Author Spotlight: Stephanie Burgis talks The Girl With the Dragon Heart
I'm so happy to welcome Stephanie Burgis on the blog! Before Stephanie became a full-time writer, she won a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Vienna, Austria, earned a Master’s degree in music history, and spent three years as a doctoral student researching late-eighteenth-century opera and politics in Vienna and Eszterháza – research which directly inspired her adult historical fantasy novel, Masks and Shadows!
Though born American, Stephanie spent seven years living in Yorkshire, England (where A Most Improper Magick/Kat, Incorrigible is set) and now lives in Wales with dual US/UK citizenship.
Her latest middle grade novel, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON HEART, came out on November 6th from Bloomsbury Children's Books. Check out the synopsis below!
"Will satisfy readers who hunger for feel-good tales that pack a girl-power punch, like Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted or the movie Moana." --School Library Journal
Silke has always been good at spinning the truth and storytelling. So good that, just years after arriving in the kingdom as a penniless orphan, she has found her way to working for the most splendid chocolate makers in the city as a master promoter. Although Silke loves her work at the Chocolate Heart, she's certain it's not going to last, and what Silke wants more than anything is somewhere to call home--somewhere safe. But when your best friend is a dragon-turned-hot-tempered-girl, trouble is always right around the corner.
Then Silke gets the opportunity she's been waiting for: the Crown Princess personally asks her to spy on the Elfenwald royal family during their first visit to the kingdom. In return, Silke will have the home she's always wanted in the secure palace. But Silke has her own dark, secret reasons for not trusting fairies . . . and her mission isn't as simple as she hoped. Soon, she discovers that her city is in danger--and that maybe it's more her home than she ever realized.
Can Silke find out the truth about the fairies while keeping her own secrets hidden?
And now, here's my chat with Stephanie!
Hi, Stephanie! Welcome and congrats on The Girl With the Dragon Heart. Can you share a little about the story and what inspired it?
Thanks so much, Megan! When I first started writing The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, I meant it to be a standalone book, because I knew that my dragon-girl heroine, Aventurine, would finish her own major arc within one book. However, by the time I was halfway through the first draft, I’d fallen head-over-heels in love with Aventurine’s new best friend Silke, and I knew that Silke needed a book of her own. I love books about spywork and intrigue, and in The Girl with the Dragon Heart, I got to write Silke’s adventures spying on powerful fairies in a gorgeous, mysterious palace with lots of hidden rooms and danger – and of course, some really delicious hot chocolate.☺️ It should work whether or not you’ve read The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, but of course Aventurine is a character in this one, too – because best friends always stick together!
Did Silke’s voice come easily to you? What did you love most about writing her?
Silke is a natural storyteller, which made her voice really fun for me to write! As my editor pointed out when she read the full manuscript, there’s a lot of me in Silke, in the ways that we see the world and in the stories that we tell about and around ourselves. However, because Silke is so good at spinning stories, the challenge for me in my edits was to really dig deep beneath her sparkling surface and get to the true vulnerabilities hiding there.
Children see the world through a different lens than adults. What are your tips for writing an authentic middle grade POV?
You have to find a way to reconnect with the part of yourself that was a 12 or 13-year-old, to focus on the different ways that MG-aged heroines and heroes view the world. I still have some of my old journals from middle-school, and it helps to re-read them sometimes, just to remind myself of that time in my life. It can also help to watch real kids that age in action, whether in your own life (if you’re lucky enough to have younger relatives you can spend time with) or even by watching TV shows like “Junior Bake-Off” that can remind you of just how smart and ambitious MG-aged kids really are.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
Edits! First drafts are so much more fun for me to write. I let the creative flow carry me through and I feel fairly relaxed throughout that whole process even when I’m not sure about what I’m doing. (I alwys tell myself, “It’s all good, I can fix everything later!”) Then it comes time to actually sit down and FIX that finished first draft...and I inevitably have a mini-meltdown where I panic that this time I’ve completely messed up, I’ve lost all of my skills at writing, and, this time, it really will be impossible to EVER fix it and turn it into a good book! But it isn’t impossible – it just always, always feels that way.
Each time, in the end, I just have to get through the emotional meltdown and find the courage and stubbornness to sit down and start picking at that terrifyingly messy draft, bit by bit, in baby steps every day until I can finally transform the process into an interesting logic puzzle to be solved. Once I’ve re-shaped revision in my head into something that’s simply challenging (rather than feeling shameful or scary anymore), it all becomes do-able again.
As a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, what did writing The Girl With the Dragon Heart teach you?
It taught me that I can make bigger editorial changes than I’d ever dared before in my rewrites, and I can make them work! Editing this book took five months (!!!) and involved a lot of tears, but I am so, so much happier with the final edition of the book, and I’m grateful to my main editor, Ellen Holgate, for pushing me to really go the extra distance and risk big changes to make it the best book it could be.
What are you reading, watching, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
As a lifelong Doctor Who fan, I am loving the new, female Doctor as played by Jodie Whitaker – I have an action figure of her standing by my writing space! And I’m always obsessed with the Great British Bake-Off (a.k.a. The Great British Baking Show in the US).
And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in your publishing career?
Stubborn persistence! Selling one book doesn’t mean that you’ll sell another – and there’s absolutely no way to guarantee that you will sell any book that you write. However, I have found that I can 100% guarantee not to be able to sell a book if I let myself get too scared about what might or might not be “marketable” and write a book that doesn’t fit my own quirky reading tastes. Then it inevitably won’t work for anybody, which makes it a waste of my time all around.
On the other hand, if I write a book that I genuinely love, then at least I’ve gotten something out of the process, whether or not it sells. And I have never yet sold a book that didn’t feel quirky, vulnerable and personal to me.
So, I’d personally recommend working to develop a stubborn faith in your own particular reading/writing tastes, while still remaining open to constructive critiques. The point is to learn how to write what you really love better, which will help other people love it, too.
Many thanks go out to Stephanie for taking the time to tell us more about her writing journey, and how THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON HEART came to be. Be to sure to add this magical story to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy (WRITE) NOW from retail sites like Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, or request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
And, as always,