An Interview With Liesl Shurtliff
By Chloe Grant, Read to Them Staff
Hey there, readers. We’re excited to share more with you about Liesl Shurtliff, the New York Times bestselling author of the (Fairly) True Tales series, including our title Rump, and the Time Castaways series. Her books have been named in several state award lists and have won many awards including a Children’s Book Award from the International Literacy Association. She lives in Chicago with her husband and four children who have inspired many characters in Liesl’s books, both hero and villain. Today, we are jazzed to learn more about Liesl’s imagination and how Rump came to be. Enjoy!
How did you discover you wanted to be a writer? What did that path look like once you decided to pursue writing?
I discovered I wanted to be a writer shortly after graduating from college with a degree in Music Dance and Theater. I was a new mom, and my performing dreams needed to be put on hold. That’s when I started writing. I’d always enjoyed writing, but never really considered it as a career path. I took a writing course and wrote during my daughter’s naptime. It was mostly a hobby at first. I wasn’t sure what I was capable of or what a writing career really looked like. It was a gradual thing for me. I wrote book reviews, articles, and stories for magazines and newspapers. I joined a critique group and attended writing conferences and workshops. I read like crazy. I wrote two novels before I ever wrote Rump, one terrible and one mediocre. It was seven years before I signed a book deal for Rump. Things have turned out better than I ever could have imagined.
What was your relationship with reading like growing up? Your writing is so vivid and magical, were you an imaginative child?
Thank you! My relationship with reading as I was growing up was…complicated. I liked reading, except when I was made to read, though I loved being read to, always. It didn’t matter what it was, I always loved it. I think it was that we were experiencing the story all together. There’s power in communal acts, in experiencing something as a group, and reading together creates incredible bonds of empathy and understanding. I was quite imaginative as a child. I loved all things fairytales and magic and believed wholeheartedly in fairies and mermaids. I desperately wanted to see one. I felt (and still do feel) that we live in a magical world. Everything is magical—the sky, mountains, oceans, flowers and trees, animals and humans! No matter how much we learn about the world from a scientific view, it’s still wondrous and magical to me. I think that’s why magic comes across so vividly in my writing; that’s truly how I view the world.
What is something you hope families get out of reading RUMP?
Mostly I hope they enjoy it, that they feel closer as they share this story between them. I hope it sparks good conversation about names and identity, our strengths and weaknesses as human beings.
In a time like now where a lot of our routines have shifted, what are you doing to establish a new sense of normalcy?
We’ve started to fall into a new normal here. Because we can’t go to the gym and our kids aren’t doing their regular activities, we’ve been doing family morning workouts in our backyard before the kids start their schoolwork. This helps us all feel energized for the day, and we’ve enjoyed doing it together. Even our two-year-old joins! He’s got his only little weight and mat and everything. It’s adorable. We also got a new kitty, which I have to say has been the very best decision we’ve made during this pandemic. It’s been so much fun. He’s playful and cuddly.
Similarly, when we’re spending so much undivided time with ourselves at home, what role is imagination playing for you?
I spend a lot of time at home in any case, so in that way, things aren’t too different. The big difference for me is that my family is home all the time. That’s been an adjustment. Even if I shut my door to write, there is always the presence and sounds of others in the house and the possibility of interruption. But I think writing is an act of taking whatever energy you have and spilling it onto the page, even if it’s an exhausted, chaotic energy. I try not to worry too much about getting what I think I need, I just work with whatever I have.
What inspired you to write this series? Additionally, and more specifically, what sparked your interest in giving the backstory of a character often perceived in such a negative way?
Everything started with Rump, and Rump came to me while I was working on another story when I got the idea to create a world where names determine a person’s destiny. That sounded intriguing to me, and I almost immediately thought of Rumpelstiltskin because his name is so important in that tale. I combined those two ideas, and then more and more ideas started to come. I decided I would make Rumpelstiltskin the hero of this tale mostly because he’s so mysterious, and I don’t think he gets very fair treatment in the original story. He’s pegged as the villain, the one who wants to take the queen’s baby, mostly like for some nefarious purpose, but we don’t ever find out for certain. We can only guess, and if you look closely at the tale, we can see other characters in the story are clearly more villainous than Rumpelstiltskin. We have her father, the miller, who boasted that she could spin straw into gold, consequently upending and endangering her life, and then there’s the king who threatens the girl’s life if she doesn’t spin the straw into gold. Meanwhile, Rumpelstiltskin comes and rescues her by spinning the straw for her. He is mysterious, and definitely portrayed as somewhat creepy, but again, we don’t know. I decided it would be really fun to tell the story from his perspective, make him the hero instead of the villain, and get the answers to all my questions.
What does the term fractured fairy tale mean to you, and why are they important?
To me, a fractured fairy tale means just what it suggests. You break the story apart, then put it back together in a way that makes sense to you, adding or deleting as you wish. We are turning the story on its head. Fractured fairy tales are important because they force us to look at things we thought we knew and understood and see them in a different way. This is a vital life skill. We all have a point of view, and we think it’s absolute and right until we get more information, more perspectives and experiences, and then we start to gain new understanding. Fractured fairy tales get us questioning and thinking. They stretch the limits of our imaginations and worldviews.
What can we all learn from Rump?
I think Rump can help us have faith in our own unique path, to believe in ourselves, to accept that we have weaknesses, hardships, and struggles, but with patience, hard work, and the help of friends and family, those things can be dealt with and overcome.
What advice do you have for young readers & writers?
Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Repeat! Nothing will teach you to write so well as reading good books. Read your favorites over and over. Pick them apart. Figure out what it is the writer is doing that is working so well (or not so well!) then endeavor to include those good techniques in your writing.
We are so grateful that Liesl took the time to answer these questions for us, and we send many thanks to her. We are inspired to keep on writing, reading, and imagining, and hope that you are, too! We’ll be back on Friday with this week’s Reconnect.t. Until then, stay kind, and keep thinking.