Hello! I’m here today with the lovely Kelsie Engen, talking about an upcoming anthology, Seeds of Lore: A Mythical Anthology. Her story, “From Sea to Sky,” is based in a world of her own creation (which is pretty amazing, right?!).
First things first, I have a cover reveal here!
Steeped in tradition and universal truths, mythology and folklore are two sides of the same coin. In this collection, nine stories reshape such legends into new tales brimming with adventure and magic.
Deities don’t always have the answers: a mother goddess and her loyal queen bee search for a cure as the land withers around them; a war goddess chooses a mortal champion, but her gift of power comes at a price; and a grieving god travels to the underworld to rescue his best friend.
The trickery of fae is a legend of its own: a clever young man must outwit a wily leprechaun; a lost girl finds herself at the forest queen’s mercy when she stumbles upon a solstice celebration; and a rebellious girl must find her phone after a gnome steals it to punish her disobedience.
Even mortals can become myths in their own right: a determined prince rides out to discover who keeps stealing his father’s golden apples; a dissatisfied youth charged with keeping Excalibur safe fights against the tradition forced upon him; and a teenage boy has mere hours to prevent the end of the world after his father accidentally releases an Egyptian god.
Step into ancient worlds and new locales as you rediscover old truths.
Before we start: this piece is part of a series, and you can find the previous entries here (Louise Ross interviewing Renee Frey) and here (Renee interviewed me!). There’s lots more to learn about the wonderful authors involved in this project. And now, to the interview!
Hi, Kelsie! I’m glad you could come hang out for a bit. Getting right into it, what inspired you to tell this particular legend?
When I was given the prompt of “mythology” or “legends,” I knew I wanted to work this into my Canens Chronicles series, which is a retelling of Snow White that I’m currently working on. All my previous short stories for the anthologies have fallen into this world in one way or another, and the world I created and set the first Canens Chronicles book into is cursed to be winter all the time. I wanted this to be a sort of explanation of how the Aurora came into being (or in this case, returned to the sky).
Knowing that, I set out to find a myth or tale that would fit into my fairy-tale inspired world seamlessly. I researched all the Aurora myths I could find, and living in Alaska myself, I’m familiar with the sights of them and some of the myths around them, but none of them really held up an entire short story that felt like it would go with Snow White and other fairy tales. I somehow ended up reading a little fairy tale called “The Golden Mermaid,” and it was one I thought I could work with.
Though in the end, I did make TGM quite different to fit my needs, such as adding the Aurora to the tale while working with the general idea of it to craft it into a mythological tale for my Canens world of how the Aurora came to the skies. All that to say, in a roundabout way, I was inspired by fairy tales and the Northern Lights, and wanted to offer some explanation of what my characters might believe about them.
I’ve read your other stories in the fairy tale anthologies. (I’m partial to “Three Nights” myself!) How is retelling a legend different to writing a fairy tale retelling?
Aw, thanks. I liked that one too! Silvanus and Bianca were sweet characters to write—even though “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” has always been a fairy tale I struggled to connect with.
I think the challenge for me in “From Sea to Sky” was crafting the legend in a way that made it relatable to the characters in my world for both “From Sea to Sky” and later generations. I wrote it as an origin story for the Aurora, but it was more than that because I also set it in a world I’d already created. It had to feel authentic for both the current characters, Tane, his brothers, and father, as well as later characters in Canens like Princess Winterberry and Queen Blanche. So I needed it to be far more expansive than a normal story, almost like a prequel to another story. There were lots of bits and pieces I had to juggle as a result.
But in terms of making it into a legend, part of my challenge was in mingling both fairy tale and legend together. I essentially created my own Aurora legend for Canens, but I created it out of a fairy tale. And while that was a great starting point, I needed it to mean more than a fairy tale might to the characters. I needed it to be a legend for the characters in my story, and thus the framing of the story as the King telling it later on to his family was born.
It solved a lot of the problems, like explaining to the reader how this was a legend for the world the characters lived in, even if it wasn’t a familiar one to the reader. I also deliberately picked a lesser, perhaps completely unknown, fairy tale to use in this telling, which allowed me some freedom to craft this more into a legend rather than fairy tale as well, I think.
Were there any difficulties in writing this piece? How did you overcome them?
The most difficult part for me is always in keeping it under the maximum word count! I struggle in writing a “short” story, and this one pushes the limits for sure. So what I did to overcome that was basically write the story I wanted to write, realize it was about two thousand words over, and kill my darlings.
But seriously, it took a lot of cutting to get it trimmed down. I loved the way it started out, and I didn’t make a lot of changes to the story itself after I wrote it the first time. This doesn’t happen often for me, but this one I was pretty happy with from the get-go.
Nice! Always good when a story starts out on the right foot.
