Interview: Author Christine Marciniak & Editor Madeline Smoot on Once Upon a Princess

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

The popularity of the recent royal wedding illustrates society’s continued fascination with monarchies. 

A new middle grade novel, Once Upon A Princess by Christine Marciniak (CBAY, 2018) offers a twist on familiar tropes. From the promotional copy:

After a coup in her country, Her Royal Highness, Fredericka Elisabetta Teresa von Boden don Morh (or Fritzi to her friends), wakes up one day no longer a princess. 


Stuck hiding in a suburban American middle school dealing with mean girls, cafeteria lunches, and teachers who don’t understand (or know about) her unique situation, Fritzi just wants to go home to her kingdom and be a princess again. 


She turns to social media for help, but will her efforts work or make everything worse? With opposition forces trying to force her father’s abdication from the throne, Fritzi discovers that being a true princess doesn’t come from a title.



I recently talked with Christine about the book’s path to publication and her CBAY Books editor, Madeline Smoot about her current manuscript wish list.


There are lots of Cinderella stories about average girls becoming princesses, but you decided to flip that trope. Can you tell me what inspired that idea?

Every little girl wants to grow up to be a princess (or a warrior, I suppose). The Cinderella tropes you mention are proof of that. It’s the classic fantasy. One day I will wake up and be something completely different, something much more fascinating.

Like you said, I took that and turned it on it’s head. What if a Princess wakes up and finds out that she’s just an ordinary middle schooler? What would that look like? How would that even happen?

The inspiration for the idea came from Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries (HarperCollins, 2000), and wondering, “what if.”

What if this story were flipped? Almost immediately I came up with the title and the name for my Princess, the rest took a while to get right. 

How did you approach developing the character of Her Royal Highness Fredericka Elisabetta Teresa von Boden don Mohr? (Since I’m assuming you’re not a princess….) 

I’m not a princess. I’ve complained to my father about that, but he says there’s not much he can do, since no one is likely to make him a king.

For Her Royal Highness Fredericka Elisabetta Teresa von Boden don Mohr (Fritzi for short), I tried to think what would make her different from the average middle school student and the thing that came to me was that as a princess she would have no shortage of confidence.

Middle school kids are at that awkward stage of growing up where they aren’t little children anymore, but they are not old enough to have real responsibility or freedom, and everything is changing and more often than not they are not sure of themselves or their place in the world.

Fritzi, on the other hand, is very sure of that. She’s a princess. She is special. This has been ingrained in her since she was small.

This confidence doesn’t go away when she goes into hiding and it colors her interactions with everyone from the school secretary to the “mean girl.”

What was your path to publication like for this book? 

Rollercoaster would probably be a good way to describe it.

I’d actually started the book about ten years ago, but only wrote a dozen or so pages before putting it aside for other projects. Several years later, I picked it up and finished it, sent it to beta readers, revised and polished and queried agents.

And then something happened that had never happened with any of my previous books: an agent signed me. This was heady stuff, and I had visions of bestseller lists and movie deals.

Alas, this was not to be the immediate path.
Although there was interest from various publishers, no one that my agent sent it to ended up buying it. As a result, after a year my agent and I parted ways (okay, he dumped me; there I said it).

Christine’s summer office

But I was not ready to give up on this book. I took all the rejection letters from the various editors and compiled them, and searched for common ground.

At that time, part of the story had Fritzi traveling back to Europe on her own to try to save the kingdom. It turned out that this part of the story was a stumbling block for quite a few people. So I took it out and revised and decided to try my own luck at submitting the book to publishers.

I chose Madeline Smoot of CBAY Books because I’d had other interactions with her and I had read and enjoyed some of the books she’d published.

Much to my delight, Madeline accepted the book and with a few more minor revisions it was ready to go.
It’s been a long road, but the destination has definitely been worth the journey.

Madeline, what drew you to this story?


I was drawn to the strong voice Christine gave Fritzi in this book. She stood out not just because of her confidence, but also from her resilience. Her world is falling apart, and she does complain about it, but she also tries to proactively take concrete steps to fix things.

I also loved the idea of turning the rags-to-riches trope on its head. There are various stories where the regular person discovers they are an aristocrat or royalty, but very few tales that go the other way. I love books that upend our expectations like this one does.

What Christine does when she’s not writing

Christine, what advice do you have for beginning writers?

Don’t be afraid to revise.

So often I see revisions that amount to not much more than changing the wording here and there or adding a few more descriptive passages. I’ve taken huge chunks out of stories and replaced them with something different. In another of my books, I re-wrote the first chapter so many times I could probably publish the outtakes as a full-length novel.

Figure out early what the core of your story is.

In the case of Once Upon A Princess, it was that a princess discovers she’s not a princess any more, and she wants to save her kingdom and become a princess again. No matter what revisions the story went through, that basic concept remained the same.

I had really liked the section of the story where Fritzi ran away to Europe and encountered adventures on her own. I did research into the airports and the youth hostels and all sorts of things. I figured out the train schedules and how you get from Charles de Gaulle airport to the train station.

