Interview with Eilis O’Neal – Author of The False Princess

 It’s time to spotlight a 2010 Debut Author!  Eilis O’Neal is the author of the upcoming Egmont release, The False Princess, which will be in stores in July.  Eilis managed to find some time in her busy schedule to drop by the virtual offices of Manga Maniac Cafe to chat up her book.

Your debut novel, The False Princess, is due out in July. Can you share a brief description of the book?

In a lot of ways, it’s a twist on the “commoner turned princess” story. The False Princess tells the story of Sinda, who’s grown up believing (along with most everyone else in Thorvaldor) that she is the princess of her country. After she turns sixteen, however, she’s told that she isn’t the princess at all. The real princess was hidden away as a baby for her protection, and a common baby–Sinda–brought up as the princess as a ruse. Now, though, the danger has passed and Sinda’s kicked out of the palace to fend for herself and find out who she really is. On top of that, she discovers that she has long-suppressed, dangerous magic that she doesn’t know how to control.

How did you come up with the concept for the characters and the story?

I wish that I had a great story involving inspiration from a grand trip to another country or a deep historical fascination of mine, but, truthfully, it was just one of those lightning bolt moments. I was at work and I suddenly had this flash of the title, and with it came a whole lot of the premise. Not that there weren’t a lot of things to work out as I went, but the basic plot was just suddenly there in my head.

What did you learn about yourself through your characters?

One of Sinda’s problems is that she has a lot of self doubt and isn’t that self-confident, especially after having to leave the life she thought was hers behind. In many ways, those feelings mirror some that I had as a teenager. I had a lot of years where I struggled to believe in certain aspects of myself. Watching Sinda grow more confident over the course of the book reminded me of my own strides as I grew from a teenager to a young adult.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?

I always struggle with trying to make sure I’m not giving secrets away too soon. You want the reader to be surprised when you reveal a twist or certain information, but then you also want them to be able to look back and say, “Oh, that makes so much sense now!” I want both the surprise and the “I totally get that” moment, but it’s a balancing act to pull both off.

How long did it take you to finish writing the book? Was the final manuscript a lot different from the original that you submitted?

I wrote the first draft of The False Princess in about 6 months (I work full time, so I don’t get as much concentrated writing time as I’d like). Then I revised for several more months. The final draft that I submitted to my agent and publishing house was a lot tighter than my first drafts—I have good first readers to help me with this! But we actually didn’t do to much editing of it once it was accepted by Egmont USA, which was nice for me.

Can you share your experience finding a publisher? What was the process like?

After I got a version that I was pleased with, I started searching for an agent. I got rejected by a lot of places, but after 5 months of trying, I finally found an agent who loved the book. (I’d been allowed to send 5 pages with my initial query, and I think those are what grabbed him, rather than my query letter. I’m bad at queries.) My agent knew that Egmont Group, which has publishing branches all over Europe and elsewhere, was starting a branch in the US, with their first list coming the fall of 2009. He submitted the manuscript to them, and about seven weeks later Egmont USA bought it. I was totally shocked, because I’ve heard so many horror stories from great writers who had a hard time selling what turned out to be wonderful books. I’m really glad they bought it, because everyone there is great, and all the books I’ve read of theirs have been fantastic.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

I don’t have a lot of tricks when it comes to writing—I can’t even outline! So my advice is pretty basic, but I think it’s some of the most important advice. Read—read a lot and read in wide variety. Write every day, even if you feel like you’re slogging through mud, because at least then you have something to revise. Find a group of first readers whose judgment you can trust, and from whom you can stand to hear criticism. Know that rejection is part of being a writer, so learn to take appropriate criticism and then keep going. (That one can be really tough, but I think stubbornness is key to being a writer.) And finally, enjoy what you’re doing, because if you are, there’s a better chance other people will as well.

Eilis, thanks for stopping in to answer a few questions and enjoy your publishing debut!!

I am looking forward to reading The False Princess!  I love twists on fairy tales, and this one sounds so intriguing!  The False Princess will be in stores July 13, 2010, and it’s available for pre-order now.