Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Interview with Author Kelsie Engen

On May 31st, our friends in the Just-Us League will publish their fifth anthology A Bit of Magic: A Collection of Fairy Tale Retellings.
The oldest story can be made new again, changed and altered until it is reimagined and restored.
Pride interferes with happily-ever-afters: a proud princess is tested and tests the prince in return; a young thief is caught red-handed and must make amends; and a vain queen struggles to save her stepdaughter.
Finding love is not a simple task: a hero searches for the ideal magical bride; an innocent librarian is charmed by a man with a menacing secret; a queen takes a spoiled prince as her sole deckhand; and a well-intentioned princess seeks to make things right with her father.
Change causes chaos, for better or worse: a scheming cat seeks to better the lot of his daydreaming master; a cursed pirate captain is given a second chance when he finds a young stowaway; a spoiled teenager suffers the consequences of turning her best friend into a toad; and a thief and a rebel hiding secrets meet at a ball.
Follow these characters on their journeys as eleven magical tales are turned on their heads and seen from new perspectives.

To celebrate its release, we’d like to welcome one of the writers featured in A Bit of Magic, Kelsie Engen, author of “The Scarred Shepherdess”:

What inspired your retelling?

The tale that inspired my retelling was “The Dirty Shepherdess”. (Ugh, that almost seems like the title for an erotic fairy tale or something.) But it was the tale itself that stuck out to me. It has so much promise, but then it suffers from that fairy tale syndrome of being far too short with underdeveloped characters that have the potential to stand out—but then just falls into the category of unremembered fairy tales. So I decided to try my hand at it. And I found it more challenging than I imagined.

What made you choose the fairy tale you did?

The tale of “The Dirty Shepherdess” is classic fairy tale—but not a very well known one. A princess is exiled from court—by her father—over a misunderstanding. She then lives as a shepherdess until she meets a prince, who falls in love with her—at first sight of course—and they end up with their happily ever after. I love classic fairy tales. There's something reassuring about the standard of them, how you can be confident that everything works out for the good and that the characters learn their lesson. “The Dirty Shepherdess” is no different. But...I also wanted to change that fairy tale. So I chose it to retell.

Did you stick closely to the fairy tale you rewrote?

Yes and no. The first thing was I knew I couldn't keep that title! But I also set my version in a fantasy world that I created for the fairy tale inspired series I'm working on. So the story naturally had to be adjusted for that, but there are also some more subtle differences. I found the King's sudden desire to know how much his children loved him a little too random and threw some magic in there, but I also changed the story from insta-love to something deeper. There are a couple of other changes as well, but I won't bore you. But overall, yes, my tale follows the original rather more closely than many retellings.

What was the hardest part of writing it?

I had a difficult time with the pacing. I tend to write long stories—short stories are a big challenge for me. So when I began this tale, I originally started the story a lot earlier than where it starts now. But a critique partner pointed out how I could start much later and that worked out to be the key for fixing most of the problems I was having with it. Although it was a bummer to cut that opening scene, as I did like it... But that's the author life. You write a lot of words that don't make it past the cutting room floor.

What is your favorite thing about your retelling?

I really enjoyed the main characters, Clara and Albus. It's also quite fun to write these stories as backstory to my Canens Chronicles series. I've never written fantasy before starting this series, and while I'm far from publishing it at the moment, writing prequels (far distant prequels in this case) is a really fun and challenging exercise. It's also helped me a great deal with my world building and developing the countries that I haven't explored as much in my series yet.

What short stories have you participated thus far in the JL anthologies, and how did this experience differ from your previous JLA stories?

I've written two other short stories for JL anthologies: the first, a retelling of “Snow White and Rose Red” (“The Bear in the Forest”), the second, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” (“Three Nights”). This tale continues Clara's story, who is one of the sisters in “Three Nights”, although not the protagonist. It was surprisingly fun to take her out of that story and plunk her down into a new fairy tale. So fun that I might just have to do it again sometime.

Do you prefer a happy ending, and did that affect how you wrote your story?

It depends entirely upon the story. Usually, if it's a romantic fairy tale, I'll expect the happy ending. But really, it depends upon the way the story is told. Some stories and some characters don't deserve or earn a happy ending, and I'm okay if the ending is unhappy or ambiguous. (Just don't set me up for a happy ending and then deny me!) I don't think that it affected how I wrote my story in this case, but I certainly did make changes to the romance here. I didn't like the insta-love in the original, and so I chose to give my characters more of a relationship.

How long have you been writing?

Since about 5th grade, so...twenty years? Wow. But 5th grade was when I was given a class assignment to write a short story, which I promptly turned into a novel. It began my torrid love affair with writing. But I didn't seriously start pursuing writing and learning how to write well until about seven or eight years ago—something I don't regret. I only regret not taking my writing seriously long ago.

What is the best writing tip you could give to aspiring authors?

Write, write, and write some more. My biggest regret is not taking my writing seriously and all but abandoning it for several years during which I finished my schooling. (Not that school isn't important, mind you!) But I wish I had been continuing with my writing and taking it more seriously at the same time. Just the practice of writing—even if it's utter crap you'll never dare show another person—makes you grow and develop as a writer. So keep writing, and don't worry about the quality of it, because the more you write, the more your quality will improve. Just keep writing.

What projects are you working on now?

I am working on a fairy-tale inspired series called the Canens Chronicles. The tales encompassed in it are “Snow White”, “Cinderella”, and “Sleeping Beauty”, with “Snow White” being the overarching tale tying them all together. I'm having so much fun with it, but the series aspect is challenging me, as I'm used to writing standalone novels. I am also working on a women's fiction/contemporary novel called Broken Time, which tells the story of widowed wife of a police officer who struggles to move on since her husband's ambush style murder. It's not as dark as it sounds, but there's not a hint of a fairy tale in it, either!

Thank you so much for your time, Kelsie! And readers, don’t forget to order your copy of A Bit of Magic, available in ebook or paperback on Amazon.

Kelsie Engen grew up in North Pole, Alaska, and currently lives a short distance away in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the winters are harsh and isolating, but devastatingly beautiful. She is a wife, mother, writer, editor, and scone baker. In her spare time she trains for half-marathons she never runs. She finds inspiration in both the frigid winters and the endless summer nights in the Land of the Midnight Sun. She writes both women's fiction and fairy tales.
While her works can be found on Amazon and other online retailers, she can be found at and on Instagram @KelsieEngen, or hunched over her laptop in the wee hours of the morning, trying frantically to write some words before the children awake.

Find her on Twitter @KelsieEngen or Facebook.

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