Today I had a chat with Leslie Conzatti, author of Princess of Undersea.
Hi, Leslie! Thanks for talking with me today. Please tell us about your book.
Princess of Undersea is my first book, a fantasy re-telling of The Little Mermaid. It tells the story of Ylaine, the princess of a Mer-Kingdom, who is desperate to convince her father that trying to drum up support for a war against the humans on the small island kingdom of Overcliff is futile; she is even desperate enough to trade away an important magical gift for the opportunity to temporarily transform into a human.
On land, Ylaine meets Prince Nathan, and uncovers a plot against the human king that would endanger her home. Ylaine must decide: does she go back to her father with all of the knowledge she’s gained from the humans themselves, to convince him to leave them alone, or does she stay to help the humans (and by extension, the Merfolk), and risk never seeing her homeland of Undersea again?
What a fascinating retelling! Definitely a far cry from the Disney version. What’s the first book you ever remember reading?
In my earliest encounter with a book that I picked up myself due to personal interest, I didn’t actually “read” the book at all. Instead, I remember flipping through the book, not knowing what the text actually said, but getting really interested in the pictures. The book was Sarah Whitcher’s Story by Elizabeth Yates.
The story was about a little girl who gets lost in the woods, has an encounter with a curious mama bear, and reunites with her family. In my early-reader state, I looked at the pictures and invented a story wherein the girl is “adopted” by the family of bears, and learns to communicate with them, and by the time she is found again, she has bonded with the bears, and hence she considers herself as having two families, one in the city, and one in the woods.
Imagine my disappointment to read that book and realize that the actual story was nowhere near as exciting as the one I’d invented! But that was the moment that really convinced me to start writing my own stories.
Haha, that’s great! I like how you didn’t only enjoy the pictures, but made up your own story to go with them. I suppose we’ve already answered this, but what inspired you to start writing?
As I answered before, it was the activity of looking at illustrations in other books, and making up my own stories purely based on the artwork. I slowly developed the habit of putting together my own “scenes” in my head, and the more I learned to read, spell, and write, the more I was able to actually write down those fanciful scenes, and describe these made-up events in such a way that I could then go back and read over the story I’d written, essentially re-living those imaginary adventures that I couldn’t find in other books.
I found that sometimes I had difficulty remembering things exactly as I had enjoyed them the first time, but if I wrote them down, then I could always revisit those memories. The more I read, the more ideas I imagined, and I haven’t really stopped writing since!
Brilliant! Who would you say is your main inspiration?
I don’t have a single source of inspiration, really. I read a broad spectrum of authors and genres alike, and keep a whole catalogue of favorite books and authors whose books I know I will like, purely because I enjoy their style so much.
Authors like Marissa Meyer (who, honestly, is the main inspiration for turning Princess of Undersea into an entire series of interconnected re-tellings!), and C. S. Lewis (for his straightforward, simple storytelling), and Cornelia Funke (whose inventive twists on the typical fantasy lore are both riveting and diverse), as well as independent authors of today whose works I am OBSESSED with: Kelly Blanchard, Amy Hopkins, Pauline Creeden, and more!
I can tell you’re an avid reader, and it’s so important for writers to read! Aside from writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I do spend most of my free time writing… but when I don’t feel like writing, I also like to read, or watch favorite or interesting shows online. It’s my way of recharging the creative battery, so to speak. I also enjoy puzzles, mazes, and the odd “art therapy” coloring book!
Excellent! Tell me about your writing space. Where do you usually write?
My “writing space” is a bit ironic because while I do have a computer desk and chair, it is currently littered with a bunch of random stuff that I need to organize better… but I’m currently sitting in a low, swivel armchair with my laptop on my lap, which is where I do a lot of writing. I have a short table beside me where I can set down anything I’m eating, drinking, or pens and notebooks I’m not currently using, for easy access, and I also have a short ottoman to rest my feet on if I need to stretch out my legs.
The ability to swivel back and forth is stimulating for my brain, while having all these handy spaces within arm’s reach is great! I have two bookshelves in my room, one short, and one nearly as tall as the ceiling–the short one is almost full, and I’m rapidly running out of space on the tall one, but I am proud of my collection of books that I love!
That actually sounds really cosy and creative. I love it! Are you a morning or night person? What time of day do you prefer to sit and write?
