The Empress Chronicles: Historic Fantasy with a New Kind of Heroine
by Melissa, theLibraryCanary
The Keepsake is the soon-to-be-released first novel in the Young Adult Empress Chronicles series, a fantastic look at the life of teenage princess Elisabeth in Bavaria—known familiarly as Sisi.
In The Keepsake, Sisi’s magical locket takes her back in time and gives her the power to predict true love—but it also embroils her in a dangerous competition with an evil enchantress who would use the locket to wicked ends.
The character is based on the historical princess Elisabeth who goes on to become the Empress of Austria and the Queen of Hungary—a cult figure legendary for her eccentricity: bizarre diets, extreme exercising, exotic pets, a penchant for pink, and a mother-in-law from hell. In other words, the stuff of a novelist’s dreams.
The Empress Chronicles brings us Sisi as researched and imagined by Suzy Vitello. And when Vitello’s not busy writing novels and running a popular series of writer’s workshops, she also maintains Sisi’s Blog. She first began writing the blog as a way of organizing her research, as well as delve more deeply into the mind and persona of the 19th century princess.
What would Sisi have made of Twitter, blogging, and Facebook gossip? What would she sound like? The result is, by turns, hysterically funny and eminently educational.
I asked Vitello to tell us a little more about her interest in Sisi, the scope of the series, and when we can expect to get our hot little birdclaws on The Keepsake.
Here’s the exclusive Canary interview:
the Canary Review: How did you first become interested in Sisi? What do you like about her?
Suzy Vitello: The superficial answer to this is: because she was fascinating, powerful, beautiful and crazy. The deeper answer to this is a bit more complex. I spent the first six years of my life in Vienna, and was influenced throughout my upbringing by my Austrian grandparents. Sisi’s story embodies the Austrian dichotomy: a yearning for perfection, and an affinity for a dark, rich, layered aesthetic.
Over time, the Empress Elisabeth somehow managed to live life on her own terms—she developed profound compensatory strategies and she paid dearly for them. She figured out the requirements of iconic status because it offered her some freedom and distance from her domineering mother-in-law, the Archduchess Sophie.
Sisi’s childhood was marked by a sort of joie de vivre; her horsemanship and artistic nature were encouraged, and it all came to a grinding halt at age 16 when she became Empress.
Sisi was criticized for being selfish, vain and difficult, and I think she was completely misunderstood. Her quirks helped her cope with the immense expectation and responsibility of the Viennese Court. She mitigated her anxiety by traveling often and inviting mentors from different cultures into her privy. For instance, she learned Hungarian during the daily styling sessions required to keep her renowned knee-length hair looking fabulous. She smoothed the relationship between Austria and Hungary due to her love of the country and understanding of the language—her hair-dressing sessions led to successful foreign relations.
I relate to Sisi in several ways: my grandparents were very status-oriented, but my parents were young adults of the 60’s—and they encouraged me to follow my heart and to pursue a certain authenticity of being. Consequently, when I found myself widowed with two children at age 27, I tapped into the spirit of my upbringing and decided I would raise my kids in a sort of pioneer style—we came out west, the three of us, and I built a life that was somewhat fairy tale-like.
tCR: Why YA? Why fantasy?
SV: For years I tried to write a novel—an adult novel—about Sisi, and I got mired in the research. I couldn’t find the voice! The books that forever left their marks on me were written in those whimsical, enthralling voices: authors like Lewis Carroll, Beatrix Potter, E.B. White—they created characters that settled into my bone marrow. And, of course, I was raised on the Brothers Grimm.
When I finally tapped into the girl behind Empress Elisabeth, and did some further research into her childhood, the voice of Sisi sprang to life. Rather than write a straight historical, the voice begged for an element of magical realism—within that aesthetic, the archetypal themes of power, sacrifice, jealousy, and triumph—and, of course, love—blossomed.
tCR: Keeping a blog for an upcoming novel is a brilliant idea. Where were you in the writing process when you began blogging as Sisi? Have there been any surprises? Are there other writers doing this?
SV: Having lived in many places, and being somewhat shy, I developed a fondness for appropriation. Accents, colloquialisms, patterns of speech. You name it, I’ve stolen it. Blogging as another is an outgrowth of my desire to assume character. But there’s a practical reason for it—writing historical fiction requires research, and this was a great way for me to organize that research. Like a recorded, voice-driven scavenger hunt.
I began the Empress Chronicles blog about a third of the way through my initial draft. Since then I’ve run across several history-based blogs that are rather voice and period-driven, but I haven’t really seen an author turn her character into a blogger—that said, I’m sure they exist!
The biggest surprise for me is when I realized that when I commented on other WordPress blogs, I would be doing so as Sisi by default. This was an unintentional perk, actually—and one I’ve been playing with. I tend to be bolder and mouthier as Sisi—it’s a fun alter-ego!
tCR: So what’s next? When can we get our hands on The Keepsake?
SV: My book is currently being submitted to publishers by my agent, Melissa Sarver. I really look forward to finding an editor who is equally taken by Sisi and is eager to see this book in the world. My overarching plan is to have an Empress Chronicle series, with The Keepsake as the first book. Sisi is rich with material, and I’m eager to continue on.
Thank you, Suzy Vitello, for telling us about your book and your vision for this fascinating character!