If you’re looking for a lush, magical fantasy with serious fairy-tale vibes, do not hesitate to check out Alyssa Wees’ The Waking Forest!
I finished reading a few days ago and WOW this was such an intricate book? And the plot twist was heavenly. So definitely keep your eye out, because it just came out yesterday!
And today, I’m so so excited to bring you an interview with Alyssa herself all about The Waking Forest, the way it plays with the fairytale genre, its rich atmosphere, and writing advice for tHAT TWIST.
AHH. So, happy reading!
Hi Alyssa! So happy to have you on my blog today–I’m so excited for The Waking Forest and it just released yesterday, correct? Could you tell us a little bit about The Waking Forest–but only in verse?!
Correct! I’m so excited that it’s finally out in the world. I’d be delighted to describe The Waking Forest in verse! Here goes:
The Waking Forest has secrets,
Rhea Ravenna does too.
The Witch is giving out wishes
But when will her wish come true?
I’ve heard so many amazing things about your debut, and one of the ones I wanted to talk about is how it “honors the fairytale genre while subverting it at the same time” (not an official blurb, but mentioned by Joan He). I love subversive fairytales–do you mind telling us a little bit more about how The Waking Forest is subversive and how you went about creating that?
First of all, Joan is amazing and I cannot wait for the release of her wonderful fantasy, Descendant of the Crane. It’s out next month but I had the honor of reading it early, and trust me, you don’t want to miss it!
When I started writing The Waking Forest, I wanted to create a story that was familiar, and yet, unlike any other fairy tale I had ever read or heard. So, I thought about my favorite tropes—and least favorite tropes—in the fairy tales I consumed growing up, and I tried to think about them from different angles. For example, the main character Rhea encounters a mysterious boy hiding in the dark of her attic—if she turns on the light he disappears, as if he was never there at all. This idea came from one of my favorite Greek myths, Cupid and Psyche. Convinced her husband is a monster, Psyche tries to get a glimpse of her husband by lamplight, but when the hot oil drips on him he wakes up and vanishes. I was always really intrigued by this idea of darkness and putting your trust in someone you can’t actually see and are sort of convinced might be a hungry monster. But instead of Rhea completing a series of tasks to undo her mistake as Psyche does, Rhea must answer a riddle the stranger poses her to unlock the answers she seeks about her visions of a forest and the nightmares of a winding staircase that haunt her.
Forest books are usually very atmospheric (which I love), and The Waking Forest seems like no exception. What made you choose this setting over others, and how do you feel it adds to the book?
I think one of the things that makes forests such an atmospheric setting, especially for fairy tales, are that they’re so insular, lending them an air of the unknowable. With the trees very close together and the leaves blotting out the sky you really can’t see what’s ahead or what’s behind, and there’s this feeling that anything can happen at any time. You might even encounter a wish-granting witch! Plus, the heart of a forest is often so far removed from our daily lives, especially if you’re like me, who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, or like Rhea, who lives near the ocean. For Rhea the forest represents her fear of and fascination with the unknown. And for the Witch of Wishes, the forest is her home. For her it represents safety and familiarity, until a stranger comes calling and shatters the peace she’s found in the darkness that surrounds her. I really wanted to play with the dual nature of the forest and how it can reflect our greatest fears as well as providing comfort and shelter.
Your two main characters–Rhea and the Witch of Wishes–both seem very complex and extremely different. How did you balance out their characters throughout the story and shape the narrative so both Rhea and the Witch would also go through their own emotional journeys?
On the surface Rhea and the Witch of Wishes are very different—Rhea lives with her family by the ocean and the Witch lives alone in the woods; Rhea has desires and wishes that have yet to come true while the Witch is granting wishes to children who seek her in their dreams. Rhea is full of anxiety and curiosity about her visions and nightmares while the Witch is content in her rather macabre palace made of bones. But then, both characters are visited by strangers who have a story to tell and neither is really ready to hear it. In this way, I intended Rhea and the Witch to be mirrors of each other. Their emotional journeys are separate but closely linked, and both will need to confront the darkness creeping into their lives in their own time and in their own way.
Finally, people have said that the twists in The Waking Forest are absolutely amazing–for aspiring writers out there, what’s one thing you learned about writing shocking, edge-of-your-seat sort of twists while writing The Waking Forest?
My advice would be to leave lots of clues! A good twist is one that you don’t necessarily see coming but that if you go back and read you’d be like, Oh! Yes, of course! And it shouldn’t be for shock value only—a good twist should change how you see the story by enhancing and deepening your understanding of the characters and their lives.
That advice is wonderful and I’ll be definitely trying to put that to use in my WIP!
I definitely love forest novels, and the atmosphere in The Waking Forest is so rich and wonderful, I can’t get enough of it!
Something else I want to note is that one of Alyssa’s answers makes me sCREAM, now that I’ve read it. I can’t spoil anything but oh my god those parallels wow she is a genius.
(You can read my review here! Listen about why I think this is a marvelous book!)
And don’t forget to let Alyssa know on her social channels if you enjoyed this interview!
More About the Book
The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees
Hardcover, 304 pages
March 12th 2019 by Delacorte
The waking forest has secrets. To Rhea, it appears like a mirage, dark and dense, at the very edge of her backyard. But when she reaches out to touch it, the forest vanishes. She’s desperate to know more—until she finds a peculiar boy who offers to reveal its secrets. If she plays a game.
To the Witch, the forest is her home, where she sits on her throne of carved bone, waiting for dreaming children to beg her to grant their wishes. One night, a mysterious visitor arrives and asks her what she wishes for, but the Witch sends him away. And then the uninvited guest returns.
The strangers are just the beginning. Something is stirring in the forest, and when Rhea’s and the Witch’s paths collide, a truth more treacherous and deadly than either could ever imagine surfaces. But how much are they willing to risk to survive?
More About the Author
Photo Credit: Rhythmic Photography