I’m definitely a night person. I can do better if I wake up later because once I’m awake and I find things to do, I can keep going until pretty late. Whereas if I have to get up early (like on a work day) I find it takes me a couple hours at least to arrive at “fully functional”!
The best times to write for me are either immediately after breakfast, or a couple hours after some activity, like late afternoon, or late evening. I feel like at those times, my thoughts have had time to settle, I’ve already entertained myself sufficiently with thinking about the current scene in whatever I’m writing, so I’m mentally prepared, and there’s nothing that is imminent, so I can fully focus on the project in front of me.
Do you plan out your stories or are you a pantser (making it up as you go along)?
I definitely plan it out!
The thing is, I’m so scatter-brained that if I don’t make notes for myself right when an idea occurs in my head, there’s a very good chance that I may never think of it in exactly that way ever again. That being said, I am not shy about changing the plan after the fact, such as when I get further along in the plot and decide that something I’d come up with later on would fit better at a different point, or as I’m writing out the draft and learning more about my characters, suddenly a detail I’d noted further along in the story doesn’t make sense for where the character is in their development… So I kind of combine planning and pantsing–like I plan out my “story checkpoints” the beats and big moments that absolutely HAVE to happen a certain way–but as far as “how to get there”, anything can happen!
I’m with you on that! What’s your favourite book genre? Do you write in that genre?
I would have to say that, in terms of “main genre plus subgenres”, I think fantasy is the clear winner. I love more fantasy subgenres than sci-fi subgenres… even though I love books in both genres!
I do write in mostly fantasy, too. I just love the way that anything is possible in fantasy, or the creative leeway writers are given in making up their own rules for how magic, reality, and everything in between “works” for the world in which their characters live. I’m not somebody who loves doing research over small, inconsequential details, for accuracy’s sake; I’d rather just make something up, and explain why it makes sense for the story, than start with scientific or historical accuracy! Writing fantasy allows me to do only the research that I want to be completely accurate.
I understand completely! Though we also have to work with worldbuilding and consistency. Tell me your top three favourite books of all time.
Okay, I am going to list three different series–I did mention them earlier, but they’re worth talking about again, because people ABSOLUTELY need to know about them!
The first series is The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. Hands-down the BEST ULTIMATE fairy tale re-telling cyberpunk dystopian mashup I have ever read… and I still haven’t encountered one like it!
The second series is one by an indie author, Kelly Blanchard–and it’s called The Chronicles of Lorrek. I am obsessed with the characters and the world she created, the SEAMLESS combination of cyberpunk technology and sword-and-sorcery magic–I am currently reading Book 7, and this epic adventure just keeps getting bigger and better!
Finally, I think the last series I’m going to mention is The Books of The Ancestor Trilogy by Mark Lawrence. This man has a way with words! Books of The Ancestors is his third series, but the first one with a female protagonist, and a largely-female cast. Say what you will about “men writing women,” but I recommend this trilogy in particular because Mark Lawrence NAILS it. Girls with flaws, disabilities, strengths and weaknesses, it’s just a massively entertaining story about a young woman taken in by a community of nuns training to be assassins–but there’s so much more to the story, that it simply HAS to be read!
If you love Mark Lawrence, you should try Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight trilogy as well. Have you ever read a book that changed your life?
I think the most significant turning point in my career as a writer as well as my habits as a reader happened shortly after finishing college. By the time I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English, I was in such a state of burn-out that I didn’t read a single thing for almost three whole months! And when I finally felt like reading, the only book nearby happened to be one that my brother was reading for a school assignment, FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury. Who knew that a dystopian tale about the future where books are banned and burned would be the key to rekindling (pun ABSOLUTELY intended!) my interest in reading?
I arrived at the quote that revolutionized my passion for writing: “Good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones will run a quick hand over her, and the bad ones ravage her and leave her for the flies.” Right then and there, I understood WHY I liked some books more than others, or perhaps only certain books by an author, but not ALL books by that author… It was because of how often the story itself touched real life in general, or the way it “touched” MY life.