Basically, it was a lot of research and a lot of words – nearly a third of the story – and I could have stuck to my guns and kept that part in, despite the overwhelming response that it was pulling the rest of the story down.

Instead, I deleted it and ultimately made the story much better. I had to realize that the important aspect of the story wasn’t Fritzi running around Europe, but Fritzi trying to save her kingdom… and in this day and age, she could do that with social media.

The key is to not give up, to keep writing, and revise, revise, revise.

Editor Madeline Smoot

Madeline, I noticed CBAY Books has a query window opening up. What would you most love to see in your inbox?

My manuscript wish list includes:

  • Tween-voiced fantasy or science fiction with a strong first person voice. 
  • Adventures or mysteries in a fantasy or science fiction setting or with fantastic elements.
  • Genre mashups (as long as fantasy or science fiction is at least one of the genres).

Cynsational Notes

Kirkus Reviews said of Once Upon a Princess, “children who have faced changes in their circumstances will welcome the message.”

Christine Marciniak was born in Philadelphia, but has spent most of her life in New Jersey.

She started her writing career as the editor of The Official Cruise Guide. When her second child was born, she stayed home full time to raise her children and write fiction.

She has written several books for middle grade, young adults, and adults and hopes to write many more.

Find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Madeline Smoot is the publisher of CBAY Books and former Editorial Director for Children’s Books of Blooming Tree Press.

She blogs about writing at Buried in the Slush Pile and is the author of several writing guides, including Story Slices: How to Make Story Plotting a Piece of Cake.

Madeline lives in Dallas, Texas, with her husband, son, a cat, a dog, and more books than should fit in any normal person’s house.

Author & Editor Interview: Jessica Lee Anderson, Madeline Smoot on Uncertain Summer

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Cynsations

I’ve always had a fascination with Bigfoot; the idea that an ape/human creature could be secretly living in the woods both intrigued and terrified me as a child.

So when I got the opportunity to chat with the author and editor of Uncertain Summer by Jessica Lee Anderson (CBAY, 2017), I couldn’t pass it up. First, the promotional copy:

For decades something has lurked in the swampy lakes of East Texas. Could it be the elusive Bigfoot?

Everdil Jackson thinks so. Her whole life she’s grown up listening to the stories of the Bigfoot sightings around Uncertain, Texas. 


When a TV show offers a million dollars to the person that can provide conclusive proof of Bigfoot, Everdil, her brother, and two friends form a team to snap a picture of the beast. 


With any luck, they’ll prove the impossible and win the money Everdil’s family badly needs. But tracking a monster, especially one nobody’s been able to catch, proves trickier than Everdil expected. 

With each new adventure, Everdil seems to create more problems with her friends and family than she solves. In the end, she has to hope that her brave, foolish actions will ultimately make things right with everyone, including Bigfoot.


Jessica – author

Patterson-Gimlin Sasquatch image and Jessica’s dog, JoJo 

Jessica, what first sparked the idea for this book?


I’ve always been intrigued by cryptid tales, and it was after watching the Patterson-Gimlin film that I looked over and felt like Bigfoot was lurking in my living room.

It was just my old terrier, JoJo, staring at me—she resembles a mini-Sasquatch.

The experience fired up my imagination and I knew I wanted to write story featuring Bigfoot with a twist of course.

(As an aside, the Patterson-Gimlin film is now over 50 years old, and folks are still debating if it is real Bigfoot footage or not!)

Have you had a Bigfoot encounter?


I can now say that I’ve eaten Bigfoot!

The amazingly-talented Akiko White created a Bigfoot cake for the book release party.

Baby Bigfoot created by Akiko White
(see creation video at the bottom of this post)

I did spend some time out in Uncertain, Texas and searched for Bigfoot while hiking and exploring the area. I smelled some skunk-like odors in the air that made me think that there was certainly the possibility that Bigfoot was lurking around a woodsy corner.

Scenes from Uncertain, Texas

How do you navigate that fine line between spooky fun and too scary?

This seemed to come naturally for me because I tend to get spooked easily when it comes to scary books and movies. My imagination seems to run overtime (even while I’m sleeping)!

After writing the first draft, I layered in extra adventure and upped the stakes as well as the spooky fun aspects of the story. I enjoy writing, and I love the revision process…most of the time.


Do you have any writing tips to offer?


Gayleen & Jessica at Texas Library Association conference

My path from idea to publication took about seven years.

If I were to go through the whole process again, I would sit down and create a detailed outline that would offer direction yet still leave much room for creativity during the actual writing process. The story lacked much shape in the earlier drafts.

So, advice? I would say find a process that helps you as a writer to be the most efficient, and spend the time getting your manuscript in the best shape possible.

Keep fighting for your story even if there are some bumps along the path! I’m so glad I didn’t give up on this book.

I noticed you’ve done a lot of travel and school visits to promote this book. How do you balance promotion/writing/being a mom?

