Hey everyone! It’s been a long time since I had a chance to do an author interview, and I’m so excited to start back up again. I just love hearing the story behind the stories, and I love supporting new and debut authors. About a year ago I stumbled upon Liesl Shurtliff’s blog and read the blurb for her new novel, RUMP, and I loved it. So I basically scoped her book out for the past year waiting until I could ask her for an interview! Hah. She was lovely enough to stop by and answer some questions. Without any more ado…Liesl!
Hey Liesl! Tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been writing? What inspired you to become a writer to begin with?
Hello! I’m just a regular gal living in Chicago with my husband and three kids, plus a cat named Felix. (So original, I know.) I have always loved writing for as long as I can remember, though the thought of being a professional writer didn’t ever cross my mind while I was growing up. I’m not sure I knew there was such a thing.
I’ve been writing seriously (with the intent to publish) for about nine years now. What inspired me? Well…here’s an embarrassing story. When I had my first phone call with my editor at Knopf, she asked the same questions and I blurted, “Boredom.” She gave a kind of awkward laugh and when I think of that moment I give a Homer Simpson “Doh!” But the truth is I did start writing fiction partly out of boredom. I had just had my first child. I couldn’t do all the things I was used to doing anymore, but my baby slept A LOT. I had to fill the hours with something besides Oprah. So I took a course on writing for children and I fell completely in love. I’ve never stopped and I’m not bored anymore. Strange to think that I ever was. But here’s a hint: Should you ever get a publishing contract, if you don’t have a wonderful story about why you started writing, make something up. That’s what writer’s do, after all.
So, RUMP is your first MG novel. Tell us a little about it!
RUMP is the story of Rumpelstiltskin casting the title character as a lovable hero instead of a demonic villain. Here’s a blurb:
In a magical kingdom where your name is your destiny, 12-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone’s joke.
Rump has never known his full name—his mother died before she could tell him. So all his life he’s been teased and bullied for his half-a-name. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. For Rump discovers he can spin straw into gold. Magical gold.
His best friend Red Riding Hood warns him that magic is dangerous—and she’s right! That gold is worth its weight in trouble. And with each thread he spins, Rump weaves himself deeper into a curse.
There’s only one way to break the spell: Rump must go on a quest to find his true name, along the way defending himself against pixies, trolls, poison apples, and one beautiful but vile-mannered queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—Rump just might triumph in the end.
Basically RUMP answers all those questions about Rumpelstiltskin that go unanswered in the original tale, which I find vastly unfair since he is the title character. There are two sides to every tale and I just had to tell this one, in a humorous, yet totally sincere, way.
I must admit to giggling the first time I read the title. I feel like humor was part of your original idea for the Rumplestiltskin retelling. What else inspired this story?
I giggled the first time I thought of it! Humor was definitely there from the beginning, but names were also a big inspiration. I’ve long believed that names hold power and meaning, so I thought it would be interesting to create a world where name determines your destiny. This concept and Rump’s unfortunate name were the seeds of my story. Unanswered questions were also part of the inspiration. For the crucial role that Rumpelstiltskin plays in the story, we know so little of him in the traditional tale. We know nothing of where he comes from, what his name means, how he learned to spin straw into gold, or why on earth he would want someone’s first born child.
Quite apart from Rumpelstiltskin’s role, the miller, his daughter, and even the king’s behavior are odd. Why did the miller say his daughter could spin straw to gold when clearly she couldn’t? What kind of king threatens death on someone who can’t spin straw to gold? And why would the miller’s daughter promise her first-born child, even in desperation? Most answers I’ve seen to such questions are dark and sometimes gruesome, but I don’t really like dark or gruesome things, so I decided that if I were to tell my own version of Rumpelstiltskin, I would somehow make it humorous, something kids and adults of all ages could appreciate.
Being a published author always seems so glamorous, but in reality it can take years to get a book published. What did it take to get RUMP on bookshelves?
Getting RUMP published wasn’t too painful of a process compared to some I’ve heard. I wrote Rump in a little under a year, found an agent within a month of querying, and after some revisions we sold RUMP a couple months later. Yes, that’s fast and on the surface it seems I dodged several bullets on my path to publication. That said, I worked for years to get my writing to the level that I felt it needed to be to deserve publication. I have two shelved novels that I never queried and I find that all that work was all part of getting to RUMP. So if you look at it that way, it took me seven years to get a publishing contract, 9 years to RUMP on the shelves. I’ve heard other writers say it takes about a decade to get published. There are exceptions, of course, but I’d say that’s about the average.
