Hello lovelies! Today, I have a special post for you - an interview with the wonderful Elissa Sussman! Check it out, my review, and be sure to take a peek at the giveaway at the bottom of the post!
Alyssa: Hi, Elissa! Thank you so much for joining me today on my blog! How cool is it that our names share the same root :-)
Elissa: Thank you for having me! I always love encountering other Alyssa/Elissas in the wild.
Alyssa: :D :D :D So, let’s get to it, lady! Describe STRAY in nine words. GO!
Elissa: Fairy tales, feminism, fairy godmothers, faith, fantasy and food!
Alyssa: If you had to do a mash-up of two books, to describe your book (like, Kristin Cashore’s FIRE meets Rosamund Hodge’s CRUEL BEAUTY, or something), which two novels would you choose? They don’t necessarily have to be YA novels ;)
Elissa: STRAY was originally pitched as THE HANDMAID’S TALE meets Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which I think is a pretty accurate mash-up.
Alyssa: What’s another fantasy, fairy tale-esque YA novel that you love?
Elissa: There are so many! I’m a huge fan of Heather Dixon’s ENTWINED, which is the reason my agent approached Greenwillow Books with STRAY. I love smart, subversive retellings, like Malinda Lo’s ASH, an LGBT version of Cinderella and Jane Yolen’s BRIAR ROSE, a Sleeping Beauty story retold through a Holocaust survivor. And I love any time a retelling gets really dark, like Robin McKinley’s DEERSKIN and Catherynne M. Valente’s SIX GUN SNOW WHITE.
Alyssa: OMG I loved Entwined! How did you get the general idea for STRAY? It’s tagged as an original fairy tale :D
Elissa: STRAY has an incredibly nerdy origin story that can be traced back to my senior year of college. I was writing a paper about the representation of female characters in animation – as you do – and watching some of my favorite Disney movies when I started to notice how fairy godmothers were being portrayed in movies like CINDERELLA and SLEEPING BEAUTY.
Here are these characters with exceptional magical abilities, yet they’re presented as nothing more than scatterbrained caretakers to the heroine. In contrast, Maleficent is just as powerful, but she’s a “bad fairy” that dares to use her powers for her own benefit. The concept that “bad” women (witches or evil queens) use magic to help themselves, while “good” women (fairy godmothers) use magic to help others became the basis of STRAY’s belief system.
Alyssa: How about names? How did you go about choosing names for the characters in STRAY?
Elissa: Aislynn is meant to evoke “ashes”, as her story draws a lot of inspiration from Cinderella, while Tahlia is both a nod to an Italian version of Sleeping Beauty called “Sun, Moon and Talia” and my friend (and reader) Tal. Ford is named for my grandfather, Milford and Everett for my grade school crush. But most of the names were culled from an on-going “interesting name” list that I’m constantly adding to. Fantasy names can be tough to pick – you want them to feel unique and magical, but you want to avoid ones that are impossible to pronounce. My rule has become that if spellcheck comes up with the (no spelling suggestions) notation, it might not be the best choice for a name.
Alyssa: Did you read lots of other fairy tales (like Grimm’s, as you mentioned, for example), as research?
Elissa: I did! I love doing research, which meant reading different versions of popular fairy tales and books that explore the historical and social impact of fairy tales, like Joan Gould’s excellent Spinning Straw Into Gold. I’m also an enormous fan of the musical INTO THE WOODS, which is a fantastic blend of several fairy tales, with their darker themes intact. I would listen to the soundtrack or watch old episodes of Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre whenever I needed help getting into a fairy tale mindset.
Alyssa: What is something that you must always have, when writing? For example, coffee, 7UP, candy, etc.?
Elissa: I’m a pretty persnickety writer in the sense that I need to have complete silence while I work – no music or background noise for me! I’m not particular about drinks or snacks but if it’s chilly out (a rarity in LA) there is nothing better than a cup of chai tea and a slice of lemon poppy seed cake.
Alyssa: Let’s talk romance – how do you like your romance, in terms of YA books?
Elissa: I like my romance but I tend to enjoy it more as a side dish, rather than the main course. Then again, I really like side dishes. Mmm, potatoes.
