I grew up reading children's books and never wanted to do anything but write them. Then I got a contract for THE THIRTEENTH PRINCESS and A TRUE PRINCESS, and then PRINCESS OF THE WILD SWANS and another (yet unnamed) fairy-tale retelling. Magic does happen! I live in the country with my husband in what is aptly nicknamed the Bug House. Visit my website at www.dianezahler.com.
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
It’s the only thing I ever wanted to be. In fact, it’s probably the only thing I can do! I remember thinking when I was in second or third grade that I wanted to write the kind of books I loved to read. How lucky is that – to get to do what you’d longed to do from the age of 8?
Where do your ideas come from?
The books I’ve published so far are all fairy tale retellings, so the basic idea for the story is already there. But there’s a lot of room for invention. Some ideas I add come from legends or myths – A True Princess includes some Nordic legend and myth (the nisse, Odin) and a Germanic legend (the Elf-King). Princess of the Wild Swans has some Irish legendary creatures – the onchu, a monstrous eel-like creature, is one of my favorites. But some ideas just…come, when I let my mind range free.
Who inspires you to write?
My husband, who is infinitely supportive (he reads EVERYTHING, and most of it more than once). And my 11- or 12-year-old self, whom I hope would have liked the stories I write.
What’s the first story you can remember writing?
I was cleaning out the attic a few months ago, and I actually found some of my early writing. The first, from sixth grade, was a poem titled “A Fairy Tale and Sequel.” It started, “Once upon a time/As those things go…” The second was also a fairy tale, this one in story form (though I forgot to give it a title and was graded down for that!). Do you sense a theme here?
What do you do when you aren’t writing?
I’m in Belgium at the moment, doing what I like best: eating great chocolate, writing, and traveling. I’m living here for six months while my husband teaches at the University of Gent.
Which work of yours are you most proud of?
I love The Thirteenth Princess, but I’m prouder of Princess of the Wild Swans, which I think is a more fully realized story. I hope that with each book I write, I improve. So…maybe the next one?
What are you working on now?
I’m revising another book for HarperCollins. This one is not directly based on a fairy tale, though it has a fairy tale at its root. The title isn’t definite yet, but it will be published in September of 2013.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
There are two things I always say to people who want to be writers. One is: Read. Read the sort of books you want to write, and read everything else you can get your hands on. The more you read, the better you’ll write. The second is: Write. No one becomes a writer without actually doing the work. And as
with any other skill, no matter how good you are, you’ll get better with practice. Maybe there’s a third, too: Don’t give up. There may be a lot of rejection along the way, but if you really want to be a writer, you have to keep going. Hardly anyone gets there on the first try – or the second, or the third…you just persevere.
If you had to choose, which fairy tale would you retell next?
I was in Hameln, Germany, last month, and I was very taken with the Pied Piper legend. I’ve written a nonfiction book on the bubonic plague, which ties into the legend – putting those two things together could make a great tale!
You get to choose any of your characters to go out to lunch with. Who do you pick, where do you go, and what do they order?
What an excellent question! I think I would go out to lunch with the Elf-King, though I’m not sure he’s up by lunchtime. He’s sophisticated, dangerous, and completely unpredictable, so I’d take him to El Bulli in Spain (this is fantasy, right? So it’s still open). It’s the kind of place that deconstructs food and creates dishes using molecular gastronomy, and it’s the only restaurant I can think of that might possibly surprise such a jaded creature. I think he’d order the most expensive thing on the menu, not because it was expensive but just because that’s who he is. And he’d maybe take one bite. I would never dare ask him to share! But I think I’d enjoy the conversation…
If you could meet any author (living or dead), who would it be?
William Shakespeare. The historical figure of Shakespeare seems so different from the Shakespeare we think of when we read his works – I’d love to see who he really was.
What are 3 words that best describe your personality?
Imaginative, organized, inquisitive. On a good day.
You are trapped on a desert island, with no way to escape. What 3 books would you bring?
The Complete Works of Shakespeare (are complete works cheating?). I’m not really a Shakespeare freak, though it might sound like it, but it would keep me busy for a while. War and Peace, for the same reason – and because I’d never get through it otherwise. And for fun, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit included – more cheating!
If you had to choose one food to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Chocolate, of course. I’m in Belgium, after all!
What is your all-time favorite fairy tale?
The Twelve Dancing Princesses. All those magnificent dresses, all those gorgeous shoes...
I think Diane deserves a round of applause for her wonderful answers and equally wonderful books!