Some Queens are content with being the Royal Consort/breeder of heirs/alliance maker, some refuse to accept the situation as nothing more than duty, and some welcome all facets of the job including the role of a ruling Queen; a seat of power and influence. Irisa, daughter of a scribe, or so she has always thought, is suddenly thrust into a world she does not understand; the world of princes and kings. The irony of her situation (which I will not divulge) is cunningly wrought, and the solution Irisa arrives at is… well, you’ll have to read the book. 🙂 In masterful storytelling fashion, the author brings to life a fantasy world, brings to life the inhabitants of that world, and brings to the reader a tale of discovery, a tale of power seeking skulduggery, a tale of loyalty and love. A tale replete with surprises, as well as a few hints about book three – yes, my peeps and fellow travelers, book three is in the works. 4.7 stars
Stephanie was gracious enough to submit to being interviewed by yours truly. Thank you, Stephanie, for braving the unknown. So, without further ado:
What is it that prompted you to start writing?
That’s a really great question, and one I’ve been forced to think a lot about in the last several years. As I’ve pondered the question, I’ve come to realize that the desire has always been there. I just didn’t recognize it. It’s kind of embarrassing, really, to think that I had been so oblivious to my abilities my entire life!
I was a consummate daydreamer as a child. I’d spend hours wandering the countryside around my grandparents’ Nebraska farm, daydreaming and telling myself stories or pretending I was the protagonist in a live-action adventure. Didn’t every kid do that? My freshman year of college, my creative writing professor used to use my stories as examples for the other students of what to do. I’d shrug my shoulders and wonder why it was a big deal. Early in my adult life my sister and I would swap story writing, adding the next chapter to the other sister’s story then passing it along for the other to add the next chapter. These were just things I did without thought, purely out of enjoyment. Everyone does that, right? It never occurred to me that I was any good at it or that it was an unusual hobby.
The signs were all there. It just took someone with the weight of “authority” behind their name to point it out to me. Enter historical fiction novelist Sharon Kay Penman. To this day she minimizes her impact on my writing career, saying that I’d have come to it on my own eventually. I vehemently disagree. Clearly I’d been woefully oblivious throughout my whole life already, why would I suddenly change course? I had been a rabid fan of her novels so wrote a review of one of her books for her. It was something about that review that caught her attention, causing her to pen the fated question in an email: “Have you ever thought about writing?”
It was that question that prompted me to start writing with a goal towards publishing. It also started a mentoring relationship with my favorite author as well as a lifelong friendship.
Why this particular genre?
Another question I’ve had to think long and hard about in the last several years. I didn’t really start off considering genre when I began my first novel. It just sort of wrote itself organically — the settings, characters, and plot, all taking shape on the page of their own accord. I simply wanted to tell a story, and I didn’t need any history to do it. My focus was on characters and their motivations, their pains, their passions, their circumstances. Because I have read so much historical fiction, the world of historical places and people is so seeped into my consciousness that it couldn’t help but come out. Ms. Penman urged me early on to write what I love, not what I thought readers, publishers, or the market might want. The idea being that if you don’t love what you are writing, why write it?
Looking back at things, I chose a hard route. My books are not truly historical fiction and they aren’t truly fantasy. Not in the traditional senses anyway. They are kind of a hybrid that echo elements of each genre without being true to either. This makes marketing quite difficult, and it’s hard to target a particular reading audience. I have been told that readers of historical fiction should find enough familiar in my books to make them feel at home, thus prompting me to adopt a sort of tagline of “fantasy that reads like historical fiction.”
Were there any influences that helped you create the world of Kassia and Irisa?
The first scene I wrote in The Scribe’s Daughter came about because I re-imagined a scene from the animated Disney movie Aladdin. In this particular scene, Aladdin’s monkey friend Abu steals an apple from a market merchant. So as not to get caught, Aladdin runs away to escape the pursuit of the local authorities who want to cut off his hand for stealing. I simply eliminated the monkey and made my protagonist a girl. That was my first glimpse of Kassia, and the more I got to know her, the more intrigued I became. Her spunky reckless nature and her caustically sharp tongue were hard to ignore. So she got her own book!
Part way through writing the first book, Kassia’s older sister, Irisa, began to tap me on the shoulder. “Excuse me, scribe?” she asked very politely. She is like that. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but I have some really important things to share. Kassia wasn’t the only one to go on an adventure. And since my experiences will have a significant impact on my sister, I’d like to share what has happened to me.” And so The King’s Daughter was born.
I can think of several authors who very specifically influenced my writing of these books, primarily for style, but some for plot and mood: Sharon Kay Penman (of course), Stephen Lawhead, Juliet Marillier, and Bernard Cornwell. The authors that have proven to be the most helpful to me in terms of mentorship are Sharon Kay Penman (of course), Elizabeth Chadwick, and Michael Jecks. Each of these are fabulous writers in their own way, but each of them is humble and extremely helpful to other authors.
What books, genres, authors do you read when you’re not writing?
