I interviewed Gail Carson Levine at my local bookstore two weeks ago. Plenty of people came to the talk after the interview. The kids loved her, and so did my friend and I. She seems to come right out of one her books.

What’s your process of writing? Do you plot extensively?
I write a lot of notes. Because I’m working from fairytales, they give me a structure. Other than that, I figure things out as I write.

If you were in Wilma’s position, what would you have wished?
If I was in Wilma’s situation, I might have wished to be more popular. I don’t think that I would have wished to be the most popular. I skipped eighth grade. I was very unpopular in tenth. I also might have wished to be at a different school entirely. I wanted to go to a music and arts school. That’s where I would have really liked to be.

How much of Ever was inspired by the part of the bible? Did you base Ever on more than one story?
The ideas came from the story of Jepztha and his daughter. Before I wrote it, I also reread the Greek myths. I read Mesopotamian myths. So when Kezi goes into the underworld, that comes from the little bit of illusion in the bible to eating dirt. There’s also that in Mesopotamian myths. The god of the winds might have come from the Greek gods of wind. Certainly the idea of the gods having personalities and having flaws is not from Mesopotamia. It is from the Greeks.

How do you come up with unusual names?
I looked at Mesopotamian names online, and they are very long. I kind of chopped them up. They’re so long because they incorporate all the names of the ancestors.

Are there any authors that inspire you to writer?
I wrote Ella Enchanted after reading Beauty by Robin McKinely, which I loved, and I thought well there’s a retelling of a fairy tale. Maybe I could do a retelling of a fairy tale. I was a huge reader as a kid. I read books over and over again. I think that I can’t trace my books to a certain author that I loved. But because I read books over and over again, the language got inside me. And that comes through when I write.

What’s your favorite part of being an author?
Well, I’m really happy when I’m writing something funny. That I enjoy a lot. When I feel that I’m telling a good story I’m happy about that as well. In Ever, writing from the two different points of view- I enjoyed that tremendously. In Fairest, I loved writing the songs. In Two Princesses of Bamarre, I particularly liked writing the epic poems about Drault. So it’s those parts of the writing process that I love. I also love finishing. I love revising. Revising is probably my favorite part of writing.

How many drafts do you go through?
Well, I revise a lot as I write. So by the time I finish a first draft, it’s generally in pretty good shape. I can go through maybe two or three more times. I send it off to my editor, and go through it a bunch more times.

If you were to be a character in any fairy tale, who would you be?
The first character that came to mind was Rumplestiltskin because if you think about him, he’s made out to be a villain. He turns the straw to gold and he has the right to that child. But he gives the Queen three opportunities that he doesn’t have to give, to get her baby back. And that makes him pretty kind. So he is appealing. In Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, the slave girl, I can’t remember her name; she might be the one I would choose. She’s the one who figures everything out and makes everything happen.

What inspired you to write Fairest? Did you originally see it as a retelling of Snow White or did you know the character of Aza first?
No, I saw it as a retelling of Snow White and when I reread Snow White. The description at the beginning with the Queen standing at the window and it’s snowing out, pricking her finger, the blood falling on the snow, and thinking “Oh, if only I could have a child with lips as red as blood, skin as white as snow and hair as black as my ebony frame.” What happened to me at this moment was the discovery that this was a really ugly combination. Fairest came out of this understanding. At first I thought it would be Areida. When I reread Ella, I realized that she is dark-skinned. I need Aza to be very very white. So it came from the fairy tale. And then being ugly, I had to decide how her attitude towards that was.

Part 2 coming this weekend! I’ll be posting this interview in three parts.

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