Interview with Stephanie Oakes on The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly


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Congratulations on writing such an incredible book. Do you remember what first inspired you to write Minnow’s story?

The book was inspired by a lot of seemingly unconnected events and encounters that occurred over the course of about a year. One was that I spent a lot of time in Montana while my mom was studying for her PhD (the book is set in the wilds of Montana and in the town Missoula, a place I absolutely love). Another thing was discovering YA literature. I was in a poetry program in college, and during that time, a couple of great YA novels happened to fall into my lap. I started devouring YA novels (sometimes instead of my required poetry reading…oops). Something in YA managed to satisfy my reader-spirit in a way that nothing else I was reading at the time could. One of the most important novels I read during that time was The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, which is a fairy tale retelling. I became interested in the idea of writing a fairy tale retelling. The final piece of the puzzle was discovering The Handless Maiden, which is the fairy tale that I built Minnow’s story around.

Would you say Minnow is a retelling of The Handless Maiden?

Yes, it definitely is, though it only retells about the first half of the fairy tale. I had read The Handless Maiden during my poetry program and I loved how dark and unusual it was. Readers don’t need to be familiar with the fairy tale to read the book, but there are some fun “Easter eggs” (references to the original fairy tale that are woven into the book) for readers who are.

Did you do any research into cults when writing the book?

I had to do lots of research on so many strange topics while writing the book, and I probably spent the most time on cults and other extremist groups. It was so fascinating (I tend to be interested by slightly macabre subjects), but it also ended up being the most challenging research I’ve ever done. I remember reading about real-life cults with a terrible ache in the pit of my stomach, so much so that a couple of times, I had to close my computer because I thought I might be sick. Even though it wasn’t so fun, I think it’s through the process of research that writers can develop the empathy necessary to create the world; it ended up being very important for The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly.

What do you think of the US and Australian covers of the book?

I am really, really happy with both of them. I had been pretty nervous about the cover. I even had a nightmare about it once. When I first got the email with the US cover attached, I could only see the tiny thumbnail but immediately I breathed a sigh of relief—I loved it right away. And I really love the Australian re-design! It is unbelievably cool to see a designer or artist create something original for something I’ve written.

Minnow covers


Do you have a playlist you listened to while writing Minnow?

I did! I tend to listen to lots of instrumental music when I write—movie soundtracks are my friend. I listened to the Amelie soundtrack to death, and Disney soundtracks are great, too (even if they sometimes make me daydream rather than productively write). I also sometimes listen to songs by bands like Death Cab for Cutie, The Killers, and Sufjan Stevens, which I’ve heard so many times, they’re almost more of a mood than a song, and they blur into the background.

What’s one bit of advice you wish you’d been given as an aspiring writer?

I was such a perfectionist—and still am to a large extent—and perfectionism is kind of the mortal enemy of writing. I gave myself a really hard time when I was starting out if things weren’t going perfectly. If I could give myself some advice, I think I’d try to convince myself that the process is easier—and I’m even a better writer—when I relinquish some of that perfectionism.

What books are on your TBR right now?

Basically every book on earth (slight exaggeration). My TBR has its own bookcase. Some high priority books are Razorhurst by Justine Larbelestier, A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith, Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond, and The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty.

Are you working on anything else at the moment?

Yes! I’m doing revisions for my second YA mystery, The Arsonist, which is about a boy and a girl from California trying to solve the murder of an East German girl from the 1980s.

Do you know what happens to Minnow after the end of the book?

I definitely have a sense of what happens, yes, but I’m also happy to let readers imagine their own version.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I like watching TV and movies, and I’m also a very avid reader. Lately, I’ve been devouring comic books, too. My local comic book shop is one of my favourite places. Some recent favourites are Black Widow, Ms. Marvel, Lumberjanes, the Amulet series, and I hold a very soft spot in my heart for This One Summer.


The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is out now

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