Interview: Ysabeau Wilce
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Today, I interview an author who comes bearing a fantastic name and a fantasy novel starring a feisty nymph named Flora. Okay, so I don't consider Flora a nymph - I tend to reserve that word for characters from myths - but I was making an attempt at alliteration and couldn't help myself!
Ysabeau Wilce (pronounced Iz-a-bow Wils) has entered the literary scene with a genre-blending and rule-bending story she likes to call Flora Segunda, Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), A House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and A Red Dog. This tongue-twister of a title is just as fun to say as supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, and the story is more fun than a barrel of monkeys . . . unless the monkeys are wearing fashionable clothes, diving into their family's past, learning about their country's military pathways, and attempting to figure out the intentions of a ghostly genie-esque butler, in which case, those monkeys are more than ready to party with the likes of Flora.
I recommend this inventive book to adults who like the Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde, as it similarly combines elements of history, comedy, and fantasy, and to kids and teens who like to explore new worlds.
Your title character, Flora Segunda, is spunky. Her best pal, Udo, is fashionable. What were you like at age fourteen?
Weird. Very weird! And full of angst. And pretty snippy--even more so than Flora! My family lived abroad and I was obsessed with poor maligned Richard III, so much so that I badged my poor parents into taking me on a driving tour of England, where we saw every inn, castle, and hedgerow that Richard III ever so much as looked at, and went to a memorial service on the anniversary of his death! Tho' I outgrew my peculiar interest in the last Plantagenet King, he did kindle a love of history in me that has informed nearly everything I have done since. (That obsession also taught me that you can't believe everything you read in history books!)
Not really. I hoped that people would be intrigued by the long title, and it would serve as a lure to readers. Also, it was fairly common for nineteenth century books to have a short main title, and a long sub-title, and I wanted to copy that effect. The Nini Mo yellowbacks that Flora so avidly reads are modeled after the dime novel, which was the comic book of its day. Dime novels were usually serials, always lurid and melodramatic, and, as their name suggests, they were cheap. They also usually had long elaborate sub-titles, so in that they were another inspiration to FLORA SEGUNDA's sub-title.
The UK edition heavily abbreviates the title, making it Flora Segunda of Crackpot Hall. Do you think this will change how readers approach and view the story? For example, I kept looking for those persons - and the canine - described in the title until they showed up.
I hope people will still be drawn to FLORA SEGUNDA, even with a shortened title! The subtitle is a bit whimsical, and the book not so much, so in that respect the sub-title might have given a false impression to the casual reader. We were initially concerned that the long subtitle would prove difficult to remember -- which is totally true -- sometimes even I can't quite rattle it off. But the short title is what counts, and people have had no problem remembering that.
Fiona's tone of voice and choice of words is almost contemporary at times. How modern did you want this story to feel?
I did want readers to identify with Flora, so it was important to keep the tone from feeling too old-timey. But I let the tone set itself, and Flora's voice just took over. One thing that is nice about writing fantasy, as opposed to a historical novel, is that you don't have to worry about your voice sounding too modern. But I didn't intend FLORA SEGUNDA to be tongue-in-cheek at all -- in fact, the exact opposite. Parts of the book are humorous, of course, but the humour is supposed to be dark. When it comes to funny, I am definitely lean towards gallows-humour. We must laugh or we shall cry!
In Califa, the setting of your story, a young adult has a Catorcena ceremony at age fourteen, after which he or she is to enter the military. Why did you make the draft age fourteen?
I don't think I had a specific reason for making the Catorcena occur at fourteen. It just worked out that way. Thirteen seemed too young, and fifteen too old. Fourteen felt like it was right in the middle, and just right!
What was the hardest part of combining military protocol with a coming-of-age story?
That went together just fine. The army is all about responsibility and duty, no matter how distasteful, and so is being an adult!
Which fantasy books, if any, influenced your writing and the world of Califa?
I would say my biggest fantasy influences are T.H. White's ONCE AND FUTURE KING, Gene Wolfe's SHADOW OF THE TORTURER books and Elizabeth Hand's WINTERLONG. T.H. White taught me you can be playful and reinvent an old story. Gene Wolfe told me that you can use all the fancy weird words you want. And Liz Hand taught me you can use real places as a jump-off point to your imagination. Additionally, White, Wolfe and Hand are all superb writers and while I will never hope to match their talent, at least their examples give me something to aspire to!
Speaking of these books and authors, what are your ten favorite books of all time?
The list changes, but for the moment, I would say:
LONESOME DOVE by Larry McMurtry
LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov
HAMLET by William Shakespeare
PAWN IN FRANKENSCENSE by Dorothy Dunnett
LUD IN THE MIST by Hope Mirlees
IBERIA by James Michener
THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING by T.H. White
ON THE BORDER WITH CROOK by J.G. Bourke
JAMAICA INN by Daphne Du Maurier
WINTERLONG by Elizabeth Hand
Today's SBBT Schedule
Eddie Campbell at Chasing Ray
Sara Zarr at Writing and Ruminating
Brent Hartinger at Interactive Reader
Justine Larbalestier at Big A, little a
Cecil Castellucci at Shaken & Stirred
Ysabeau Wilce at Bildungsroman
Jordan Sonnenblick at Jen Robinson's Book Page
Chris Crutcher at Finding Wonderland
Kazu Kibuishi at lectitans
Mitali Perkins at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Laura Ruby at The YA YA YAs