Welcome friends, and to the first debut author interview as a part of my Novel19 Class! This year I wanted to do something to help boost new author voices and stories, and this is a project that I am really excited about! For more information about my Novel19 Class and the other five books that I’ve chosen, please check out my announcement post.
Today I am really excited to have Alyssa Wees on the blog, whose debut fantasy novel The Waking Forest will be published on March 12, 2019! I’m stoked to be able to share our wonderful conversation about her inspiration, path to publishing, and how her ballet training can be found in her book.
An Interview with Alyssa Wees
Hi Alyssa, thank you so much for joining me on the blog today to talk about your debut novel! The Waking Forest sounds like a magical and surreal fairytale that I cannot wait to read! Can you share a little bit about The Waking Forest?
Thank you for having me! The Waking Forest is about Rhea, the eldest of four sisters, who has terrifying visions and nightmares of a forest no one sees but her. When she makes a deal with a mysterious stranger who seems to be made of darkness in exchange for learning about the forest’s secrets, her family begins to disappear one by one. Meanwhile, the Witch of Wishes lives alone in a palace of bone in the same forest that Rhea sees in her visions. The Witch spends her nights granting wishes to children seeking her out in their dreams. Her peace is shattered by the arrival of a stranger who seems to know something about her past, something she’s not yet ready to face.
I love stories where the setting is personified and almost a character of its own, and based on the synopsis it sounds like the forest is just as important as Rhea and the witch. How many mysteries of the forest can we expect?
The forest is such a great place to hide secrets. Or to hide from your secrets. For Rhea the forest is a symbol of her fear but also her curiosity, and her yearning to find magic and light even in the darkness. For the Witch, the forest is her home. It’s familiar and safe, until the night a stranger comes and wants to tell her a story about the world beyond the woods. The forest is what separates Rhea and the Witch but in many ways it also binds them together. You can expect mysteries both inside and outside of the forest!
The book is pitched as “Pan’s Labyrinth meets The Hazel Wood.” Was there any inspiration that you drew from when coming up with the story? How did this story come to life for you?
I’ve found inspiration in so many places. I’m a Disney fanatic, and while The Waking Forest is quite a bit darker than most Disney movies, I was inspired by all the stories I watched growing up. I also read Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman while writing. The Waking Forest is not a true retelling of any one fairy tale, but there are glimmers of familiar tales throughout.
The wonder and darkness of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, one of my all-time favorite movies, inspired the way I played with magic in The Waking Forest and thought about what it means to see into another, stranger world that no one else seems to see. For Ofelia in the movie, her fantasy world interwoven with the real one is both a blessing and a burden, and Rhea in The Waking Forest experiences a similar sense of awe as well as a weight as she discovers a realm that seems to exist outside the often rigid bounds of reality.
I read that you began your training in ballet at four years old and that dance often comes up in your writing. Ballet definitely fits the mood that The Waking Forest sets for me; can you give us any hints about how dance or other passions of yours made their way into your book?
Ballet was such a huge part of my life until I graduated college so naturally it always manages to make its way into my stories. In The Waking Forest, the Witch dances in her forest glade after she’s granted wishes and all the children leave. For her, dance is a distraction—she feels that if she keeps moving, she won’t have to think about the things she’s worked so hard to forget. Without giving away too much, there’s a scene where she dances with another character and it’s probably my favorite scene in the book! In that scene the Witch uses dance as a way to connect without words and to build trust.
Your debut novel is being published by Delacorte Press, which is an imprint for Penguin Random House. Can you share a bit about what the process was like from inception to publishing? How long did it take and what made you choose traditional publishing over Indie publishing?
I first had the idea for The Waking Forest a little less than four years ago. It took me about a year to write and edit. And then I signed the contract for the book deal about a year and a half ago. Both traditional and indie publishing are great, but Delacorte’s list includes a lot of similarly magical contemporary fantasy books and so it felt like the perfect home for The Waking Forest.
Who did you write The Waking Forest for? If you had to compare your debut to any other book, who definitely shouldn’t miss this book?
I wrote this book for readers who love fairy tales as much as I do! It’s hard to compare it to any one book, but I think it’s a kindred spirit to stories like Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, for its strange magic, and Alice in Wonderland, for its riddles and mysteries
About the Book
The waking forest has secrets. To Rhea, it appears like a mirage, dark and dense, at the very edge of her backyard. But when she reaches out to touch it, the forest vanishes. She’s desperate to know more—until she finds a peculiar boy who offers to reveal its secrets. If she plays a game.
To the Witch, the forest is her home, where she sits on her throne of carved bone, waiting for dreaming children to beg her to grant their wishes. One night, a mysterious visitor arrives and asks her what she wishes for, but the Witch sends him away. And then the uninvited guest returns.
The strangers are just the beginning. Something is stirring in the forest, and when Rhea’s and the Witch’s paths collide, a truth more treacherous and deadly than either could ever imagine surfaces. But how much are they willing to risk to survive?
About the Author
In between training in ballet and watching lots of Disney movies, Alyssa grew up writing stories starring her Beanie Babies. She earned a BA in English from Creighton University and an MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago. Currently she works as an assistant librarian in youth services at an awesome public library. She lives in the Chicagoland area with her husband and their two cats.
Did you know that if you pre-order a copy of The Waking Forest or request it at your local library that you can get some extra goodies?
🦊 A signed bookplate