Blog Tour Author Interview with Diane Zahler

Today I’m excited to host my second-ever Blog Tour Author Interview with Diane Zahler, author of A True Princess. You’ll find my review of the book just below in the previous post on this blog.

I found Diane’s answers to my questions intriguing. I hope you enjoy them!

Diane Zahler
Diane Zahler

I’ve always loved fairy-tale retellings, and can think of several that I love, such as The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale, Beauty, by Robin McKinley, and Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. What are some of your favorite retellings? Would you say those influenced your own writing?

I love Beauty and The Goose Girl too – in fact, those are my absolute favorite retellings. The way Robin McKinley and Shannon Hale filled out their stories and grace with which they write were a real inspiration to me. I also love East by Edith Pattou, a retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” and Ash by Malinda Lo, a retelling of “Cinderella.” As these writers did, I wanted to create a complete world in my retellings, with intriguing characters and settings and a sense of magic.

Which were some of your favorite fairy tales as a child?

I read all the Andrew Lang fairy tale books – The Red Fairy Tale Book, The Blue Fairy Tale Book, yellow, green – if there’d been a puce one or a vermillion, I’d have read those too! I was especially taken with “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” which I used as the basis of my first book, The Thirteenth Princess. And I loved “Rapunzel.” But I didn’t notice, at that age, that the princesses in these stories were not in control of their own fates – they were manipulated by magic, and later, generally, saved by a prince. I like a princess who can call the shots! And if there had been princesses like that when I was a kid, I think I would have loved them.

Can you put your finger on some reasons why you love fairy tales? (I’m not sure I could!)

Fairy tales treat both our earliest fears and our deepest hopes. The fact that similar tales are found in cultures around the world and have been popular for centuries indicates that the themes they treat resonate with us on a deep level. Many of them deal with abandonment, the death of a parent, and other situations that seem hopeless and out of the characters’ control. And yet often good vanquishes evil, and there’s a happily-ever-after. The idea that we – identifying with the characters in the stories – can face our fears and overcome them is empowering.

I actually very recently finished revising a middle-grade fairy-tale-type novel of my own, and have begun sending queries to agents. Do you have an agent? Any tips about getting published? Did you find any resistance to such traditional fantasy, with so many vampire and werewolves out there?

I don’t have an agent. I’ve had agents in the past, and they were not particularly helpful. Of course, the books I was sending out at the time weren’t particularly publishable, so that might have been the problem! But I had worked in children’s book publishing years ago and still knew some people, so I was able to get my work read. And I found that the fact that my books were fantasy in a more traditional vein was an relief to my editors. I get the impression from agents and editors I know that fairy tales are more likely to endure than the trendy vampire/werewolf/angel-fallen-to-earth fiction that’s so popular at the moment. As for tips – endurance. Resilience. A thick skin. Never give up! It took me decades to get here, but it took me much of that time to learn how to write.

I think of A True Princess as a wholesome story, suitable for young girls beginning on chapter books who love fairy tales, but also offering plenty to enjoy for older people like me. The main character encounters many good people who care about her, and it’s a feel-good story, even with the moments of danger. I wish that saying that didn’t make the book sound boring, because it’s not! Would you care to comment about that and about the age level of your imagined reader?

A True Princess, like The Thirteenth Princess, is marketed for the middle-grade, or tween, reader. That’s between 8 and 12 years old, though I’ve heard from many girls of 13-16 who really enjoyed The Thirteenth Princess. I did keep my readers in mind to some extent as I wrote, but the fact that my protagonist in both my novels is 12 keeps certain topics naturally off-limits. Lots of fairy tales in their original form are the opposite of wholesome – they feature murder, betrayal, abuse, every horror you can imagine, and some that are beyond imagining. Needless to say, I haven’t included most of those details in my retellings. My aim is not wholesomeness, or creating a feel-good story. Instead, my intention is to take the elements of the original story that I think would resonate with readers – the struggle between good and evil, the search for identity, the tension between fear and courage –and use those to craft a story that contains both aspects of the original and themes that work for today’s readers.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with my readers and me!

A True Princess

Some more about Diane Zahler and A True Princess:

About Diane Zahler
Diane Zahler, author of A True Princess, has loved tales of fairies and magic since before she was old enough to read. She has worked in the children’s room at a public library, in children’s book publishing, and as an elementary and high school textbook writer. The Thirteenth Princess, her first novel for young readers, was published in 2010. She lives with her husband and dog in an old farmhouse in the Harlem Valley that is held together with duct tape and magic spells. Diane’s website is:

About A True Princess
Twelve-year-old Lilia is not a very good servant. She daydreams, she breaks dishes, and her cooking is awful! Still, she hardly deserves to be sold off to the mean-spirited miller and his family. Lilia refuses to accept that dreadful fate, and with her best friend Kai and his sister Karina beside her, she heads north to find the family she’s never known. But danger awaits. . . .

