Part 2 of 2. Click here to read Part 1.
Joy Preble‘s books, “Dreaming Anastasia” and “Haunted” are full of layers. Some are clearly visible and others peal back like an onion, but readers can be rest assured that there’s a reason for it all.
“Dreaming Anastasia” follows a modern-day girl, Anne, as her life collides with one of the most romanticized figures in recent history, Anastasia Romanov. “Haunted,” the second book in a planned trilogy, follows Anne as she learns about her Russian ancestry and tries to deal with its consequences. Paranormal twists and compelling folklore mix with history in these dynamic books.
The idea for the books came from a number of places, Joy told me. But, like most of her writing, it really started with a voice — Anne’s. “Anne was the first thing I wrote in this book. … She was funny and she was a little snarky and she was a little sad, I thought, though I wasn’t sure why.”
Joy saw this girl sitting in history class, writing a note to her friend. The teacher had been teaching about the Russian Revolution, which was Joy’s other influence. She loves that period of history.
“I love that idea of such a tragic story with the Romanov assassination, and Rasputin and all those rumors that Anastasia may not have died,” she said. “That story has resonated with me for probably a number of years.”
Add in Joy’s passion for historical fiction and paranormal fantasy, and suddenly things just started working themselves out. “All the things I loved came together in my head,” she said. “I thought, ‘What if I took this girl whose page I’ve written and I collided her against history somehow?’ … So the best way to do that, of course, was to introduce a handsome and mysterious hottie, who turns out to be Ethan, and she literally smacks into him.”
In Joy’s book, Anastasia isn’t dead; she hasn’t even aged, though nearly a century has passed. There’s a history underneath the history, and Anne’s job becomes saving Anastasia. Furthermore, if Anne is successful, she’ll save the handsome hottie, too. In that way, Joy said, the story became a reverse fairy tale.
Joy’s story was quickly becoming a compilation of all the types of fiction she’s always loved. But it wouldn’t be complete without the added element of Russian folklore. It’s something Joy had always had an interest in, and it stemmed from her grandmother.
“My grandmother was from Russia, and she was sort of this gloriously unhappy large-scale person who had interesting story,” Joy said. “It always seems like all Russian stories, whether fairy tales or novels or the people’s stories, they’re always on this enormously large, complicated scale. I think in the back of my mind I thought, ‘What if I wrote something like that” What if I wrote something that had that many characters and twists and turns? And what if I made it a YA novel?'”
But saying you’re going to make something like that into a novel isn’t so easy. Something on this scale took a lot of research, particularly on the Russian Revolution and the Romanov family. “You really have to,” Joy said. “Because if you’re going to portray history, you want to portray history in a way that’s accurate.”
Joy turned to primary sources, utilizing document, notes and photographs she found on the Internet. “I had to really find out what actually happened,” she said. “Small details really add to the ambiance of the books.”
Folkloric touches didn’t come until revision. They weren’t in the original story, but Joy knew something was missing. From there, she found the character of the witch Baba Yaga, who has detachable arms and lives in a house with chicken feet, and the story of Vasilisa the Brave, who thwarted the witch with the help of a doll.
It’s there that Joy found metaphors, the things she really wanted to use within the story. She substituted Vasilisa’s doll with Anastasia’s nesting doll. The doll within a doll within a doll becomes secrets within secrets within secrets and layers within layers that play out through both her books. “It sounded like a rather ambitious idea but one that I wanted to do something with,” Joy said.
Told from multiple points of view, Joy says not everyone will like her books. But, she says, all books aren’t for everybody. “That’s the thing with art, you either like it or you don’t. But I like my points of view.”
Joy will be in Utah this Thursday and Friday. Click here for more details.
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