Saturday, May 7, 2011

Author Interview: Heather Dixon, author of Entwined

Heather Dixon grew up in a large family with four brothers and six sisters. She is a storyboard artist as well as a writer, and lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Viennese waltz is her dance of choice. She is the author of the novel Entwined.

What inspired you to re-imagine The Twelve Dancing Princesses? Was this one of your favorite fairy tales as a child? 

Yes it was! I remember sitting in the library for hours, going over the beautiful oil paintings in the picture books. But I hadn’t thought of it for years, until I was in my junior year of college. When the story hit me I was in the midst of my animation degree. Even in the middle of a billion art classes, I couldn’t kick it from my head. I even remember working on the story, thinking, I should be doing homework, I should be doing homework… I’m still not sure why it stuck with me, other than it was such a beautiful, visual, animation-like story, and that I loved dancing and came from a large family. I guess that would do it!

Are you a dancer? Did you have to research the dances included in the story, or did you invent them yourself?

Yes, yes, and…yes! I’m silver certified in both Latin and Standard. It was when I was taking these dance classes that I started Entwined. I definitely had dancing on the brain. So as I wrote the story I plunged into Victorian dancing. I read dance instruction books from the 18th century, studied ballroom etiquette, and collected dance cards from the mid-Victorian time period (which listed obscure dances such as the Zingerella and Esmeralda). Using both my experience and these references, I created some dances of my own. Including the Entwine!

The Keeper is a very menacing villain. Who do you think are the scariest fairy tale villains? Why?

Ooo, good question!

Maleficient, from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty is a good’un. Look at that design. She’s gorgeous. She’s obsessed with getting back at the royal fam for not inviting her, so she has some baggage going on there. And she turns into a dragon. Neat.

I really love Lady Tremaine from Cinderella. She’s smart. She’s manipulative. She takes revenge on Cinderella in all these rotten, tiny ways. And she totally gets pwned in the end of that show. Landmark.

Funnily enough, Eleanor Audley did the voice to both of those characters! She must have a good “Evil Lady” voice.

I also love the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. (Is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang a fairy tale? It should be.)

And, even though he’s not the scariest, I’m gonna add my favorite, Barnaby from Babes in Toyland.

I like my villains good and stylized.

The princesses each have distinct personalities – which girl are you most like?

Oh gosh. All the sisters have pieces of me in them. I see myself in Clover’s shyness, and I’m definitely Azalea-bossy. But, my sisters say I’m most like sarcastic, mouthy Bramble. I think that’s great. Bramble was my favorite :D

What did you enjoy most about adapting a well-known tale? What was the biggest challenge? Do you think many classic fairy tales need to be reworked to be more empowering for a modern female audience?

I enjoyed the fact that the story was already there. I really enjoy working and developing story in groups, and working within an established structure. So this was a little like having an extra person work on it with me.

Hardest part? I’d say just the whole development of the story (this is the worst and best part of writing. I love it.) It took years and was marvelously agonizing.

That last question is a very interesting one, and one I probably don’t have space here to really dig into. Oddly enough, I feel the real crime of classic fairy tales is that they’re so underdeveloped. Most fairy tales are only a few paragraphs long, which gives no real sense of character to either gender. Of course I naturally think any strong character—boy or girl—is proactive and has an arc, and in most original fairy tales they can’t be, as they’re all so linear: this and this happened, not so much character-based. So I guess my answer is that I think fairy tales need to be more empowering to both guys and girls through character development. That was a weird answer, sorry.

The sisters have a very sweet and believable bond. I saw in your Goodreads bio that you have a similarly large family. Did you draw on those relationships as you created the sisterly bond?

Yes, most definitely! I have two older sisters, and four younger ones, and I grew up sharing a giant room with all of them (I know! Crazy, right? Crazy neat!) So I felt I understood what it was like to lie awake and hear all of them breathing around you, getting ready for the day, sharing clothes, cleaning, their different styles of speech and interaction. I took all that into consideration as I wrote the story.

What book have you re-read the most? How many times have you read it? What is it about this story that keeps bringing you back for more?

“Going Postal” by Terry Pratchett. Probably I’ve read it 10 times or so. I started reading it when I had just begun Entwined, and it made my head explode. He broke all the rules—he gave multiple !!!, words like maaaaad! and noises like schpluck. But while being frivolous and funny in prose, the story was about something so much deeper—the redemption of Mr. Lipwig’s character, and those around him. And done in such a clever way. I hope all my books can be like that. It was a huge influence on Entwined and on my writing and story sense in general.

What is a random fact readers probably don’t know about you?

A couple years ago I was an assistant director at a feature animation studio. Neat, am I right? I went to recording studios and directed actors how to speak, wrote screenplays and songs for the series, and sent approval on pencil tests to our animation studio in Budapest. I wasn’t very good at it, but it was still a lot of fun.

I noticed in your bio that you’re also a storyboard artist. Can you tell us a little bit about your job? Did it at all influence the way you approached writing Entwined?

Basically what a storyboard artist does is take the cartoon’s script and turn it into comic-strip-like panels for the animators to draw. A lot of times they help in the development of the story. I adore it, I couldn’t ask for a dreamier job! Going into Entwined from a storyboard artist’s perspective did influence a lot of things. I was very focused on the motion, the actions and movements of the characters. I gathered a lot of visual references and movie clips to build scenes, like the Dark Pavilion sequence. And, like a movie screenplay, I focused a lot on the dialogue and scenes.

What future projects do you have in the works?

Right now I’m working on a steampunk novel called “Illusionarium.” It’s about a boy who’s such a good illusionist, he turns his country’s Victorian-ish government on its head through airship fights and floating cities and a strange chemical called fantillium. What’s fun about this one is that it’s very action-centric, which is great fun to write. That and clowns take over the government. *rubs hands together evilly* BRUAHAHAHA

Thanks so much to Heather for taking the time to answer my questions! I can't wait to read her upcoming steampunk novel!

For more about this author, please visit:

I definitely recommend Heather's blog -- you can see some of her awesome drawings that bring Entwined to life! (Psst -- She also made the trailer!)

Azalea is trapped. Just when she should feel that everything is before her...beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with's taken away. All of it.

The Keeper understands. He's trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. And so he extends an invitation.

Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest.

But there is a cost.

The Keeper likes to keep things.

Azalea may not realize how tangled she is in his web until it is too late.


Stephanie (Books Are A Girl's Best Friend) said...

I love this interview! I'm going to be reading Entwined so I liked larning more about it and Heather. I really want to take ballroom dancing classes- the dancing looks so romantic :)

Anonymous said...

Great interview! I didn't know some of these things about Heather, so it's pretty cool that you got her to talk about it!
I just finished Entwined yesterday and I gave it five stars! It was very good and I love all the dance references in it!

Here's my review on the novel:

Lauren M said...

This interview was fascinating! Heather sounds like a really interesting person. I love how a tale from her childhood stuck with her until adulthood! And it's so awesome that Heather is a dancer herself.

Bookish Brunette said...

I haven't read this one yet!! I so need to! Maleficent is my FAV evil witch EVER!

Midnyte Reader said...

Oh yeah, that toycatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang...very creepy! This sounds like such a beautiful tale, I'm looking forward to reading it.

Lisa said...

I have to agree with Maleficent. She was definitely scary!

Melissa (My words and pages) said...

Oh great interview! :) I remember that man from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. :) It's one of my favorite movies! lol. For many reasons. :) Thank you!

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