As their quest leads the threesome through the mysterious and sinister Bitra Forest, they suddenly realize they are lost in the elves’ domain. To Lilia’s horror, Kai falls under an enchantment cast by the Elf-King’s beautiful daughter. The only way for Lilia to break the spell and save Kai is to find a jewel of ancient power that lies somewhere in the North Kingdoms. Yet the jewel will not be easy to find. The castle where it is hidden has been overrun with princess hopefuls trying to pass a magical test that will determine the prince’s new bride. Lilia has only a few days to search every inch of the castle and find the jewel—or Kai will be lost to her forever.

Here’s a link to order this book from

Here’s the complete list of blog sites on the tour:

February 1: The Compulsive Reader — Review, book giveaway
February 2: The Brain Lair — Author interview, review
February 3: Jean Little Library — Review
February 3: Galleysmith — Author post, review
February 4: Write for a Reader — Review
February 5: The Cozy Reader — Author post, review
February 6: Libri Dilectio — Review
February 7: Tales from the Rushmore Kid — Interview with my editor
February 8: Green Bean Teen Queen — Review
February 8: Mother Daughter Book Club — Review
February 9: There’s a Book — Author interview, review
February 10: Mrs. V’s Reviews — Author interview, review
February 11: The Cazzy Files — Author interview, review
February 11: Sonderbooks — Author interview, review
February 12: BookScoops — Author interview, book giveaway, review

Author Interview: Clare Dunkle Blog Tour, The House of Dead Maids

I’m so excited! Clare B. Dunkle is visiting my blog as part of her Blog Tour in honor of her new book, The House of Dead Maids. And be sure to go all the way down to the end of the post for an awesome Giveaway!

Here’s a link to my review of The House of Dead Maids. And below is our interview. I think you will find that Clare’s answers to my questions will make you eager to read the book!

I’m so pleased to have you visit my blog for my first ever author interview! I think of you as a friend, since we met up a few times when we both lived in Germany, after I posted on your blog how much I loved The Hollow Kingdom. I’ve loved your other books over the years, too, so when I saw an Advanced Reader Copy of The House of Dead Maids at ALA in June, I snapped it up.

I’ll go a little off-topic for my first question. You lived in Germany 7 years and I lived there 10 years. What was your favorite thing about living in Germany?

I think of you as a friend too, Sondy! As I recall, you attended my very first book signing. (I also recall that the bookstore somehow didn’t manage to have any copies of my book on hand—that put quite a damper on the happiness of the occasion.)

What was my favorite thing about living in Germany? Oh, there were so many! But best of all was the ability to travel a short distance and see picturesque and ancient things, like the Porta Nigra, just forty minutes from our doorstep, which the Romans had built eighteen hundred years ago.

(Fun! That’s almost exactly the same answer I would give to that question!)

One thing I love about your books is that they feel so much like historical fiction, it makes the reader believe these events really happened, including the fantastical ones. I don’t normally like ghost stories, but The House of Dead Maids felt so much like reading Jane Eyre, the ghosts just seemed like a natural part of the story. Tell us about the research you did for this book, and to get the voice just right (which you did!).

This manuscript came along at a very rough time in my life—real trouble in my family. I didn’t like to leave home much. I couldn’t even read cheerful books. But I did feel safe spending time with the Brontës because I knew they hadn’t had a perfect family, either, so I turned my attention to Wuthering Heights.

Now, you know how much trouble we had overseas getting our hands on the right research books. Our little base library could get materials only if they were held by another U.S. military base. But by sheerest good chance, I learned that we have a U.S. base in Yorkshire, and from that base I was able to get all kinds of fascinating research books: picture books about the Brontës, collections of Yorkshire folklore, critical readings of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, volumes of Yorkshire history, even books about Yorkshire weather over the last several hundred years. I read them until Brontë and Yorkshire trivia just oozed out my pores. This gave me something to do other than hyperventilate (which is what I did whenever I stopped reading long enough to worry about my family). I was also reading books on pagan rituals at the time, and I reread Frazer’s Golden Bough, whose influence on my manuscript was considerable.

And of course we traveled to Yorkshire and got to visit all the right kinds of Elizabethan mansions and windswept moors. You can see pictures from that trip here on my website.

After I had a pretty good sense of my setting and of the ideas in my characters’ heads, I turned to the problem of narration. I tend to be one of those people who pick up accents without meaning to (and usually end up sounding pretty funny), so to prepare to write the narration, I read Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall over and over to get the vocabulary and style down pat. I didn’t want to end up sounding like a Victorian; I wanted to end up sounding like a Brontë!

I’ve been reading your other blog tour posts, and one said that you began this book in 2005. Why is it being published so much later?

I finished the manuscript halfway through 2006, and it sold then, but I wound up having to buy this manuscript back from the publishing house that held it. I realized that it was misunderstood there and that if it got released, no one would ever hear a whisper about it.

