Lisa Ann Sandell is the wonderfully talented author Song of the Sparrow, a breathtakingly beautiful and brilliant novel about Elaine of Ascolat (or the Lady of Shalott). It’s based on Arthurian legends. If you haven’t read the book, I urge you do to so as soon as possible; really, it’s just so fantastic. You will be far from sorry!
For the moment, I have a great interview with Lisa! Enjoy.
Song of the Sparrow is a verse novel. Why did you tell the story this way? What was particularly challenging about this format?
Writing in verse comes naturally to me. I don’t seem to approach the world or storytelling in very structural terms; rather, I tend to be more attracted to the sensual, and to see life as a loosely tied string of scenes. In writing, this translates really naturally to verse, and the economy of language allows each scene, each moment the greatest impact.
I didn’t originally intend to write Song of the Sparrow in verse. But, as Elaine’s world came alive for me, and I started to exist in her world of trees and birds and plants, the language sort of naturally fell into the free verse. Also, as I thought about how this story would live within the canon of Arthurian myth, the free verse started to make a lot of sense to me, and it felt organic to the story.
Would you ever write a prose novel–or a book of unrelated poetry?
Funny you should ask-I am currently working on a prose novel, which will be published next year. It’s called A Map of the Known World. I write poetry, but I don’t know if I would ever try to publish it. I would love to try my hand at writing a play someday. We’ll see. In the meantime, my hands are full with the new novel.
There are so many books and movies and other stories about King Arthur, Camelot, and all of that. What are some of your favorites?
My all-time favorite Arthurian story is Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory. In my mind, it’s like the bible of Arthurian myth. But my second favorite is The Mists of Avalon. What a spectacular re-imagining of this world and legend; it’s so rich. Marion Zimmer Bradley was the first to deepen the roles that women can play in this literature, and as one who tried to follow in her footsteps, I’m so grateful.
I love the film First Knight starring Richard Gere and Sean Connery, as well as the Clive Owen film King Arthur, which is an interesting take on the traditional story. I will admit, though, that I mostly love it for the hunk factor! Clive Owen makes a dreamy Arthur.
If you couldn’t work in writing or publishing, what job would you like to have?
I would like to be a sculptor.
Why do you write for young adults? Do you plan on ever writing for other audiences?
I find writing for young adults terribly exciting. Young adulthood is this brief moment (although, when you’re in it, it usually feels interminable), when all of the qualities that an individual will embody and possess as an adult are incubating. It’s the time when people are making the decisions and discoveries about who and what they want to be when they grow up, and this is endlessly fascinating and almost always makes for good drama-the best ingredients for storytelling. Moreover, teens are an amazing audience-they’re incredibly receptive and open to experimentation in ideas and form-and they give back. I hear from readers every day, and it’s truly the most rewarding experience I can imagine.
One day I might like to try writing for a middle grade audience, as well as for adults, but for the time being I find writing for young adults challenging and thrilling, and that’s all I can really hope for.
If you could go back in time to live forever when King Arthur and his knights lived (assuming they’re real), would you, despite the much rougher day-to-day realities of living back then?
I don’t think I would have fared too well in the Dark Ages. Life was hard, and it was bloody. I don’t like blood. It scares me. And I’ve done manual labor, and, I’d much rather make my living by writing books. However, if Arthur had really lived to create his kingdom of Camelot, and I could travel back in time to see it, I would very much like to do that. To witness this universal and eternal symbol of freedom and hope and equality in the flesh, to see it thriving in the world would be amazing.
How has Song of the Sparrow changed since the first draft?
The biggest change, I think, that came about between drafts of Song of the Sparrow was in Arthur’s and Elaine’s relationship. As I wrote, I found my own feelings about Arthur-and how can one not fall in love with him, he’s so good, so earnest and noble?-sort of got in the way of Elaine’s business in the book and her story. Their relationship developed romantic undertones in the first draft, and I had to excise those when I revised. Thankfully, my very insightful editor picked up on it right away and told me that it just didn’t fit. She was correct!
How long have you wanted to be a writer? What was your path to publication like?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up, I was a voracious reader, and indeed, books were like friends. I think I must have been around eight when I wrote my first short story-it was about my cat. And I’ve been writing ever since. There was never any doubt in my mind that this was what I wanted to do. And I was really fortunate in that the path sort of opened up before me. Once I finished the first draft of my first book, The Weight of the Sky, I found an agent quickly, and the book found a home pretty quickly too. And the second book followed from the first, and this ride has been such a joy…and an adventure!
What are your favorite books or authors?
I have a hard time picking favorites, but if I were to try to narrow it down to a short list, here goes:
Favorite grown-up books include Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, Atonement by Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (I think this could be a YA title, too!), Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks, The Quiet American by Graham Greene, The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham, among others.
Favorite children’s and teen books: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Love that Dog by Sharon Creech, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, The Winter Room by Gary Paulsen, and pretty much anything by Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Kevin Brooks, Kate DiCamillo, Dav Pilkey, and, oh, there are so many others!
Who are your favorite non-Arthurian literary figures?
Meg from Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quartet was my hero when I was a kid. She embodied everything I felt, all of the awkwardness and loneliness of pre-adolescence, and everything I hoped to achieve and to be when I grew older. Her passage from childhood to pre-adulthood is one of the most beautiful, moving, and true portraits I’ve ever read. Also, I have always idolized Robert Jordan from Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. His adventures in Spain during the Spanish Civil War are terribly romantic.
Now, ask yourself a question! (And answer it)
This is a hard one-what to ask? Well, how about how this: How many musical instruments do I play? Six: the piano, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, mellophone, and the kazoo.
Thank you so much, Lisa!