Anastasia Romanov, the daughter of the last Tsar of Russia, is believed to be dead by the world, but she is alive. And when she sleeps, she dreams …
Anne Michaelson doesn’t know much about Russian history; she is more worried about getting into a good college. But then the dreams start …
Dreaming Anastasia is a fun young adult fantasy that takes the reader back and forth from current-day Chicago to the time of the Romanovs, and throws in elements of a Russian folktale for added chills. I am so thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview Joy Preble, author of Dreaming Anastasia, about her writing process! Joy is so smart and funny (something that pops out at you right away if you read her blog); I hope you all enjoy reading her answers to my questions as much as I did.
I’m fascinated by writers’ processes, how each writer has such a personal way of approaching the writing of his or her book. Could you talk a bit about your own writing process?
JP: You mean after the ritual goat sacrifice, right? Just kidding. You know, it’s probably less of a process than a ‘ooh, I’ve got a spare twenty minutes here so let’s use it wisely rather than checking Facebook.’ But in terms of inspiration – each book I’ve written has come from a different place. Dreaming Anastasia came from both my fascination with the Romanovs and my sense that like me, I had this character who was aching for something to change her life.
Another novel that I hope you see fairly soon, developed from two things – the suicide of someone I knew, and my endless fascination for Texas high school football, spurred of course, by the fact that my son was an offensive lineman and his buddies pretty much sprawled on my furniture for a number of years, gossiping like a bunch of girls and eating me out of house and home. (One time at eating group – which rotated houses each week the night before the big game and involved the parents feeding groups of seven players – Jake and his buddies consumed over eight pounds of brisket, three apple pies, untold amounts of potato salad, a couple loaves of bread and at least a gallon of ice cream.)
A third book is a love story set with the back drop of a family bakery – not too different from the one my aunt and uncle ran in Chicago for many years. (Okay the family breakups and the main character’s crazy and disastrous love life is all from my head.)
[MsBookish notes: That is an amazing amount of food!]
Some writers like to outline everything, some like to outline a bit, and some like to just start with the first word and where it takes them. Which type of writer are you? Have you always been this type of writer, or did you try a bit of everything before you found your groove?
JP: I’ve tried and tried to be an outliner. But I’m just not. Mostly I start with either an idea or a character and kind of noodle around from there, writing bits and pieces and seeing what I have. At some point later – maybe thirty pages in – I do stop to create at least a rudimentary bullet point outline. Especially with Dreaming Anastasia, which has a mystery element to it, eventually I needed to know where I was going or I was going to write myself into a corner. Even with the other books that I’ve written now, there is always a point where I do have to know where I’m going to end up – with the caveat that I don’t have to really go there if the muse decides that I need to make a detour.
Do you have an writer’s rituals or writing quirks, things that you absolutely must do or have around you before you start writing?
JP: Nope. I know a lot of people who do, but I think because I began writing seriously while I was still actively parenting a high school aged son and teaching high school at the same time, I was thankful to carve out time to write wherever I could get it. If I stopped to brew up my half-caff latte with soy milk in my special mug first, I’d have used up the spare ten seconds. So I pretty much find that I can write on demand most days.
The original title for Dreaming Anastasia was Spark. Could you talk a bit about the change in the title? What inspired your original title, and what led to the new title?
JP: Well, to be perfectly honest, once money changes hands between you and a publisher, they can pretty much title it ‘Jo Jo the Crazy Boy Goes to Camp’ and you’ll probably say, hmmm, sounds good to me. That being said, the original title did relate to Anne’s magic as well as to the nature of her role in the story – she’s the ‘spark’ to move everything from the stasis that it’s been in while Ethan’s been searching for the girl who can rescue Anastasia. However, my editor ultimately felt that Dreaming Anastasia more clearly branded the story with its historical fiction element. People would know what they were getting. And honestly, it would match the cover art Sourcebooks had been playing with. Once I thought about it for awhile, I realized he was right. Plus, it really is reflective of the dreams Anne and Anastasia both have. So I do think it was easy to embrace the change.
[MsBookish notes: Dreaming Anastasia definitely gives the reader a good idea about the historical aspects of the book. It also has such a beautiful ring to it.]
In Dreaming Anastasia, the narrative voice changes from that of Anne, to Ethan, and then back in time, to Anastasia. What led you to use this narrative structure? Were there any challenges to switching between the three different voices as you wrote?
JP: Interestingly, I wrote the first draft of this novel in third person. But I always alternated between the voices of Anne and Ethan and Anastasia. At one point, I’d even contemplated Viktor having a voice as well, but I discarded that idea early on. Every time I attempted to tell the story any other way, I ended up at a dead end. Each character brings such a specific point of view to the telling that I just wanted the reader to have that. Anne is such a snarky, funny, contemporary voice. Ethan has more of the gravitas of history behind him, and he’s just so serious and earnest much of the time. (okay, plus hot) And Anastasia gets to have this sad, mystical quality to her telling. I loved having all of that collide, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging. Sometimes if I’d been away from the manuscript for awhile – such as the lengthy time between when I finished the final revisions and we finally headed into copy edits, which was a long number of months – I’d have to sort of warm up and just write dialogue between the characters for awhile until I knew I heard them. Anastasia was always the easiest to nail because she is so trapped in the past, more or less. And Anne is funny, although not nearly as funny as Tess. But she’s got that contemporary cadence that I hear every day. Ethan was always a little harder. I always wanted him to have something a little stiff and old-fashioned about him, even as he was trying to blend in. Sometimes that was tricky.
[MsBookish notes: Joy did an excellent job managing the three narrative voices; I can imagine how it could be tricky at times.]
What writers have influenced you the most as a writer?
JP: You know I don’t think there’s any one person who comes to mind but rather everyone. I think we all sort of stand on the shoulders of the greats, so to speak. Plus honestly, every writer I read rubs off in some way. So I guess the better question would be who hasn’t influenced me! I do think having studied the classics helps me get a sense of the roots of story telling. Those horrendously sad Greek tragedies. Shakespeare’s sense of the human condition. But I’m influenced by so much more than that. John Irving and Anne Tyler and what I see as her contemporary YA counterpart, Sarah Dessen. All three of those writers have taught me about what it means to be human as well. About the crazy patchwork of people that sometimes collide and fall in love or suffer or just live life large. JK Rowling taught me how to spin a tale over many, many volumes and make it work! So amazing. Judy Blume taught me that I need to reflect what it’s like to be sixteen even if someone might complain that it’s too edgy. That it’s important to honestly tell the story that needs telling. (Oh! I have such issues at school sometimes when teachers will tell students writing a personal narrative, “Well, if you can’t think of something, just make it up.” And sit there thinking, no! You are telling that student that his experiences, whatever they are, are not of value. That bothers me so much) And just so you don’t get the wrong impression, let me end this answer by adding that I’ve also learned a lot from television writers. I mean seriously – I think I owe a serious debt of gratitude to the Palladinos and their Gilmore Girls. And if Joss Whedon hadn’t combined westerns and sci fi in the late, great Firefly, I might not have had to guts to do a little genre bending myself!
[MsBookish notes: I for one am very glad that Joss Whedon inspired Joy to do a little genre bending! I agree totally with Joy; television writers really are amazing. I’ve learned a lot about how to tell a riveting story from television, as well as the big screen. I love that Joy has included television writers as one of her influences!]
Thank you so much, Joy, for this wonderful interview!
To find out more about Joy and Dreaming Anastasia, visit Joy Preble. And make sure you stop by her blog, Joy’s Novel Idea – it’s a very fun blog, and she’s been sharing her publication journey there with her readers. You can also follow Joy on Twitter.