I'm so excited to share this interview with Kelsie Engen. If you love Fantasy, especially fairy tale retellings, I invite you to read on. Kelsie has written two series, The Canens Chronicles and The Seven Kingdoms, as well as had her short stories published in a number of anthologies. The first book in The Canens Chronicles, Fog & Mist, received an Honorable Mention in the prestigious 2019 Writer's Digest Ebook Awards.
SJ: What gave you the inspiration for the Canens Chronicles series?
KE: Oh boy. This series has taken a huge about face from its initial inspiration. My initial
idea was actually something I still have files on and titled a “fairy tale mix-up.” I originally
planned on having three princesses each end up with the wrong prince, a rather rom
com of sorts, for Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. And I had such a major
problem in trying to keep with the original timeline of Sleeping Beauty because Aurora
sleeps for a century! So I was outlining time travel and all sorts of complicated
timelines…when I finally just realized that I don’t write romance all that well, so writing a
rom com wasn’t perhaps the best choice. As I outlined and plotted, the series that I
eventually have begun started to come to me in bits and pieces. And eventually, I ended
up with a Snow White centered series with a country under a curse, where Snow
White’s stepmother has stolen the throne, and Snow White is imprisoned. Both are
trying to save their country from a curse, but both are willing to risk very different things.
SJ: Who is your favorite character from the series and why?
KE: This is a surprisingly hard question to answer! I enjoy most of the characters for
different reasons, but I really enjoyed writing Queen Blanche, the evil queen. So much
so that I actually wrote an origin story for her later on. But she was—and is—an
amazingly faceted character with great depth. She’s conflicted, she thinks she’s doing
the “right” thing when she’s making difficult choices, and she really is the protagonist of
her own story. It truly makes her fun to spend time with as an author.
SJ: Why did you choose this specific genre?
KE: I’ve always enjoyed fairy tales, but not until fairy tales had a resurgence with retellings
did I think I could ever be an author retelling my favorite fairy tales. And I say I retell
them, but really, I use them as a jumping off point to explore different worlds. It also
happened that, as I had this idea for this series, I was invited to join a fantasy writing
group on Scribophile. So I jumped in writing fantasy fairy tales, and it’s felt like home.
SJ: What is your favorite part of the creative writing process?
KE: I’m strange, but I actually love to edit. I freelance edit on the side, so attacking my work
with an editor’s brain comes quite naturally. Though I love to write the first draft as well,
it takes a different sort of energy from me. I can get frustrated when I know something
isn’t working in the first draft and want to quit from that, but when I’m in editing mode, I
feel like I can fix things if I just approach it logically.
SJ: Who has influenced you the most as a writer?
KE: I can’t think of any one person who influenced me more than others as a writer. I’ve had
great teachers who encouraged me to write all throughout school. And each of those
teachers have influenced me to make me the writer I am. Beyond that, a million different
books I’ve read and enjoyed as a reader have certainly shaped my own writing through
tone, style, plot, etc. I’ve always enjoyed reading classics like Dickens and Austen and
C.S. Lewis, but also Dumas and Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. So at
this point, because my writing takes so much from fairy tales, I think fairy tale collections
have been my biggest inspiration.
SJ: Did you always want to be a writer or did the inspiration come later in life?
KE: I was given an assignment in fifth grade to write a short story. My story ended up being
way over “short,” and I essentially wrote a novella for that assignment. Needless to say,
I had gotten the writing bug. And I kept writing through middle school and high school,
often hiding a writing notebook under my class notes so that I could hide my stories
from my teachers. Either they knew what I was doing and looked the other way, or they
thought I was the most studious student they had. In college, I took a break from writing
to focus on my undergraduate and master’s degree, but after graduating, I ended up
married and unemployed, and the writing bug returned full force. This time, I fully
embraced it. I spent a few years before I had kids learned the craft of writing and diving
into writing with all I had. Quite honestly though, it was fifth grade when I remember
declaring to my dad that I was “going to be a writer.” His response was something along
the lines that I “better get a day job.” And while he’s right that I’m not earning a living off
my writing, since that time in my life, I’ve felt that God has called me to be a writer, and
it’s the one profession where I have consistently felt that when I do it, there is nothing
else that I should be doing. Besides parenting of course. Because, well, yeah, kids don’t
take care of themselves. (And when they do, they’re always quiet. And we parents know
what a quiet kid means.)