Lately I’ve been reading multiple books simultaneously, one non-fiction and one fiction. The non-fiction is all history, particularly 13th century British history. In the fiction world, I made a decision about a year ago to read primarily from within the world of indie authors. It has been FABULOUS, and I am utterly amazed at the amount of talent, particularly from within my circle of author friends. I’ve still got a long, long way to go to get through their lists! I know some very prolific authors, apparently! There are a few mainstream authors whose books I’ll buy sight unseen as they come out: Sharon Kay Penman (of course), Elizabeth Chadwick, Bernard Cornwell, and Stephen Lawhead. I also enjoy a break from history and historical fiction now and then so will read murder mysteries, black ops political thrillers (Brad Thor, Vince Flynn); and now and then a literary work that has been recommended. The most recent was A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, a Swedish comedy-drama that a friend of mine recommended.
Who do you turn to for advice or encouragement when the Muse is a bit reticent in supplying inspiration?
Am I one of the few who has never experienced the dreaded writer’s block? Because honestly I can’t say I’ve ever been so stuck I’d felt I lost my muse. There have been times in plotting when I am not quite sure what the next step will be for my characters, but usually I just need to keep pondering. And it’s usually when I am not thinking too hard about it that ideas come to me. My best ideas always seem to come in the shower or when I’m out in nature walking my dog. In those moments I’m not really “working” but just allowing my mind to wander, engaging in free association. I find that my mind tends to solve its own problems without me trying to help too much. If I do need outside help, I’ll go to my mentor Sharon every time. She has been an amazing source of wisdom because her experience is so long and deep.
I know from my own experience as an author how frustrating it is knowing you have written a good book, are getting positive feedback and reviews and yet sales are slow. Does that ever make you question why you do it?
Absolutely! Weekly! Sometimes daily. If something specific has prompted my despair, I’ll allow myself time to wallow, but at a certain point I tell myself enough is enough. Then I just get on with it. I am not writing to become rich or famous, but it certainly is easy to get caught up in the desire without realizing it’s happened. Success looks different for every author. I will constantly pursue perfection, or at least improvement. So as long as I’m making progress as an author, I’m heading in the right direction. Learning contentment with where I am right now is a good lesson, and one I learn every day. My husband and I constantly remind one another to “compare down” rather than look at those who have more than we do. We’ve done it all 20 years of our marriage. This philosophy basically means that it’s easy to think you don’t have enough. It’s when you look at those with less than you that you realize how much you have to be grateful for. The same applies to writing. There are many other authors who struggle more than I do, either because of certain challenges or because they are newer to it than I am. Rather than make me arrogant, it humbles me. I’ve been given a lot, and I’m grateful for all of it. I’m not on this earth to live a selfish life, so if things don’t seem to be going as well for me as I’d want, I look outward and see how, if at all, I can help other authors. Why not make the load lighter for others?
What is next for Stephanie Churchill?
Until I am able to install a shark infested moat around my house, I am struggling to write book three, as of yet untitled. Life is continuing to get in the way, so it’s been quite a fight. This book will combine the stories of both Kassia and Irisa and their respective families, tying in loose threads from both previous books. I had finished off The King’s Daughter alluding to the story of Irisa and Kassia’s mother, intending to write a prequel next. I got a fair way into planning that book but hit some walls for various reasons. And then the whispering began again, this time from Casmir, one of my main characters from The King’s Daughter. He said his unresolved issues take much more precedence. Many readers of The King’s Daughter were fascinated by him, he argued. Give the reading public what they want, he said. A bit of an ego, huh? He is a king. What was I supposed to do?
I used to live my life as an unsuspecting part of the reading public. Spending my days in a Georgetown law firm just outside downtown Washington, D.C., by all outward appearances I was a paralegal working in international trade and then antitrust law. I liked books, and I read them often, but that’s all I was: a reader of books.
When my husband and I got married, I moved to the Minneapolis metro area and found work as a corporate paralegal, specializing in corporate formation, mergers & acquisitions, and corporate finance. Again, by all outward appearances, I was a paralegal and a reader of books.
And then one day, while on my lunch break, I visited the neighboring Barnes & Noble and happened upon a book by author Sharon Kay Penman, and while I’d never heard of her before, I took a chance and bought the book. That day I became a reader of historical fiction.
Fast forward a dozen years or so, and I had become a rabid fan of Sharon Kay Penman’s books as well as historical fiction in general. Because of a casual comment she’d made on social media, I wrote Ms. Penman a ridiculously long review of her latest book, Lionheart. As a result of that review, she asked me what would become the most life-changing question: “Have you ever thought about writing?” And The Scribe’s Daughter was born.
When I’m not writing or taxiing my two children to school or other activities, I’m likely walking Cozmo, our dog or reading another book to review. The rest of my time is spent trying to survive the murderous intentions of Minnesota’s weather.
Books can be purchased at Amazon, iBooks, Google, Kobo, along with other online retailers. Here are the Amazon links: