I’m so excited to share with you a recent interview I had with Nancy O’Toole, writer of the fabulous Twin Kingdoms series! I love this series and was so eager to learn more about it and Nancy.
Getting to Know You:
Can you tell the readers a little about yourself?
Hi! My name is Nancy. I’m originally from Massachusetts, but I’m currently a resident of central Maine. I spend my days working as a cataloger in a library while writing fairy tale retellings and superhero fiction on the side. I’m the co-host of One for All: A My Hero Academia Podcast. During my off-hours, I enjoy watching anime and kdramas and playing video games. I’m also a proud cat mama to one of the very best cats in the world—Coraline.
AUTHOR BIO: Nancy O’Toole is an author of superhero fiction and fairy tale retellings. Her body of work includes The Red and Black Series, and The Twin Kingdoms series. She is the co-host of One for All: A My Hero Academia Podcast. When not writing, or working as a librarian in Central Maine, she spends her time reading, playing video games, watching kdramas, and taking far too many pictures of her cat, Coraline.
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What led you to write fairy tale retellings and superhero fiction?
I’ve always been a huge fan of fairy tales. I have strong memories of being a small child and having my father read me stories before bedtime. Fairy tales were often my favorites. This love was further nurtured by watching the Grimm’s Fairy Tale anime that aired on Nickelodeon in the early 90s, which exposed me to stories beyond Cinderella and Snow White. I continued to enjoy these stories repeatedly by delving into fairy tale retellings throughout my teenaged years and adulthood. When I came up with an idea for The Twin Kingdoms series, which featuring a culture rooted in a cycle-based religion, pulling from the stories that I have revisited over and over again seemed natural.
As for superheroes, I came into that genre later in life, but boy did it hit me hard! I had enjoyed superhero content before, starting with the X-men and Spiderman movies that came out when I was in high school. But I swear, there was a period in my twenties when it felt like I was consuming superhero media almost exclusively! From the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the Arrowverse TV shows to weekly visits to my local comic book shop. I suppose it was natural that this would inspire the Red and Black series, which is all about a nerdy girl turned superhero.
Who are some of your biggest writing influences?
Definitely Tamora Pierce. I’ve always admired her ability to write lovable characters, addictive yet meaningful stories, and worlds worth getting lost in. I stumbled over her books when I was in high school and still re-read my favorites regularly. Some other authors who have influenced me are Rachel Aaron, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Brandon Sanderson.
Beyond other authors, I find that I’m inspired by so much. Obviously, classic fairy tales are a big one, as well as the anime I watch and the people I encounter in my everyday life.
If you could be any fairy tale character or visit any fairy tale world, which would you choose?
This is a tricky question because I find I’m often drawn to the more tragic fairy tale heroines, like in “Bluebeard” and “Donkeyskins.” Their stories are compelling, but I certainly wouldn’t want to live their lives! So, let’s keep it to a visit. I’d love to see the beast’s collection of books from Robin McKinley’s Beauty or see Rapunzel’s lanterns from Disney’s Tangled.
About the Series:
How would you describe The Twin Kingdoms series?
The Twin Kingdoms retells some of my favorite fairy tales, but in the context of two countries that were, until very recently, caught up in a lengthy war. So my beauty in my “Beauty and the Beast” retelling is a war widow. My wounded solider in my “Twelve Dancing Princesses” retelling isn’t dealing with the fallout of some generic war, but a conflict that permeates the entire series.
Fairy tales are all about magic and fantasy. Still, they’re also about very human themes such as conflict, trauma, guilt, and isolation—the latter which I’m sure we can all relate to thanks to the pandemic. By plopping these characters at the tail end of a traumatic event, I hope that I could explore people struggling with these more human issues while dealing with the fantastic ones that we know and love from our favorite fairy tales.
Do you have a favorite scene or line from A Dance with Magic?
As for the line, it’s probably best not to say because it’s part of the love confession from the main couple, so I won’t be spoiling that. As for the scene, this draws a lot from my love for the original fairy tale. One of my favorite things about “The Twelve Dancing Princess” is the big reveal when you realize that the people the princesses have been dancing with aren’t even human. I found myself looking forward to writing this moment, and I had an absolute blast delving into the dancers’ inhumanness.
How do you decide which fairy tales to retell?
Three out of the four fairy tales were honestly chosen because I love them so much! I have no idea why “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” isn’t as popular as “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s such a great story! The third retelling, “Rapunzel,” was partially chosen because it digs into themes of isolation and captivity, which are big ones for the series. Also, I happened to write a character with really long hair.
When you write a retelling, how do you decide which elements to keep from the original story? How do you keep the essence of the story while still making it your own?
This is so tricky because no matter what you end up doing, someone will be disappointed. When some readers pick up a fairy tale book, they want a close retelling of the source material. In contrast, others will find that too repetitive! For me, I ended up focusing on the big plot elements and what keeps me coming back to a particular fairy tale personally. Like one thing I love about “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is it’s basically a story about teenage rebellion! These princesses are sneaking out to party every night and don’t care at all what their father says. So what happens when a woman in her twenties—who lived a very restrictive life and was never allowed to rebel in the first place—is put in the same circumstances? What type of choices would she make?
I also find a lot of the “making it your own” part comes from the world you build around the story. Many fairy tales have very bare-bones world-building, besides the fact that they tend to be in countries with monarchies. Filling in these holes can have a significant impact on shaping your characters and their journeys. Hopefully, in the end, you reach a perfect balance where the story is familiar but feels like its own thing.
What messages do you hope to convey in your work?
Hope is actually a big one! There’s no denying that fairy tales contain a lot of darkness: from Hansel and Gretel being kidnapped by a cannibalistic witch to the heroine of “Bluebeard” discovering her husband’s grisly secrets. But there’s a reason that the phrase “fairy tale ending” exists. So many of my characters are dealing with past trauma and guilt that lead them toward lives of isolation and regret. But there is light and the end of the tunnel! Getting to that light will require you to deal with monsters, which can sometimes feel impossible, but happily ever after is still possible.
Can you tell us anything about your upcoming books?
Right now, it’s all about The Twin Kingdoms! Book two, A Dance with Magic, will be out on October 6th. The two final novellas in the series will be released in December and in February of 2022. Then after that, I’ll be pivoting back to superheroes. Or possibly passing out. I have no idea why I decided to release a complete series in six months. This is very exhausting!
Where can readers learn more about you and your writings (i.e., website, Twitter, Facebook page, Goodreads, etc.)?
The best way to keep up on announcements around my work is through my blog (https://nancyotoole.wordpress.com/) or by subscribing to my monthly newsletter (https://wordpress.us17.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=0061e048cea32f8df83bb3b94&id=3e3a6765ad) . I also regularly post on Twitter (watchnancytweet) and Instagram (nancysviews).
Thanks so much, Nancy for participating in this author spotlight!!