue hair . . . whatever you want, goes. I started reading fantasy at about age 11, though before that I had seen movies like the old Hobbit cartoon and Labyrinth. I’m from a big fantasy family. As for recommends, see above: McKinley, Willis, Wrede, Williams. Also Barbara Hambly, Katherine Kurtz, Robert Jordan, oh, there’s loads of good stuff out there! If I had to pick a favorite series, though, I’d say Tad Williams’ ”Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn” trilogy. Luscious.
Did you have a reading hero growing up? Someone who encouraged you to read, to lose yourself in a good book?
Reading was just a part of our family, too. My mom was always in book clubs, we were always going to the library. My dad always had books and magazines on the bedside table. It was no big deal: it’s just what you did. You read. My sister, though, is the one who first checked out THE HERO AND THE CROWN and THE BLUE SWORD. She’s eight years older, but she would pass on books that she liked to me.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Has this always been a dream of yours?
Since I was 11 and first read HERO AND THE CROWN. I finished that book and thought, “This is what I want to do.” I never even tried anything else, never had a “serious” job. I was going to be writer, and that was that.
If you could meet any author—past or present—who would you want the chance to get to know better?
I actually just met one of my heroes last fall, and I’m still agog. Guy Gavriel Kay. I didn’t recommend his books above, because they are quite adult, but he is an amazing writer, and turned out to be so nice as well! Adore him! I would also love to meet Robin McKinley, of course, and if we can bring Frank Herbert back from the dead, I’d love to ask him some questions about those last few Dune books.
In your opinion, what makes a book a classic?
If you finish it and think, Yes. That was perfect. I will read this again. And when you do read it again, you aren’t thinking, “WHAT? WHY did I like this?!”
How do you find time—do you find time—to keep reading? Do you have any recent favorites?
I read all day and into the night. I have a book in my hand when I brush my teeth and while I cook dinner. I read during commercials when I watch tv. Two of my new faves are BLACKBRINGER by Laini Taylor and INTO THE WILD by Sarah Beth Durst.
Have you always loved fairy tales? Do you have any favorites that you’d love to retell in your own special way?
Fairy tales were the first fantasy stories, and I think they’re amazing. “East o’ the Sun” was the biggie I always wanted to do. Anything else is just a happy accident, like thinking of a little “hook” for “Twelve Dancing Princesses.” (Coming next January.)
Do the comparisons of your works to greats such as Shannon Hale, Donna Jo Napoli, Robin McKinley, Jane Yolen, etc. inspire you or intimidate you?
They make me dance around and say, “Yeah, baby!”
If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?
I have no idea. Maybe give gold coins to the street people of Victorian London? Hmmm…..
I want to thank Jessica Day George for being her brilliant self! And for taking the time to answer my questions!!! Be sure to visit her on the web:
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
Saturday Review of Books: December 3, 2016
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