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Author Interview with Ashley Stangl

I'm so excited for today's interview!!! Ashley Stangl is an author in the Five Magic Spindles anthology. Her Sleeping Beauty retelling is one of the most inventive and exciting short stories I've ever read. Everything about it makes it my kind of tale. But don't take my word for it, I'll let her tell you more about it!!!

Hello, Ashley! Thank you so much for visiting my blog! Can you tell us a bit about your Sleeping Beauty retelling, Out of the Tomb?

Out of the Tomb is a science fiction adventure starring Tanza, an alien criminal who makes a living robbing the high-tech tombs of her native planet. During a job, she stumbles upon a presumed-dead prince from her planet’s history, and accidentally wakes him from a hundred years of stasis. Now, she’s responsible for introducing an out-of-date prince to a very different world while protecting him from the dangers of a life of crime.

What inspired you for this story? You chose an alien planet, sci-fi era, a male Sleeping Beauty, and a history of bloody regicide. How did all this incredible creativity come together?

The first spark of the story came from watching a movie scene where a government agency sent out a team of helicopters. Since I was brainstorming for the Rooglewood contest, I tried to link the notion to Sleeping Beauty. I came up with the idea of a government-sponsored team of archaeologists flying out to the tomb of a prince and waking him from a century of sleep. The presence of technology and the need for a hundred years of sleep suggested a sci-fi story, and I wanted to explore an alien culture, so I decided to make the sleeping prince alien royalty and his rescuer one of the archaeologists.

I quickly realized that a tomb robber would make a more interesting protagonist than an archaeologist. It’s super awkward to face a long-dead royal while robbing his tomb, and a tomb robber can’t run to the authorities with her discovery, so what is she supposed to do with this long-lost prince? That conflict—so different from the conflict of the original tale—gripped my imagination, and convinced me that I had a retelling worth writing.

My first instinct for the tale was to gender-flip the Sleeping Beauty and prince roles, since a female space archaeologist/tomb robber makes me think of Doctor Who’s River Song, and I tend to associate ancient tombs with kings, not queens or princesses. I considered flipping the genders back, but the sleeping princess seemed too vulnerable when partnered with a hardened tomb robber, and the cynical male softened by the idealistic female seemed cliché, so I stayed with the original concept.

The history of regicide was a purely practical consideration. Why would a prince be left in stasis for a whole century in a tomb? Someone had to put him in stasis, so why did no one ever take him out? The obvious answer was that they’d intended to leave the prince in stasis temporarily, but then everyone who knew his condition and location died without passing on the information. That suggested that the prince hailed from an era of bloody revolution, which added extra conflict to my story, as my prince struggled to adjust to the tragic loss of the world he’d known.

Once I had my backstory and my inciting incident, the question became, “What happens next?” What does a tomb robber do with a long-lost prince? How does it change the world and how does it change her life? Exploring those questions provided the rest of the story, and one that I hope has resonated with readers.

Who is your favorite character and why?

Auren is an absolute darling, and I love his wisdom, his innocence, his wit, his kindness, and his enthusiasm for life, but Tanza takes the top spot in my heart. She’s such a mass of contradictions, and the deepest character I’ve ever written. She wants to be an idealist, but has been forced into cynicism by a hard life. She’s intelligent, highly competent, and self-sufficient, yet with deep vulnerability that she barely shows to anyone. She’s been wounded by life, but is, slowly and reluctantly, making her way toward healing. (And her baseline emotion is “annoyed”, which is just plain fun to write). Exploring her character was one of my favorite parts of the story.

What were some of the biggest surprises that came from being an author? Were there challenges you had to overcome?

I think the biggest surprise was the extent of editing. Don’t get me wrong—I love editing. I love editing more than writing. I was tougher on my own story than the editors were. But I was astonished at just how many times I read the story before publication, each time finding things to change. To this day, there are details I would change in the published version. That was probably the biggest lesson from becoming an author—I learned, firsthand, the truth of the phrase: “A work is never completed, just abandoned.”

In general, one of the hardest parts of being an author is learning how to tame my internal editor. The brilliant idea in my head becomes stale and disappointing when I put it on the page, so it’s a big challenge to push myself beyond that disappointment and keep writing so I have a draft I can edit later. It’s still a challenge I’m working to overcome, but it’s always a rewarding endeavor.

What environment do you tend to write in? And what is your dream environment?

I write on my laptop, sprawled on a couch or a chair in whatever empty corner I can find. My most common writing spot is a large easy chair with wide arms that are perfect for holding reference books or notebooks.

My dream environment would be a dedicated writing room, with couches for when I want to sprawl out and write, a desk for when I want to sit up to write, shelves to hold reference materials, and bulletin boards to hold story notes and maps or any other planning materials. It would probably be in a little cottage somewhere in the woods, surrounded by trees, and near a river or a lake, so I would have a peaceful place to recharge when I need a break from writing.

How you do like to relax and recharge?

I like to read, watch TV, and spend time in nature. I love flowers and gardens, though I don’t have the patience to tend to a garden of my own. I’ve recently taken up baking as a hobby—there’s something very satisfying and relaxing about making your own loaf of bread. I also like to travel—seeing different places and experiencing different climates, terrains and cultures helps to widen my worldview and gives me new perspectives for my writing.

What are some of your favorite things? (Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, etc.) Where do you draw inspiration?

I love flowers, trees, rainstorms and waterfalls. I love used books, music, and board games. I love learning about history, culture, and theology. I love reading classics, and I’m a bit of an Anglophile: some of my favorite authors include G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Jane Austen. I believe my writing reflects my love of all these things. In screen media, I’m a fan of Doctor Who (specifically the Eleventh Doctor). I’m also a fan of Star Wars, especially The Last Jedi. (Believe it or not, I never liked Star Wars before writing Out of the Tomb. The day after I submitted the story to the contest, I saw The Force Awakens in theaters, and was astonished at the similarities between Rey and Tanza). I also like Disney movies (especially Tangled), classic sitcoms (especially The Mary Tyler Moore Show), and superhero movies (especially Captain America, which won’t be a surprise to anyone’s who’s read Out of the Tomb). I can get inspiration from almost anywhere, taking pieces of lots of things I love and smashing them together. I like getting inspiration from Pinterest; one of my favorite games is to gather up pictures and make a story out of them (unfortunately, this has left me with tons of story ideas with a very strong aesthetic, but not enough plot or character to actually write them). I sometimes get inspiration from music, but more often from the things that I watch or read.

Can you share some plans or hints for the future?

I’m currently in the very early stages of a sequel for Out of the Tomb—I’ve finally found a character arc to sustain the story, but I can’t make any promises about how quickly or how successfully the story will develop. I have a few more ideas for non-magical fantasy fairy tale retellings, science-fiction stories, and even a new and unexpected idea for a contemporary. Right now, my hope is to explore, and see what stories result.

Thank you so much, Ashley! I cannot begin to describe how thrilled I am over the news of a potential sequel! Hoping the best for you on everything! :D

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