So, for the past several months, I’ve been working with an amazing group of writers on From the Stories of Old: A Collection of Fairy Tale Retellings that we’re so excited to share with you!
One of these writers is J. L. Bernard, A gamer, a writer, and a husband about to embark on his most extraordinary journey ever: Fatherhood. With a child on the way, J.L. has found a razor-edged focus that wasn’t there before. J.L. and his wife, Erin live comfortably in the quiet country and don’t intend to leave anytime soon. In between his writing time, J.L. games and reads all the books he can get his hands on. From time to time, he’ll even flex his green thumb out in the yard.
As the work for this JL Anthology comes to a close, he’ll return to his manuscript, The Wolfling, which he hopes to self-publish in the middle of the coming year. Before his dream to publish a novel came along, J.L. wrote every day simply because he had to.
J.L.’s contribution to this anthology is entitled “The Princess of Alantilus,” and he agreed to talk to us about it.
R: J.L., why did you want to do a Little Mermaid retelling?
J.L.: Honestly, during the brainstorming process, I wasn’t having any luck using another story. At first, my instinct was to use Aladdin as my fairytale retelling. When I brainstorm, I like to talk things out, or sometimes I will outline. I’ll even do some pantsing if the situation calls for it.
I’m trying to push myself towards outlining; it’s a practice that I believe helps me get everything important down on paper. In all of that, I still couldn’t get anything rolling–the ideas wouldn’t flow. So, I sat down with my wife and talked about some ideas. She’s always been a little obsessed with the Little Mermaid. As we talked about it, I realized that there was something there. The magical elements of the story, the sacrifice in the name of all that is good. Those are the things that attracted me to this story.
R: Aladdin would’ve been cool, but you have the passion to do Little Mermaid well. Where did your inspiration come from?
J.L.: I touched on this briefly in Question #1, but the inspiration came from my wife. She’s been obsessed with the Little Mermaid since she was two. Once we started talking about it, my ideas for the story began to flow naturally. I didn’t have to brainstorm for very long, and they were there right on paper (or the computer screen rather). I wanted to write a Little Mermaid story that my wife would enjoy. Even though she fell in love with the Disney version, I wanted her to get that same enjoyment out of this one.
R: What an awesome goal, and your wife is incredible for supporting you through this process! Does “The Princess of Alantilus” have her stamp of approval?
J.L.: I’d say yes. I think it was exciting and a little nostalgic for her to see the Little Mermaid coming to life in another form. She’s stamped both major versions of the story with her approval.
R: Awesome! Besides writing a piece she’d enjoy, what else did you want to accomplish with this story?
J.L.: They say it’s important to consider theme when building your story, but in the interest of time, I’ll keep it simple. I suppose that the moral of the story is to always to the right thing, even when it could be one of the most difficult things imaginable. I believe that this is a crucial lesson everyone can learn and live by. I can’t say that I’ve made the right decision my entire life, but I do strive to do so. It’s just the way I was raised.
Usually, my writing is meant to speak to the young adult audience. I find that my writing targets the 12-18 age range 10 out of 10 times. It’s become second nature. I supposed it has something to do with the YA books that I read as often as I can find them. When I take breaks from writing, I’ll find a few books and settle into those worlds for a little while.
R: They’re fun worlds, full of imagination and adventure. Who wouldn’t want to be there?
What was the most difficult part about producing “The Princess of Alantilus”?
J.L.: The most difficult part of producing this story was the criticism. As a writer, I know I should be prepared for it, but when you’re proud of something you write, sometimes it’s hard to swallow the comments. When the judging stage came around, my last version wasn’t up to snuff for many reasons. It was hard to take a step back and look at the story objectively. I’d say that’s the most difficult part of writing in general for me.
R: I absolutely agree. It seems that all of the well-intended critiques have helped hone my abilities to tell the story, but it often takes time to realize the good of what they’re trying to tell us. When there are so many different opinions telling you how to write your story, what keeps you motivated to keep putting words to paper? Why do you write?
