Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing is being released in paperback form today in the United States. Though Wildwood Dancing was written as a fantasy tale for the younger sect (8th grade and up), the lyrical prose is still true to Juliet’s voice and promises a satisfying read for teens and adults alike. We’re happy she took the time out to answer a few questions about her work. Enjoy!
Q: What’s the premise of your new book?
JM: Wildwood Dancing is loosely based on the fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses. It’s a coming of age story with a strong theme of sisterly loyalty, and it is intended for keen readers aged 12+, especially girls. It’s a satisfying adult read, too. The story is set in two parallel worlds, between which the fifteen year old narrator, Jena, and her sisters move: the crumbling Transylvanian castle where they live and from where their father runs his trading business, and the magical Other Kingdom, which they can enter at each full moon via a secret portal. Both worlds come under threat, and it is up to Jena and her constant companion, the frog Gogu, to fight the influences that endanger all they love.
Q: What would you like people to know about the story itself?
JM: It combines fairytale fantasy, history, family drama and love story. The Transylvanian setting allowed me to explore some of the darker aspects of the Otherworld, but I’ve tried to avoid vampire cliché. The relationship between Jena and Gogu is central to the book. I’m always puzzled by those Frog Prince stories in which the girl is so thrilled when the frog morphs into a handsome prince. I mean, would you fall instantly in love with someone who had just … appeared? So I wrote a story in which the strongest bond of love is between girl and frog.
Q: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?
JM: Jena is tested severely – her father has to go away for the winter, and although she and her sisters should be able to cope, a series of unlucky events plus the interference of domineering second cousin Cezar robs them of their independence and places their home and the business in danger. It doesn’t help that Tatiana, the eldest, has fallen in love with a mysterious young man in a black coat, and is off in a dream world half the time. Jena is forced to reassess her relationships with her sisters and with Cezar. As the winter starts to grip hard, she faces the possibility that the sisters’ portal to the Other Kingdom may be uncovered, which would lead to disaster for the girls and their otherworldly friends. Then there are the dangerous and charismatic Night People. It’s a lot for a girl and a frog to handle, and Jena must dig deep to find courage, and learn whom she can truly trust.
Q: What unique challenges did it pose for you, if any?
JM: This was my first novel for young adults (I have since written a companion book, Cybele’s Secret, which will be published in the US in September.) My manuscript, as first submitted, erred on the side of being too lightweight – I was told to make it darker, grittier, more challenging. There were some particular emphases I had to make because of this being a YA book. The protagonist’s journey to maturity had to be central to the novel; and I had to make sure characters’ motivations were always clear. My adult novels can be quite lengthy, and the imposition of a maximum word count, though painful, was good discipline for me as a writer. There was no need to reduce the size of the vocabulary or in any way dumb things down for the young adult reader.
Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?
JM: Critical recognition is nice. The hardback edition of Wildwood Dancing came out in the US early in 2007, and the Australian and UK editions were published in 2006. The book has been included on the 2008 New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age list, the 2008 Best Children’s Books of the Year list from the Bank Street College of Education, Amazon’s Top Ten Young Adult books (Critic’s Choice) for 2007 and YALSA’s 2007 Best Books for Young Adults. Here in Australia it won an Aurealis Award for best fantasy novel. But by far the most rewarding aspect is being told by young readers that they’ve loved the novel. I’ve had many wonderful letters and emails from readers. It makes me especially happy when readers tell me my book has provided them with inspiration for their own creative writing, or renewed their joy in reading.
Readers, you can order your copy of Wildwood Dancing HERE at Amazon.com, or look for it at your local bookstore.