“Princess Lucinda and the Hound of the Moon” balances real life and fantastical elements. How did you know where to draw the line and still keep the story grounded?
The truth is that I don’t think about that much when writing! I just know that I don’t want my fantasy to be ungrounded, so it’s a sort of balancing act, like in baking. You don’t want a recipe to be too sweet, or at least I don’t. So I add sour cherries to my brownies, which is something I learned to do in Budapest. I suppose it’s the Eastern European in me: I want my fantasy in contact with the real world. But I don’t think much about how I do it, just as I didn’t think much about how to create a recipe for sour cherry brownies. I did it by instinct and taste. (It’s actually a terrific recipe . . .) So Sylvania borders on real countries, and you can get there by train.
Did you invent Sylvania and the moon world at the same time or were they independent ideas that happened to fuse together nicely?
I think the basic idea of the story, with the hound asking for the princess, came to me first. I often think first in plot. Then the characters seemed to follow naturally, then the settings. Sylvania was a lot of fun to create. But it’s actually larger than this story: I’ve set several other stories there, and I’d like to write more about that country. It’s my way of exploring the history of Eastern Europe, a kind of fantastical thought experiment.
I pictured Sirius as a massive, albino St. Bernard. What did he look like in your head?
Well, he’s certainly large enough for Princess Lucinda to ride on! The funny thing is, when I started writing this story, I thought there was a fairy tale out there with a large white hound, and that I was writing a modern version of it, the way writers so often write modern versions of fairy tales. But I started looking for it, and couldn’t find it! If anyone out there knows of a fairy tale with a large white hound, let me know! In my mind, he looks rather like a wolfhound, but that’s because I used to have two large wolfhounds.
Do you have a favorite “protip” you’d like to share with aspiring writers?
Learn to use the past perfect tense? No, seriously, I’ve taught even MFA students who weren’t familiar with the past perfect. But the larger lesson is, grammar and punctuation are your tools. You need to learn to use them correctly and incorrectly-on-purpose. And the second use may be even more important than the first!
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m currently working on a novel, so hopefully you can expect a novel from me! And hopefully another one after that . . .