J.L.: Well, a number of things I believe. I’d like to think it’s a fact that I’m meant to do this thing. When I was younger, writing wasn’t so much of a big deal. Now, if I go a week without writing, I feel like something’s off. Writing has become a large part of how I express myself. I tried painting before, and I didn’t think I was very good at it. Although my wife would tell you differently–I believe she’s just being nice.
R: A little redundant, but do you have other publications?
J.L.: This will be my first publication, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I’m happy that it’s with a group of like-minded writers who just want to write great stories.
R: Every author has to start somewhere. I really like your outlook! As a writer, what’s the best thing you’ve researched?
J.L.: I’d say my most favorite sort of research would have to be the time that I looked into all things space. I was writing a dystopian-type story that had to do with a comet they called Specter that really did a number on the planet. When I write Science-Fiction stories, I like to insert known facts about the story’s focus. In this instance, anything about the Last Frontier I ate up, and then wrote it in my story in some way shape or form. That was a lot of fun.
R: Do you typically write a lot of Science Fiction?
J.L.: Yes; while I think it’s hard to place writing in one category over others, Science Fiction is a usual genre of my writing. I like superpowers and the conflict that often surrounds them in general. But these powers usually have a scientific explanation, and I’ll incorporate that into the plot. I will occasionally write in other genres.
R: I’m the same way; when I write magic or power systems, I like to base them in real science.
It seems like one of the things writers talk about a lot is the difference between plotters and pantsers, or those who outline their stories in detail before writing a single word versus those who have an idea in their head and figure out where the story goes as they write it. Which are you?
J.L.: Haha, you had to ask. It varies from story to story. On “The Princess of Alantilus,” I was very much a pantser. On most of the stories I’ve written, I’ve been a pantser. Usually, I get an idea, or the inkling of one that has to do with something I’ve watched on tv, read, etc. Then I brainstorm about the notion, but I don’t actually write anything down. I pull up my writing app and start typing away after that.
However, my current manuscript, The Wolfling, is a different story. I intend to write three books to cover the whole story arc. So, I simply can’t keep track of three book’s worth of ideas in my noggin. I’m trying the outline thing with this project. Although, I’ve already written an entire version that’s 300 pages in length. After reading it, I think it’s missing something, so it’s back to the drawing board.
R: Three books’ worth of info is a lot to keep straight! Best of luck finding that missing piece in The Wolfing. As a writer, what’s the most helpful advice you’ve received?
J.L.: I didn’t take any writing courses. Well, except for that one I didn’t want to take that changed my life forever, but what I’m saying is: I didn’t receive a lot of advice. This is more of a quote. When I’m feeling a little defeated by the act of writing, I’ll read some quotes. Sometimes I’ll read them for laughs, or I’ll read them because I need some inspirational juice. I think this quote fits the latter. “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” -Richard Bach
I thought of quitting writing before, but that was before I found Scribophile. Yet, when I’m feeling like I’m not getting anywhere, I’ll read this quote and many others. I’ll do anything to keep this spark of enjoyment in my life.
R: That quote needs to hang on every writer’s wall. What an awesome bit of advice!
And Scribophile is such an incredibly supportive and educational writing community. (To learn more about it, click here). Thanks for sharing your experience with “The Princess of Alantilus,” as well as a bit about yourself and your work with us, J.L!
In the interntional collection, *From the Stories of Old: A Collection of Fairy Tale Retellings, new life is given to fairy tales, both classic and obscure.
Mythical creatures put the fairy in Fairy Tale. Mermaids, selkies, and ocean guardians experience the best and worst of humanity; sisters encounter an unusually friendly bear; a brave bride meets a silly goose; and a spinner of gold sets the record straight.
Urban fantasies modernize classics: a Frenchman learns the truth about magic, his past, and his girlfriend; a girl sets out to find love but receives a curse; and today’s naughty list makes Old Saint Nick not-so-jolly.
New worlds bring a fresh sense of wonder! In the future, a young woman fights for her people and herself; a bastard son finds acceptance in a world ruled by women; and a farmer’s wits win the heart of a frosty king.
Discover unexpected twists on old favorites, and fall in love with new tales and worlds to explore!
*Available December 7th, 2016 via Amazon and KDP.