Author Interview: Penelope Daniels
Meet Penelope! Ms. Daniels writes historical and low-fantasy romance. She has published five books, four of which are fairytale retellings.
Penelope has loved romance novels ever since she started smuggling home 10-cent, thrift-store copies when she was a teenager. When not thinking up a new love story, she enjoys watercolor painting, making stained glass art, and restoring ancestral photos.
The author has a talent for putting her own spin on classic stories by asking questions like what if Cinderella had a prosthetic leg? What if Snow White found sanctuary at a perfumery? What if Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on purpose to save her family?
Daniels finds it exciting to delve into each character’s emotional journey and growth. She particularly loves writing tender moments between strong heroines and gentle heros, the hurt/comfort trope, and relationships where two people slowly learn that they can be vulnerable in front of each other.
"I understand why you're guarded. Life has taught you that if you keep your heart closed, you'll feel less pain. But don't you see? You'll feel less love too." -Celia Darrington, Jasmine in Autumn
"She only wanted to be herself and know that it was enough." -Snowdrops in Spring
LQ: What do you think makes a good story?
PD: This is such a clear answer for me—when a reader can connect with it. Storytelling is one of the most important and beautiful parts of the human experience. There is a reason that, for thousands of years, people have been sitting around campfires telling tales. There’s a line from Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nobel acceptance speech that I’ve always loved. “Stories are about one person saying to another, this is the way it feels to me. Does it feel the same to you?” Even though my stories are fiction and filled with romance and magic and adventure, they hold things that I know to be true about life and about love and human connection. When I was young, I used my stories to work through a lot of things that were difficult for me—the aftermath of abuse, my parents' divorce, my desire for (but difficulty attaining) friends. I still write for the same reasons, though the stories and emotions have matured over the years. So many readers have been through the same things I have. It is always my hope that those personal moments in my writing are things the readers can connect with. My favorite part of being an author is receiving messages from readers who have told me that something in one of my books really spoke to them.
LQ: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
PD: Doing research for my books is one of my favorite parts of writing, especially when the research is for somewhat random topics. Jasmine in Autumn is set at a perfumery and I had to delve deep into the perfume making process from how the flowers are grown to how the essences are collected and made into perfume. In my novel Foxgloves in Summer, the hero engineers a prosthetic leg for the heroine and they spend much of the book perfecting it. Both of those topics in particular were so much fun to research. Because of my other books (and unfinished projects), I also know an absurd amount about roof thatching, migratory patterns of butterflies, boot repair, the exact route between Transylvania and the Black Sea, and the terminology surrounding ships and ship building. Writing gives me a great excuse to obsess over new fascinating topics and I absolutely love it.
LQ: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
PD: I don’t drink coffee (or any caffeine) and I write in complete silence.
LQ: How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
PD: I’ve always tried to follow the advice that I should write the book I’d want to read. If I’m asking someone to trust me by reading one of my books, I want to entertain them, make them feel a spectrum of emotions, and deliver a satisfying ending.
LQ: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
PD: I fell in love with writing the summer after 8th grade. On the last day of school, my library was getting rid of outdated computers and I was able to buy an enormous, dinosaur-of-a-desktop for just $10. It was one of the best purchases I ever made. Because the computer was so old, it could really only handle a media player and a word processor. And so I spent the entire summer hiding in my room and staying up all night, listening to the Josh Groban CD I got for my birthday and writing stories to my heart’s content. They were all rather short and shallow (usually about princesses being rescued) but writing them was the most fun I’d ever had. I can still feel that ache behind my eyes from staring at the computer screen all night. It was one of the best summers of my life and really made me realize my potential for storytelling and the joy that it brings me.
LQ: What is your writing Kryptonite?
PD: Action scenes. Chase scenes are okay, but if I have to describe sword or fist fighting, a page can take me a week. I remember a scene I wrote for an unfinished novel that involved the hero being bitten by a pack of wild dogs. I think I must have deleted and rewritten it at least a dozen times. Writing fight scenes is something I’m always working on improving.
LQ: How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
PD: I’ve written dozens, but published five. My favorite so far has been Jasmine in Autumn. It’s a really fun (and hopefully poignant) love story set against the backdrop of a struggling perfumery high in the hills. It’s a Snow White retelling, but except for the very basic plot points, I took so much creative liberty with the story to make it really different than anything I’d seen before. Writing the descriptions of the perfumes and the process of how they’re made was so much fun. I’m guessing I did a good job with it because I’ve gotten a lot of comments from readers telling me that they went out and bought perfume after finishing the story.
LQ: What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
PD: Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Most people know Bradbury from Fahrenheit 451 which is a futuristic and somewhat stressful story. Dandelion Wine is the exact opposite. It’s set in a small town in Illinois in the summer of 1928 and is the perfect love letter to childhood nostalgia. Ordinary things about life are transformed into something magical with prose so beautiful it hurts. It begins as a simple story about summer, but by the end, it’s become a story about treasuring life and feeling all of the emotions along the way. I always go back to this story when I’m needing inspiration and recommend it to anyone who wants to get better at writing emotion and making the reader feel invested in even the simplest things.
LQ: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
PD: You wouldn’t expect to sit down at the piano for the first time and be able to play Mozart. Writing, like anything else, takes practice. You’re gonna write a lot of books that aren’t very good before you write one that is kind of good, and then you’ll write many more that are kind of good before you write one that is great. A lot of those will remain unpublished or get lost in old notebooks or deleted from old hard drives. That’s okay. It’s the next book that really matters.
LQ: What do you have coming next?
PD: Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows that the last year of my life has been a little bit of a dumpster fire. But, after all these months, I’m so happy to tell you that I’ve started writing again. I’ve had a story marinating inside of me for over a year and I am currently working on the first draft. It’s a fantasy romance filled with lots of emotional scenes, twists on classic tropes, and a great redemption arc. So far, I’m really satisfied with how it’s coming alone. I hope that my readers will love it too.
I read and absolutely adored Christmas Promises last winter. It's a #RegencyRomance with nods to Jane Austen.
Daniel is the Earl of Sutton, responsible for his younger sister Harriet until she comes of age. Think Darcy’s money with Knightley’s adorably protective and charming nature. In other words- total #bookboyfriend material.
Read my full review here.
Daniels' novels are available for purchase here.
Thank you again, Penelope, for sharing your thoughts and process with us. Looking forward to seeing what's next from this rising star.