One of the cool things about being an author is getting to cheer on my friends and celebrate their accomplishments. Today, I’m excited to share a little bit about up and coming author Avon Van Hassel, who is writing a series that all you CARVER fans would love! She’ll be revealing her covers on social media today, and you’ll be able to find her books on Amazon as well. Here is my interview with AVH in celebration of her BEANSELLER series!
1. MAGIC BEANS and GOLDEN reimagine fairy tales (both well-known and yet to be discovered by Disneyophiles) from untold perspectives! What are some of the fairy tales your readers can expect to see in your stories?
Magic Beans centres around the man who sold Jack the beans that would become the beanstalk, so obviously, that one will be very prominent. Golden focuses more on the back story of the magic golden harp that Jack finds on the giants’ cloud, but also looks at the Princess and the Pea, the Golden Goose, the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg, and Goose Girl. The Grimms had a thing for geese, it seems. There are also other, subtler references, as almost everyone is either a fairy tale character or based on real-life historical figures. Let’s see how many you can guess 😉
2. Until I read MAGIC BEANS, I had never seen JACK AND THE BEANSTALK told from the perspective of the beansellers before! What inspired you to approach it from that angle?
Honestly, there was a Tumblr post about how Jack is actually the least interesting character in Jack and the Beanstalk. Who is this mysterious man, running around with a bag of magic beans? How did he come by them, and why is he willing to trade them for a sick old cow?
That NaNoWriMo, I had been planning a YA colonial spy thriller, but I saw that post and the idea festered. I wrote the whole first draft in two weeks!
3. One of your villains, The Spider Queen, is absolutely terrifying for arachnophobes like me. Tell us about her! Is she inspired by anybody in literature (or even real life)?
She was actually inspired by a ring! I had gotten a ring in the Halloween section of Target that was this huge jewelled spider that spanned three fingers. I was thinking of who my villain would be, and I looked down at this ring, kinda spacing out, you know, and I thought, ‘Hey! Lots of people hate spiders! That’ll scare ’em!’ And it did, lol. My poor betas, so many of them are terrified of spiders…
But I find the true mark of a good villain is not that they’re just scary, but that they have a sympathetic side. That you can see someone innocent, maybe even yourself, becoming a villain, if the right button is pushed. So I tried hard not to make her a cartoonish villain, just relying on arachnophobia, but an actual person who has rationale for the things that she does.
4. What’s been on your reading list this year? Any recent favorites you can recommend for fantasy fans?
A friend of mine and I are doing a challenge called 12 Meses 12 Libros (12 Months 12 books–The challenge is in Spanish, but I posted a translation on my blog). Basically, each month has a theme, and you have to read a book according to that theme. So far, I have read:
The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Touch the Dark, by Karen Chance
Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw
The Alchemist, by Paolo Coelho
The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert
and I’m currently reading Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift
So, obviously a wide range from classics, to supernatural spies, to satire, to adventure, to fairy tales. It’s been a wild ride. For fans of fantasy, I deeply recommend The Hazel Wood, by Melissa Albert. I am OBSESSED. It definitely has a dark, twisted real-life fairy tale feel that gets under your skin and stays there. Albert has a wonderfully visceral writing style that captivated me on an emotional level, the likes of which only a few writers have ever done. Plus she’s planning a sequel and a collection of original fairy tales to be companions to The Hazel Wood, so naturally I’m refreshing her author page every few minutes to see if she’s published yet.
In a more abstract sense, Pygmalion and The Alchemist have a fairy tale tone to them, both with epic journey themes, lots of symbolic characters, and unlikely situations. Also highly quotable, and feature some decent strong women.
As for the others I read, I think fantasy fans could also get into Karen Chance, if vampire romances and time travel are your thing. Again, very well written, and very well researched, as well as creating her own layer of vampire mythology. Daniel O’Malley is refreshingly proficient at writing a strong female, in first person perspective, no less! The Rook is about superhuman spies basically keeping the lid on the supernatural world in the UK. It is VERY meaty, VERY weird, but also VERY funny. I recommend it.
I think history has pretty much said anything I could about Alice, Jim, and Mr Gulliver, lol.
5. You and I both found our footing as writers on an online community called Scribophile! Tell us how Scribophile helped you, and are there any other resources you’d recommend to writers who are looking to publish one day?
Scribophile helped me immensely. Not least by giving me the confidence to show my work to other people. The basic theory behind it is that your friends and family may want to help you, but it’s hard for them to give you unvarnished opinions and advice because they don’t want to hurt you. Strangers don’t have that issue. It also is based on the principle of giving in order to receive. You have to critique a lot of work before you can put your own work up for critique. It’s a show of good faith, but it also has the side effect of putting you into contact with quite a lot of what’s out there, and getting involved in the writing community as a group.
