For the second of February’s Featured Author posts, we have an interview with Kenley Davidson. Learn all about Kenley and her books here.
Welcome to the blog! Tell us a little about yourself.
First, thanks so much for inviting me to be a featured author!
I should probably start by saying that I am brand new to authoring/publishing, and this is my very first book. It was kind of inevitable that I would write one eventually, because I’ve been in love with books since I was barely tall enough to see over the library checkout counter. I can still remember the librarian staring at my stack and asking if I was actually going to read all of them. Yes. Reading all the books has pretty much always seemed like a great idea.
My writing habit started when I was a teenager, and ever since then my computer has been full of random bits of story ideas, character sketches, poems, blog posts that never happened, and the occasional impassioned essay about something or other (that no one will ever be allowed to read).
I already had that burning desire to one day write a novel, but then I went and got married and had two amazing kids and got very distracted by the everyday demands of being a mom. During those years, the writing would happen in fits and starts, but it still happened, and eventually, with the aid of a lot of patience on my family’s part, I finally finished something!
I still read whenever I can grab a moment, in between meeting my self-imposed writing deadlines, helping with homework, and playing with my needy four-legged friends. I also love words and word games (no one will play word games with me, ever, and I’m very sad about it) and dictionaries, and most especially I love the coffee that makes it possible for me to write anything before noon.
I really loved your unique twist on the Cinderella story in Traitor’s Masque. What inspired you to write it?
So, I hope I don’t offend anyone with this answer, but I wrote the first draft of Traitor’s Masque over four years ago, as my personal protest against the Disney animated version of Cinderella, which, thanks to my kids, I’ve probably seen well over a hundred times. Well, maybe part of my inspiration was my love for fairy tales, and part of it was frustration with the story.
We’re introduced to a girl who is completely spoiled by her father, a father who destroys her life by marrying a harpy, and then dies, leaving her in permanent servitude to said harpy. Somehow, this same girl ends up sweet and compliant, having happy dreams and waiting for a prince to rescue her. When does she have all the other emotions? Grief? Anger? Regret? This Cinderella might be a nice person, but she doesn’t seem very human. Then she “falls in love” with a man she knows nothing about, a man who has nothing very interesting going for him except his title and teeth that glow in the dark, neither of which seemed very appealing to me. I love happy endings, but they don’t seem very satisfying when the only obstacles on the path to true love are overcome by convenient magic while the heroine sits and cries.
Traitor’s Masque basically came out of my exploration of the story of Cinderella in light of real life. What does this story look like if its characters are real people who experience real emotional responses? What if Cinderella were a strong young woman who goes looking for her freedom instead of waiting for a prince to save her? I knew I didn’t want to leave magic as an easy way out, but other than that I tried to use the foundation of the original story and then let it play out from there.
Do you have a favourite character?
I love them all, of course, but if I had to choose I would probably say Lizbet Norelle. I think I may have unconsciously written her as a sort of wish-fulfillment — this woman who is a mom and yet also has an enormous responsibility that she shoulders, and does it gracefully, without any apparent need for recognition. She has somehow found a balance between the different aspects of her life and is totally respected for her unique talents and abilities.
But, that said, I should probably also admit that my absolute favorite character to write was Prince Rowan. I had no idea villains could be so much fun!
One of my favourite elements was the banter back and forth between Trystan and ‘Donevan’. Was it as much fun to write as it was to read?
Yes! I actually love writing dialogue, and theirs just seemed to happen without much intervention from me. I was as excited as they were to find out that they just “get” each other’s humor without needing any explanation.
From the synopsis of Goldheart, book two in the Andari Chronicles, I think I have an idea what fairy tale you’re taking on next. Care to share any more?
Of course! I was hoping I hadn’t been too opaque with the description. Book 2 is based on Rumplestiltskin, another fairy tale that seemed to invite more exploration beyond its traditional presentation. I’ve always felt that the villain in that story was entirely mis-identified, and I had a main character just begging to be used, so it all seemed to fall into place very naturally. Goldheart is also a lot shorter than Traitor’s Masque, so for anyone who felt like four hundred pages was a bit much, I hope this will be more to their liking.
Will there be more in the series, or are there any other projects you’re working on?
I’ve already completed the rough draft of Book 3, entitled Pirouette, which features Kyril Seagrave (another of my favorites) as the main character and is based on the Twelve Dancing Princesses. I’m planning for at least three more fairy tales after that, all based in the same world, following characters from one of the previous books. There are, of course, several other projects I’m dying to work on, but I’m trying very hard to be an adult and finish this series first!
What great books have you read recently? Any authors you particularly admire?
Recently it has seemed very hard to find time to read, which makes me very sad. I’d say the best books I’ve read recently were Three Men in a Boat by Jerome Jerome, Indiscretion by Jude Morgan, Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews, Running Barefoot by Amy Harmon, and Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron.
Some of my favorite authors:
Robin McKinley: her fairy tales were some of the first books I read over and over again, and I still re-read them on occasion.
Sharon Shinn: she has such an amazing gift for building extraordinary and believable fantasy worlds.
Terry Pratchett: because, well, Terry Pratchett. One of the few who can make me die laughing and break my heart with the same book.
Ilona Andrews: I wish there was a magic formula for the way she creates such deeply compelling characters that I’m always angry when I reach the end and there’s no more to read.
What is your writing process like?
Writing process…I guess I’m supposed to have one of those, aren’t I? This year (meaning since the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year because that’s how I measure time these days) is really the first time I’ve committed myself to writing as more than a thing I do whenever I can snatch a few moments for it. All three of my completed novels to date began as NaNoWriMo projects, because setting aside time for writing one month out of the year seemed more doable than pretending I was going to have time for it every day. Now, though, I’m making an effort to take it seriously, which means trying to form better habits.
The first and most important part of that process, is, of course, coffee. Coffee must happen before the words do. I try to be productive between ten and two every weekday, and to utterly ignore any voice that tells me there are more important things to be done during those hours. Dirty dishes? Later! Laundry? Later!
And because I’m still so new at this, I feel like I’m learning more every day—about myself and about how I write. Traitor’s Masque was the most appalling example of pantsing a story that you could possibly imagine. It was not the smartest way to go about it. I’m trying to learn how to use an outline and plan ahead, and yet, this is a struggle because my characters are very real to me. I could no more plan out their lives for them than I could plan out my children’s futures. My characters surprise me. They defy me. They do things I most definitely do not approve of! So part of my writing process right now is learning to work within the boundaries of these two needs—to have a plan, and to let the characters be themselves.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
All I can give is what I’ve found to be helpful for me, though I can’t claim to have tested it very well yet!
First, read all the books! If you want to tell stories, learn how they work. Eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and make them a part of your life.
Write things down. Write everything down! Learn how your brain uses words and develop dexterity with written language. Even if it’s just thoughts, ideas, snippets—practice getting it out of your head and onto the page.
Get and give critiques. One of the best things I’ve ever done for my writing is dig down into the bare bones of it and learn what makes it work. Take your work apart, put it together. Let other people take your work apart and tell you what they see. Take other people’s work apart and see how it’s different from yours. Then use what you learn. When you get critiques, don’t throw them away and start something new, work with them. See what happens when you take advice. Sometimes the advice will be good, sometimes it will be bad, but it can be hard to tell the difference until you try it out.
And remember that even while we’re sweating over the harder parts of our craft, we should write because we love it and can’t imagine our lives without it!