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Author Spotlight: Elana K. Arnold

Author Spotlight: Elana K. Arnold

Elana K. Arnold, author of the Printz Honor book Damsel, returns with a dark, engrossing, blood-drenched tale of the familiar threats to female power—and one girl’s journey to regain it. Read our conversation below.

What sparked the idea of telling this story?

Honestly, it was my own menstrual cycle.

It was three and a half years ago, and I was ice skating in an outdoor rink up near Yosemite. The rink was ringed with trees, and the ice glowed milky white in the light of the full moon. And I’d just begun my period.

Sometimes, right before I have a really good idea, the back of my brain begins to tingle. I know this sensation is telling me to wait, and listen, so I did. And then it occurred to me to wonder: if werewolves cycle with the moon… and menstruators cycle with the moon… then what if there were a girl who, when she begins her period for the first time in sync with the full moon, finds that with her blood comes this power to hunt werewolves?

Why did you choose to modernize this particular tale?

I grew up reading fairy tales; not the Disney versions, but the older, darker, weirder stories that have been sanitized over the years. They unsettled me, but at the same time, they were a comfort: as strange as they were—with the magic and the wolves, the violence and the danger—they seemed to be telling me the truth.

I don’t set out to write a book centered on a fairy tale; it’s more that something in my real life reminds me of these earlier stories that filled me up as a child, and that link between past story and present experience catapults me into the new book. With Red Hood, the experience that connected past to present was visceral, as I ice skated that night, ringed by trees. I felt like Little Red, in the forest. I wanted to share that feeling with readers.

What was your inspiration for creating this dark and vicious world? Why set it in Seattle? 

Though Red Hood is, in some ways, a Red Riding Hood retelling, it’s also a modern story that deals with modern dangers to girls—incels, high school bullying, teenage social hierarchy. I wanted to set the book in a modern, busy place, a place where the forest abuts the human spaces. Seattle fits. 

How do you think the story will be received in the era of #MeToo?

I hope people will read this both as a metaphor and also as an original, thrilling story all its own. Writing this book felt empowering, and early readers tell me they felt the same way. I hope readers will meet this book where they need it—as a Red Riding Hood retelling; as a metaphor for the current #MeToo era and the many, many years that contributed to this cultural moment; as a female-forward power story full of adrenaline and sisterhood. One book can be many things, depending on who picks it up.

Do you have any plans of retelling other classic tales?

Yes, definitely. There is so much breadth for the imagination in considering the older stories, and why they have persisted through the years, as well as reimagining them for current readers.

What made you decide to be a writer?

I’ve always been a reader, and for me, it seemed that the only thing that might be even better than reading a book would be writing my own. Each of us sees the world from a particular, unique angle, and I’ve found it immensely satisfying to write stories that reflect the world the way I see it, and also the way I’d like it to be.

What is your creative process?

Lots of things about my process change from book to book, but some things stay the same: I do tons of research, reading everything I can find that seems even peripherally related to my interests. You never know where you might find a kernel of information that could influence the trajectory of your work.

I try to write the very best story I can, piece by piece. I usually write linearly—that is, I begin at the beginning as I see it and keep going until I reach an ending that feels satisfying to me. Then, I go back through the manuscript, again and again, enriching and growing from within. Usually, my first draft is the shortest, and the story grows as I revise.

Describe a typical day for you as a writer.

If I am home, actively working on a first draft, an ideal day begins with pouring a cup of coffee and getting to work right away. I reread what I wrote the day before and then do my best to move the story forward. If I get stuck, that means I need to do more research. I stop and learn more—whether it’s about moon cycles, or werewolves, or covens, or ice thickness in Quebec.

I will write for three or more hours, then get away from the work and tend to other things. But the story will be in the back of my brain, and I’ll keep thinking about it throughout my day. I’ll try to return to the book later in the day and write more.

This is an ideal day of writing, but few days are ideal. The important thing is to touch my story every day, even if that means just rereading.

Which book do you keep coming back to?

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

What are you reading now?

I’m heading out on two legs of a tour with some phenomenal writers, and I’m rereading their incredible books in preparation for our conversations:

Be Not Far from Me by Mindy McGinnis

Cloak of Night by Evelyn Skye

Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Red Hood by Elana K. Arnold is available at Fully Booked Online.

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