Alyssa: STRAY is a standalone? Or will there be companion novels? Or sequel novels? :D
Elissa: STRAY is the first in a collection of stories that follow different characters in this same world, somewhat like The Enchanted Forest Chronicles or The Lunar Chronicles.
Alyssa: Are you working on another novel at the moment? Can you tell us anything about it?
Elissa: I’m working on the next book in the collection, BURN. Though there will be two new protagonists (one who is introduced towards the end of STRAY), we’ll still be seeing a lot of Aislynn and the others.
Alyssa: I know that authors have zero control over the covers, but I must ask – how do you feel about STRAY’s cover? Did Harper’s design team accurately portray the novel, in the cover? (Personally, I think the cover is wonderful!)
Elissa: Thank you! I had also heard that authors don’t get much control over covers, so I was pleasantly surprised when the Greenwillow team asked if I had any ideas. Little did they know I had an entire pinterest board dedicated to STRAY! One of the images I sent them was this amazing print by Melissa Nucera (aka ThisYearsGirls) on Etsy. Greenwillow also loved her work and sent her a copy of the book to see if she’d be interested in adapting that image for the cover. Luckily she was and ended up weaving a bunch of subtle nods to the story into the image. I could not be more thrilled with the final result.
Alyssa: How about the title? Did you choose it? Your editor? Were there other titles in contention?
Elissa: It’s been STRAY since the beginning and I’m quite grateful that there was never any request to change it, since thinking up titles is pretty much the hardest thing ever.
Alyssa: Is there anyone you’d like to mention, any critique partners or family members or friends, anyone that played a unique or special part in the creation of this story?
Elissa: My mom! She might not even know this, but so much of Aislynn is based off of her. She grew up in a strict, religious household, not as extreme as the Path, but with a lot of rules and guidelines that might seem unusual to someone who didn't grow up with them. For example, Orthodox Jews aren't allowed to mix meat and milk – ever. So something like eating a cheeseburger, which a lot of people do on a regular basis, was a really big deal for her. It was a significant, important form of rebellion against a belief system she was in the process of challenging. Similarly, a lot of Aislynn’s actions throughout the book might be perceived as insignificant in the face of such sexism and oppression. But when it’s the only culture you've ever known, “small” acts of rebellion can often be an incredible act of bravery.
Alyssa: And that’s it from me! Thank you so much for stopping by, Elissa, and best of luck with the release!
Elissa: Thank you for having me!
About the Author:
Elissa Sussman is a writer, a reader and a pumpkin pie eater.
Her debut novel, STRAY (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins), is a YA fantasy about fairy godmothers, magic and food. She received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and in a previous life managed animators and organized spreadsheets at some of the best animation studios in the world, including Nickelodeon, Disney, Dreamworks and Sony Imageworks. You can see her name in the credits of THE CROODS, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, THE
PRINCESS AND THE FROG and TANGLED.
She currently lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend and their rescue mutt, Basil
About the Book:
Stray by Elissa Sussman
Book One of the Four Sisters series
Publication Date: October 7, 2014
Summary (from Goodreads):
“I am grateful for my father, who keeps me good and sweet. I am grateful for my mother, who keeps her own heart guarded and safe. I am grateful for my adviser, who keeps me protected. I am grateful for the Path, which keeps me pure. Ever after.”
Princess Aislynn has long dreamed about attending her Introduction Ball, about dancing with the handsome suitors her adviser has chosen for her, about meeting her true love and starting her happily ever after.
When the night of the ball finally arrives and Nerine Academy is awash with roses and royalty, Aislynn wants nothing more than to dance the night away, dutifully following the Path that has been laid out for her. She does not intend to stray.
But try as she might, Aislynn has never quite managed to control the magic that burns within her-magic brought on by wicked, terrible desires that threaten the Path she has vowed to take.
After all, it is wrong to want what you do not need. Isn't it?
STRAY is the first in a collection of intertwined stories, all set in a world where magic is a curse that only women bear and society is dictated by a strict doctrine called The Path. A cross between The Handmaid’s Tale and Wicked, with a dash of Grimm and Disney thrown in, this original fairy tale will be released October 7th, 2014 from Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins.