Author Interview: Anne Elisabeth Stengl
I bid a happy Saturday to you all, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, readers and authors, friends and enemies. Today I have the honor of presenting to you Anne Elisabeth Stengl, a Young Adult Writer of the award-winning Tales of Goldstone Wood series. Her first novel won the Christy Award for best debut, her second, Veiled Rose, winning as a Visionary Novel. Book four of the same series won the Clive Staples award in 2013. But, formalities and awards aside, she’s my favorite author, and her works have inspired many people. Most of her novels are among my favorites list, and it’s a great privilege to be able to have her here to be interviewed.
Hello, Anne Elisabeth Stengl! Welcome to Red Lettering. It’s an honor to have you here. Could you introduce yourself to my readers?
Hullo, all! I am (as you see above) Anne Elisabeth Stengl, author of the ongoing Tales of Goldstone Wood series, a many-novel saga about the Near World, the Far World, and the Wood that stands Between. The series is currently up to six novels with a little extra novella on the side, and book 7 is going to release later this year! And there will be many more novels to come, so if you like what you see, you’ll be set for reading material for a while.
I have been working as a professional novelist for five years now (my first book released four years ago, but the work begins well before that!), and I absolutely love what I do. Except for those moments when I hate what I do. Even then I love it. (Does this make any sense? If you’re a writer, you’ll know what I mean!)
I am married to the handsome, the brilliant, the charming, the wonderful Rohan de Silva, who apparently likes girls who threaten him with swords. (We met at fencing class. He’s a better fencer than I, so I tried smack-talking him to even the odds a little. Apparently he likes smack-talk too.) We live with our six cats (What? I like cats!) and our one long-suffering dog in a little house on a hill, surrounded by a forest of bamboo.
What is the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard?
The worst? “Never, never, never, never use the omniscient narrative.” I have heard this advice far too often, and it’s nonsense. The omniscient narrative (which is what I write) is a difficult narrative form to use well, but that doesn’t mean we should never use it. To this day other writers sometimes criticize my use of this narrative voice, but the readers enjoy it. It allows me far greater flexibility, enabling me to pack a lot of story into not terribly long volumes. It’s also the narrative voice used by all of my favorite modern novelists.
So, yeah. That’s terrible advice. If you’re a writer, give the omniscient narrative a try! It might not suit your writing voice, and that’s cool. But it also might be a perfect fit, and that’s cool too.
Do you have a Bible verse, or group of verses, that you would consider your writing anthem?
I always turn back to Ecclesiastes 3: 11: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
Success in writing, in drafting every novel, is entirely based on God’s timing and God’s perspective. Which is not always the same as mine. We measure success by such small, mortal standards, but these are not the same standards used by God, whose perspective is limitless and unfathomable.
This verse is timely and important for so many aspects of our lives. But when I think about an encouraging word I turn to for writing-related crises, this is always the one.
What is your favorite fictional work, other than your own novels?
Hmmmm, well, I’ll pick the one that springs to mind in this moment, but I reserve the right to change my mind at any given moment!
Sir Terry Pratchett’s Nation is one of my favorites. It is a brilliantly written novel full of heartbreak and humor, set on an alternate-universe/colonial Britain/Polynesian island. Never seen that done before! Fantastic cast of characters, high-stakes plotting, wonderful payoff, bittersweet ending . . . this story has it all!
What impresses me most about Sir Terry Pratchett, however, is the way he can write about themes and philosophies that go against my own. Religiously speaking, he is a deist. And he presents his deistic ideas in Nation. I don’t agree with him; but I admire the way in which he incorporates his message into his story without turning it into a sermon. He makes his readers think in ways they maybe haven’t bothered to think before.
This is what I want to do with my own work. I want to write for readers who don’t necessarily believe the way I do. And I want to encourage them to think. I don’t want to preach. I don’t want to beat anyone over the head. But I want to make them think . . . to think that possibly there is more to this life than mere survival. More to this life than the god of “Me.” More to this life than disgrace, or self-aggrandizement, or power, or despair, or any of the things on which we tend to fixate.
