We’ve seen a lot of retellings lately, from comic book
movies to fairy tales hitting the big screen. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is no different, but what author
Karen Foxlee did with the classic tale of The
Snow Queen is nothing short of breathtaking. Take a peek at what she has to
say about her novel and her craft.
Survey Says with Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy author
My best friends call
me... Fox. Foxlee. Foxleg. Foxy.
I day-dreamed my way through high school
And back then, I was…
the quiet girl with a wild streak
My favorite color is…
YELLOW! GLORIOUS YELLOW!
I got my first kiss
when I was… 15
And he was… my
first ever real head-over-heels crush. I was way too nervous.
Never have I ever… eaten
And I really, really
want to… travel on the Orient Express
I am seriously
crushing on… Mr. Darcy (from the pages of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) – even after all these years! What is that
I wish… I would
not procrastinate so much.
My favorite book is…
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
The best book I read
in school was… This Perfect Day
by Ira Levin. Dystopian fiction at its
And right now, I
can’t wait to read… The Nargun and the Stars by Patricia Wrightson. I just found it after years (I read it as a child!).
The author whose work
I read religiously is… Ruth Rendell (UK crime writer)
I absolutely could
not write without… the beautiful dawn, a cup of coffee and my glasses.
If I wasn’t a writer,
I would… be a museum curator
But I knew I was
going to write great things when… I found a character called the Marvelous
Boy locked away in a vast spooky museum.
punctuation mark is… a question mark – stories grow out of the
interrogation of ideas.
The grammar rule I
always mess up is… the capitalization of proper nouns and titles depending
on direct and indirect speech (or something like that?)
One word I love is…
One word that makes
me cringe is… cuddle (I don’t know why!!! I like the actual thing – just
dislike the word).
The best thing about
writing is… solving the puzzle of a story
And the worst thing,
sigh, is… feeling lost and overwhelmed by a story.
Let’s get into the
good stuff! We asked Karen just a few Qs about Ophelia…
Q: You’re a nurse by
trade. Where does the writing come in to play, and how on earth do you find the
time to do both?
I work as registered nurse on a casual basis, so I fit it
around my writing now. It is a wonderful
profession nursing, filled with amazing people. It helps me to leave my
creative life for a while and get practical and “real” with nursing.
Q: If you could write
like any author, whose style would you borrow? What do you most admire about
I have so many writers I admire for so many different
reasons!!! I loved Marcus Zusak’s writing style in The Book Thief which is natural, fresh, and so completely
unique. He stares the brutality of war
and death down the barrel while celebrating life and the power of words at the
same time. I admire any writer who is
courageous in their style and subject matter.
Q: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a
retelling of The Snow Queen, which
we’ve just seen on screen recently with Frozen.
How did you transition from the fairytale to your own story? How do you make a
classic character or story unique and modern?
I was captivated by The
Snow Queen as a child so it’s no surprise she turned up eventually in one
of my stories. I think the Snow Queen is
an amazing character in that she is constantly being borrowed by writers and
artists of all types. I made her my own
from the start without thinking too much. She was just there! I could see her; so pale and pretty and sweet but
really – very evil. I could hear her high heels hitting the museum marble. I could smell her. She is really quite terrifying.
Q: I love Ophelia’s
full name—Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard. How did you come up with something
so original and interesting and perfect for her character?
It is a perfect fit isn’t it? I needed someone to find the
boy locked away in that museum room and straight away she was there. I had her name immediately – Ophelia! But that didn’t seem enough, so I added three
more names and that felt good. I looked
up English telephone white pages for surnames. I seemed to be drawn to the W’s.
Writing is magical!
Q: Poor Ophelia’s
mother has passed. Why do you think that’s such a common thread in fairy tales?
