Risingshadow has had the honour of interviewing Peternelle van Arsdale.
About Peternelle van Arsdale:
Peternelle van Arsdale grew up in Newark, New Jersey, where she attended public school through the eighth grade. After that she attended three high schools in three different towns in four years, was deeply unpopular, and counted the seconds until graduation. She majored in English literature at Bryn Mawr College, and then landed in book publishing, thinking it was a good way to be paid to do what she liked to do anyway (she was only partly wrong). She worked her way up from editorial assistant to executive editor of adult fiction and nonfiction, and eventually struck out on her own as an independent editor.
Her first young adult novel, The Beast Is an Animal, is being developed by Amazon Studios for a feature film produced by Ridley Scott’s Scott Free and directed by Bert & Bertie. Her essays have been published by LitHub, Hypable.com, and Culturefly, and her short fiction has been published by The Whitefish Review.
Her second novel, The Cold Is in Her Bones, will be published in January 2019. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she continues to edit and is at work on her third novel.
Click here to visit her official website.
About The Cold Is in Her Bones:
One girl must uncover secrets of the past to save her friend from a terrible curse in this dark and mesmerizing story of love, revenge, and redemption inspired by the myth of Medusa.
Milla knows two things to be true: Demons are real, and fear will keep her safe.
Milla’s whole world is her family’s farm. She is never allowed to travel to the village and her only friend is her beloved older brother, Niklas. When a bright-eyed girl named Iris comes to stay, Milla hopes her loneliness might finally be coming to an end. But Iris has a secret she’s forbidden to share: The village is cursed by a demon who possesses girls at random, and the townspeople live in terror of who it will come for next.
Now, it seems, the demon has come for Iris. When Iris is captured and imprisoned with other possessed girls, Milla leaves home to rescue her and break the curse forever. Her only company on the journey is a terrible new secret of her own: Milla is changing, too, and may soon be a demon herself.
Suspenseful and vividly imagined, The Cold Is in Her Bones is a novel about the dark, reverberating power of pain, the yearning to be seen and understood, and the fragile optimism of love.
AN INTERVIEW WITH PETERNELLE VAN ARSDALE
- Could you tell us a bit about yourself in your own words?
I have loved books for as long as I can remember. They’ve excited my imagination and been my solace at times when I was alone (whether happily or unhappily). I was an English major in college (because of course), and when I graduated I immediately went into book publishing and worked my way up to be an executive editor specializing in adult fiction and memoir. Around the time my son was seven or so, I surprised myself by starting to bubble with some ideas for a middle grade novel. I was certainly inspired by the incredible range and quality of fiction I was discovering while reading to him. After several attempts at a middle grade novel that we shall never speak of again, I finally found my voice when I stopped trying to write for my son and instead wrote for me—I set out to write the novel that I would have adored as a teen and adult. And that became The Beast Is an Animal. I still love to edit on an independent basis, but now I spend the majority of my time writing and I’ve never been happier. Meanwhile, my son is now a sophomore in college, and Brooklyn is my home. I write while looking out of a window on a tree-lined street, and I feel absurdly lucky.
- Your sophomore novel, "The Cold Is in Her Bones", is inspired by the myth of Medusa. How did you come up with the idea of writing this novel?
I’ve always been fascinated by monsters, or what we call the monster or the villain in any given story. In my favorites, the monster had a tragic back story—there was a reason they turned their venom on others, often because they had been victimized themselves. That was certainly a feature in my first novel, The Beast Is an Animal. Of all the monsters of literature, perhaps the most unfairly treated was Medusa, who was doomed to turn men to stone because she had caught the eye of the sea god Poseidon, who raped her. The rape occurred in Athena’s temple, and instead of punishing Poseidon, Athena turned beautiful young Medusa into a snake-headed demon. I began to play around with two notions: 1) that we often punish the wrong person, and 2) that cruelty begets vengeance begets more cruelty.
- What kind of a protagonist is Milla? Could you tell us about her?
Milla is a girl who tries to maintain a calm exterior while feeling quite wild and weird on the inside. To me, that’s so relatable. I know I feel that way even now, and I certainly felt that way as a teenager. I both wanted to behave the way I was expected to but felt constrained by those expectations. I both wanted to please my parents and felt hurt that their love might be conditional, that I could lose it if I didn’t do or say the right thing. Milla ultimately has to decide who she is, and who she wants to be, separate from what anyone else wants. I find that very brave and inspiring. It’s easy to follow rules, and it's much harder to discern for yourself what’s right and wrong.
- What kind of themes do you explore in "The Cold Is in Her Bones" that you want readers to know about?
The plight of women and girls in a society that favors male competence and authority is always a strong theme in my writing. In addition, in The Cold Is in Her Bones I explored the ways in which women absorb these ideas and inflict them on other women and girls. And always in my fiction I explore themes of shame and how damaging it can be to believe that there’s something deeply wrong with you, which I think is such a common fear and one we’re often afraid to talk about because it’s so painful. But it’s only in digging it up and exposing our secret shame to light and air that we can love ourselves for who we are not who we think we should be.
- Do the events take place in our world or in an imagined fantasy world? Where did you draw inspiration?
It’s an imagined fantasy world that was very loosely inspired by Norway. I looked at endless pictures of the classic old Norwegian grass-roofed houses, which to me look like the very definition of fairy tale cottages. I also used almost entirely Norwegian names in the novel, just as I used Welsh names in The Beast Is an Animal.
- What is the target audience of "The Cold Is in Her Bones"?
The most important thing to me is always to tell a really, really good story that’s thrilling and scary and makes you cry and even laugh in places (there’s a great witch in the novel, if I do say so myself, who I had so much fun writing). So anyone who loves immersive fantasy, especially if you grew up enjoying fairy tales, will be drawn right into The Cold Is in Her Bones. And in terms of writing and reading level, it’s adult crossover—for middle schoolers on up to adults. I like to think that if you love Philip Pullman, you’ll also enjoy my books. And if you know Philip Pullman, please tell him he’s my favorite.
- Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
If you’re an educator, parent, or student that might be interested in having me visit your school, please reach out to me via my website (http://www.peternellevanarsdale.com/contact/). I’ve developed an empathy-building role-playing game called “Who’s the Monster” that students really enjoy. You can watch a little clip of it here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BfTB4FnhDhy/