Happy Book Birthday to Vicki L. Weavil and her YA Fairytale retelling, Crown of Ice!
Snow Queen Thyra Winther is immortal, but if she can’t reassemble a shattered enchanted mirror by her eighteenth birthday she’s doomed to spend eternity as a wraith.
In celebration of her release, I asked her to answer some questions for me about Crown of Ice and her writing.
What inspired you to write Crown of Ice?
I was on Twitter and saw some agents and writers chatting about re-telling fairy tales or folk tales from the villain’s point of view. At the time I needed a new story concept, and I wanted to try my hand at writing Fantasy. Immediately one of my favorite literary fairy tales popped into my head—Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”. This story always resonated with me when I was young. I didn’t actually realize why until I started writing CROWN OF ICE.
You see, when I was a child, I was extremely sensitive. The slightest disapproving look could make me dissolve into tears. One of my doctors told my parents it was as if I’d been born with “no skin.” This caused great problems. I was the “cry baby” and was told to stop crying or I’d be “given something to cry about.” So, by the time I was nine, I did stop crying (at least in public). I built a wonderful mental castle and encased myself within its thick walls. I taught myself to not let anything touch me, so that nothing could hurt me. I buried my emotions.
This coping mechanism allowed me to survive, and even thrive in certain parts of my life (intellectually, for example). But when I got older, I discovered my survival tactics had also created serious problems, and I had to spend time breaking down my “castle walls” so I could truly feel again.
Thus was born the idea of a young Snow Queen, who’d also once been hyper-sensitive, but whose hard life had forced her to “freeze” her heart and emotions in order to survive. What would it take for a person to come back to life, to truly feel again? Could she overcome her survival mechanisms and actually learn to care and love? The whole idea of freezing, of ice, of survival against the odds, of intellect vs. emotions tied-in so beautifully with Andersen’s concepts in “The Snow Queen” that I knew I’d found my story.
And that’s how CROWN OF ICE came into existence.
Hans Christian Andersen has some well-known and beloved fairytales. How did you create your own twist to them?
I really use Andersen’s stories as influences, although I do reference specific aspects of his works in my books. In CROWN OF ICE, for instance, I allude to Andersen’s story through the magical (shattered) mirror, the concept of immortality, Kai’s love of math, Bae the reindeer, the sequence with the crows, and the robber girl and her crew (although I turned the robbers, who seemed rather like bad stereotypes of the Romany, into something else). SCEPTER OF FIRE is a mash-up of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”—thus the ballerina character, the soldier with an injured leg, escaping via water, the fires—and “The Ugly Duckling,” which is referenced by the protagonist, Varna.
The storylines do veer dramatically from the H.C. Andersen tales, of course, but I try to maintain a similar “tone” and stay true to Andersen’s key themes. One important aspect of Andersen’s works is his emphasis on presenting protagonists and other main characters who are NOT royalty, but are rather ordinary folks—peasants, townspeople, or members of the merchant classes. When he did include royalty, it was usually to make fun, as in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. So I made sure that my protagonists and other primary characters were all ordinary people—even my Snow Queen was a village girl transformed by a sorcerer.
What was the best part of writing these books?
I loved being able to pay homage to one of my favorite authors while still exploring new themes and characters.
I also enjoyed weaving magical elements and adventure into what are basically character-driven stories, and I loved writing the animal companions, Bae the reindeer and Luki the wolf!
You have gorgeous prose. What would you say has influenced your style of writing the most?
I think my love of poetry—both reading it and writing it—has significantly influenced my writing style. Poetry taught me that the rhythm of prose could be as important as the dictionary meaning of the words to its impact. It also trained me to be more economical with my prose, while still incorporating evocative descriptions.
Also, I have always read a lot. A LOT. So I must give credit where credit is due and say that I’ve been educated in writing by all of the great authors I have read over the years.
We all know good fairytales need villains we love to hate. What do you think makes a villain truly evil?
To me, true evil involves no sense of remorse and no empathy. It’s not based in fiery anger, but in a cold, calculating disregard for any life other than the villain’s own. I think the evilest villains are people who have lost (or perhaps never had) any capacity to feel love, pity, sympathy, or any human emotion for other creatures. They are totally focused on themselves and what they desire, without even a flicker of empathy dimming their narcissist world-view.
As a consequence, I do believe that some characters who start out as “villains” can be redeemed, but those characters must possess some spark of empathy or other deep human emotion (love, justifiable anger, a concern for children or animals, or some such thing) all along. You might even find a couple of those “villains” in my books!
What was the hardest part of writing these books?
The most difficult aspect for me was maintaining the sense of the past without turning them into “museum pieces.” The books are set in a fictional fantasy world, but it is heavily influenced by early nineteenth-century Scandinavia, which was Andersen’s own period and geographic location. I wanted to stay true to that sense of time and place, but I didn’t want the books to feel “dated,” so that was a major balancing act.
And finally…You’ve got some charming guys in your books. What, in your humble opinion, do you think makes a guy “swoon-worthy”?
I think that varies greatly from one reader to another, so I try to include a variety of male characters in my books. There are a few quiet, studious (but passionate) guys, some charming, snarky, out-going guys, and even one who is the drop-dead-gorgeous “bad boy.” I’d say the one thing they all have in common is that they are intelligent, loyal, and respect women (as well as other men). Oh, they might tease or try to come off as the alpha male occasionally, but deep down, they believe females are true equals. THAT, to me, is swoon-worthy!