The orphaned or motherless child is very common in folk
tales, fairy tales and even lots of modern children’s stories. For me, it is such a good starting off place
in a story – that sounds terrible I know – but having a child facing the world
alone gives such tremendous opportunities for story-telling, for change, for
challenges, for growth. Also I think
readers care more about these kind of characters – as a reader you are drawn to
them, worry for them, root for them, want to stay with the story to see what
happens to them! I know I do
Q: One of the big
things about Ophelia is that she is very scientific in her approach to
life—doesn’t take anything on faith. Why was it important for your story to
challenge her set of beliefs?
Yes, Ophelia likes her world ordered and labeled and
everything provable. On one level, a
story-writing level, it seemed really useful to have a character who didn’t
believe, who couldn’t believe, who could be gradually changed by magic. “But I don’t believe in Snow Queens,” Ophelia
says. I liked the dynamics of that, how
can this story work if she doesn’t believe?
On another level it’s all about Ophelia’s grief. In many ways the magic in the story is about
Ophelia opening her heart to new possibilities; trusting her instincts, not
questioning everything, just being. Experiencing sadness and excitement and
joy. I really like those kinds of ideas.
And now for Karen’s
Q: What is your
writing process like, from start to finish? What’s your favorite part, and what
do you dread?
I start with an idea that grabs me. A three hundred and three year old boy locked
away in a museum room for instance! The idea gets under my skin and I can’t
leave it alone. I ask lots of questions. I get that idea to grow. I write one hundred times more than I need,
trying to find the pattern for the story. Eventually everything falls into place and I am very, very, happy and
exhausted! I love when my characters become so real that I cry for them and
worry over them. I dread not knowing how
the story works, how it all fits together. It makes me sick in the tummy.
Q: How did you plan
out the series, plot- and character-wise? What was tricky, and what was easier
than you expected?
Not really much planning! I’m a terrible planner. I started with the boy; who he was, why he
was in that museum room, what his background was, his remarkable journey to our
world. Then I needed someone to find him
and along came Ophelia. Wow, I was glad
to see her! She has to get that boy out
of the room and help him save the world. There were challenges and clocks ticking down to the end of time. Quite quickly the story started to have a
shape! Probably the trickiest thing was fitting the boy’s story and Ophelia’s
story and Ophelia’s mother’s story together. They kind of nest together and it took a while to get it right! The
easiest thing was the characters – I had their voices quite quickly and feel
for who they were and how they behaved!
Q: This is your first
middle-grade novel. How was writing this novel different from your other two?
What do you have to keep in mind when writing for audiences of different ages?
There wasn’t that much difference in terms of suddenly
loving an idea and wanting to follow it to completion. I guess I eventually became aware that Ophelia
seemed for younger readers, but I still wasn’t sure. All I knew was that I loved the story and I
wanted it to be the best, scariest, funniest, loveliest most exciting story
that it could be.
Q: What’s the best
advice about writing, editing or publishing that you’ve ever been given?
I think the best advice has always been: JUST WRITE. Focus on your craft. Love your words. Practice and practice and practice some more. That’s how you become good at what you do.
Q: What advice can
you give other writers who are hoping to get their work published?
Same again. Write
heaps. Love your stories, worry over them, tend to them, and make them the most
perfect stories you can. Don’t give up
on them. You should never give up on a
Q: Like all writers,
I’m sure you’ve had your share of tough reviews and criticism. What advice
would you give to young writers facing the same thing?
Balance. Always try
to take something away from criticism but never give up on something you
believe has worth! Dust yourself off if you take a knock and sit back down at
your desk. Sometimes it helps to have a
good old-fashioned cry first – I do. But
always pick up your pen and start writing again.
Q: When you’re stuck
and have no idea what to write or how to solve a problem, what do you do?
I just write. Writing
that feels terrible and ugly and useless but it’s writing. Usually if you keep writing the story
unblocks or ideas start to flow, or good writing eventually appears. It’s kind of like turning on a rusty tap. Eventually the water will clear!
Thanks, Karen! Good
luck! You can grab your own copy of Ophelia
and the Marvelous Boy right here.
BY BRITTANY TAYLOR ON 1/28/2014 5:53:00 PM