Interview - Lisa Ann Sandell, author of Song of the Sparrow

Current Theme (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Speed of Sound by Coldplay.

I can't tell you how much I love interviewing these amazing authors whose work I discover. Lisa Ann Sandell is no exception. Sweet, smart, endearing, and intelligent, she is a joy to get to know. Her verse novel, Song of the Sparrow is lovely, and I sincerely hope that she continues to delve into her wonderful re-imaginations of Arthurian legends (yes, that is a nudge on your part Lisa). Without further ado, I quite happily present Lisa Ann Sandell!

[Me] You wrote your college thesis on Lancelot. Do tell! What made you pick him in particular and what did you find out in all of your research on him?

[LAS] I think Lancelot is such a fascinating character. Here’s a man who wants so badly to be good, to do good, to be loyal to his king. But he just can’t keep himself away from Gwynivere, his king’s wife—and ultimately his betrayal helps to bring about the downfall of Camelot. Lancelot is filled with complexity and contradictions. What writer can resist that?

Your reinterpretations were fantastic (like Merlin putting the sword in the earth for the "sword in the stone"). What made you come up with such believable renditions for these nearly mythological elements of this famous legend?

Well, thank you so much! I’m very happy to hear it. J As I thought about how to work the more mystical and mythological elements of Arthurian legend into my story—and I knew I wanted to include these very well-known and well-loved moments — I tried to somehow avoid overt magic and, rather, to incorporate these scenes in a more organic and realistic way that portrayed the characters’ deep connection to the earth, rather than an outside force of magic.

You wrote this in free verse poetry, but you worried about how it would be received. What were you most nervous about?

I never doubted that verse was the right way to tell the story, but to be perfectly honest, I was worried that the notion of an Arthurian novel in verse would just sound downright unappealing. I’m glad it didn’t turn out that way!

I will let you know, I have hated Gwynivere in almost every rendition she has been put through. Your Gwynivere's personality really shocked me, but pleasantly so. She seemed so believable, while still staying true to all her original source material, you managed to truly flesh her out. Tell us more about what went into crafting her personality. She became very real to me at the end, and a favorite character even, which was not something I was expecting at all.

It’s funny, I’ve pretty much hated Gwynivere in my past readings, too! She always seemed whiny, spoiled, and manipulative to me. But, as I thought more and more about her and her situation, I began to sympathize with her. I mean, she didn’t ask to be Arthur’s betrothed, and she certainly didn’t ask to live in the dirt with the soldiers, as I’ve placed her in Song of the Sparrow. So, I could start to imagine a depth to her, a reason for her to behave as abominably as she does in the beginning of Song of the Sparrow. Most people have different facets to their personalities, and I wanted to try to portray Gwynivere as fairly and fully as possible.

Morgan's character also intrigued me. How did you chose to write about her as you did?

I wanted to move past the typical portrayal of Morgan as a scheming and devious and wicked witch. Frankly, part of my motivation in writing this story was to get away from the stereotypes the female characters have traditionally assumed in these stories—of either being helpless females who need a man to rescue them or villainous women who bring destruction down upon the men. I tried to maintain the mystical elements of Morgan’s character; I wanted to depict her as a wise woman with a very deep connection to the land.

How did you truly "dig into and understand" these famous characters? What was your method, so to speak? :)

Oh, my method. J I started by reading and rereading as many texts as I could, from Le Morte D’Arthur to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain to Tennyson’s poem “The Lady of Shalott,” among other stories and books. Then, once I knew that I wanted to focus on the pre-Camelot period, I took many walks around my neighborhood and just tried to think what these young adults would do, how they would feel and behave and react in the settings and all of the situations that I constructed for them, based on the histories and stories that I read.

You wrote about the rise of Camelot, do you think will write about the fall?

Oooh, I would love to revisit all of these characters again and to explore the building of Camelot. Then, the fall would be truly amazing— heartbreaking and thrilling and rich—to write about. I would like to…very much.

If you do continue your beautiful additions to this remarkable cannon, will it still follow Elaine's story, or will you have someone new take the helm? Will Nimue or the Lady of the Lake ever make an appearance?

You know, this could be a fascinating time to write from Gwynivere’s perspective. What do you think?

Is there anything you had to cut (editors or otherwise) that you did not want to cut?

I pretty much agreed with all of the changes that my editor suggested. She’s a very smart lady, my editor—who, by the way, is the fabulous YA author Aimee Friedman. One of her brilliant suggestions was to cut out a romantic tension between Elaine and Arthur that I had written into the story. I did this because I had a giant crush on Arthur myself and sort of projected that into the book and onto my characters. It was weird and it muddied the plot in a pretty nonsensical way. I knew Aimee was right to direct me to take that out of the story, but it was hard, because it meant curbing my own feelings.

What is your favorite scene in the book, personally?

This is a tough question. There are moments in this story that touch me: I love the scene when Elaine and her brother Lavain sit together in silence after the first battle portrayed in the book. I also love the first Round Table meeting, when the majesty of the Round Table, the mystery of the Merlin, the potential for Camelot, and the love for Arthur are introduced. But I think my most favorite scene is the one following the Round Table meeting, when Elaine and Tristan walk together among the silver-barked birch trees, talking of life and love and all the things that really matter in life. I think it’s the first moment in which the foundations for their love begin to grow.

What is your favorite unknown book that you really think more people should know about?

I think it would be The Ruby Key, by Holly Lisle. This is a gorgeous fantasy with a really cool, strong, all-around awesome girl protagonist. I may be biased because I edited the book, but I think it’s amazing and beautifully written and not as well-known as it should be!

Thank you so much for speaking with us Lisa. It was a pleasure to talk with you today.


Kirthi said...

I love Lisa Ann Sandell! And it's amazing how Aimee Friedman was her editor, I love the books by both authors!
This is a great interview

Lisa Ann Sandell said...

Thank you so much for this really fun and thought-provoking interview, Heather! And thanks for the incredible support and encouragement! You keep up the great work, too!
Warmest regards,

Heather Zundel said...

Kirthi - And the funny thing is, I had no idea she was an editor at all. Shame on me.

Lisa - Your answers are what made it, really. Thank you so much for taking the time and stopping by!