Books: princess academy
  Behind the Scenes of princess academy

The Idea
Autumn 2001: My husband and I were sitting in bed having our evening talk as we often do. We both feel that there are so many books to read we rarely read the same ones, and so we enjoy reporting to each other what we’ve read. He was telling me the story of an adult fantasy book he had read and mentioned the main character was a "tutor to the princesses." He meant that he lived in the palace and taught the daughters of the king, but my mind latched onto that phrase, and I didn't hear another word he said for several minutes. I ran for my notebook and jotted down the idea of a school where common girls received instruction in case they became the princess. Then I went back to my poor, ignored husband and asked him to repeat what he'd said earlier because I'd been too absorbed to hear a word. I let the idea of it germinate for over a year before I started to write.

Whenever I get book ideas, I have those “rushing forward” moments where my thoughts tumble and race ahead, and I get so excited about the ideas I can scarcely jot them down. But writing it out is never so electrifying. It is work, like any other profession. It is sitting down and doing it every day, wrestling with the words, the characters, the incidents, trying to find the ever-changing story that stirred me in the first place.

The Struggle
(There should be some kind of dramatic ba-ba-BA music after that title.) I remember when I first envisioned this book, I had the la-la-land idea that it’d be easier to write than the others. It would be shorter, slighty younger, and I thought the process of discovering the story might be a little less tortuous. Ha. This book challenged me more than the previous. Length and age were irrelevant. It just took me so long to figure out my main character and what the core of this story really was. There were two occasions when I really thought that I would have to trash the whole thing. That I was able to find the story, finish it, and be pleased with the end result is, truly, miraculous. Remember this when they’re considering me for sainthood.

For me, the first draft of any book is always the most demanding. Altogether, this first draft took 4 months to write. I began it after submitting my 6th draft of enna burning to Bloomsbury for consideration in November of 2002 (at the time, my husband and I had both been laid off, we were living on unemployment while frantically searching for work, and the country was facing a nasty recession). In January, I received a job offer and began to work fulltime as an instructional designer for an e-learning firm. Then I heard back that Bloomsbury made an offer on enna. The money, of course, wasn’t enough to live on, so I kept the job and put princess academy on hiatus, sticking in rewrites of enna at nights and on weekends.

In December 2003 I had my darling baby boy, and during maternity leave and a little bit afterward, I finished the princess first draft. It was a joy to write it with baby Max asleep or playing on my lap (love those half-circle nursing pillows!). After he got older and squirmier, and after my husband’s new work allowed me to leave my fulltime job (hooray!), writing time was relegated to nap time and evenings.

I did a total of 12 drafts on this book, though some parts received more attention. The first chapter probably went through 25 individual drafts. I’ve been asked what goes into each draft, so here’s one example. My 7th and 8th drafts were relatively small, only taking 3 weeks for both, but I kept track of some numbers:
  • I cut over 2500 words
  • The 8th draft ended up 4000 words longer than the 6th
  • The total word count was just over 60,000
  • I’m no math genius, but that means, even in these small drafts, I changed over 10% of the book
  • Conclusion: Rewriting isn’t for sissies

The Husband
I’m eager to acknowledge my husband’s input in my writing process. He reads all my books at least 3 times during the editing process and is very apt at identifying problems and offering ideas I wouldn’t see. Some of his ideas I just can’t use, bless him, but most make it in somehow. He is wise. Once I emailed him, “I need to name a game the girls make up, perhaps something involving the word ‘tutor’?” Though I ended up cutting that part, I thought you might like to see some of his suggestions:
  • Tutor-Scoot
  • Tooter-stink
  • Pin-the-tail-on-the-tutor
  • Tutor-Topple
  • Tutor-and-Wolf
  • Tutor’s Shadow
  • Ruder-Tutor
  • “There’s a tutor in my pocket.”
  • Tutor this!
One Saturday I was laboring over the quarry songs while my husband was working in the other room. I left my computer file open when I went to the bathroom. When I returned, this brilliant new quarry song had mysteriously appeared beside the others:

For tonight’s dinner I had
Some goat meat gone bad
So my bum’s all a’quivey
And I’m off to the privy

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