SJ: What have you found to be your biggest hurdle?
KE: Personally, my biggest hurdle has been sharing my writing and myself with others. I’m a
major introvert and writing was always something I just did for myself, so it’s a big
challenge for me to be vulnerable and invite others into my head and heart. Writing
requires a bit of both, so putting so much time and effort into a novel (or series) and
placing that in front of strangers or even friends can be the most daunting part of the
process for me. While I strongly feel called to write, I also feel most vulnerable when
people I know read my writing. Over the years, I’ve gotten a bit more accustomed to it,
but it still throws me a little when people mention my characters in casual conversation.
SJ: Tell me about your book covers and the inspiration behind them.
KE: I found the Canens Chronicles book covers as premades, and they worked perfectly for
what I needed. I have a couple series of short stories though that I designed myself and tried to mimic the original fairy tale sort of covers of flourishes and symbols, and though
a professional can surely tell the covers are not professional, I feel they hit the mark in
their genre, which is what I was going for. With Canens, I tried to find covers that felt
contained a character and setting that could walk out of a fairy tale. I asked for fairy tale-
ish borders be placed on them and then the font made them a little more like that. As
my series is more fairy tale inspired than actual retelling, I didn’t want it to scream fairy
tale, but I did want it to have that slightly fantastical feeling that suggested fantasy and
SJ: What hobbies do you enjoy when you're not writing?
I always feel guilty if I’m not writing, really. Not to say that I’m 100% productive, because
I’m not, but if I have free time and I’m not writing, I definitely feel a little nudge of regret.
So I guess my hobby and life (beyond parenting and being a wife) is writing. But I can
also be found freelance editing, currently teaching my first grader math and literacy and
all the first-grade stuff I’ve forgotten, as well as chasing a very energetic almost-three-
year-old around. I like to dabble in baking, knitting, and some very poor sketching or
lettering, but I also really enjoy learning Latin. It’s nerdy, I know, but it’s totally fun and
engages me in a different way. It’s also something that I often use in writing and
expands my vocabulary, so I really don’t feel too guilty about that! Now if only my hobby
were cleaning and cooking, my life would run more smoothly…
Next would be me overcoming my procrastination, focusing on one project, and getting
it done! I currently am struggling on focusing. 2020 has been tough in that regard, and
I’ve felt like a bee flitting from flower to flower all year long. I’ve had short stories, co-
writing projects, Canens book 3, and more on my plate, and I’ve just been emotionally
unable to commit to any of them for enough time to finish one. I needed a break with
book 3, really, as I had to step back and figure out what wasn’t working with it in order to
progress, but now I know what was wrong, I need to just get over my hurdle of
procrastination and put down the words. I just have so many things I want to work on
that I feel torn and tugged in a dozen different directions. Thrown into that the pandemic
and online schooling a first grader with a toddler in the house, and I’ve been in way over
my head lately! But God is good, and I will get through these challenges. His timing is
way better than my own, and that’s where I rest day in and day out.
Kelsie Engen spent her youth in North Pole, Alaska, a short way away from Santa Claus' house. It was a unique youth, suffering negative fifty degrees every winter only to be rewarded with ninety above and constant daylight in the summers. Her eclectic interests led her to pursue an undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Microbiology. Now she stays home with her two kids, dog, and cats and writes frantically whenever her children are asleep. You can learn more about Kelsie and her books at: kelsieengenauthor.com.