Author Interview: Cheryl Mahoney on The Lioness and the Spellspinners

My blogging friend Cheryl Mahoney over at Tales of the Marvelous has been writing a delightful fairy tale-inspired series for young adults since 2013.  I’m very pleased to have her back on my blog as part of the tour for her fourth book, The Lioness and the Spellspinners, which came out October 14.  I’m interviewing her today and will review this book as soon as I finish reading it!


Back of the Book Blurb
Forrest can’t fathom this prickly, knife-wielding girl who so unceremoniously turns up in his family’s barn one morning.  His life has never been this exciting.  Karina can’t make herself trust the strangely hospitable villagers on this island she’s now stuck on, and when they claim they can knit spells into their garments, that doesn’t help.  She knows magic exists, but that’s just ridiculous.

And no one can understand why the chickens have suddenly started laying gilded eggs, or why the horse is talking in rhyming couplets.

When the inexplicable magic goes from mere bad poetry to actual threats, when dancing becomes dangerous and the wrong thought could cause disaster, the only answers are in the past Karina is fleeing—and the only way to survive is for the knife-wielder to trust the spellspinner.

Cheryl MahoneyPlease explain your writing process.
This book started out as a NaNoWriMo novel (as did its predecessor, The Storyteller and Her Sisters).  I wrote 50,000 words in November of 2014, and another 29,000 in December (with a sizable push on New Year’s Eve, to get to the end of the story).  This one was more nebulous in concept than almost any of my others—at the beginning of November, I had two main characters, the idea of magical knitting and other, fairy tale-inspired, magical complications, and a vague intention to tie this into Storyteller somehow.  All the rest was figured out as I wrote through the first draft!

After the first draft, I put the book away for most of 2015 (I think I may have done a read-through somewhere in there), and got focused on the revisions at the beginning of 2016.  I did a revision pass, sent the book out to a few first readers for feedback, and then did final revisions.

This is your fourth book.  What have you learned over the years of working on your book?
I think the biggest lesson of this particular book was to trust the muse.  As I said, I didn’t have a clear picture of the full story when I started, and it can be harder to write forward when I don’t know where I’m going to end up in the long term.  Because of the time intensity of NaNo, I had to just keep writing with what I knew, and trust that I’d figure out future sections and plot developments by the time I got to them.  And for the most part, that really did happen!

In a slightly paradoxical way, that scary aspect of not knowing what’s coming pairs with my favorite part of writing—the moment when some idea suddenly comes together and I realize what’s coming next!

You’ve been covering some of the best-known fairy tales.  What tales inspired this story, and which are still intriguing you?  
This book is more loosely fairy tale-inspired than my others, but there are still some connections.  Some very strange magic starts happening a few chapters in, and readers may recognize some elements of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “The Red Shoes,” and the many tales that involve talking animals.  I also snuck in a lot of fairy tale references in a later scene, when the heroine is exploring a magician’s study.  The magician is a collector of magical items from many different tales.

In future stories, I’ve thought about doing something more with “Beauty and the Beast” (even though I did do one angle of it in The People the Fairies Forget), or possibly “The Little Mermaid.”

In a topic of personal interest to me, the whole We Need Diverse Books movement started in 2014, the year after you started writing this series.  Please share your thoughts on how this movement has affected your writing, if at all, and on including diverse characters in novels inspired by European fairy tales.  
That’s a really great question and thanks for bringing this issue up!  I always say my fairy tale stories are set in “faux Medieval” times, and basically in faux Europe too.  Because I start books significantly before they reach publishing (minimum two years), this series (to date) was really envisioned before the Diverse Books movement reached me in a big way.  These books have been more concentrated on addressing gender stereotypes—for instance, this one has a heroine who fights with knives and a hero who knits.

However, that movement has begun impacting my writing more recently.  I’ve definitely been feeling I want to get more racial diversity into my stories, especially in sci fi or fantasy.  In last year’s NaNoWriMo I chose to have a heroine of mixed race.  That’s a sci fi story set in the distant future, and I made a point of giving my human heroine a white mother and a black father (but still keeping some gender stereotype awareness too, and making her small, blond mother a ship captain).  My alien heroine changes skin color (cycling through green, purple, red and the like) depending on her emotion, and finds human variations in skin color quite strange and exotic.

I’ve been doing a reading challenge this year to read more racially diverse stories, which should help keep that awareness for me in future writing—and have other value besides that too, of course!

Since asking Cheryl that question, I’ve found a couple more places thinking about diversity in medieval Europe – there were some very interesting points in the live Missed in History podcast: How Historical Fiction Gets Made (which included historical fantasy as well as straight-up historical fiction) and the recent middle grade novel The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz. 

What’s on your agenda for NaNoWriMo? 
I’ve been working on a Phantom of the Opera retelling for several years now, in between my other writing.  I’d like to get a complete first draft done, so my goal for NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words or get to the end of the draft, whichever comes first!  It may be less than 50,000 words to the end, though probably not by a lot—and it also might be more!  It’s a little more of a NaNoRebel choice, but I’m very excited to spend a month with this story and these characters.

Cheryl Mahoney is a book blogger at Tales of the Marvelous, and the author of three books based on fairy tales. The Wanderers, published in 2013, follows the journeys of a wandering adventurer, a talking cat and a witch’s daughter.  The Storyteller and Her Sisters retells “The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces,” with twelve trapped princesses who decided to take control of their story. The People the Fairies Forget follows a male fairy who’s had enough of sparkles and fairies only paying attention to royalty.  Her latest book is The Lioness and the Spellspinners.  

Purchase information for The Lioness and the Spellspinners: Paperback and Kindle

There’s lots more of Cheryl Mahoney and her books on my blog:



About Katy K.

I'm a librarian and book worm who believes that children and adults deserve great books to read.
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2 Responses to Author Interview: Cheryl Mahoney on The Lioness and the Spellspinners

  1. Pingback: Blog Spin: Interview with a Library Mama | Tales of the Marvelous

  2. Pingback: The Lioness and the Spellspinner | alibrarymama

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