Q&A with Dragon with A Chocolate Heart author Stephanie Burgis

Small-Steph-Author-Photo-1Stephanie Burgis is the author of several books for young readers. Her latest is The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart. The following is a complete transcript of her interview with Cracking the Cover.

Why do you write?

I write to escape into fabulous adventures, dream up new worlds, and experience what it’s like to be any one of the strong, smart girls I love to write about, taking on intimidating challenges and finding their own inner strength.

Why specifically for young people? How does that differ from writing for adults?

I write both MG and adult fantasy novels, and I love writing both – I’d never want to give up either genre. Writing MG novels in particular gives me the chance to re-explore that sense of wonder that I adored when I was a kid reading my own favorite MG fantasy books. I always try to write empowering magical adventures that also function as comfort novels, giving kids an infusion of joy and fun and also reminding them of how much inner strength they have and how much they, too, can really do.

The biggest difference between my MG books and my adult books is that the MG novels are much shorter, more streamlined, and never venture into real darkness in the way that my adult books sometimes do.

Where did Aventurine’s story come from? Why did you need to tell it?

Dragons and chocolate are two of my favorite things in the world, so I wrote this story as a pure treat for myself, and I loved the whole process!

Why chocolate?

I adore chocolate almost as much as Aventurine does! Chocolate shops are some of my favorite places to visit, and when I’m at home, nearly every day I make myself a cup of rich, dark hot chocolate with cinnamon and nutmeg. Mmm!

Dragon Chocolate Heart Stephanie BurgisDid you do much research into how chocolate is made?

Yes! There’s a whole page about it on my website, which includes recipes you can make at home: More About the Chocolate (http://www.stephanieburgis.com/books/the-dragon-with-a-chocolate-heart/more-about-the-chocolate/ )

Aventurine starts out cocky and self-assured, but she quickly finds herself in over her head. How did her character grow?

Aventurine is still a dragon inside even after being transformed into a human girl, so she’s fierce and territorial and ready to fight for what she wants – but she knows so little about human culture that she is totally over her head! As the story progresses, she starts to learn about different ways of working with the baffling humans around her – and realize, too, that there are lots of different kinds of strength.

Why was her clothing so important?

Aventurine has been turned into a human against her will, but inside she still identifies as a dragon, so there’s a real internal conflict throughout the book between her strategic need to fit in with the humans around her versus her deep longing to maintain her own identity. Clothing is one of the most visible ways we establish our identity to the world, so the question of what to wear is the perfect expression of Aventurine’s inner struggle!

Are there any plans to revisit Aventurine’s world?

Yes! I have a second book set in Aventurine’s new city, coming in 2018 from Bloomsbury. It’s told from the point of view of Aventurine’s best friend, and although it doesn’t have an official title yet, I’ve been referring to it as my spies-and-fairies book. 🙂

Looking back, how has your writing evolved?

I’ve written lots of historical fantasy in the past (including the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy of MG Regency fantasy – highwaymen, balls, and magic ahoy!), but this is the first time I’ve ever had the confidence to branch out into high fantasy, creating a whole new world of my own. I wanted to make Aventurine’s world feel a bit like a fairytale version of a late eighteenth-century Germanic kingdom, but the fact that I made it outright fantasy, rather than historical fantasy, gave me the freedom to make sweeping changes to the way things worked. For instance, there was one scene near the end where the king’s privy council met to advise him, and I started automatically writing the council members as all-male because of the historical feel of the story – then thought: Wait. This isn’t history. I can do whatever I want!

So I rewrote half of the council members as women, and it worked so much better for me that way.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m finishing up edits on a new romantic fantasy novella for adults (“Snowspelled,” which will come out in September) and getting ready to do my edits for Book 2 in Aventurine’s world.

Is there a book from your own youth that still resonates with you today?

There are so many that it’s hard to choose only one! I was a voracious reader as a kid. Some of my lifelong favorites include JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit (my first introduction to dragons!) and the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy and (on a very different note) Virginia Euwer Wolff’s The Mozart Season, which is absolutely beautiful and still resonates with me 28 years after first discovering it.

Thanks so much for having me here!