Thursday, 12 January 2017

Q&A with Bonnie M Hennessy, author of Twisted: The Girl Who Uncovered Rumpelstiltskin

Now available is the young adult fantasy Twisted: The Girl Who Uncovered Rumpelstiltskin by author Bonnie M Hennessy.

The author has taken a few minutes out of her busy schedule for a Q&A about her newest novel.

When did you become interested in storytelling?

When I was a little girl, I was a rather shy, quiet girl who went unnoticed by my peers and teachers. I was never disruptive, but I never shined or stood out either. I was invisible, and I accepted my invisibility. When I was in the 6th grade we had to write about a time in our lives when we felt challenged and explain how we got through it. I wrote about my parents’ divorce and how I coped. This was a controversial topic back then, as there were very few kids with divorced parents. My teacher, Mrs. Stockman, loved it and she had me read it in front of the class. I can still remember how my feet stuck like glue to the floor in front of the podium where I had never been asked to stand because I had never done anything worthy of standing at the front of the class. I talked about hearing my parents argue, missing my dad, and wishing that the divorce was just a bad dream. At the end of it, everyone was looking at me, seemingly mesmerized by my words. Even the noisy boy in the back corner next to whom the teacher sat me every year was watching me and listening. I wasn’t an athlete. I wasn’t popular. Boys were not interested in me. And I had never had a lot friends. But somehow my silly words had gotten everyone’s attention. I was noticed. It was a terrifyingly exhilarating moment. I didn’t understand it at that time, but looking back that was a moment when I realized that I wasn’t just scribbles on the page. I could affect other people with it, if I used it.

What was your first book/story published?

Back in 2009 an online magazine,, published a piece I had written about the day I found out my husband had cancer. It explored the sad and gritty emotions that plagued me as I digested the news – all while diapering my six-week-old son and my twenty-month-old daughter. I had always kept my writing to myself, so seeing it in on the internet was as frightening as the day I read my sixth-grade essay to the class. I felt like the whole world was watching. I received kind-hearted responses, but they were more about my difficult situation than about my writing. I savored the first step towards admitting out loud that I was a writer, but I knew that my heart lay in telling other people’s stories, rather than my own.

What inspired you to write TWISTED?

While putting my daughter to bed one night, I read the tale of Rumpelstiltskin from the yellowed pages of my childhood book. The first page’s illustration showed a demur girl bowing her head dutifully before a king who pointed his jeweled finger at her and, as the story goes, ordered her to spin a whole room full of hay into gold - all because the girl’s father had bragged that his daughter could turn anything she touched into gold. While she was left alone to cry over the futility of her task, a little man with magic showed up and said he would help her if she promised to give him her first born child.

After I put my daughter to bed, I kept thinking about this poor girl in the story who had been cornered and tricked by every man she came across in her life: Father, King (eventual husband), and magical little man. Every feminist bone in my body was annoyed, and I found myself imagining all the comebacks I would have said to these men if I were her. You know, the kind of stinging rebuttals you always think about after the argument is over.

Like an itch in my brain that I couldn’t quite reach, this girl’s predicament kept nagging at me until I got out of bed at 5:30 the next morning and snuck past my two little kids’ bedrooms and out the door to a coffee shop with my laptop under my arm. I spent every Saturday and Sunday morning getting up at the same un-Godly hour to drink coffee and figure out what really happened to this girl until the last page was written and rewritten and rewritten again and again.

What character in Twisted is the most/least like you, and in what ways?

Madame Maeve, the proprietor of a brothel and the surrogate mother-figure to Aoife, is the character who is very different from me, not just because of her job description, but she is also a character whose strength and resolute nature I admire. She lives in a time when there were very few options for women. Wife. Nun. Spinster. Yet she takes up the role of a purveyor of flesh. She breaks all the rules, even the rules of feminism, but she is one of the strongest women in the book. She is completely unafraid of what others think of her. I like to think that I take risks, but I fret and worry like everyone else. I wish that like Maeve I could take risks without worrying as much about what others think. Or maybe she worries as much as the rest of us but is just better at hiding it. I also admire the way that she finds subtle triumphs. She doesn’t outright best the men around her, which they never would have allowed at the time. She knows how to let them think that they have won or that they have the upper hand, when in fact she knows all along that she holds the cards and pulls all the strings. She doesn’t need anyone’s nod of approval or acknowledgement to know that she, in fact, is in charge. For the women who came before me, this was often the only way to gain power. Now that takes confidence pragmatism, and, of course, smarts.

What is your favorite part in Twisted?

Writing the scenes with Ena were my favorite. She is a character who, like Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello, is completely evil solely for the purpose of being evil. There is no part of the book that tries to justify why she is as cruel as she is by supplying a backstory of parental abandonment or an emotionally abusive boyfriend. She just exists as a classic villain. Whenever she walked onto the page, there was always a sense of heightened creative tension as I tried to do justice to her character by imagining what she would say, how she would say it, and how the rest of the characters would react to her. I wanted her to be the kind of evil kind character who is almost more interesting than the protagonist. That’s a lot of pressure, but a lot of fun, too.

What was the hardest part to write?

Turning a fairy tale that many people are familiar with into a mystery was a huge challenge. I re-imagined the entire storyline about the origins of Rumpelstiltskin’s name. Instead of allowing him to know his name and use its strangeness as a means of tricking Aoife, I rewrote the tale as if he never knew his name and wanted her to find it for him. Writing his backstory and weaving in the details of the plot and the flashbacks in way that was believable, clear, without holes, and all the while suspenseful was definitely a challenge.

What would your ideal career be, if you couldn't be an author?

Luckily, I already have an ideal career. Besides being an author, I am a high school English teacher. I get to go to work every day and read stories with my kids and teach them to write. One of my coworkers once said that what she admired about me was that no matter what I was teaching or working on with my students, I was always having fun. I had never thought of myself that way, but I think she’s right. So while I would love to be home writing all day long, if I have to go somewhere to collect a regular paycheck, I am lucky enough to have found a job that I love.

Do you read reviews of your books? If so, do you pay any attention to them, or let them influence your writing? 

 I do read the reviews of my book. I try to be like my character, Maeve, and listen to those voices without letting them pierce too deeply through my skin. So far they have been very positive so that has been easy. But getting reviews of all kinds is part of the deal when you publish. I don’t know how much it will change the way I write. I will let you know!

What well-known writers do you admire most?

In regards to fairy tales, Gregory Maguire is the king. I picked up Wicked years ago, thinking it would be a light read. Boy was I mistaken! I never thought that a fairy tale retelling could probe so deep into religion, politics, and economics. At the time I was not thinking about writing a fairy tale retelling, but I think getting hooked on his books is what gave me the courage later to write Twisted. After reading Maguire, I felt self-assured that fairy tales were not child’s play.

Like so many other readers, Anne Rice will always be the queen of dark tales. Her description, the eloquence of her language, and the nuanced characters she creates set her above the rest. I read The Witching Hour at 17, never having read anything but the classics that my Catholic school education fed me, like Dickens and the Bronte sisters. Reading the classics was invaluable, but I devoured The Witching Hour, shocked that my very Catholic mother read those pages and was allowing me to read them, too! She had not allowed me to see Pretty Woman, but my mother was letting me read Anne Rice! I never looked at her or books the same again. I realized there were a lot of writers exploring things outside of drawing rooms, arranged marriages, and proper English manners.

Do you have any other books/stories in the works?

While I was editing Twisted, I completed most of a middle grade story about a boy locked up in one of the many round tours in Ireland. While that may be the first project I finish since it is almost done, I have a story outline created for a retelling of a mythological figure. I’d rather keep that one quiet until I have it ready. Add your email to my list via my website and I will be sure to let you know when that is ready for release. And because I like to have a lot of projects in the air, I also have a non-fantasy, contemporary novel started about a thirty-ish widow with two kids living in a small town who is tired of being everyone’s charity case.

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About the Author: Bonnie grew up a shy, quiet girl who the teachers always seated next to the noisy boys because they knew she was too afraid to talk to anyone. She always had a lot she wanted to say but was too afraid to share it for fear she might die of embarrassment if people actually noticed her. Somewhere along the line, perhaps after she surprised her eighth grade class by standing up to a teacher who was belittling a fellow student, she realized that she had a voice and she didn’t burst into flames when her classmates stared at her in surprise.

Not long after that, she began spinning tales, some of which got her into trouble with her mom. Whether persuading her father to take her to the candy store as a little girl or convincing her parents to let her move from Los Angeles to Manhattan to pursue a career at eighteen as a ballet dancer with only $200 in her pocket, Bonnie has proven that she knows how to tell a compelling story.

Now she spends her time reading and making up stories for her two children at night. By day she is an English teacher who never puts the quiet girls next to the noisy boys and works hard to persuade her students that stories, whether they are the ones she teaches in class or the ones she tells to keep them from daydreaming, are better escapes than computers, phones, and social media.

Learn more about Bonnie on her website at:

You can follow the author on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

1 comment:

  1. Bonnie,

    Thank you for doing the interview for my blog. Your book looks like a fun read. I especially like the cover art.


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