Reserved yet resilient, Ella Blakeley lives with her cruel stepmother and stepsisters, without hope of escape—until the day Prince Kenton announces a ball that changes everything. Even without mice, magic, or fairy godmothers, Ella might discover a life that’s better than she ever dreamed. This intricately woven twist on Cinderella is an enchanting book you won’t be able to put down.
1. Did you always know you wanted to be a writer or did you want to be something else?
In college, I looked into Psychology, History, and Humanities, but I was just doing the “college thing” and wasting time. I just didn’t love those majors, and when I was being honest with myself, I knew that I had always loved English and reading. Honestly, I didn’t really know if I loved to write back then. I could write papers and get A’s, and that was fine, but it really wasn’t until I sat down and wrote Ella that I fell in love with writing. It was the first time I wrote something that had come out of my own head. I have always LOVED reading, and it was amazing so watch (even when I didn’t realize it) all the characters and themes I had been reading about for years come through in my writing. We become what we read.
I do remember saying in junior high, “I want to stay home with my kids and write.” I didn’t realize as a 13-year-old what a challenge that would be. J But, so far, it has been a dream-come-true . . . with a whole lot of work to make it come true, of course!
2. How long does it take you to write a book from start to finish?
Ella took two years from the time I started writing it to being accepted--with breaks in between. I wasn’t writing and editing that whole time, mostly because I started out just writing for fun and wasn’t really thinking I would try to get it published. But once it turned into a novel-length story and I thought it might be publishable, I started getting more serious and it went much faster.
The first draft took about three weeks to write, but it was garbage. J It’s almost a completely different book now, but it was fun to watch the story take shape and see it kind of tell itself to me.
The next book I’m writing has taken about a year. I’m learning I can’t be rushed because I need to wait for ideas to come. As soon as I start forcing it, I can tell that I need to step away.
My goal is to get to the point where I can write a book, beginning to end, as perfectly as I can, in about four months. That’s probably safe. J
3. How do you come up with themes for your stories?
When I wrote Ella I had about a million different themes and it was so hard for me to narrow them down. But as I wrote, the most important themes sort of manifested themselves and helped me focus. When I started writing, it was about telling a fairy tale in a realistic way that people could relate to. Then, it was more about how we each need to discover our own worth. Then, it was about finding joy in whatever situation we’re placed in. Then, it was about exploring what true love really means and looks like. Also, the power of forgiveness. Those themes all ended up in there, but I think the theme for Ella is we all have great worth, and the most important person who needs to realize that is ourselves.
4. Do you have a schedule of when you write?
I write while my son is at preschool and the rest of the boys are at school, so I have a solid six hours that are mine throughout the week. J But besides that, I’ll usually be doing my regular stuff and suddenly, everyone is happy and playing homework is done and I’ll say, “Hey! I can write right now!” even if it’s for about 13.2 seconds before someone needs me. If I don’t get to write during the day, I’ll try to squeeze it in before I go to bed. As I write this, I’m thinking I should probably look into that whole schedule idea.
5. How are you able to balance other aspects of your life with your writing?
I just go by this motto: People first, projects second.
6. What was the hardest thing about writing a book?
Ella was my first novel, and I decided to take the “fly by the seat of my pants” approach. I didn’t even know how it would end. That might sound silly to some people. “It’s the Cinderella story. Everyone knows how it ends!” they might say. But as I wrote I had to ask and answer deeper questions, like: “Did Cinderella really love the prince, or was she just escaping from her harsh life?” and “Should someone’s shoe size determine their destiny?” and “What if Cinderella had no fairy godmother? How would she solve her own problems?” I had to look at the story from a totally different perspective--no magic, watching someone who had been abused discover her own self-worth, explore what true love was--and really use the characters and story to explore human nature and what love really is. I had to kind of dig deep in a story that most of us accept as a sweet love story with a little magic in there. I do love that story, but to make it my own, while being true to the character of Cinderella, was a challenge. But I learned so much!
7. Where do you write?
I write in my kitchen. I used to have a laptop--but it totally exploded and almost burned my house down. :) We were out of our house for three months this past Spring while everything got cleaned up and put back together. When we moved back home, we opted for a less-explosive desktop option. I loved writing all cozy in my bed late at night--before the laptop incident--but I also like this, though my chair isn’t as soft. :) Sitting up helps me focus, though.
