Sunday, March 13, 2022

Q&A with Alexandria Rogers


Alexandria Rogers is the author of the new middle grade novel The Witch, the Sword, and the Cursed Knights. She lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.


Q: What inspired you to write this retelling of the King Arthur and Camelot legend, and how did you create your characters Ellie and Caedmon?


A: I don't remember ever deciding to write an Arthurian legend. For me, Camelot has always been intertwined with my love of writing, like telling an Arthurian tale was less of a choice and more of a given.


My mom and I have been talking about the fabled Camelot for as long as I can remember, and as I wondered about the vilified Morgan Le Fay or revered boy who would be a king, I started penning some of my first tales. They probably weren't longer than a thousand words, but they ignited a love of storytelling.


Something about the romance of medieval literature clicked into place for me before I was old enough to understand most of it, and followed me through school, where I nearly got my Ph.D. in medieval studies. I ultimately decided that wasn't the right path for me, but the performative chivalry of the Arthurian tales continued to fascinate me, as did the reasons why we retold those stories again and again. 


To me, they were more than just legends. They reflected some of the best and worst of humanity, and I wanted to understand them.


As for Ellie and Caedmon, I never felt as though I created them. They plopped right into my head and started talking. I tend to find that if I can't hear a character's voice as soon as I think of the book idea, it's not the right time for me to write that story. I've tried creating characters, but they always come across as talking cardboard.


Speaking with other writers, I know every process is different; some writers create carefully constructed characters who come alive on the page. But for me, they either walk into my head fully formed or they're waiting in the wings, entirely mute, and there's nothing I can do to compel them to speak. 


That said, during revisions, I did read through the book specifically to note down any physical tics, nervous habits, etc. to make sure I wasn't just imposing my own experiences onto both of them.


For instance, I run cold, and never have the "clammy palms" we often read about in books. But that doesn't mean both Ellie and Caedmon should be the same as me or as each other. So I took note of each of their specific physical reactions and habits, and was very intentional in ensuring Ellie and Caedmon were, within reason, different from each other. 


Q: What did you see as the right blend between the original legends and your own take on them?


A: My husband loves facts and figures, and would likely cringe at my following answer - why can't it just be 60 percent – 40 percent?! - but first and foremost, I wrote what felt right.


I don't believe there's a perfect formula, though I do appreciate that retellings can feel tricky, as there's an innate desire to create something fresh and new. But for me, I feel that letting the characters find their own way helps keep a story original. 


With The Witch, the Sword, and the Cursed Knights, I partially got lucky. I grew up on tales of Arthur and Merlin. I read The Mists of Avalon front to back many times.


So I didn't need to write a new iteration of a tale I knew so well - not that there's anything wrong with retellings, just that I could sense a retelling wouldn't satisfy me. It wouldn't answer the question I needed answering, for I wanted to know what came next. 


I wanted Camelot to have been real, and I wanted to see what the world would become if such a utopian kingdom fell. It made me ask more questions that excited me. Was it never truly that utopic to begin with? Who believed Camelot was the answer to their problems? Who believed King Arthur was their savior? Who didn't? Why?


So already, I was starting the tale in a very different spot than most Arthurian legends, meaning I didn't have a lot to worry about in terms of overlapping with other books on the market - which is often the primary concern with retellings. 


Breaking the traditional structure helped me see the many characters of Camelot as my own, rather than as caricatures of themselves, allowing me to go deeper into the hearts of Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere, and those who surrounded them. Again, it all goes back to characters.


While most of that didn't make it on the page, it provided essential backstory for my own world building, and the confidence that this world was my own, with my own rules to make and break. In essence, it allowed me a certain freedom to play and create, rather than feel bogged down by a pressure to please those hoping to read the original tale. 


But if I were to ever write a more classic retelling, I still believe the key would be in writing what feels right first. For if it feels right to me, and I'm answering my own question - what if Rapunzel locked herself in her tower? - it's likely that someone has asked that same question before.


I don't believe retellings always need to break the wheel or subvert expectations. Sometimes, just painting the wheel in your own unique color is its own form of story magic.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Ellie and Caedmon?


A: There's a very deep friendship and understanding between the two of them. They're utterly different, but they both understand each other's loneliness - and both see the positive qualities in each other that they can't always see in themselves.


Friendships where you're allowed to fully be yourself are special and rare, and I believe they found that in each other. 


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story? 


A: I take different things away from my favorite books when I reread them, so I know that The Witch, the Sword, and the Cursed Knights will affect people differently at different times.


For those looking for a dusting of humor, I hope they find it. Or maybe they want a rekindling of hope. A friend on the page. A spark of magic. Or a reminder that, just like Caedmon and Ellie need to ultimately discover, they're enough just as they are. 


Q: What are you working on now? 


A: I can't say too much at the moment but there will be more middle grade magical adventures in my future!


Q: Anything else we should know? 


A: I update my Instagram (@AlexandriaeR_) regularly, so if you'd like to stay informed, that's where you can find me!


I also have a monthly newsletter, where I share special world building details on Camelot and behind the scenes tidbits. Long form writing suits me well, so it's where I feel like I can speak to readers the most. If you'd like to subscribe, you can do so at:


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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