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Author Interview

LibraryThing is very pleased to sit down this month with children’s author, middle-school librarian and former LibraryThing employee Megan Frazer Blakemore, whose newest middle-grade fantasy, Princess of the Wild Sea, was published in January by Bloomsbury Books. A Junior Library Guild Selection, this story of a young princess raised in isolation as the result of a curse placed upon her has earned starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

Princess of the Wild Sea has been described as a loose adaptation of Sleeping Beauty. Why do you think that fairy-tales are such a popular jumping-off point in children’s fiction? What is it about Sleeping Beauty specifically that led you to choose it as a framework for your story?

As a writer, I think it’s fun to play with existing tropes and the expectations of genres. When your audience is children, their knowledge of these expectations is, naturally, limited. Fairy tales offer a way to play that children can understand and appreciate. This generation of kids is not only aware of fairy tales, but also retellings and fractured fairy tales, so they are primed for this kind of story.

As for why Sleeping Beauty, this story has always been one that frustrates me. The titular princess has so little agency and, in many versions, is the victim of extreme violence. I wanted to give her more power and choice. This also gave me a chance to think about who gets to be the hero of stories and what it even means to be a hero. These are the types of questions I like to grapple with with students, so it all came together.

As a middle-school librarian, you are well acquainted with your audience and their reading habits. What are the unique challenges and rewards of writing for a younger audience?

Because I have so much experience with kids, I know what they are capable of. Kids like to think about big questions. They like to be challenged. It’s my job to create the framework that allows them to do this. As I mentioned above, young readers are still learning the conventions of genre and storytelling. This can be a challenge because you want to make sure they can understand what you’re doing, but it’s also one of the rewards: I get to introduce kids to this world. I get to invite them into the land of literature. That’s a responsibility I take very seriously both as a writer and a librarian.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process. Do you start with a story idea, a character, a scene? How do you go about constructing your story?

I once heard Sharon Creech speak and she talked about how stories come from a collision of ideas, and I think that is true for me as well. Sometimes I will notice something out and about in the world and it will get my wheels spinning, but it almost always has to rub up against something else. In this case, I had this image in my head of a girl running across an island. I don’t know where it came from, but I liked the idea of a story about a girl who was the only child on an island, surrounded by grown-ups. At the same time, I was teaching a course on Children’s Literature at Maine College of Art. We did a whole unit on fairy tales and I was totally immersed in them. My thoughts on Sleeping Beauty rubbed against this idea of a girl on the island, and the story started to come together.

I tend to write what some people call a “discovery draft.” I am figuring out the story as I go. In this case, I definitely took some wrong turns. At about a third of the way in, I cut nearly half of what I had written and went in another direction. It was not as difficult a decision as it sounds—I knew I had taken the story in a direction that wouldn’t work and had to go back.

The revision process is where I really construct the story. I take a look at what I have and decide what I need to do to shape it into something that is actually book-like. I write outlines, make plans, and write multiple drafts until I feel it’s ready to be shared. It’s probably not the most efficient process, but, so far, it works for me.

What is your favorite scene in Princess of the Wild Sea, and why?

Because this is a fantasy novel, there is a lot of magic. I had a lot of fun writing those more whimsical magical scenes. It’s a chance to revel in joy and wonder. My favorite might be a scene that takes place on the night of Princess Harbor Rose’s birthday. Her magical aunts come together to make a beautiful, magical celebration for her. I really wanted to show how much her world is grounded in love so that when that world is threatened, the stakes feel really high.

Tell us about your library. What’s on your own shelves?

If you look at my LibraryThing shelves, you’ll see I have a lot on my “Read but unowned” shelf. That’s because I get a lot of my books from libraries. My bookshelves at home almost serve as snapshots of my reading life. I still have a lot of books from college when I studied Medieval and Renaissance literature. I have research and theory books from when I was getting my MLS. My husband and I together have just about every book Stephen King has written since we both spent our teen years reading him. I mostly read fiction, but I also really enjoy nonfiction, especially deep dives into subjects I’ve never really thought about before. And, of course, there’s a lot of children’s literature.

By the way, I really love the Charts and Graphs feature on LibraryThing as a way to visualize my reading. My Dewey one is definitely 800-heavy, but the genre one shows more diversity. I used tags to take a snapshot of my 2022 reading, and I’m excited to see how that changes over time.

What have you been reading lately, and what would you recommend to other readers?

My reading tastes tend to be a little all over the place. I read a lot of middle grade and young adult because of my job as a librarian and because of what I write. I just read a fun rom-com, Better than the Movies by Lynn Painter. If you like romantic comedy movies and the fake dating trope, this is a good choice. Now I’m reading Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe.

I’ve been recommending When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill to anyone who will listen. I love books where big magic intersects with our mundane world, and it doesn’t get much bigger than thousands of women suddenly turning into dragons. I think Barnhill did such an amazing job of crafting this story around the rage that so many of us have been feeling these past few years.