It's time for another exciting interview, this time with Unraveled author Claire Olivia Golden, who tells us about her Sleeping Beauty retelling and how it all began with a crocheted shawl!
Don't miss Claire's giveaway coming at 5 PM on our Instagram.
Tell us about your debut novel, Unraveled, and what inspired you to write it.
My writing tends to start with a question. In this case it was a crochet shawl. Back in 2015 or so, I was volunteering at my church rummage sale and sorting through bags of yarn when I discovered a half-finished crocheted shawl stuffed into a bag. I couldn’t stop thinking about that shawl and why somebody would abandon it halfway. I bought it, brought it home, and studied it carefully. It ended up being really challenging to crochet, so I abandoned it too, but that got me thinking…what could the story behind this shawl be? The story started taking shape from there.
Can you tell us a little bit about your characters? Which, if any, did you identify with most and why?
Auri was my first character, and she has a very different personality than me. She’s friendly and extroverted, while I tend to avoid conversations and need to recharge by myself for long periods of time. Cat, on the other hand, is quiet, anxious, and has few close friends, which is something I can relate to. But both girls ended up taking on some of my attributes. I made Auri bisexual and Cat have OCD years before I figured out that I was bisexual and got diagnosed with OCD. The subconscious is a powerful thing, and writing Unraveled actually helped me come to terms with those aspects of my identity. It was very therapeutic for me.
What initially drew you to the fantasy genre, and why did you choose to write a reimagining of Sleeping Beauty?
I have always loved fantasy because it feels like an escape from the real world. Ever since I was a kid I’ve had several anxiety disorders, and the real world was just too much for me. I felt better when I could hide behind a book and lose myself in the characters. When I started writing my own stories, I naturally gravitated to fantasy. That’s not to say that fantasy books don’t deal with real issues, because they totally do - they just do so in a different setting that makes it feel safer to confront these things.
As for the retelling, I’ve been reading fairy tale retellings for a very long time. I drew inspiration from the Books of Bayern by Shannon Hale and the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. I like having a familiar framework to build from. Sleeping Beauty seemed a natural choice because of the fiber aspect, except it’s crochet instead of a spinning wheel.
Q: How did you build a strong magical setting for this novel? Did you draw from other places, real or fictional? What did your writing process look like in regard to world-building?
Well, the reader will be the judge of whether or not my world-building is any good, but I certainly tried to make it feel fleshed-out and immersive. Unraveled is technically a “portal fantasy” because the characters go from the real world to an alternate, fantasy world called Feylinn. I’ve never traveled to fairyland, but I did move from Ohio to Oregon when I was a teenager and felt completely out of my element. It’s hard adjusting to a new culture! So I tried to give Cat and Auri those same feelings of overwhelm and confusion. Feylinn is a conglomerate of all sorts of different fairytales, not just Sleeping Beauty, so it was fun to incorporate all of those different stories, keeping the core elements while getting creative with others.
Did you come across any challenges while writing Unraveled? How did you overcome them?
My biggest challenge was my characters not doing what I wanted them to. Auri and Cat were originally just going to be friends, and I had another love interest planned for Auri. However, I couldn’t stop noticing the chemistry between them, and eventually I had to let them do as they pleased. Cat wasn’t originally a POV character, but she was so interesting to me that I rewrote the whole thing with half from her perspective, which I think made the novel a lot stronger.
Your second novel, The Lost Girl of Goose Creek, is told in verse. What differences can readers expect to find between this and Unraveled, and how did your writing process differ between them?
I actually tried to write The Lost Girl of Goose Creek in prose, but it wasn’t working. The reason why is because it takes place over an 8-year period and the main character, Etta, has a very fragmented point of view. So linear prose just didn’t represent her state of mind. When I tried the novel in verse, her voice started flowing, so I went with that.
Unraveled and The Lost Girl of Goose Creek both feature mentally ill queer girls, but that’s where the similarities end. I consider Unraveled a feel-good YA fantasy, while Goose Creek is a pretty bleak adult speculative fiction. I didn’t even think I could write Goose Creek because it was so dark. But as my characters tend to do, Etta took up residence in my head back in 2017 and wouldn’t go away, so I had to tell her story. I wrote Unraveled over about five years during college, while Goose Creek was written much more quickly, entirely during the 2020 pandemic quarantine. I was not in a good mental place while I wrote it, and I think my depression and general feeling of despair came through in the pages - which is accurate for Etta. I’m very proud of both books for different reasons.
Which came first: poetry or prose? Do you prefer one over the other and why?
Prose came first, but I’ve always been a fan of novels in verse and wanted to try writing one. I just didn’t think I could pull it off. After giving it a try, I’ve discovered that I actually vastly prefer writing poetry. I think my brain just works that way - my thoughts are not always coherent or connected (which is to be expected given my combination of OCD and ADHD), so poetry captures my train of thought better than prose. They both have their place, though, so I will continue writing both.
You have quite a few books under your belt. Do you have any advice for authors about to dive into the publishing world? Anything you’ve learned along the way?
I guess I have published a few books by now, but I still feel like I know absolutely nothing. My advice is to make friends with other authors, whether in your genre or otherwise. You can learn a lot from each other, but most of all, it’s fun to have somebody to talk to about your latest projects and stuff in the writing world. I also suggest spending the extra money to get a good book cover, because it really makes a difference. You worked so hard on your book and it deserves to be beautiful.
We’d love a hint about any of your current projects! Are you working on anything that might please or even surprise your readers?
I am currently working on a companion novel to The Lost Girl of Goose Creek. I’m also writing a short story that will be published in a 2024 anthology, so I’m very excited about that. I don’t know what I’m going to work on next. I tend to go with whatever makes me feel inspired. So it’s a surprise for you and me both!
Other than Sleeping Beauty, do you have a favourite fairytale? Any we can expect to see retellings of from you soon?
My favorite fairytale is Rapunzel. (I absolutely love the movie Tangled.) I was very sheltered as a child, so I relate to Rapunzel’s feeling of being locked away and waiting for her life to begin. Also, I just really like her awesome hair. There is a Rapunzel character in Unraveled, and I’d like to tell his story in a potential sequel.
Our podcast focuses on media we’re currently loving. Are there any books, shows, movies, games, or podcasts you’re enjoying this Pride month? Any recommendations for our audience?
Books are my main love, and there are so many queer ones I recommend! Malinda Lo’s books Ash and Huntress are the first queer fantasy I ever read and are special to me for that reason. I adore the Roots of Chaos series by Samantha Shannon - they are seriously chonky books with tons of queer characters, magic, and dragons. The Other Side of the Sky duology by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner has a throuple and a bisexual main character, and it’s a really lovely and original YA fantasy. Like everyone, I’ve been enjoying the Heartstopper graphic novels and Netflix show. Speaking of graphic novels, please check out the Tea Dragon Society series by K. O’Neill: it’s unbelievably sweet and adorable. I could go on and on, but I’ll finish up with a couple of books from my fellow indie friends: Posterity by Jess Newton and My Lord by L.B. Shimaira.
Claire Olivia Golden likes books, yarn, and the Oxford comma. She graduated summa cum laude from Portland State University with a B.A. in French and English and is now a full-time author and housewife. She writes diverse, genre-bending stories and poetry. Claire lives in the Pacific Northwest USA with her husband and her emotional support cat Persephone.
Visit her website: claireoliviagolden.com