Today I interview an author of a delightful new fairy-tale series....J. M. Stengl! I've had the pleasure of reading Mrs. Jill's book, Ellie and the Prince, and I am highly looking forward to new releases! Her fairy-tales are in a modern setting, but still in an enchanting castle resort with all kinds of magical creatures! So without further ado....
Hi, Jill! Thank you so much for coming by my blog! Tell us a bit about yourself and your fairy-tale series, Faraway Castle!
Hello Hannah! I’m delighted to be your guest author today. Thank you so much for inviting me! I’m a wife, mother, and grandmother, former military wife and current military mother, and an animal lover and a bookworm for as long as I can remember. Fairy tales and animal stories were my early favorites—reading the Chronicles of Narnia at age eight was a life-changing event. I’m also a hopeless romantic who got my start writing Christian romance books . . . many years ago now! So, writing romantic fairy tales filled with magical creatures suits me perfectly!
What was the journey that led you to writing these books?
In early January 2017 my daughter, Anne Elisabeth, suggested I try to write a simple fairy-tale series aimed at the current market, starting with Cinderella and involving some of my many hobbies and interests . . . starting with guinea pigs and horses. Together we invented the idea of cinder sprites then added unicorns to the mix, and my imagination was sparked! I went home and wrote the first rough draft of Ellie and the Prince by the end of that month, sending each chapter to AE as I wrote it—and her reaction was most encouraging! Rewriting, editing, and preparations for launch followed amid the upheaval of unexpected major life events, and it was a year later before the series was ready for launch. But that was good, since I really knew my world and characters by the time Ellie and Omar made their debut.
You’ve written before, but in historical romance. How did it feel to switch genres?
Refreshing, actually! I still end up researching many odd things, but fairy tales set in an alternate-reality world require far less research than historical novels. I enjoy playing around with basic fairy-tale plots and themes then fitting them into my Faraway Castle world.
Who is your favorite character and why?
That is a tough question, Hannah! I love each character for different reasons. Okay, I’ll be good and pick one: Kamoana the siren of The Siren and the Scholar was super fun to write, especially since I chose to write her story in first person. She is a science geek like me, and I fell for Tor along with her.
What were some of the biggest surprises that came from being an author? Were there challenges you had to overcome?
One of the biggest surprises for me was how much it hurt to have people dislike my book-babies. In my early author days I received lots of fun fan mail from readers who loved simple formula romance and were almost universally kind. But then Amazon came along and the people who read and reviewed had higher expectations and fewer filters. I’m thankful there was no social media when I first started publishing. Insecure know-it-all that I was, I certainly would have said and done regrettable things! I struggle with ordinary writer issues like organization and plotting, but my greatest personal challenge was learning not to feel jealous or competitive toward other authors. Being a critique partner and doing freelance edits taught me to desire success for others and to enjoy their triumphs possibly more than my own. Teaching literature classes for a homeschool co-op taught me to see my own work through a more realistic lens. I don’t need to write brilliant literature with a life-changing message. I enjoy writing simple, fun stories that make some readers smile and laugh. God made me the way I am, and my books have their place in the world just like I do. That’s good enough for me!
What environment do you tend to write in? And what is your dream environment?
I usually write in my sitting room with my feet up on an ottoman, usually with a cat in my lap or between my ankles. (As I write this, I’m babysitting and my daughter’s cat Mutti is draped over my arm.) But if the television is on in the next room I often head upstairs to the guest room, where both Myles and Mimi can fit on the bed with me at once. My dream environment? Our new house is my dream environment. A tea kettle in the butler’s pantry a few steps away, purring cats to snuggle, and beautiful artwork on the walls—I am content. The cats would prefer a more commodious lap, but I am selfishly unwilling to gain weight for their convenience. They can take turns.
How you do like to relax and recharge?
I love to read--mostly fantasy or kids’ books, some classics, clean romance, mystery, and suspense. For the past three years I’ve been reading through The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers. Still have at least a year to go—it is excellent recharge material! Sometimes I listen to audio books and either sew or color. I occasionally watch movies or television shows (“When Calls the Heart” = current favorite), but I more often go to animal-rescue sites, such as Big Cat Rescue, Tiny Kittens, and The Critter Room on Facebook. I’m hoping for time to sew for my granddaughters soon. Writing and networking eats up a good chunk of every day, but I still find time to play.
What are some of your favorite things? (Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, etc.)
My two granddaughters, cats, horses, guinea pigs, dogs, animal rescue (sites listed above), Compassion International, gardening, sewing, quilting, playing piano, singing, brainstorming stories, and reading delicious books.
Where do you draw inspiration?
From life! People and animals are fascinating, and history is packed with stories to inspire fiction. Fairy tales, like people, are often both ridiculous and profound, which is why they lend themselves so well to retelling.
Can you share some plans and hints for the future?
Sure! Currently I have five books planned for the Faraway Castle series—the next three retellings are of Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, and Snow White. But I suspect there will be spin-off stories galore—Ellie and Omar want a sequel, and several other characters are nagging me for page time. Rafiq insists he will become a great hero someday, better than his big brother by far. I will keep writing as long as the joy remains, the cats inspire, and my daughter is willing to design my covers! When it is time to stop, I expect I will know.
Thank you so much, Mrs. Jill! The best to you on all your endeavors!
Find Jill at: