Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
We’re talking with Stephanie Burgis, the author of
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON HEART
Once upon a time, in a beautiful city famous for chocolate and protected by dragons, there was a girl so fearless that she dared to try to tell the greatest story of all: the truth.
Silke has always been good at spinning the truth and storytelling. So good that just years after arriving as a penniless orphan, she has found her way up to working for the most splendid chocolate makers in the city (oh, and becoming best friends with a dragon). Now her gift for weaving words has caught the eye of the royal family, who want to use her as a spy when the mysterious and dangerous fairy royal family announce they will visit the city. But Silke has her own dark, secret reasons for not trusting fairies …
Can Silke find out the truth about the fairies while keeping her own secrets hidden?
From the author of the magical The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart comes a second magical adventure perfect for fans of Cressida Cowell, Cornelia Funke and Peter Bunzl.
Let’s talk to this wonderful author about her fantastic books!
This is Stephanie. Everyone say, “Hi, Stephanie!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Stephanie! Tell us about yourself!
Hi, Casey! I grew up in a college town in Michigan, spent a while living in Vienna, and now I live in a small town in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffee shops. I write fun MG fantasy adventures and also romantic historical fantasy novels for adults, and my cat supervises all of it by pinning me down, purring, every day to make sure I stay still and write. 🙂
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON HEART is the second book in your Tales from the Chocolate Heart series. Where did the idea for this series come from and what was it like working on the sequel?
Whenever I sit down to figure out what to write next, I start by making a “love list” full of things I really love in books (and/or in life). Two of the things I love most are dragons and chocolate, especially hot chocolate – and it was when I put those two elements together that the first book (The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart) was born! Originally, I intended it to be just one standalone book, because I knew that my fierce dragon-girl heroine, Aventurine, would finish her main storyline by the end of that book. By the time I was halfway through, though, I’d fallen in love with her fabulous new best friend, Silke, and I knew that she had to star in her own story.
I love it when a character demands their own story!
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on the series?
I loved researching the way chocolate was made in the 18th century (because I based my imaginary city of Drachenburg, in the kingdom of Drachenheim, on an 18th-century German city) and the kind of chocolate treats that would be served in the gorgeous chocolate house where Silke and Aventurine work.
I discovered that I could learn to love chili-flavored hot chocolate (which was clearly going to be my dragon-heroine’s favorite kind!) if I only drank enough cups of it.
And I discovered that I could do bigger, more structural rewrites than I’d ever dared before, as I massively rewrote the second book to dig far deeper into my fabulous heroine’s (carefully guarded) vulnerabilities and make her arc the story she deserved.
Oh, my goodness. Chocolate research has to be the best kind of research.
Writing fantasy books can be a ton of fun, but they’re also a lot of responsibility. You’re creating a whole new universe to play in! What kind of things do you think about when you’re world-building? Any tips for budding fantasy writers?
I tend to loosely base my fantasy worlds on real historical periods, with all the changes you’d extrapolate from adding magic/dragons/fairies/etc to the world and its history. That gives me a solid kind of base to get started on. But it is so important not to let yourself get bogged down in the way things were in our world. For instance, because Drachenburg feels like a late-18th-century German town (with magic), I found myself starting to automatically write all the soldiers as male – and then thought, WAIT. Why should I? Why shouldn’t there be openly female soldiers in this world, in the ruling privy council, and so on? So world-building became a process of questioning my own automatic assumptions about the way things “had” to be in a setting like this one.
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
Well, honestly, I’d love to transport them into the world of my first trilogy, Kat, Incorrigible! I think they’d all have so much fun together. 🙂
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
I’ve always loved MG fantasy for the sheer sense of wonder and adventure and joyful discovery. Writing it now is my way of tapping back into those feelings.
Any hints about your next book project?
I’m not allowed to talk about it yet! (Argh. I am terrible at keeping exciting secrets!) But I can promise you that there WILL be a next MG book project coming very soon. 🙂
Oooooooooooooh, book secrets!!! We can’t wait to hear all about it!
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
That publishing is so unpredictable! I used to think that once an author sold their first book, they would just steadily keep selling books forever. (Ha!) But the first book I wrote after my first trilogy just wasn’t marketable – and it helped so much to turn to other professional writers and find out just how normal that part really is. Some books will sell and some won’t, and sometimes it’s about quality and sometimes it’s just about finding the right moment. (For example, my adult novel Masks and Shadows didn’t sell when it first went out on submission in 2005, for marketing reasons, but it did sell in 2014, when it finally felt right for the political moment.)
For myself, I’ve found that it’s utterly impossible to guarantee that any new book concept will definitely sell – but I CAN guarantee that I *won’t* be able to sell a book if I try to write it to please other people instead of myself. I’ve never sold a book that I didn’t truly love and that didn’t really spark for me.
A good reason to always write what you love!
What are you reading right now?
So many books at once! I’m usually rotating 5-6 at once. But the two most relevant ones I’m reading right now are Robin Stevens’s Death in the Spotlight and Eloise Williams’s Seaglass.
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
“Never give up, never surrender!” (Thank you, Galaxy Quest!) Seriously, professional writing is a challenging and stressful career, with so many important decisions dependent on factors that are out of a writer’s control. You have to stubbornly hang onto the sheer joy of writing, force yourself to focus on the good parts, and also learn to live with rejection and keep going. It’s totally okay to cry and vent to all of your friends when you’re rejected. But then send that story right back out to the next agent/editor/magazine on your submission list, and get started on writing the next one!
By Grabthar’s hammer…that’s some advice to take to heart!
Thank you for joining us, Stephanie!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out the TALES FROM THE CHOCOLATE HEART series! THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON HEART is out now!
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