Author Interview: Elissa Sussman

Elissa-Sussman_photobyJohnPetajaElissa Sussman is a writer, a reader and a pumpkin pie eater.
Her debut novel, STRAY (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins), is a YA fantasy about fairy
godmothers, magic and food. She received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and in a
previous life managed animators and organized spreadsheets at some of the best animation
studios in the world, including Nickelodeon, Disney, Dreamworks and Sony Imageworks. You
can see her name in the credits of THE CROODS, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, THE
PRINCESS AND THE FROG and TANGLED.
She currently lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend and their rescue mutt, Basil. You can find her at her websiteStray is her first novel.

1.      Let’s start off with the easy questions. What is your favourite fairytale and why?

I’ve always loved East of the Sun, West of the Moon, which is this wonderfully epic fairy tale. The first half is a cross between Beauty and the Beast and the story of Cupid and Psyche, while the second half is a fantastic quest, only it’s the heroine that needs to save the prince.

2.      Stray subverts a lot of fairytale tropes and pays a lot of attention to gender expression. Would you say that traditional fairytales have become outdated in their messages and their insistence on a patriarchal structure (of family, moral values etc.)? Do you think contemporary society needs new fairytales to perform the same function as old fairytales? Is Stray a response to this need?

One of my favorite things about fairy tales is how they are constantly evolving to reflect the culture and time. We all see different things in these familiar stories, and our feelings for them change as well. Because of that, I don’t think fairy tales can ever really be outdated. They’re a type of storytelling that has a life of its own. If anything, Stray is an attempt to show that we aren’t as progressive as we like to think, that the traditional fairy tale trappings are still deeply rooted in our culture. The stories will change, as they always have, and hopefully Stray will be one of many stories that show not only what our society is, but what it can become.

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3.      In Stray, fairy godmothers, though not antagonists, are cast in a less than desirable light. In the traditional fairytales, fairy godmothers hold power but are very transient in the story. They are rarely (if ever) given substantial side stories and are often unnamed. This move away from fairy godmothers is fairly common in contemporary children’s literature (Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George and Janette Rallison’s My Fair Godmother series). Why do you think people are moving away from fairy godmothers and viewing them in a less than favourable way?

I don’t know if I would say that there’s a move away from fairy godmothers. If anything, it seems that there are writers attempting to give them their own stories. I know that was my goal with Stray – to show a new perspective on a familiar character. To present them as individuals, with names and personalities, both good and bad.

4.      Tell us about your writing process? Do you write outlines before you begin? Is there anything you are working on after this novel? What should we look forward to from you in the future?

I am a huge fan of outlines. I’ll outline for days, weeks, months – I love it so! And I usually do it by hand, so I have notebooks full of scribbled ideas and lists (because I love lists as well).

I’m currently working on the follow up to STRAY, entitled BURN. It’s a new story within the same world introduced in STRAY with two new protagonists, though Aislynn and her friends will be very present in the story. I had a lot of fun with the outlines for it.

5.      What are you reading these days? What book would you most recommend to us?  

I’ve read some exceptional books lately. POINTE by Brandy Colbert and FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe are two YA contemporary debuts that I absolutely adored. I loved Genevieve Valentine’s THE GIRLS FROM THE KINGFISHER CLUB, which is a flapper retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princess (one of my favorite fairy tales) as well as THE BITTER KINGDOM, the final book in Rae Carson’s excellent trilogy.

  • This is a great interview. 🙂 Adding her book to my TBR list.

    • Awesome. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.