I want to encourage my readers to consider the possibility of grace undeserved. And I want them to think about it.
So that’s why Nation is one of my favorite novels.
Since random questions are always fun, have you ever stood on your hands while doing jumping jacks and eating peanut butter? If the answer is no, which do you prefer, coffee, tea, or Pepsi throwback? (If the answer is yes… what on Earth were you thinking?)
Well, I have never done that, but if there’s peanut butter involved, I’m willing to try!
I am a tea person. Particularly black Ceylon tea with a little cream and sugar. My husband was born and raised in Sri Lanka, so he knows all about good Ceylon teas, which he introduced to me when we started dating. I had thought I was a tea person before—but O! how wrong I was! He brews the perfect cup, and it is very inspiring.
But, if Ceylon tea is unavailable, I’m always happy to fall back on classic PG Tips or English Breakfast.
What is a piece of writing advice you don’t often hear?
I don’t often see young writers encouraged to write authentically. There are a lot of rules on writing out there—how to create a dynamic character, how to craft a blockbuster plot, etc. etc. But I don’t see as much emphasis on authenticity, particularly not in the Christian publishing market, where writers are expected to fill in the Evangelical dots.
I always try to challenge my own writing students to think in terms of reality, not in terms of what they believe they should think about reality. To dive down to the gut issues that drive all of us, those universals that we don’t always like to acknowledge.
However, I could write whole essays and writing curriculums on this topic, so I’ll leave this answer alone for now. Still, think about it, writers. “Authenticity.” What does it mean to you?
If you were walking into the vet’s office, and you met a character from the novel you’re currently working on, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
Well, if it was a vet’s office, it’s probably Eanrin, who is a cat (though he sometimes looks like a man). And if Eanrin is at the vet’s office, the End of the World is probably Nigh. Or Imraldera has him shoved into whatever the Goldstone Wood equivalent of a carrier is, and he is swearing, “Dragon’s teeth!” loudly enough to blister the ears. In which case, I probably wouldn’t have the guts to approach, much less say anything to him. (Best to let Imraldera handle him in such instances, you know?)
What novel are you working on at present? If you can, could you tell us a bit about it?
I am putting together notes and ideas for Book 8 in the Goldstone Wood series. This one is going to be a challenge for me since it boasts a mostly new cast (though a few familiar faces definitely make appearances as well). It is also set a good 500 years after Book 7 (coming in November!) and in a completely different part of the world. So much invention must take place before the book itself can properly begin.
Thus I am researching and note-taking and brewing on that project. Hoping to start properly writing it in another few months, but we’ll see. I expect this book to take me a little longer to write than some of the previous Goldstone Wood novels have, which means at least a year between Book 7 and Book 8.
But I have a fun novella, Draven’s Light, coming out in spring 2015. I am currently gearing up to begin revisions on the rough draft of that one. Thankfully, the rough draft is itself pretty strong, so revisions won’t take too long. It’s shorter than my regular novels, but at 50,000 words is twice as long as Goddess Tithe, my first novella. So it’s a nice chunk of reading for fans.
Thank you for having me on your blog today. It was lovely to ramble out these answers to your fun questions. Best wishes as you continue the plunge into blogging!
Readers, I would love to connect with you. Do please follow my blog, my Twitter, and like me on Facebook! You can also sign up for my newsletter. All great ways to keep track of the various Goldstone Wood doings.
Thank you so much for being here, Anne Elisabeth Stengl. I am eagerly awaiting the time when Golden Daughter and Draven’s Light come out. Thank you so much for writing such epic books, and for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to come be here.
Her first novel, Heartless, won the Christy award for best debut in 2011, followed by an unprecedented consecutive win the next year for Veiled Rose, in its own category, and Starflower was most recently honored with the Clive Staples Award for 2013.