So we got permission to shop it around again, and we took it to Holt, back to my beloved editor with whom I’d worked on the Hollow Kingdom Trilogy, and Holt bought it back for us. But then Holt had to make room for it on their calendar. It meant losing a couple of years.

I also understand that you have written a memoir with your daughter, and I believe you’ve also written library-related nonfiction. How is writing nonfiction different for you than writing fiction? How is your process different?

In fact, I did so much research on Wuthering Heights and on the Brontës that I wrote a ton of nonfiction connected with The House of Dead Maids. I found that I had a lot that I wanted to say about those subjects, and I didn’t want all that hard work to go to waste. You can find my essays about the Brontës on my website at this page. (The last time I printed all the Brontë stuff out, I think it came to about seventy pages, single-spaced.)

Writing this sort of research essay is like writing my library-related articles: it’s easier to do than writing fiction, but I have to marshal my facts first. I try to line up the facts I intend to cover and put the direct quotations I intend to use into the right order in my Word file. Then I try to write the text around those quotations. But in practice, that breaks down. I never seem to have every quotation I want in the right spot, so there’s a lot of breaking off and hunting up citations and quotations—big untidy piles of books with little Post-It flags sticking out of them, marked up printouts scattered around, that sort of thing.

Writing my daughter’s memoir has been different. That’s been more like writing fiction. It’s channeling characters, even if those characters are us. We’re going for emotional effect, of course, not dry facts. But the part of it that isn’t like writing anything I’ve done before, fiction or nonfiction, is the pain. You know that an author has to feel the pain of the characters in order for the reader to feel it too—now imagine writing your worst memories and nightmares down and being sure that you keep writing out all that pain. I won’t be sorry when revisions are over for this one.

Back when I talked to you in Germany, you didn’t read fiction while you were writing fiction. Has that changed? Read any good books lately?

I still tend to read more nonfiction than fiction, and my research tends to dictate my fiction list anyway. But I do read fiction nowadays, although I go on weird kicks. Earlier this year, I read as much Shirley Jackson as I could get my hands on, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Sundial have become two of my favorite books. But lately I’ve been reading sea tales.

Don’t tell Amazon this, but I use the Calibre program to produce mobi files out of full-text Google books (those that are in the public domain, that is). Then I can read them easily on my Kindle DX, which I just adore. The last book I read this way was H.G. Wells’ quirky little tale, The Sea Lady, and I also recently read William McFee’s Casuals of the Sea, a rambling story from the 1910’s that more people should know. And of course I’m reading Joseph Conrad. I appreciate him more now than I did when he was assigned in school. I’m fascinated by the contrast he reveals between the simple, straightforward life of a man at sea and the enormous complications of life in a foreign port. It’s obvious that this was the bane of Conrad’s existence when he was a seaman.

Being an ex-librarian, I like free stuff, so I can’t resist mentioning a favorite source of audio recordings: That’s a volunteer-only site for public domain books on tape. I download them in mp3 format and then play them on my phone or mp3 player while I’m working out. I’m currently listening to the second of the two Treasure Island recordings, the one done by Dr. Adrian Praetzellis of Sonoma University. He’s a splendid narrator! A professional actor couldn’t do better. You can find a complete list of his librivox readings here.

I see that your publicity photo was taken in Venice. Do you have plans to write a book set in Venice?

I loved Venice, and I thought seriously about writing a story set in Italy, but ultimately, I decided against it, at least for the time being. I’ve been fascinated this year by Shirley Jackson and her ability to make a bland, familiar setting feel eerie and unsafe. It’s that juxtaposition of the known and the unknown that leaves readers looking over their shoulders. So I decided against Italy. It’s too exotic. Any creeps readers got from reading about it wouldn’t stay with them when they closed the book.

I’ve never read Wuthering Heights, but when I talked to you before this interview, you said it would be okay to read this book first, since it is a prequel. You also said you hoped your book would win new readers for Wuthering Heights, and I want to tell you that for this reader at least, you completely succeeded! I want to find out how these things play out in Heathcliff’s life!

Fantastic! That’s exactly why I wrote The House of Dead Maids. I hope you enjoy Wuthering Heights. Those first three chapters are so full of dark surprises and so splendidly written that I envy you getting to read them for the first time. Then you can consult my webpages about the book’s mysteries and motifs and see if you agree with what I’ve written there.

Clare, thanks so much for visiting my blog!

It was my pleasure. You were there at my first signing—now I’m here at your first author interview. Here’s to many more of both!

Readers, be sure to catch her next stop at! And meanwhile, here’s a fantastic giveaway in conjunction with the blog tour!

Special Brontë-themed giveaway!

One Grand Prize winner will receive The House of Dead Maids, a gorgeous Brontë sisters pocket mirror, and the HarperTeen edition of Wuthering Heights! Two lucky runners-up will receive the two books. To enter, send an email to with your name, email address, and shipping address (if you’re under 13, submit a parent’s name and email address). One entry per person and prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses. Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on October 31. Winners will be selected in a random drawing on November 1 and notified via email.