Mothering a daughter taught author Kris Waldherr just how ubiquitous one particularly popular storybook character— the elegant princess— can be.
“I was confronted by how impossible it is to avoid the marketing of princess clothing, toys, and films,” said Waldherr. “From there, I began researching the historical realities of what it was really like to be young, royal, and unmarried. Turned out it was kind of awful for the most part despite the fabulous gowns and tiaras. Historically speaking, most of the time you were married off to someone who wasn’t Prince Charming to form political alliances, and then were under a lot of pressure to cough up a male heir.”
This research served as inspiration for her upcoming book Bad Princess: True Tales from Behind the Tiara, a nonfiction follow up to Doomed Queens.
Bad Princess differs from its predecessor in that it is geared toward a younger audience though Waldherr began her literary career with children’s books.
“I began my career in publishing as a children’s book designer and illustrator for a major New York publishing house after receiving my BFA from the School of Visual Arts,” she said. “After illustrating a few picture books, I started writing the text to accompany my art, and expanded into creating books that were for adults.”
These included The Book of Goddesses, The Lover’s Path, and Doomed Queens.
“Eventually my literary agent said, ‘You write really well! I’d love to see you push yourself in that direction,’” said Waldherr. “So I did. Now, though I still illustrate and design books, I far prefer the writing part of the process. It feels richer and more challenging at this stage of my career.”
Waldherr’s favorite part of the book creation process is the first spark of inspiration, “when everything appears shiny and promising.”
“There’s so much inspiration out there,” she said. “Besides the usual suspects of books, music, and art, I adore traveling for research. Last year, I traveled to the Weald Moor in Shropshire to view what I’d been writing about, which was really exciting. Turned out it looked very close to how I’d described—[a] strange coincidence. Several years earlier, I visited what had once been a Victorian asylum. It’s now a school for troubled teens, which somehow seems appropriate.”
Once Waldherr begins writing, things get a little more complicated.
“When it comes to writing fiction, I’ve reluctantly accepted that I am an intuitive, non-linear thinker,” she said. “I don’t sit down and decide, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to write a book where my protagonist does x, y, and z? And it works out this way at the end?’ Instead, my novels start with a scene that comes in a flash. For one book, I had a dream in which a young woman was arguing with a man in a small room lit only by a fireplace. From there, the deluge begins: over days, weeks, and months, I’ll see snippets of scenes, hear exchanges of dialogue, and imagine characters, all of which I immediately write down before I forget. It’s like a flood from the subconscious.”
Waldherr arranges these notes into “some semblance of a story.” She loves unexpected connections that occur as she writes, especially those that cannot be logically explained.
“For example, I’m currently finishing a novel set in a house on the moors in 1852 Shropshire,” she said. “In my first draft, I named the house Wealt House off the top of my head. Later, when I set to researching the novel, I discovered Shropshire has a Weald Moor—[another] unexplainable coincidence that made the hair on the back of my neck rise.”
After she assembles the initial “story,” Waldherr said the fun begins in earnest. “It can take a while before the narrative takes form,” she said. “For the novel I’m currently finishing, I had over 25,000 words of accumulated notes and 35,000 words of manuscript drafted before I figured how it was all going to come together. It was like a giant puzzle.”
The nonfiction writing process, however, is far more linear. “I start out with research, then write a book outline before I even start drafting chapters,” said Waldherr.
Waldherr’s least favorite part of the process occurs long after the book is completed.
“My least favorite is the waiting-to-hear-back part, when the book is out of your hands and out in the world,” she said. “Whether you’re waiting to hear back from an agent, an editor, or a reviewer, the wheels of publishing tend to move slowly. That’s why it’s good to have more than one book underway so you don’t go crazy.”
In 2017, Waldherr hopes to tie up loose ends. “I’m eager to wrap up three book projects I’ve been working on for the past few years and start a new novel I’ve been mulling,” she said. “I’m also looking forward to participating in two panels at the Historical Novel Society conference, and to a writer’s residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. The VCCA is a paradise for working creatives!”
Hiba Tahir is a YA author, a freelance journalist, and an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Arkansas.