Did you have any dark moments on the road to publication?
Absolutely. Most of my dark moment have been a result of my own psychological struggles with writing. Writing is something that takes great amounts of courage and confidence, almost to excess, I think. I struggled with that a lot in the beginning. I was afraid that I was wasting my time, that I really didn’t have anything of value to say or share. There are so many great books in the world and so many books period. What makes me think mine belongs on the shelf? And here’s a little secret: I still have to overcome those fears. I have to tune out the voices of self-deprecation, give myself permission to do what I love, and give others permission to love or reject what I do. I still struggle with these fears and many others, but at least I consciously recognize that they’re evil.
In addition to my own self-deprication, every single rejection on the road to publication was like a knife in my tender writing heart. It’s very painful to have someone dismiss your work, but I’m learning to deal with that, because when you’re a writer, the whole world can dismiss you without batting an eye. Agent and editor rejections are only the beginning. I don’t think I’ll ever develop a “tough skin”, like some people say writers should. I think writers are supposed to be sensitive, but I’m developing a resilient skin, one that heals quickly and keeps writing no matter what.
So did you have any special authors or books (or teachers, or friends…) who influenced your writing?
Lots! Influential authors include Roald Dahl, Gail Carson Levine, Shannon Hale, and Shel Silverstein. I’ve learned from every author I’ve ever read, but those are the one I think significantly influenced my writing. I’ve had many great writing mentors and teachers, but one of my earliest was my 9th grade English teacher, Ms. Edvalson. She was such an inspiriting role model during a tumultuous time in my life. She taught me to just write, let it out, worry about what it all means later. I think I remember her classes as being the first time I really wanted to be a writer, but it would be years until I came back to that desire. I wish I could get in touch with her today to let her know how much she meant to me, but I’ve lost track of her. (Ms. Edvalson, reappear!)
Talk to us about your awesome cover! I feel like it says so much about your book and characters–did you have any say in this? Did you get to see any of the cover development at all?
Thank you! I love my cover and feel it matches the tone of the book perfectly. There’s magic and humor, but also darkness and the sense of impossible tasks. My publisher did include me in the cover process. They asked what I envisioned and asked for some examples of other covers I thought were along the lines of what I wanted. I was thrilled when they showed me the artist they chose. Absolutely could not have chosen better myself. Zdenko Basic has this Tim Burtonish quality that I love, but he was able to capture the warmth of RUMP so well. When the cover came through, I had some concerns about certain elements being an accurate reflection of my story, and they did make some changes based on some of my feedback. All in all I was pleased with how everything was handled and I adore my cover. I love it when a kid sees it and goes “Ooh! That looks so good!” I know we preach never judge a book by its cover, but in my case, go ahead!
Do you have any fun promo stuff or events planned?
I get to have THREE launch parties! Aren’t I lucky? This is what happens when you’ve lived in lots of places. I’ll have two launches in the Chicago area and one in my hometown Salt Lake City, UT, plus a couple other signing in the Chicago area. It’s going to be a blast! You can get all the details on those and other events at my website http://www.lieslshurtliff.com. I’m visiting lots of schools and I’ll also be running a few contests where you can win signed copies of RUMP!
What are some good places readers can find you on the web?
Best piece of advice for aspiring writers?
Oh man…be careful with advice. Good advice for one writer may be terrible advice for another. That said, here’s the best advice I can give that I feel is universal: Follow your guts and never give up! If you love writing and think you want to get published, then keep going, do your homework, and know that there are many, many paths. Know where it is that you want to land and then figure out what it takes to get there.
Thanks Liesl! Fantastic answers, it was great having you!
Liesl Shurtliff was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, with the mountains for her playground. Just like Rump, Liesl was shy about her name, growing up. Not only did it rhyme with weasel, she could never find it on any of those personalized key chains in gift shops. But over the years she’s grown to love having an unusual name—and today she wouldn’t change it for the world!
Before she became a writer, Liesl graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in music, dance, and theater. She now lives in Chicago with her husband and three young children, where she still dreams of the mountains. Rump is her first novel.