Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Once upon a time, I was a little girl who dreamed of being a missionary and writer. My parents did not like the idea, because it didn't make any money, so eight years and several student loans later, I was laid off from teaching college composition. I am convinced my favorite literary device is irony for good reason. Newly emboldened by the free time and my husband's generous patronage, I am trying to make up for lost time. So far this year, I have published a few novels and they are generally well-received in the fantasy and science fiction departments. I love modernist poetry, European and Asian history, and art before the postmodern era. I consider myself an intellectual and a philosopher in theory and practical in practice.
We definitely have some similarities in our journeys to becoming authors! What prompted you to start writing? Are you one of those authors who knew you were meant to write since childhood, or did it come as a discovery later in life?
I always liked to write, and it became easier to write as it became harder to have conversations with people. I was always quiet, or nearly always so, and I like writing because I want to tell people my stories but I don’t want to actually explain them or myself. Being an author is actually perfect for me and my personality. I have a lot to say, and it’s important, but I would bungle it if I tried to speak it aloud.
I can totally relate :) Which authors have had the most significant impact on your writing?
This is one of those trick questions, right?
Probably up there is C. S. Lewis, because my most consistent favorite novel is Till We Have Faces, which is his retelling of the Psyche and Eros myth. I fell in love with literary writing thanks to Elie Wiesel, and there are various poets along the way that I have collected as favorites and people I wonder at. I loved poetry first, so I tend to write things that, even though they are books, they are meant to be read aloud.
There are so many others. I think my own “brand” of writing is somewhere between the sacred, the secular, the sensual, and the secret. I like the everlasting, universal truths that are tucked away into hidden moments in time, political plays, personal hang-ups, and snarky dialogue.
I told someone I wanted to be the kind of person who could talk about God and intimacy in the same tone of voice. There’s a mysterious, messy, and miraculous quality to life, and I want to be the kind of writer who captures that truth with my words.
I love that. We’re all about exploring new worlds here at Lands Uncharted—if you could choose one place to visit, real or fictional, where would you go?
I would probably pick Narnia, if I could be assured that they had indoor plumbing.
Indoor plumbing is a must! Do you have any go-to foods or beverages while writing?
I have protein shots for longer writing sessions, and tea and dark chocolate for stressful ones.
Mmm, dark chocolate. What is one of your favorite writing tips?
I have a lot of good writing tips I like—read often, stay away from magazines, read as a reader and read as a writer—but the most important one for me, personally, is KNOW YOUR GRAMMAR AND PROPER FORMATTING.
I can’t tell you how many good ideas for books I’ve read that are poorly executed. If your name is not John Steinbeck, or if your book is not translated from another language, I will not take you seriously if you don’t use proper punctuation. (This is the English teacher training remnant. This is nothing personal—it’s grammar.)
Ugh, grammar and formatting mistakes really get to me, too! Now, let’s talk about your Once Upon a Princess Saga! What inspired you to write this series?
I was actually going over an exercise with my creative writing class called “Le Menu.” It is from Claudia Johnson’s textbook (no relation, as far as I know) on screenwriting, but it applies to fiction and prose writing. One of the things it asks you to consider is “Things you Love.” My students began talking about Disney movies, and we ended up complementing this discussion in “Things you Hate.”
I loved Sleeping Beauty as a child, and I still do, but I feel like Aurora’s parents made some terribly inconsiderate and silly decisions that went unexplained. Why not just have another kid? Why not keep the princess in the castle where she could be guarded? And what was the deal with the spinning wheel? In addition to this, Disney’s Maleficent had just come out, but it only added to some of the stupid, if that makes sense. I felt the whole point of that story was to make us feel sorry for Maleficent, when she still did terrible stuff and she ultimately someone who was intent on revenge. The problem with “good-v-evil” is that there is a clear winner—people still want good to win—but postmodernism takes away any ideas of “good” and “evil.” There is no reason we should be sympathetic when it comes evil to the point where we forget about justice entirely. (I saw a documentary about this recently. There was this teacher who was trying to teach young kids about empathy by reading “The Three Little Pigs” to them and asking if they thought the wolf was bad because he was chasing the pigs, and all the kids said he was bad. She asked them if they thought if he was bad, or if he was just acting bad because he was hungry, and they all decided it would be okay to give him some food to help make him a better person. THIS IS DUMB. The wolf was bad because he didn’t ask for food, and he was trying to kill the pigs. It is perfectly logical and reasonable and good for the pigs to shut him out.)
So Sleeping Beauty had some problems, and Maleficent added a whole slew of new problems. I decided to write my own version to “correct” the fairy tale, since it made me angry. I go into rants when I get angry about plot points, as you might be able to tell. Ha!
Feel free to rant away–you bring up some excellent points! This series is a historical fantasy retelling of Sleeping Beauty. What are some similarities and differences between your stories and the original fairy tale?
I have more quasi-historical elements added to it. I gave Rose’s kingdom the name of Rhone, which was made up, but I have a bunch of other historical kingdoms (Aragon, Greece, Gaul, and the Romani territory) that are splattered in with other fake kingdoms and countries. It is seriously as though our world history is half-trapped between this world and another one.