One area where yours and my experience differed, I believe, is that I was a member of a pretty strenuous critique group for about two years. We were called the Candied Sea Urchins, and we were a group of usually 6 at any one time, who were expected to post a chapter a week as well as critique each other’s work in that time. So you posted a chapter and critiqued 5 chapters on top of that. The obvious downside to that was, of course, getting everyone’s stories mixed up, and also only reading one chapter a week, if you were on time. But the huge upside was that you produced at least one chapter a week! And a chapter, according to the guidelines of that group, was three thousand words, give or take. So we got a lot of writing done at a pretty good clip.
Scrib helped keep me to a schedule, but the group itself helped me really see what is necessary to the narrative, and they helped me write more clearly. It’s one thing to write for yourself. You know what you’re trying to say and where everything is going. But it does help to have someone say, ‘this bit makes no sense.’ And over time, you do become friends with the teammates, but it’s a friendship built on frank and honest feedback, so you never have to worry about whether or not they’re holding back their opinion.
The other resources I would recommend that have helped me are a book called the Emotion Thesaurus, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi; a book called Story Structure Architect, by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D.; and a book called The Word Loss Diet, by Rayne Hall. I truly have all three books open when I am writing.
6. You and I talked a lot about “fan casting” for our books! Can you share a bit about who your dream cast would be for the epic MAGIC BEANS Netflix series one day?
I have to be honest, in my head, I have a terrible time picturing faces. This is the first time ever, be it writing a book or a character sheet for D&D, that I’ve actually had faces to work with, so they’re pretty special to me. Alois was partially inspired by a British actor named Tom Burke, who is probably best known as Athos in the BBC Musketeers, and is currently playing Cormoran Strike (you know, the detective books JK Rowling wrote). Sulat was inspired from the start by Sonequa Martin-Green. At the time, I’d only seen her as Tamara on Once Upon a Time, but I did start watching the Walking Dead to see if Sasha Williams was anything like my Sulat. She kind of is, but not as much as Star Trek’s Michael Burnham, as she is these days. Johanne, the third point on my Trinity, was inspired by a portrait, actually, called the Honourable Mrs Graham, by Thomas Gainsborough. (She was a fascinating woman,you should look her up) Later, I found my face actress for her, another British actress named Sophia Myles, best known as Madame de Pompadour in the Doctor Who episode, The Girl in the Fireplace.
7. The Carver has his knife and the Ivory Queen has her mirrors. What magical artifacts can you tease for MAGIC BEANS and GOLDEN?
Well, the magic beans are a bit obvious, aren’t they? There are also snakebite stones, which allow the user to detect enchantments (You might recognise something similar from Neil Gaiman’s Coraline–they’re both based on common fairy tale items called Adder Stones, as well as several stones from Celtic lore); a magic hairbrush that can transfer magical ability from one person to another; the magic harp itself; and a magic ladder that is the cause of all this trouble.
8. You have other plans in mind for MAGIC BEANS related merch, correct? Tell us about your crafts outside of your writing time and how they tie into your stories!
I’m a big fan of candles and cosmetics, as well as historical foods and handicrafts! I have an Etsy shop set up, called Avon Van Hassel Designs. I’m a little embarrassed about the lighting and composition of the photos, but I promise the quality of the actual products is good! At the moment, I have a few soaps, perfumes, and homewares posted, but I plan to branch into other areas, as well and putting together some historical handicrafts like tea caddies and embroidery. We’ll see where my whims take me.
Also, as teased in my last cover reveal party, I have been working with a tea blender, The Forest Witch, also on Etsy, who has made me two custom tea blends to tie in with my work! One is called Johanne, and it was inspired by a scene in Golden; and the other is called The Novelist, and it is my signature blend.
9. Can you tease what you might be working on next?
I intend this book to be a ten-novel series, with short stories and novellas nestled between the books. The novellas following Golden are called Country Dances, The Martinette, UnderDressed, and Heroes and Villains. The next novel be more centred on Sulat than Alois and is called Siren Song. Guess which fairy tale I’ll be twisting with that one! The next books planned after that are called Sweet Dreams, Big Teeth, and Huff and Puff. They’re all still in the planning stages, so it’ll be a while before they’re ready to go.
10. Pitch the Beanseller Saga to us as a haiku!
The beans are trouble
But so is everything else
Snarky thieves with guns