Today we sit down with DISENCHANTED author, Brianna Sugalski, as she discusses her debut release, future books, and creating from grief.
Your novel, DISENCHANTED, released on March 10th. Congratulations! What was your literary journey like while writing it? Thank you! Well I started writing as a form of therapy. We'd just experienced the sudden stillbirth of one twin and our surviving son was very sick. While bedside with him in the NICU, I scribbled a series of poems about a girl and boy—a princess and originally, a monster hunter (later he emerged in my mind as a wickedly funny monster), who survived treacherous things. Those poems began to emerge in chronological order, and before I knew it I had a mini story. Each chapter of DISENCHANTED is based on one of those poems. After twenty three of them, my husband jokingly said, "How many of those are you going to write? Might as well turn it into a book." So a book it became.
Is there a scene in DISENCHANTED that made you cry while writing it? How about the scene that made you laugh the hardest?
The scene in the first chapter where Lilac speaks with the king, that was actually added in last second during my second round of edits with the fabulous Loni. That part struck home for me in a bittersweet way, and I did cry while writing it. The scene that was funniest to me was when Lilac and Garin are stuck outside the farmhouse trying to figure out a humane way to break in. I laughed a lot more than I cried. Would you consider your protagonist, Lilac, and your anti-hero Garin, to be good people? Be honest. Early on, Lilac had a rebellious streak as a child she perhaps otherwise would have had as an adolescent, and that's probably in part to growing up under the stifling pretenses of pomp and circumstance, which she saw right through. And after her Darkling Tongue is discovered, only then is she held accountable for those things, and many more that weren't her fault. Because of that she lives in fear and resentment before her Brocèliande journey. I'd say she's misunderstood. That doesn't make her an not-good person.
Garin on the other hand is like a bull in a china shop. He went through a lot that he's become remorseful for and drowns the past in drinks and work, but he still has a violent streak that he tempers well with walks in the forest and deep breaths in the cold air. Does that make him a bad person? I don't know, you tell me.
How does a big ego help writers? How can it hinder writers, if at all? I think it all comes down to what we consider a big ego. To survive in this industry, I'd think it important to believe in yourself and your projects enough that you aren't afraid to speak up about it and share it with others, for worse or for better. It might hinder authors if they aren't willing to change anything along the way or never consider getting their work critiqued or edited. I've noticed during my short time being an author (the DISENCHANTED series is my first and only WIP so far) that a level of "ego" has to be there for some amount of personal presence, which I think is key to truly connecting with your readers and potential readers. I make sure to come forth on my public social media as more than the author of this tale; I'm a wife, a mom, a proud Filipino American, the daughter of veterans, etc etc. What is the darkest thing you’ve ever written—presuming there might be pieces darker than this novel? I was fortunate enough to submit a piece for the Bookcon Exclusive anthology that The Parliament Press is releasing later this year. We go into soot and sickness-ridden Victorian London for this one, and I was pretty proud of myself for going even darker when I thought I'd already gotten there. I thought we were already there with Garin ripping people's arms off, but someone gets his teeth pulled, one by one, without anesthetic. What other authors are you friends with? How do they help you become a better writer? I'm really blessed to have found the Parliament House Press. They connect us to other authors who've been published with them, and each and every one are insanely talented. In writing the sequel and for other future endeavors I know I have a team of incredible writers to ask for help and guidance. They've helped me many a time with learning how to market and make graphics and navigate this whole thing, especially on Instagram. So the readers know, is DISENCHANTED a planned series? Yes. It is at least a duology.
If you could tell your writing-self ten years ago anything, what would it be? It would be to not let the success of others intimidate you. That there's room for everyone here. How did publishing your first book change your artistic process to what it is today? DISENCHANTED was my first book, and the only other project I'm currently working on is her sequel. I'm not quite sure what it means so far as my artistic process for other things. I will probably be a little more organized now that I understand how the submissions and editing processes work, but I'll still write on Scrivener. That program is a godsend and worth every penny; it made writing my first draft not... easy, but I'd say a lot more manageable. I even fleshed out all my character backgrounds on it. When did you first learn that language wielded power? What did that moment look like? Reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in my seventh grade English class, and then The Three Musketeers the summer following. I rememeber hating my life at first; my private school reading list was so limited to these "boring", lengthy classics. I complained like everyone else did. Then when I actually put my cellphone down and read, everything sprang to life from the pages. I was hooked on Twain and Dumas' (and later, Dickens') portrayal of emotion through imagery. Sometimes we base our characters on actors or models, but some are people we know from everyday life; are there any characters in this novel inspired by real people? Do you have a dream cast? Who are they? Lilac was not entirely modeled after me. A small part of her was, but she is mostly inspired by the important women in my life, my family. My mom, my sisters, my grandmother. Her courage and tenacity, her willingness to educate herself and that found strength in naivety.
Garin is my husband. I, too, developed a crush on him while writing him, but his character didn't come to life and really gain that off-kilter personality until I sprinkled some of that good old Tim snark onto the pages.
As far as my dream cast~
What did you edit out of this novel that you might regret nixing? Nothing, actually! Everything that went, needed to go. The story is a trillion times better for it. Lilac is big on her food. What are some of her favorites? What nineteen year-old woman isn't? I made sure food and drink were big parts of the story because I've read so many adventure novels where the characters scarcely stop to nourish themselves and I'm like... HOW. Hmm. She likes her seaweed butter on bread. She loves her cheese and red wine. Oh, and that spiked cider served at Sable and Jeanare's house, that's also a Breton staple.
Do you read your own book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones, if any? From time to time, but I've very recently learned not to. Do you hide any pop culture “Easter eggs” in DISENCHANTED that only a few people will find? Yes. It was written in a very tongue-in-cheek way as once of my reviewers described it, where not all the dialogue and terms are fitting for 16th century colloquialism. It's a very modern fairy tale despite the setting, so I tried to sneak things in there where the story would allow. There are some Skyrim references.
What was the hardest scene to write into this novel? The hardest was the farmhouse scene, which, by the way, is not a love scene. It's two people who know they shouldn't—can't—be together and angrily acknowledging their feelings anyway. Then they kiss and move on with their quest. Kingdom and forest politics are considered in this conversation they have, and it was really difficult to strike that balance and not overdo the technical information as to not lose the emotion of this pivotal scene, if that makes sense.
Google yourself. What’s the first thing that pops up? My website, which needs to be updated. What’s one important thing would you give up to improve your writing skill? Chocolate. I winced as I typed that. What is your favorite childhood book? Did any of your childhood reads inspire your writing style/voice in DISECNCHANTED? Absolutely. A tale that's stayed with me forever is Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted. I also love Tana's spunk and inner monologue in Holly Black's The Coldest Girl In Coldtown. Those two for sure have inspired parts of DISENCHANTED. I recently discovered Leigh Bardugo; she is a true wordsmith and the first book of hers I read was Ninth House during my editing process. After reading it, I immediately took out my manuscript and deepened Lilac's introspection. It made a world of a difference even in the last round of edits.
Lilac and Garin discover a lot about themselves as the story progresses. What did writing this book teach you about yourself? That I can do a lot more than I give myself credit for. I wrote that whole book while grieving. I know many other authors and artists who've done the same, created from a place of pain or emptiness. It somehow, in maybe the most profoundly messed up way, makes our art better and makes us better. Writing is therapy. In that sense, I'm excited to see where I can take readers with book two now that we're in a place of healthy healing <3