There are knights and with that, the Christian church, and they are coexisting with the pixie realms and fairyfolk. I wanted historical European history with all the intellectual developments, all the religious debates, all the economic concerns it had to offer, paired with the fantastical elements we could bring in to consider – the morality of magic and the rules of different races/species, the loyalties on collective and individual levels, and kingdom politics. I promise I’m making it sound more complicated than it comes across in the books.
There are also some new characters that play important roles, like Rose’s friends Sophia and Ethan, and Rose’s siblings, Ronan and Isra. In all history, there are things that stick around and there are things that are forgotten and things that are rewritten. I kept a lot of the characters, but I rearranged their roles and their skills, for different reasons—making Rose a knight was fun, adding in the Magdust drug cartel was clever, and having the different cultures throughout the book was exciting.
Ooh, I'm so excited to read these books! Can you give us any insight into what you’re working on now? Are there other fairy tales you’d like to retell?
I know I have a lot of competition when it comes to retelling myths, so I don’t think I want to retell them as much as I did with this saga. At least right now, anyway. But I do like taking different qualities of myths and fairytales and twisting them around.
In my current WIP, Eydis, I have borrowed elements of the Atlantis myth and paired it with a tragic princess, a demonic dragon, and Icelandic and Bermuda folklore. Eydis is the story of a younger brother who heads off to a cursed island to avenge his Viking brother’s death. He is joined by his brother’s beloved and her brothers, and when they get to the island with the help of some island perfume traders, they find there is a terrible secret to the island’s power. And the secret is especially terrible because it’s also helpful to the island residents. For this one, I like to think of how people use the phrase “useful idiots” when there are “evil idiots” too, and I’ve put a lot of thought into that book’s adventure based on that idea.
If that doesn’t convince you to buy the prequel I just released for it, Edyis: The Island of the Dragon Bride, I don’t know what will.
I guess, all in all, at the end of the day, we want good to triumph in the end, and we want our heroes to slay the dragon; we forget that the dragons win more often than we would like.
Sounds amazing! Please share a favorite line or passage from your Once Upon a Princess Saga with us.
There really are so many ... but if I had to pick at favorite line, it when Theo tells Rose (Part III) that “Falling in love and taking a leap of faith aren’t so different …”
It’s such a sweet moment because love and faith are both things that have a quality to them that makes you feel simultaneously helpless and hopeful. It’s that second where you begin to believe—that feeling of your feet on the ground, both pressing further into it and pushing it away, the moment before you fall into something greater than you can imagine—that is the instant where your soul both has been chosen, and you get to choose it back.
It’s also a sweet moment between the characters, because Theo and Rose have been friends since childhood, and while they know each other so well, they both struggle to keep parts of themselves secret, both to themselves and to each other. It’s a moment where the masks shift, and everything changes—and for better and for worse, the truth comes out in the end.
Did I mention I'm excited to read this series?? Here's the back-cover blurb:
“I have better things to do.”For four years, Princess Aurora of Rhone—Rose to her friends—has searched the world for a way to break the curse placed on her by Magdalina, the wicked ruler of the fairies at war with her kingdom. Under the curse, Rose is doomed to die on her eighteenth birthday after pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel. And time is running out.
“Like what?” Rose asked. “Waste your life on a fool’s journey, under a silly girl’s orders?”
“I have never considered saving your life to be the same as wasting mine, Rosary.” He came and stood in front of her, the ease of his presence replaced by an unusual heat rather than familiar warmth. Rose had never before been bothered by the six inches he stood taller than her, but all of a sudden the shadow of his strength imposed itself on her.
The cursed beauty of the moonlight revealed the clarity and sharpness of his eyes as she gazed up at him. “What if you did waste your life though? What if?”
“If I have wasted my life, I have wasted it on you. Willingly.”
On the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Rose makes the journey home with her friends—Theo, a priest with a penchant for revenge; Mary, a young and talented fairy; and Ethan and Sophia, siblings with a troubled past–as pressure from her father, King Stefanos, leaves her with two equally unsatisfying options: Abdicate the throne, or get married.
Enjoy this novella series retelling of the Sleeping Beauty, with new characters, new plot twists, and plenty of action and adventure. Perfect for teen and young adult historical fantasy readers.
You can purchase the Once Upon a Princess Saga on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, or iBooks. The first book, Beauty's Curse, is free! Speaking of free stuff, want to participate in a treasure hunt? At the end of each book in this series is a special collectible clue. Collect all four books, and get all four special prizes, FREE! How fun is that? And here's a little more about the author:
C. S. Johnson is the author of several young adult novels, including sci-fi and fantasy adventures such as the Starlight Chronicles series, the Once Upon a Princess saga, and the Divine Space Pirates trilogy. With a gift for sarcasm and an apologetic heart, she currently lives in Atlanta with her family. Find out more at http://www.csjohnson.me.
You can also connect with C.S. Johnson through her Newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google Plus.
You can also hang out with the author TONIGHT at her Facebook party! Stop by from 7:30 to 9:30 CDT for special guests, games, and giveaways! And if that weren't celebration enough, she also has a giveaway going as part of her blog tour! Enter below for a chance to win a paperback of Beauty’s Curse, the entire saga in ebook format, four specially designed t-shirts of a quote from the series, and two handy mugs for your favorite drink. Thank you so much for joining us today, C.S. Johnson!!