• Crit & Pen

Poetry and Princesses: An Interview with Brianna Sugalski



Loni:

Hey Brianna! Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview!


Brianna:

Thank you Loni for having me! It’s truly an honor, I’m giddy!


Loni:

Okay, let’s talk Disenchanted. Can you share a little bit about where the idea originally stemmed from? Poetry, right?


Brianna:

Yes! I wrote some poems about a princess traversing an enchanted forest after our first daughter was stillborn. I think when we’re expecting, or even before, we have a weird and vague idea of what our kids will be like. We never got to meet our daughter, but I thought I’d bring her to life in my writing. Lilac is a culmination of myself and all the strong, naive, bull-headed women in my life, and she was sort of born from these poems I wrote; they weren’t all written after her passing, either. I actually spent my entire pregnancy writing a poetry book for our twins (she was a twin, her brother survived), and after their unexpected early birth, all I could do was continue writing to keep my sanity in our moments of devastation. So, the first half of this poetry collection (it’s entitled Tidal Wave; it’s on Amazon and very badly formatted, not edited at all)  is light and hopeful, and it very suddenly pivots to grief. There’s one poem in there, towards the end, about a dark forest and tendrils of fog and hoping to make it out one day; that was the one that inspired all of this. That’s where the light and dark duality of Disenchanted and Broceliande comes from, that you can’t possibly have one without the other. 


Loni:

And how do you think poetry has affected your style as a novelist?


Brianna:

I am a horrible poet; every poem I’ve ever written, including Tidal Wave, is bad, out of cadence, or cringey. But I think poetry has inspired my writing style in a way. I over describe nature, I’m very heavy-handed with the adjectives, and I’m absolute trash for passionate and forbidden romance. 


Loni:

Any favorite poets?


Brianna:

I admire Emily Dickinson, Amanda Lovelace, Lang Leav, Poe, Maya Angelou, Dickens, Pushkin, and Charles Lamb. Dickinson is my first love.



Loni:

Disenchanted is also based around French and Briton mythology, right? How did the concept come to you? How’d you turn your poem into an entire novel?


Brianna:

It is! The story’s relation to Brittany came about when I was searching Pinterest for real-life enchanted forests and stumbled upon the wood of Merlin and King Arthur. I’d intended only to use this as reference, but what is now northwest France holds such rich history; one of a decades-long war, devastating skirmishes, conquest and cultural transformation/ meshing. One of my best childhood friends is Welsh and very in tune with her heritage and history; Wales, like Brittany, is a Brythonic Celtic nation, so I consulted her, and through her generous enlightenment throughout my drafting, I learned that the Bretons were overtaken by the French in a similar fashion as the Welsh by Anglo Saxons; this was a theme I interestingly resonated with to a degree, being Filipino myself.


Long story short, the poems began taking on a mind of their own when a boisterous and sassy counterpart introduced himself in the form of a monster, who would become Garin. He actually didn’t have a name until my second draft. I think he was the comedic relief when things started to get too intense. There was a backstory to both of them, and their paths would cross eventually—I could feel it in my gut, and needed to get it out. The forest Broceliande was the perfect setting, especially when I read how the former country was covered in lush, supposedly faerie-filled wood, until the Hundred Years’ War, whose fires destroyed much of it. I imagined it crawling with monsters who only added violence and fear to the war, except they weren’t monsters at all, just misunderstood. An obvious rift between Lilac’s kingdom and the monsters of Broceliande became clear, and the story told itself after I had this background figured out.


Loni:

We’re gonna pivot for just a sec, because this is an important issue. As a woman of color, what has been your experience debuting with a Eurocentric fantasy as opposed to an #ownvoices piece?


Brianna:

This actually never occurred to me as an oddity until I became recently aware of the OwnVoices movement. It’s badass. I now wish my debut was the tale of a strong, Ilocano warrior/ headhuntress. Now, there are moments where I’m like… Well, I am a brown woman. I love my culture. Why wasn’t that my first step into YA Fantasy? I think it can be a touchy subject, but being completely honest I didn’t grow up learning or hearing about Filipino folklore like I did European folklore. That was never part of my or my parents’ curriculum, and we didn’t learn about it from our grandparents, either. As Asian immigrants in the early 19th century, there was a lot of pressure to acclimate to Western society as a direct result of prejudice. After WWII my grandparents did not pass their dialect to my mom and her siblings. Like Hawaii where they immigrated to, whose monarchy was also overthrown and eventually annexed, my grandparents came  from a country steeped in colonization. They couldn’t escape it. Remnants of Spain’s caste system linger strongly in their society today. I’ve very recently begun educating myself on colorism in the Philippines, and I think back to my childhood of skin-lightening soaps and intense bleaching/ color lifting. It’s sad but only drives me to learn more about my heritage and produce forth strong, flawed, well-traveled characters from it. I admire authors like Rin Chupeco and Jason Tanamor who have masterfully written tales based in multicultural lore, and I hope to be amongst them one day. I’m not uncomfortable speaking out on this because it’s our reality, but I do feel somewhat pensive; if my ancestors had been allowed to embrace their roots, our pre-colonial society… what would that have done for the way my grandma and mother regarded their own beauty and validation? Would I, years down the line and just one woman, have felt more agency—like I had the permission—would I have been more equipped to start out with an OwnVoices novel? I believe so. 


But at the same time, I don’t regret Lilac and Garin or their timing; deep down and between the lines, I’m a Southeast Asian author who grew up in a Polynesian melting pot with a unique British-American history, who learned Arthurian and Victorian literature in school and home, telling the general story of cultural erasure, of lingual prejudice. On a more specific note, it is so important for brown, Native, and Black authors to be able, and feel encouraged to tell stories of their own when they choose. This is why having diverse authors, diverse leadership in publishing is so crucial, because we can help pinpoint themes that will resonate and hopefully enlighten across the board. It’s important for us and our kids and their kids to read characters who not only look like Lilac and Garin, but us, especially in the realms of fantasy and sci-fi. My next WIP after the DISENCHANTED series will be an OwnVoices piece, but not without lots of soul searching. The research process has been deeply revelational and emotional.


Loni:

Are there any plans in the works for an #ownvoices Sugalski novel?


Brianna:

Absolutely. It’s feeling like an adventure comedy type of fantasy. There’s plenty to work out, but my ancestors were headhunters and sacrificial cannibals, so I think that’s a pretty good starting point. My MC is a girl who travels to an outside village to deliver an urgent message, but everyone is so afraid of her because of her tattoos, which indicate her origin. It will include not only Filipino mythos, but Austronesian (Malay, Taiwan, Polynesia, Melanesia) as well. That’s all I have so far… It’ll come to me.


Loni:

And what about Disenchanted? Duology? Trilogy? Spinoff series?


Brianna:

Disenchanted was meant to be a duology, but there is room in the storyline for a third and final book. I’m drafting the second book as we speak! I would love to do a Garin, Lorietta, and Bastion spinoff. 


Loni:

One last question for funsies. If you could be any kind of creature from Disenchanted, which would you be and why?


Brianna:

I would hands down be a korrigan. They get to wear snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug beanies, dance around campfires, and eat pastries and get pissed at the Fenfoss Inn. Literally sitting at the bar with Garin tending all night—well, Lilac can fuck right off. Just kidding (sort of).

7 views

Check out more of the latest:

© CRIT & PEN EDITORIAL, LLC     |     ALL RIGHTS RESERVED     |     TERMS AND CONDITIONS     |     PRIVACY POLICY