Sunday, April 12, 2015

0 Margaret Peterson Haddix, author of PALACE OF LIES, on figuring out the right POV

What was your inspiration for writing PALACE OF LIES?

I’d written an earlier book, PALACE OF MIRRORS, where a lonely girl named Desmia had been something of a mystery to the main character, Cecilia. In Cecilia’s viewpoint in MIRRORS, Desmia went from being a virtual unknown to a despised enemy to a surprising, tentative friend. I’d always thought that Desmia had much more of a story of her own than was ever revealed in MIRRORS, and I kept toying with ideas for how to tell her story. But I felt frustrated, because Desmia was so quiet and restrained—and scared—and I’d been so much in Cecilia’s head in MIRRORS that I didn’t feel like I knew or understood Desmia any better than Cecilia did.

Then I took a family vacation in Scandanavia, and toured several palaces and castles that had suffered serious fires. I became a little obsessed (and drove my family a little crazy discussing the symbolism of it all). Then we toured Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen, and the guide talked about how an earlier version of that palace had burned to the ground because the flames traveled through secret passages that no one was allowed to know about—even the people fighting the fire. If the officials had revealed the existence of the secret passages, they probably could have saved much of the palace. But they cared too much about keeping secrets. Standing there in the tour group, I instantly knew the beginning of PALACE OF LIES. I’d written about secret passages in PALACE OF MIRRORS; for most of her childhood, they were the only place Desmia felt comfortable. I knew that there would be a fire in PALACE OF LIES; I knew that Desmia would face awful choices trying to save the people she cared about most from both the fire and everything that followed it.

What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

As a kid, I was deathly afraid of fire. I can remember going through a phase where I would lie awake at night worrying that our house would burn down. (This had happened to one of my grandmothers when she was a little girl—I think that’s where the fear began.) So it was terrifying for me to actually write the fire scene. On the bright side, that meant that it was really easy for me to imagine Desmia’s fear. I’m not sure that this is the scene that I’m most proud of, but it was certainly very vivid for me.

What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or visa versa?

There are so many books I love set in fictional royal lands: Shannon Hale’s PRINCESS ACADEMY books; Jennifer Nielsen’s THE FALSE PRINCE and the other books in the Ascendance trilogy; pretty much everything by Megan Whalen Turner; SERAPHINA, by Rachel Hartman; GRACELING, by Kristin Cashore; the GIRL OF FIRE AND THORN trilogy, by Rae Carson; DEFY, by Sara B. Larson; ELLA ENCHANTED, by Gail Carson Levine… I would love it if there would be a crossover audience between those books and PALACE OF LIES (and the rest of the Palace Chronicles.)

What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?

I think I learned a lot about point of view from this book. Generally I try not to overthink the decision about whether to write in first or third person—I usually stick with whatever feels right when I start the book. At most, if I’m uncertain, I play around with different versions of the first couple of pages. With PALACE OF LIES, it was a harder decision. The earlier two books in the Palace Chronicles series, JUST ELLA and PALACE OF MIRRORS, had been written from the first-person POV of the main characters, Ella and Cecilia, respectively. I thought for consistency’s sake I should do that as well with PALACE OF LIES and Desmia. But when I started the first draft, writing in first-person POV felt completely unnatural. I switched to third-person limited, where I was in Desmia’s head, but still a little distant. I wrote almost the entire book that way, and for much of that time I was annoyed with Desmia. Why couldn’t she be bolder and more assertive? She was a princess—why couldn’t she take charge? It started to feel like she was whispering back to me, “Please, don’t you remember what I’ve been through? Don’t you know I’ve seen consequences of boldness that aren’t all victory and triumph? Don’t you know how I’ve had to act timid just to survive? I’ll be bold if I have to; I promise I will. I’ve done it before, and I know I can do it again. But I have to work up to it.” I was down to the last few scenes of the book—and struggling—when suddenly I realized that I had to tell the story in first-person. I went back and rewrote everything, and only then could I finish that draft.

What I ultimately realized was that I’d wanted the safety of third-person POV in the beginning because I didn’t feel I knew Desmia well enough to write first-person. She was so secretive and reserved; in my defense, I almost felt like I was just being respectful of her privacy. But one of the joys of fiction is getting to know the type of characters who don’t become instant best friends and tell you all their secrets the first time you meet them. I realized that I had to be entirely in Desmia’s head—i.e., in first person—in order to fully show the difference between what she was thinking and feeling and how she spoke and behaved. By the end of the book, when she was more comfortable with herself, I felt I knew her well enough to go back and show more completely how she’d gotten there.
What do you hope readers will take away from PALACE OF LIES?

Mostly, I just want them to enjoy the story. But if they’re looking for deeper meanings, I hope it makes them think about how people treat each other. I also hope it helps them think about the difference between truth and lies and how people in power or wanting power (not just in palaces, but also in democratically elected governments) try to get the general public to see everything a particular way.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a new duology and a new trilogy for 2016. UNDER THEIR SKIN comes out in January, with its sequel to follow in 2017. It starts with two kids trying to figure out their odd family, and discovering that the oddities extend to their whole world. The first book in THE CHILDREN OF EXILE trilogy comes out in fall 2016, and it has to do with children being returned to parents they’ve never been allowed to meet before.


Palace of Lies by Margaret Peterson Haddix Hardcover
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers Released 4/7/2015

Desmia discovers the reality of royalty is far from a fairy tale in this third adventure set in the Cinderella-esque world of Just Ella and Palace of Mirrors, from New York Times bestselling author Margaret Peterson Haddix.

Desmia and her twelve sister-princesses are ruling Suala together at last, a united front. The kingdom seems to have finally gotten its happily ever after, but Desmia, trained by a lifetime of palace intrigue, is not so sure. She desperately wants to believe all is well, but she can’t help seeing danger around every corner.

And then the unthinkable happens, and Desmia’s worst fears are confirmed. Now, without the support of the sister-princesses she’s grown to rely on or the trappings of royalty that have always convinced people to listen to her, Desmia must find the courage to seek out the truth on her own terms—and to determine the course of two kingdoms.

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Picture of Margaret HaddixMargaret Peterson Haddix grew up on a farm near Washington Court House, Ohio. She graduated from Miami University (of Ohio) with degrees in English/journalism, English/creative writing and history. Before her first book was published, she worked as a newspaper copy editor in Fort Wayne, Indiana; a newspaper reporter in Indianapolis; and a community college instructor and freelance writer in Danville, Illinois.

She has since written more than 30 books for kids and teens, including Running Out of Time; Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey; Leaving Fishers; Just Ella; Turnabout; Takeoffs and Landings; The Girl with 500 Middle Names; Because of Anya; Escape from Memory; Say What?; The House on the Gulf; Double Identity; Dexter the Tough; Uprising; Palace of Mirrors; Claim to Fame; The Always War; Game Changer; Full Ride; the Shadow Children series; and the Missing series. She also wrote Into the Gauntlet, the tenth book in the 39 Clues series. Her books have been honored with New York Times bestseller status, the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award; American Library Association Best Book and Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers notations; and numerous state reader’s choice awards. They have also been translated into more than twenty different languages.

Haddix and her husband, Doug, now live in Columbus, Ohio, and they are the parents of two college-aged kids.

Happy reading, 

Jocelyn, Martina, Jan, Shelly, Susan, Lisa, and Erin

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