Author Spotlight: Sarah Henning talks THE PRINCESS WILL SAVE YOU
I'm thrilled to welcome the super-talented, Sarah Henning, on today's blog! In addition to writing some of my favorite YA books, Sarah is a recovering journalist who has worked for The Palm Beach Post, Kansas City Star and Associated Press, among others. When not writing, she runs ultramarathons, hits the playground with her two kids and hangs out with her husband Justin, who doubles as her long-suffering IT department. Sarah lives in Lawrence, Kansas, hometown of Langston Hughes, William S. Burroughs and a really good basketball team.
Sarah's other novels include SEA WITCH, SEA WITCH RISING, and THROW LIKE A GIRL. THE PRINCESS WILL SAVE YOU is her latest YA fantasy, available now from Tor Teen.
The Princess Will Save You is a YA fantasy adventure inspired by The Princess Bride, in which a princess must rescue her stable boy true love, from the acclaimed author of Sea Witch, Sarah Henning.
When her warrior father, King Sendoa, mysteriously dies, Princess Amarande of Ardenia is given what would hardly be considered a choice: Marry a stranger at sixteen or lose control of her family’s crown.
But Amarande was raised to be a warrior―not a sacrifice.
In an attempt to force her choice, a neighboring kingdom kidnaps her true love, stable boy Luca. With her kingdom on the brink of civil war and no one to trust, she’ll need all her skill to save him, her future, and her kingdom.
Hi, Sarah! Welcome and congrats on The Princess Will Save You. Can you tell us a little about the story and what made you decide to re-tell The Princess Bride?
Thanks for having me, Megan! And you’re so sweet, thank you! The Princess Will Save You is the story of Princess Amarande of Ardenia, whose commoner true love, a stable boy named Luca, is kidnapped in a bid to push her into a political marriage. But rather than play the game, she changes it—setting out to rescue Luca, and possibly her kingdom’s future in the process.
If you squint at that pitch, you can see the fingerprints of The Princess Bride on this story, but gender-swapped. I wanted to take the damsel-in-distress trope that The Princess Bride and so many other tales do so well and really examine it, but upside down. Therefore, in my head, it isn’t so much a re-telling as it is a story inspired by The Princess Bride, that features elements familiar to those who know that tale and the tropes William Goldman used in creating it.
That said, I think it’s not enough simply to gender-swap the damsel because there’s so much more to it. I purposefully set The Princess Will Save You in a purposefully hyper-patriarchal world where Amarande, after the death of her father, can’t even access her birthright kingdom without getting married. She’s sixteen and in love with her best friend, and doesn’t want to marry someone simply to access what by blood should be hers.
Because she’s a woman, Princess Amarande struggles against many of the same power structures that prey on the damsel—lack of agency, non-existent consent, and a world built for men to lead—even though she’s not in the damsel position. Examining that along with the idea of who can be the rescuer was sort of the crux of this whole book when I set out to write it.
When it comes to crafting a re-telling, how do you keep the balance between what readers love about the original, while also crafting a fresh take?
Well, I think with any story that is inspired by something else, you as a creator have to be at peace with the fact that everything you do will be colored by the reader’s relationship (or non-relationship!) with the original text. You literally have no control over what the relationship is.
With this book as well as with my first duology (Sea Witch and Sea Witch Rising, which are related to Hans Christen Andersen’s The Little Mermaid), I basically took the things I loved and addressed each theme or archetype in my own way. The end goal being that I hope readers can see how I’ve taken this inspiration and reflected it back in a way that is both familiar and fresh.
Ama is such a great example of a proactive main character. I loved how she talked the talk, but also walked the walk! What do you love most about her?
Thank you! I actually love that so much about her too. She is not the type of character who lets things happen to her—she takes control. She’s not easily shaken, but she does have flaws and is in a stage in her life where she is literally questioning everything, but she is still steadfast in the things she wants: Luca to be safe and sound, and her kingdom to be stable and calm.
I didn’t realize going into it that The Princess Will Save You was written from multiple points of view, and I really enjoyed that aspect! What’s your #1 tip when it comes to writing multi-POV?
Oh, yay, I’m glad you did! My other books are in first person, so I knew it would be a leap for people who had read my other work, but I knew before I even started that this story needed that multiple POV to get the right amount of dramatic irony.
I think my number one tip is to set the stage with each new POV so that there is no question from the very first paragraph whose head you’re in. It will not only help the reader later, but it will also help you as the writer while you’re in the act of creating your first draft.
As a bonus tip, I would suggest that if you’re a writer who uses the program Scrivener, to consider color-coding if you’re working in multi-POV. Google that, and it will change your life. I had different colors for each character, and also for which chapter I was on, so I could have a sense of completion. By the end, I got a great sense of what the balance of voice was just by scrolling through my chapters and watching the colors pass by.
I'm a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing The Princess Will Save You teach you?
Actually, what Princess taught me is that I can handle multiple projects and still produce art I’m very, very proud of.
We actually sold the Princess duology and Sea Witch Rising within twenty-four hours of each other. That never happens but my agent (Whitney Ross of IGLA) is such a badass that she made that happen. Then, she worked air traffic control with all three of my editors to get things lined up so that I had room not only to write both Sea Witch Rising (which was “crashed through” and came out in August 2019) and The Princess Will Save You (because both sold on proposal) but also complete my edits for Throw Like a Girl, which was originally scheduled for fall 2019, but slid a few months to January 2020 to accommodate promo for Sea Witch Rising. Basically, September 2018 through September 2019, I was balancing all three books in various stages of development, and it was a lot, but I’m so very proud of what I accomplished, and what I now know I am capable of doing.
And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned (so far) in your publishing career?
All you can really truly control is the story you write. That’s it. So write the best story you can!
So many thanks go out to Sarah for taking the time to tell us more about the work that went into THE PRINCESS WILL SAVE YOU, as well as for sharing writing tips and lessons she's learned along the way in her publishing journey. Be to sure to add THE PRINCESS WILL SAVE YOU to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy (WRITE) NOW from retail sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
For more information, keep up with Sarah on Twitter, Instagram, and visit her author website at sarahhenningwrites.com.
And, as always,