How long did it take you to write, approximately? I’m curious. It takes me maybe a week to write a story this length, but then months to struggle through editing. Which one is easier for you?
Yeah, about a week sounds right for writing from start to polished finish. And by polished, I mean a first draft(ish) that I’m ready to share with others! I don’t typically share my first drafts with readers, but JL anthologies are a bit different because of the group critiques.
Still, I usually give my story a couple of passes before posting it for others to tear apart. Personally, I have to let my stories rest quite a bit before I can attack them in edits. It’s weeks at a minimum before I’m ready to look at feedback, critiques, and my own writing objectively. So I’m not one who can just pound out a story, get feedback, and quickly turn around a second draft. I sort of need to forget my first draft entirely before I can accept that it’s not perfect and needs some edits. (Which it always does, but my creative side doesn’t like to hear that.)
What draws you to retellings/legends as a storytelling style?
I like the mixture of familiar and unfamiliar, I think. One of the challenges I sometimes feel as an author is the struggle in plotting a story well, and using a fairy tale or myth as a foundation can take some of the pressure off; sometimes it just feels less overwhelming!
But I also love creating a richer world around a familiar tale. Sometimes I like a fairy tale for the story it tells, but the characters and world are flat. Or sometimes the fairy tale is an “almost” for me, but something about the story, like in “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” bothers me. A lot of times, fairy tales and myths don’t have a lot of character motivation or simply have flat characters or worlds.
Over the past few years, I’ve found that I enjoy crafting a more complete story around those myths and tales. It’s satisfying to enrich a story that is already fun and interesting and yet give it more layers and depth by crafting characters that (hopefully) come more alive in a retelling.
And I also love to read fairy tale retellings, so there’s definitely that which draws me to the genre in particular.
Can you tell me a little more about “The Golden Mermaid”? I’m not familiar with the original story.
I wasn’t either, actually, as it was one I stumbled upon while doing some research for this prompt. But I kept “From Sea to Sky” rather close to the original in a lot of ways, as the conflict and tension were there amongst the family dynamics and the story itself. (I did take a lot of liberties toward the end though.)
In “The Golden Mermaid,” the king has an apple tree that bears golden apples, but soon every year they go missing at harvest time. So the king sends out his two eldest sons because he thinks his youngest son is a bit of an idiot. But the third is upset because he wants to be included, and what happens is he goes out alone and ends up meeting a talking wolf in the woods who eats his horse, then they go on a series of adventures to track down a golden bird, golden horse, and golden mermaid, and in doing so, the youngest son finds out who is stealing the golden apples from his father’s tree. It’s an interesting tale, but it is rather repetitive in the original, which I tried to avoid in my version! (And I omitted a little bit here from the original to keep my tale a bit of a surprise at the end as well!)
Surprises are always fun!
Is there a particular story that really inspired you to be a writer?
Not really. I think I just always loved reading so much that when I was given a short story assignment in fifth grade, I started writing and never quit. That was when I got the bug and wrote a much longer story than necessary for my assignment. I kept writing after that and started saying I wanted to be an author. It took me a while to make that happen, but here I am!
If a reader wished to read more by you, where would they find your writing?
My works are available on all the major online retailers, Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and Apple Books. So just head there and search “Kelsie Engen.” I have a couple of women’s fiction works available as well as my fantasy writing, but in total I have three novels and seven (I think) short stories available.
Do you have a favorite of your works, or is that an impossible question?
Oh boy. Well, that’s like choosing to have a favorite kid, isn’t it? I’m quite partial to all my works, as they’ve each been invaluable in teaching me more about writing and about my writing world or in just processing my normal world.
But…out of my short stories, I’d have to say I like “From Sea to Sky” quite a bit, and “Fire & Frost” is probably my favorite published novel. But that will change.
My favorite is probably always my newest release, as I feel like I constantly improve as a writer and the newest thing is better than the last. So I guess I favor my babies in the child metaphor… haha. As long as I don’t translate that to my kids, I guess I’m okay. (I don’t play favorites with them!)
Thanks for having me on your blog!
And thanks for coming!
Kelsie Engen grew up in North Pole, Alaska, and currently lives a short distance away in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the winters are harsh and isolating but devastatingly beautiful. She is a wife, mother, writer, editor, and scone baker. In her spare time, she trains for half-marathons she never runs with the border collie who gets tired on mile three. She finds plentiful inspiration in the frigid winters and the endless summer nights in the Land of the Midnight Sun for both women’s fiction and fairy tales.
While her works can be found on Amazon and other online retailers, she can be found at www.KelsieEngenAuthor.com, www.KelsieEngen.com, and on Instagram @KelsieEngen, or hunched over her laptop in the wee hours of the morning, trying frantically to write some words before the children awake.