Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley

Bio

Robin McKinley has won various awards and citations for her writing, including the Newbery Medal for The Hero and the Crown and a Newbery Honor for The Blue Sword. Her other books include Sunshine; the New York Times bestseller Spindle’s End; two novel-length retellings of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Beauty and Rose Daughter; and a retelling of the Robin Hood legend, The Outlaws of Sherwood. She lives with her husband, the English writer Peter Dickinson.

Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley

Books

Q&A

Robin McKinley is the Newbery Award-winning author of The Blue Sword, The Hero and the Crown, and a number of other fantasy novels and short story collections. She launched onto the scene with her first book, Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty & the Beast, and now in her new book, Rose Daughter, she returns to this classic fairy tale with a new interpretation.

Q: You’ve had a large amount of success with your books, developing a large fan base and even some sites on the internet that are dedicated to you. How does this affect your perception of your writing? Is it a mixed blessing?

MCKINLEY: I do answer almost all the letters my agent and publishers forward to me (except the actively abusive ones which fortunately are very rare), but I avoid being dismayed by the conversations among readers at my web site by never visiting it. I don’t know for a fact that it (I hope it’s only an it, and not a they) still exists.

I’m not going to be able to describe this very well, it may have to be something you’ve experienced, and you probably also have to have a certain kind of personality, but I find the whole business of fan conversation about the subject of their interest very unsettling. My own view of my books and characters is inevitably different from any reader’s because of the way I have lived with them in the process of writing them. I do occasionally receive letters–or questions from a live audience–about something in one of my books that I don’t remember (which is always very embarrassing) but no matter how many times a reader may have read something, and how much better a memory or an analytical intellect they may have, their perspective is different. I know that some authors enjoy detailed conversations with their fans about their work; I don’t. I feel as if we’re speaking two different languages with only a few dozen words in common, and the words in common have subtly crucial differences in meaning.

(Unfortunately my experience of being the subject of fan attention means that I can’t have fan conversations of my own, and being a devotee of Deep Space Nine this is a considerable deprivation. I’ve tried telling myself that it must be a profoundly dissimilar creative process, writing scripts or directing and producing them or acting roles, but I don’t believe this enough to do my earnest worshipful fan-self any good. Maybe it’s just I remember I tend to make a horse’s ass of myself when I meet someone I admire, and feel I’m safer staying away from all temptation.)

Having said all this though I will add that book mail, when a reader is addressing me directly, is often a great pleasure. (School assignment letters– ‘I am writing to you because I have to write a school report your books are okay I guess but I’d rather be playing Quake will you please answer the following eighty-six questions by next Tuesday’–and letters that want to tell you that you did everything wrong excepted.) I learn useful things–both good and bad–about how my books are read from readers who write to me about them, and yes, I want my books read, and so I want to write them as readably as I can. (“Readably” is not a euphemism for “easily.” I hope that to get the best out of my books a reader has to work at it a little, has to engage with the story, involve their brain and heart.) I suppose the ultimate, unreachable goal would be to have or read or overhear those fan conversations where both I and my readers were speaking the same language–actually this does happen occasionally, and when it does it makes my year. But I have a way to go as a writer to communicate that effectively with more than the very occasional reader; and unfortunately some readers never get over the fact that they want you to have written some other book, and there’s nothing I or any writer can do about that. So while the short answer to your question is that yes, my “fan base” and “success” are a mixed blessing, they are a blessing, and I am very grateful to have them.

Q: You’ve said before that many of your books spring from dreams or half-visions you have-could you tell us more about this? What was the vision behind Rose Daughter?

MCKINLEY: I wrote an essay, a sort of longer version of the afterword in the book, which my hardback house brought out as a pre-pub flyer, and I talk a little more about that there. After the conversation with my friend in New York City about writing a short-story version of Beauty and the Beast for him and his illustrator, and after having said a very firm “No!” because of course I had said all I had to say about that tale in my novel BEAUTY almost twenty years ago: “On the plane coming home I had the sort of half-vision that very often heralds the beginning of a new story. I thought: Her earliest memory was of waking from the dream. It was also her only clear memory of her mother. I thought: This is something to do with Beauty and the Beast. How very extraordinary.” And, sitting, or rather spinning, in one of those madly uncomfortable plane seats, all of whose bends and bulges seem to be carefully designed to hit you in the wrong places, while the sun comes dreadfully up and you know it’s still the middle of the night, I found myself in that dream and in that corridor Beauty dreams of, with the monster at the end of it, waiting for her.

A few weeks later I thought, oh well, why not, I’ll give that short story a try. Then I wrote a novel by accident. I have to say that several of my novels (and I haven’t written that many) have been that sort of accident, something I thought was short and wasn’t. BEAUTY was supposed to be a short story too.

Q: Why do you think you have such a strong response to the story of Beauty and the Beast? What do you think about its various pop culture interpretations, especially the Disney movie that was based on it?

MCKINLEY: I don’t know why my response to Beauty and the Beast is as strong as it is. I can tell you that when I was growing up in the fifties, B&B was the only fairy tale I ever read that has the heroine doing something rather than drooping like a tulip in a vase and waiting to be rescued by the hero. I was a girl and I wanted adventures; I didn’t want to hang around on some hero’s arm and agenda. This model for autonomy was very important. But as I grow older, and especially after having discovered a whole second novel-length Beauty and the Beast waiting for me to write it, I realise that being responsible for yourself is not the only critical element for me. It’s also something about the particular quality of love and faith and loyalty between Beauty and the Beast–there are no Black Knights by the ford, there are no glass mountains, there are no topless towers in this story, there is only patiently getting to know each other. And the dangerous climax in ROSE is brought on by love and faith, not tricky cleverness or superiority in arms. Beauty and the Beast is also, of course, about refusing to let the surface of things dictate your life or your choices. And this, I think, is why Beauty’s family in both my books is kind and careful, rather than selfish and bullying as in the usual versions. Beauty is in no way driven to make her choices as she does: this is also very important. I also want to believe that gentleness and thoughtfulness about other people is the standard, and that Beauty isn’t so extraordinary by possessing such virtues! Well, all right, it’s a fairy tale!

I haven’t–and won’t–see the musical of Beauty and the Beast. I did, finally, see the movie, and of it I say, tersely, that I… didn’t hate it as much as I expected to.

Extras

Author Website

View author website
Penguin Hotline