Interview: Jessica Day George
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Current Song: Heroes score music
My favorite fictional dragons are quite different. One is a flying luck dragon from the classic fantasy The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende while the other hails from a dark land known as Strangewood crafted by Christopher Golden. Both have names that begin with F: Falkor and Fiddlestick. Coincidence? Indeed.
Miss Erin and I have never met face-to-face, but we have read many of the same recently-released books. In fact, we are now so used to finding out that we are reading the same book that I did not bat an eye when I received the juvenile fantasy novel Dragon Slippers in the mail and read Erin's review within the same week.
When we discovered that we each planned to interview author Jessica Day George, we decided to combine our efforts. Here now are the results, with thanks to the gracious Jessica.EM: How did the idea for Dragon Slippers come about?
It was like being struck by lightning. The first line popped into my head: It was my aunt who decided to give me to the dragon. And then I just knew that this dragon would collect shoes, and another one would have lots of pet dogs, and the story just fell into place after that.
LW: A note at the end of the book thanks your husband for minding your munchkin when the first line of the book popped into your head. How long did it take to write the book? To sell it?
Ooh, this is a terrible question! Dragon Slippers was a magical, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and Shannon Hale told me never to tell this to anyone, because they'll just hate me. But I can't lie! Dragon Slippers took only three months to write, and there was almost no rewriting and very little editing. It was truly inspired and just flowed onto the paper.
A month after I finished it, a friend invited me to a special writer's retreat to meet with an editor from Bloomsbury. She was excited about the book, and offered me a contract about three months later. So it was about seven months from writing the first sentence to selling the book.
Disclaimer: THIS IS A CRAZY THING, AND IF IT DOES NOT HAPPEN TO YOU, YOU MUST NOT FEEL LIKE A FAILURE! Dragon Slippers was the SIXTH novel that I completed, and I had been trying to sell my other books for about ten years.
EM: Which character did you have the most fun writing?
Feniul. It was so much fun to play with this character of a huge, potentionally man-eating dragon, and have him be nervous and twitchy and fussy.
EM: What is your favorite dragon in literature?
It's a tie (I'm very fond of dragons): Morkeleb from Barbara Hambly's Dragonsbane, and Temeraire from Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon.
LW: If you had magic slippers, what would they look like, and what power would they grant you?
I've always wanted a pair of glass slippers, but I'd want them to be magically flexible, for optimum comfort. And they would enable me to fly. I've always wanted to be able to fly!
LW: Right from the start, the narrative makes it clear that Dragon Slippers is not your typical fairy tale. What, if any, classic fairy tale heroines do you admire?
Too often our fairy tale heroines are the ones lying there waiting to be rescued (Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rapunzel) so I've always been a fan of the woodcutter's daughter in East o' the Sun, West o' the Moon. First she agrees to live with a polar bear in order to bring her family wealth, then when she screws up and loses the bear, she sets off on her own to make things right. She's got guts, that one! (My second book is a retelling of this story, I love it that much!)
EM: Which fantasy author has given you the most inspiration?
Again, I can't pick just one! I'll go with Robin McKinley, my first fantasy love, and Guy Gavriel Kay for sheer gorgeousness of prose.
LW: I loved the additional notes you shared with readers at the close of the book. One reveals your lifelong adoration for the works of Robin McKinley. Have you contacted her regarding your book?
I haven't. I'm hoping to meet her one day and say, you influenced me and here's the book I wrote because of it, but right now I'm still too shy. In a few weeks I'll be speaking at a conference with Jane Yolen and Charle de Lint, two other heroes of mine, and that's enough trauma for right now. Although I am about to send a copy of the book to my favorite high school teacher. She was my German teacher, but she used to loan me books (in English) all the time, and really encouraged me to read and write. I'm sending her a book and a letter to thank her for her inspiration. Love your teachers!
LW: Would you write a sequel to Dragon Slippers?
Done and done. I'm about to send it to my editor. As of right now, the title of the Dragon Slippers sequel is Dragon Helm, and it will probably be released in 2009.
EM: What can readers expect next?
A retelling of my favorite fairy tale, East o' the Sun, West o' the Moon. I speak Norwegian, and I tried to give this book (tentatively titled "Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow") a real sense of the Scandinavian storytelling tradition. I've used a lot of Norwegian and Old Norse words to preserve the flow of the story, and provided a glossary at the back.
EM: What's your favorite thing about being a writer?
Getting to tell my stories, the way I want. I love to read, but sometimes I think, No! The dragons should be this way, not that way! What if the princess did all this herself? What if, what if? My books are my chance to answer that 'what if', my own way.
LW: What are your ten favorite books of all time?
Just ten? Ten?! Okay, I'll try to just list ten, in no particular order.
Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones
Beauty by Robin McKinley
The Sarantine Mosaic (one long book in two parts
called Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors) by
Guy Gavriel Kay
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
War of the Flower by Tad Williams
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
(And let me just add a little coda to that: Diana Wynne Jones has been writing some of the finest fantasy for young people for about thirty years now. If you love Harry Potter, which I do, you'll love Diana's books. Everything Connie Willis writes is amazing, AMAZING, and ditto Tad Williams. If you don't mind books that are literally a THOUSAND pages long, try his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy. They're gorgeous.)