My background is in education, and before my full-time writing days and being a stay-at-home mom, I was a teacher. I love spending time in the classroom and in various libraries to get kids fired up about reading and writing!

It feels like such a gift to be able to travel around Texas as well as out of state to inspire and be inspired! When booking various events, I try to be as mindful of writing deadlines as possible as well as various happenings with my daughter, though life certainly happens.

I’ve learned to write on the go as much as possible, and I’ve gotten much better about asking for help when needed. I’m grateful for such caring family and friends as well as my understanding daughter!
 
Madeline Smoot – editor/publisher

Jessica (left) and Madeline at  BookPeople
for the launch of Uncertain Summer.

What appealed to you about this story?

There are so many wonderful aspects to Uncertain Summer.

I loved the adventure and mystery surrounding the cryptid. I liked how the characters were relatable.

I thought Jessica had crafted a dynamic book that would appeal to a large number of kids for various reasons.

Could you tell us a little about CBAY and how your acquisition process works?

Like most publishers, we are initially approached by authors or agents with a query.

In an effort to avoid becoming overwhelmed, CBAY is rarely open to unsolicited submissions. However, if authors have met me at a workshop, conference, SCBWI meeting, etc or if they are referred to me by a CBAY author or some other professional acquaintance, I am willing to consider their query.

If the query looks promising, I’ll request the full manuscript. From there I consider each season’s list and any holes I may have, and I will also look at the financial side for each potential title. 
If it is a book I wouldn’t mind reading at least eight times, and if the numbers work out, I’ll then make an offer and hopefully acquire it.

This is exactly how it worked for Uncertain Summer. Jessica is a veteran author, and her book was in excellent shape.

However, I primarily work with debut authors, and often their books needs some revising before I’ll make an offer. I generally only make an offer on books that are ready (or very close to ready) for the market.

Uncertain Summer interior illustration by Jeff Crosby, used with permission.

Uncertain Summer has lovely interior illustrations that enhance the story, something we don’t always see in MG books. How do you decide if you’re going to include additional illustrations? Is this something you see as a developing trend in MG?

Younger middle grade often has some illustrations, and I personally have always been a fan of illustrations used in the chapter headers. A famous example of this would be all of the small spot illustrations at the beginning of each Harry Potter chapter.

I am more likely to have interior illustrations if I have hired an illustrator to produce the cover artwork than if I used stock illustrations for the cover.

Illustration by Jeff Crosby, used with permission.

How do you select an illustrator?


I rely more on stock images rather than illustrators for many of our projects, but I do enjoy getting to work with an illustrator when the project calls for it.

Every illustrator I have ever worked with is one that was referred to me by a trusted source. In each case I had a vague stylistic idea of what I wanted the book to convey, and then I hired the illustrator with a similar aesthetic.

What else do you have out/coming up?

In the spring we have our “Princess” season with two middle grade novels and one YA anthology where all the books feature a princess.

Once Upon a Princess by Christine Marciniak debuts in April and revolves around a princess forced into hiding with her family when their country experiences a revolution. 

The second book, Royal Trouble: The Sinister Regent by Hope Erica Schultz follows a princess and her royal cousins and friends as they try to thwart a plot against their respective crowns. 
Finally, Perilous Princesses is a 10-story anthology with contributions by various authors where the princesses aren’t in danger—they are the danger. Includes stories by Susan Bianculli, Lori Bond, Alison Ching, Steve DuBois, Jeanne Kramer-Smyth, Ameria Lewis, Christine Marciniak, Kath Boyd Marsh, Hope Erica Schultz, and Madeline Smoot.



Cynsational Notes

Jessica Lee Anderson is the author of Trudy (Milkweed, 2005), winner of the 2005 Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature, Border Crossing (Milkweed, 2009), a Quick Picks Nomination and Cynsational Book of 2009, as well as Calli (Milkweed Editions 2011),  a 2013 Rainbow List Final Nomination and 2011 YALSA’s Readers’ Choice Booklist Nomination.

She’s published multiple chapter books for Rourke Educational Media including Brownies with Benjamin Franklin, Case of Foul Play on a School Day, and Runaway Robot.

She’s published also fiction and nonfiction with Heinemann, Pearson, Seedling Publications, Six Red Marbles, and a variety of magazines including Highlights for Children.

Jessica graduated from Hollins University with a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature and previously instructed at the Institute of Children’s Literature and St. Edward’s University.

She is a member of The Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels and hopes to be more sweetheart than scoundrel.

She lives near Austin, Texas with her husband, daughter, and two crazy dogs.

Madeline Smoot is the publisher of CBAY Books and former Editorial Director for Children’s Books of Blooming Tree Press. She blogs about writing at Buried in the Slush Pile and is the author of several writing guides, including Story Slices: How to Make Story Plotting a Piece of Cake. 

Madeline lives in Dallas, Texas, with her husband, son, a cat, a dog, and more books than should fit in any normal person’s house.

See the Baby Bigfoot Cake by Akiko White