I realized that reading isn’t solely an escape from reality, but that as a writer I had an especial task to write in such a way that it would provide the readers with a new way of approaching their own reality, a fictional scenario to present a different way of perceiving the world around them. If I was going to be a “good writer”, I would need to “touch life often”, connect the fantasy with the reality. Instead of dragging the reader away from the situations of their life, I could lead them back to reconnecting with the world around them, and that is what would ensure that my stories would continue to make an impact, long after readers finished the books themselves.
Who is your favourite book character who you’ve created?
Oh this is a hard one to answer! It’s like saying “Which of your children/siblings do you like best?”
I like Giles from Princess of Undersea, because originally he was going to be a combination of Sebastian the crab and Grimsby the butler from Disney’s Little Mermaid… but after that first scene when he was ready to completely snub Ylaine, everything changes once they get back to the palace, and he’s got everything ready for her, and he comes off as less Grimsby from The Little Mermaid and more Joe from The Princess Diaries… He was so noble and patient and kind and engaging, I didn’t have the heart to stick with my original idea, and what is more, he became the prevailing positive influence in Nathan’s life, which made the story so much better, I think!
I am absolutely enjoying the characters in my current WIP, especially Mellisande, a disillusioned barmaid who one night gets the Gift of Inspiration from a fairy, and from that day forward, she can’t stop writing stories that kind of just show up in her dreams and echo through her waking thoughts (kind of like me…) and it’s really a lot of fun to write those scenes where she’s coming up with new material as she’s writing, or she’s trying to make linear sense of these disconnected “visions” she’s having (also me!), so it almost feels like a self-insert of sorts–but hopefully readers will still enjoy her, without it feeling forced! Also Nykkola, first for her COOL NAME, and also for the fact that she’s such a mysterious character, you can’t help feeling that there’s something she’s not telling… She’s the fortune-teller at a carnival that features heavily throughout the book, but at the same time, she doesn’t behave or talk like the “regular” fortune-tellers… There’s something far more personal and real about the predictions and readings she gives.
What’s your latest book about? If you don’t have any books out yet, tell us about your WIP.
My latest book is Princess of Undersea, which I already talked about earlier, so here’s a bit about my WIP, Fugitive of Crossway, the sequel!
It’s not a continuation of The Little Mermaid story, and it focuses on a side character from the story, a young man named Simon, and I used the tale of Pinocchio for my fairy tale connection!
Simon was one of the people in a boating accident in Princess of Undersea, presumed drowned, and his body never recovered, but, as it turns out, he survived, washed ashore on the mainland kingdom of Crossway, where he’s picked up by a traveling carnival troupe and welcomed along, since he doesn’t have any way of getting back home on Overcliff. He befriends the real live mermaid that is one of the attractions at the carnival, and after three months, the two of them finally figure out how to escape the carnival and run off toward the coast, where the mermaid can return to her home under the water, and Simon can hopefully find a way across the Channel to Overcliff, but the carnival troupe and its ruthless Ringmaster are hot on their heels, and Simon is not prepared to be a fugitive in a strange kingdom…
PLUS there is a secondary plot about a barmaid-turned-traveling-librarian who keeps getting these dreams and visions about a young man and a mermaid on the run together… I’m almost finished with the first draft, and I’m having so much fun!
OK, something unrelated to writing! If you could go on a date with any celebrity, living or dead, who would it be and why?
This is a really hard question! Mostly because I wouldn’t exactly want to DATE any celebrity… just, you know, hang out with them! Guys like Freddie Highmore, Tom Hiddleston, Tom Hanks (but, like, the whole family! Rita and the kids included!), James Marsters, Adam Driver, Leslie Odom Jr.
As for WHY, these are all actors I’ve enjoyed in multiple roles, and I just want to be able to talk as one creative to another, about their process, how they develop the different characters, and just being able to geek out sounds like a fun time to me!
Where can we find out more about you?
My blog is called The Upstream Writer and there you can find current projects, featured book reviews, updates on everything I’m working on, published and unpublished, and the odd interview.
You can follow me and stay the most up-to-date on everything writing related (including anytime a book from an author I follow goes on sale!) from my Facebook author page.
I also have short stories in the following anthologies:
- Arthur and the Egg in Dreamtime Dragons
- Red, The Wolf in Dreamtime Damsels and Fatal Femmes
- Heartsong in Cracks in The Tapestry
- Finding Her Niche in Warps in The Tapestry
Thanks for the great interview, Leslie!