We just love princesses so much, we had to talk to another princess writer! So we sat down with Eilis O’Neal, author of The False Princess, to chat about writing, royalty, and what she wears when she wants to be a pirate.
We heard your dad named you Arwen because he loves Lord of the Rings. If you had to choose a (different) literary character to be named after, who would it be?
In terms of sound and a name that I just think is beautiful, I would pick another Tolkien character: Éowyn. But in terms of picking a character who was really important to me as a reader growing up, I would be torn between Tamora Pierce’s Alanna and Madeleine L’Engle’s Meg. Alanna because she made me want to be brave and to go after what I wanted, and Meg because she made being a smart girl cool.
High schoolers are so busy – how did you find time to write novels even as you tackled sophomore English?
It was difficult! My local library brings in famous YA authors each year, and I went to see all of them as a teenager. And every one of them said that you should try to set aside time each day to write, so I really took that to heart. Sometimes it meant giving up other activities that I wanted to do, or having less downtime than I would have liked, but I reminded myself of my goals for writing whenever I felt like skimping. Also, I convinced my high school to let me work on my then-novel as an elective for two semesters, so that helped a lot.
Who’s your favorite princess of all?
Again, difficult, because there are so many I love. But I think I’ll have to go with Aerin from Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown. She’s not your typical princess, but stubborn, determined, and a bit prickly. She also takes her obligations to her country very seriously, and never takes the easy way out.
Did you read a lot of fairy tales growing up, or was fantasy more your thing?
I read both, especially because I like the way that so many fantasy novels have their roots in fairy tales. My mom read fairy tales to me as a kid, and then I started getting Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books from the library as I got older. By the time I was an older teen, probably 75% of what I was reading was fantasy, but I’m always going back to fairy tales.
Do you think you’d enjoy being a princess in real life? (When you go to the Renaissance Fair, do you dress as a Princess?)
I think being a princess in real life would be a little too much for me. I can barely keep my own life straight sometimes, much less manage an entire country!
As for Ren Faires, my outfit is more of your Lady Pirate variety. Tall leather boots, black pants, a maroon and black corset, and a big black hat with a white feather to top it off. (I also now have a new red and gold corset that’s a bit more lady-like, though I’ll probably still wear pants and tall boots with it. I’m a fan of tall boots.)
Are you sad that there are so few princesses left in the world?
Yes and no. I think the pageantry surrounding princesses—like that around Kate Middleton—can be really interesting and beautiful. I mean, gorgeous dresses and balls are always fun! But, on the other hand, I’m guess I’m really American in that the idea that someone in this day and age should get all that because of an accident of birth or marriage is pretty odd to me.
What’s your emergency back-up book?
It’s a tie between Diane Duane’s So You Want to Be a Wizard and Peter S. Beagle’s Tamsin. I read So You Want to Be a Wizard literally to pieces—I had to buy at least two new copies of it after I first read it at twelve—so reading it feels like slipping on a really comfy pair of jeans. And Tamsin has so much going on in it that I love—a snarky narrator, ghosts, friendship, English folklore, and a house with secret rooms.
Eilis O’Neal is a writer of fantasy and the Managing Editor of the literary magazine Nimrod International Journal. She started writing at the age of three (though the story was only four sentences long). She was born, raised in, and currently lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.