8. When deciding on how to publish, what directed you to the route you took?
At first, I got the Writer’s Market book and went through that page by page, seeing what publishers published books like Ella. I had dozens of sticky notes all over the place and was very quickly overwhelmed. While I did that, I was also writing a query letter. Just the words “query letter” make me want to cry. But, I figured it out...once the blood on my fingers dried from all the drafts. :) After all those hours of searching through that book, I never did submit to any of them.
I started looking at books I owned that were the most like Ella. I looked at who had published them, looked them up online and saw what their submission process was like. I submitted directly to two publishers, who rejected me. (It kind of feels like dying.) And, just when I was ready to give up, a friend suggested Cedar Fort. Four months after I submitted, I got that blessed email that changed my life.
9. Have you gotten feedback from family about your book(s)? What do they think?
Well, I’ll just copy their comments here, so I can use their own words. I don’t want to blush. J
“I really loved this book! I thought that there have been so many Cinderella adaptations that I couldn't possibly be surprised by any more, but I was wrong! I won't go into too much detail so as not to have any spoilers, but I thought I knew the ending, and then I was doubting myself, and then I wasn't sure which ending I wanted, and then I was very satisfied with how it all worked out. The author did a great job weaving the story, revealing more details about the characters throughout, and making you understand them and root for them (or against them!). This is a feel-good story that I will want to read again every year, just like my Pride & Prejudice and Anne of Green Gables books. Ella Blakely is a new character that I can relate to and yet still aspire to be like, and I've added her to my favorite characters like Elizabeth Bennet & Anne Shirley.”
“I love this author! Cinderella is one of my all-time favorite stories. I love the twists to this story, the surprise ending, and the attention to detail. It was a less than 24 hour read for me. Couldn't put it down. You won't be disappointed. For old and young alike.”
“I am a huge fan of Cinderella retellings, and this immediately rose to one of my favorites. If I were to write a Cinderella story, this is exactly what I would have written! Being my favorite fairy tale (cliché, I know), I've always had my peeves in parts of the story. Each of those was addressed in this re-telling and made me quite satisfied. While I adore Ella Enchanted and her reasons for obedience, I liked that this book was very realistic and her reasons were ones that every person can relate to. Ella starts as a good character, but with flaws. Again, like any regular person. She grows over the course of the book. She is stronger and more aware by the end, and still relatable. I think that was my favorite part of the book--how relatable everything was. Even if abuse or servitude is not something a reader is familiar with, they can understand it by the way the story is written.”
10. What kinds of things do you like to do outside of writing?
I am a mother of five boys, which means we play--anything--all day long. I love to sit and snuggle with them while they watch Wild Kratts or Curious George. I can’t sit and watch Power Rangers. I. Just. Can’t. So, I’ll go and play the piano and sing or read. I also love to play catch. I’m kind of amazing at it. ;) I love working in the yard. I’ve always loved to mow the lawn. I take my kids for walks and go to museums and story time. I’m always trying to love running and cooking. Trying.
I love movies. Our oldest is 13, and so my husband and I sneak off to the movies whenever we can.
11. What kinds of advice would you give to someone who wants to start writing?
Don’t be afraid! I was almost paralyzed by fear on so many occasions, and it was always when I was worried about what other people would say or think. When you just realize that you have something meaningful to say, that ONLY you could say...just say it!
12. What is your favorite book? favorite author? Do you have an author that inspired/inspires you to write?
I always, always go back to Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre, and Pride and Prejudice. I also throw in some Little Women and Gone With the Wind in there too. I guess you could say I’m a classics girl. I do really like to new stuff, and I’m entertained by it, but I am inspired by the old stuff, and a big part of me misses those “simpler times” and I wanted to bring a little bit of it to the present day.
It is so hard to choose a favorite author, but my favorite character is probably Anne Shirley. Here she is--an orphan, going from house to house, so lonely that she has to invent Katie, her window friend, and Anne still insists on seeing the beauty in everything! She is funny and spunky and imaginative and determined. I love and admire authors who are able to write such characters as these, but I would probably say I’m more motivated to write by their characters.
And also...Gilbert. J
13. Are you working on anything now?
I am working on a companion novel to Ella. The first draft is done and now I’m getting down to the nitty-gritty. It’s the Ella story from a different perspective. I can’t say whose perspective just yet, but I will tell you--I love it and it makes me cry. :) I love seeing things from different perspective and I love to show what’s going on behind the scenes that the main character had no idea about. So much happened outside Ella’s little world as she was simply struggling to survive, and I really think readers will love it, and just might be surprised.