Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Author Interview: Merrie Haskell + Giveaway! (INT)

Please Welcome Merrie Haskell!

Merrie Haskell is the author of The Princess Curse, one of my personal favorites. She has also written a TON of short stories, and you can read many of them for free through her website (I especially liked Rampion in the Belltower).      

 There are NO spoilers here!

How do you personally define historical fantasy?

That's a big question!  I see historical fantasy as falling into *at least* three separate categories, which is probably excessive, but here goes.

The first kind would be the type of historical fantasy that is real history with fantastical elements, like Naomi Novik's Temeraire series, wherein there are dragons in the world, and the dragons are fighting in the Napoleonic wars, and are crewed like sentient battleships.

The second kind would be the "secret history" kind, where a historical event is recounted, but the secret fantastical events behind the scenes are revealed, like CC Finlay's PATRIOT WITCH, with witches manipulating the American Revolution.

And I think there's maybe a third kind, which would be from the Guy Gavriel Kay school of historical fantasy, where a historical place and time are made into a second world.  I suppose George RR Martin is doing this to some extent, with the War of the Roses retold in GAME OF THRONES?

What are your historical fantasy must-reads? (*Note: I have added Goodreads links for the titles Merrie mentioned so you can easily add them to your TBR!)

Certainly anything by Guy Gavriel Kay, though I think it's A SONG FOR ARBONNE that I like best of his work, just because I love the south of France so well.  I really loved Lian Hearn's ACROSS THE NIGHTINGALE FLOOR because I am a dunce and it took me just forever to realize the book was about ninjas, and I love it when I'm drawn into a book--lulled into it, really--and don't realize the obvious.

But what I really like, and want to see more of is, is historical fantasy's take on the Regency romance (plus or minus the romance).  Mary Robinette Kowal's SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY is Jane Austen with magic, and Stephanie Burgis's KAT, INCORRIGIBLE is a middle-grade Regency romp with magic.  And that's what I really, really love to read--if it's done well.  I'm no fan of merely inserting vampires or zombies into Austen's text, however; that's not what I'm looking for.

What drew you to historical fantasy?

Fairy tales, really!  I love retold fairy tales, but I respond best to ones that are anchored in some sort of reality.  So when I was writing THE PRINCESS CURSE, I felt very strongly that it should be linked to somewhere and somewhen.  And 1489 at the crossroads of the Hungarian and Ottoman duel for the Balkans--well, there were times when I wished I had backed off such a robust era, because there was so much going on and I was so afraid I was going to screw something up.  And I know I did screw things up--I just found out about two weeks ago that Tsepes wasn't appended to Vlad Draculea's name until after 1500, so that's a big old anachronism in my book I didn't hit on until a week after the book was out.  But all the same, I know that as a straightforward fairy tale retelling, TPC would have felt untextured without a historical aspect to draw on.

What’s your preference: Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or (gulp) white chocolate?

Oh, dark, definitely.  Anything less than 75% cacao feels like I'm just eating Cocoa Puffs.  The exceptions here are: I like chocolate with nuts and marzipan, plus almost any chocolate from Switzerland, without prejudice to it's cacao content.  Also, the Vosges Barcelona bar with hickory smoked almonds and sea salt. Um. What was the question again?

How did The Princess Curse change from pre-to-post publication?

Well, without going *too* much into it, there is a draft where Reveka pretended to be dead for most of the book!  Or at least, pretended to be cursed.  But perhaps you are really asking about changes with my editor, and not all along the way?  With my editor, who is a freaking genius, there was some intensive streamlining, a pick-up of the pacing, and clarification of motives.  It was a big push for everything to be clearer to the reader--not that I was trying to be opaque or to obfuscate, but I had some eighth-draft-itis by that point. 

Is there a genre you could never see yourself writing? Why not?

Mysteries, or rather, cozy mysteries.  I don't really enjoy reading them, with a few exceptions (I really do like Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mysteries, though are they cozies?--and I love Agatha Christie).  I think, though, to say you like a genre, that means you have to get some joy out of reading the average books in the genre as well as the amazing ones. A  really good book transcends genre; I suspect that's why I like Agatha Christie.  But I like things in YA, romance, fantasy, etc. that are very clearly not the best examples of their genre, so I would call myself a fan of those genres. Anyway, I'm trying to say, I don't think I could write a book in a genre I don't love, in part because any sort of research into the market would be a long, slow, painful slog, and in part because I wouldn't be familiar enough with the genre conventions to do the work well.

Reveka thinks that the 12 Dancing Princesses curse is the stupidest curse in existence.  Which fairy tale do you think is the dumbest? Which is your favorite?

Reveka thought the curse was stupid only because she was uninformed--she certainly changed her mind once she understood it and when it affected her friends. I think any time I've thought ill of a fairy tale, with a little understanding and a little research into the origins of the story I've gained new respect for it.

Fairy tales are so much beyond simple stories; they are attached down deep into the metaphorical and archetypal layers of story. I think when I was younger, I didn't get why the wife in "Bluebeard" had to succumb to curiosity--she was told not to open the door!  But as a teenager, I understood the rebellion aspect, and later, as a wife, I understood the assertion of an independent identity, the right to open the doors in my own house--all of the things that might go through a young woman's head at that point.

Likewise, even though it is very uncommon nowadays to have a book with a passive heroine, and some fairy tales have incredibly passive heroines, I have a great deal of sympathy towards Cinderella or Snow White. Their situations are sympathetic, and they are young; young and stultified is a terrible position to be in.  So I don't blame either of them for waiting for their fairy godmothers or princes to take a hand. I can't write books like that, of course, and I wouldn't want to, but we all know people who are stuck in bad situations that can't seem to get out of them, and I have patience and sympathy for them.

If you had an invisibility cap, where would you go and what would you do?

Oh, ha! Probably nowhere. I'm a clumsy person; I would totally trip over my invisible feet, do myself harm, and get caught doing whatever I might consider doing.  I would need an invisibility/soundproof floating bubble, I'm afraid; a cap would not cut it.  As a kid, I would have gotten up to all sorts of mischief, like playing tricks on people and spying, but I am older and possibly wiser now.

I mean, that's if I were invested in maintaining my daily life, which I am.  However, I always wanted to be a detective, so if I were *not* invested in maintaining the status quo, I'd definitely use it to be a really great private investigator.

In the traditional fairy tale, the person who discovers the princesses' secret is a man, often a soldier. What made you decided to turn that character into a young girl?

In part, because I knew it had been done. Even though when I wrote the first draft of The Princess Curse I didn't know of many other fairy tale retellings of "12 Dancing Princesses" (mostly, I was aware of the short story version by Robin McKinley which shows up in A Hedge in the Wall), I suspected that if anyone out there was rewriting one, they'd be going the cowherd/soldier route. (The French version has a cowherd, not a soldier.)  I was thinking, "What if there were a cowherd AND a soldier, and it was actually neither of them that rescued the princesses?" And that's how we got Mihas and Pa--and Reveka.  And I thought Reveka, as an herbalist's apprentice, i.e., a girl with a job, would be a nice foil to the princesses.

Thank you so much for stopping by, Merrie! And for making my TBR grow!

Have any of you read The Princess Curse? What do you think about Merrie's three types of historical fantasy? Which type is your favorite?

I love Merrie's response regarding fairy tale retellings. Isn't it true how a story can resonate with us in different ways depending on our own age and situation? That's one of the reasons I love re-reading books so much 
(the other main reason is my awful memory!)

Merrie Haskell is generously providing a copy of The Princess Curse for giveaway!

Info for the giveaway:
  • As always, you do NOT have to be a follower
  • This giveaway is INTERNATIONAL
  • You must be 13 years of age or older
  • One entry per person
  • Your address is not required, but including it will help with sending the book out to you sooner
  • I will contact the winner through email and the winner will have 24 hours to reply before a new winner is chosen 
  • This giveaway closes on December 7th

A 2012 debut author is chatting today on Ruby's Reads about her favorite book boyfriends! Wondering who she is? Click here to find out her identity and which guys she's picked! 

Check out our Historical Fantasy Jubilee full schedule of events and giveaways!

Have you entered to win our prize pack giveaways?


  1. I love the interview! :) I've been wanting to read this one since last year. Thank you for the chance!

  2. GREAT interview! What a coup! Thanks for sharing.

    I really enjoyed this book. And this got me thinking... if I had an invisibility cap where would I go? Honestly. I'd probably sit around the house, invisible like Bilbo Baggins, probably. Sad. Sad, but true.


  3. Just fabulous.


  4. Great Interview! I haven't heard of most of the books she mentioned except Game of Thrones b/c of HBO and of course Kat Incorrigible b/c of you having the author on earlier in the week. I see she doesn't like the Pride and Prejudice and Zombie books.

    I really want to read The Princess Curse ever since you told me about it.


  5. Fab interview! The Patriot Witch and Shades of Milk and Honey both sound really good. I think I'm more of a secret history gal.

  6. It was a lovely interview!!
    Thanks for sharing. The Princess Curse sounds really awesome and I love that tale.

  7. I also LOVE fairy tales! I think that's what probably got me into historical as well. Although, thinking back, I really am interested in history. LOL!

    I've wanted to read The Princess Curse for a while now, so excited for this giveaway!

  8. I haven't read The Princess Curse yet but I've got it on my wishlist. I love fairytale retellings and had no idea that the dancing princesses are discovered by a young girl rather than a soldier in this one.

  9. I adore fantasy so much - I really need to check out this book soon!

  10. Thanks so much for the giveaway! Like Merrie I love the Regency + magic setting (*insert reference to Sorcery & Cecelia here, as always*). And I think the "secret history" kind of historical fantasy can be fun, just giving a completely different reason for events while remaining true to what actually took place. It makes sense in a strange way! :D

  11. I love how Merrie broke down historicals into 3 categories--I've never thought about that before, but it all makes sense! Really, really great interview, SR. :)

  12. Great post and thank you for the giveaway!

  13. I haven't read The Princess Curse but it does sound interesting. I love the historical fiction with fantasy elements.

  14. Interesting interview.

    I think mu choice would be for the Guy Gavriel Kay school of historical fantasy.

    Thanks for the giveaway and for opening it to worldwide entries.

    Carol T

    buddytho {at} gmail DOT com

  15. Oh! I've been really interested in reading this book. Great interview! I like the genre writing question! I might steal that one if you don't mind ;)

  16. Precious, Thanks! I loved this book so much. I hope you enjoy it!

    Madigan, Thank you! I loved Merrie's responses. Haha, I think I'd go lots of places at first, but after a short while I'd probably put it on and stay at home. I'm a homebody at heart :)

    Marybelle, Thanks! Be sure to enter through the form :)

    Heather, I can't rave about The Princess Curse enough! I really liked Kat, Incorrigible, too. I can see you liking both of them. They both have feisty MCs.

    Alison, I like the secret history idea too. The Patriot Witch caught my eye.

    Alex, You're welcome :) Oooh you should totally read The Princess Curse! It's MG, but it's a more adult MG. I loved all the layers.

    Jen, Perfect match then! History + fairy tales = THE BEST EVER! :P

    A Canadian Girl, This such an inventive take on the 12 Dancing Princesses story. It's like nothing I've read before.

    Erica, Yes you do! It' so good! :D

    Danya, (I recommended Sorcery and Cecelia to her too!) I really like secret history HFs. If done right, they can be really inventive and fun.

    Wendy Darling, Me too! I love sorting things into categories, and Merrie's are so spot on. Thank you :)

    Diana, Thank you!

    Persephone, The Princess Curse is so fun and inventive.

    Buddyt, I really need to read Guy Gavriel Kay, especially after so many of these authors have mentioned him among their favorite.

    Julie, It's so good! I don't mind if you use that question. Actually, Ruby came up with it :)

  17. It's a new discovery for me so i would like to discover more
    thanks you for the giveaway ( i really hope i didn't enter twice)


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