random data on Princess Ben

Interviews – lots of great Q&A!

The Lake Effect – A radio interview between Catherine and Mitch Teich of Milwaukee Public Radio, WUWM >> click to hear

Horn Book – A telephone interview between Catherine and Martha Parravano, executive editor of Horn Book Magazine. >> click to hear

Book Page: “A Princess Discovers the Keys to Her Kingdom” >>

Publishers Weekly: Q&A with Catherine Gilbert Murdock >>

YA Enchanting Reviews >>

Behind the Book, Follett Library Resources >>

Cynsations: “Catherine Gilbert Murdock on Princess Ben >>

more great information and interviews right here! >>

And don’t forget the FAQ! >>


“Best Books of 2008,” School Library Journal

Nominee, “2009 Best Books for Young Adults,” American Library Association >>

A Summer 2008 Book Sense Children's Pick

"#1 Book of the Year", Bookworm Readers

Garden State Teen Book Award 2011 nominee

questions from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

How did the idea for Princess Ben originate?

I’m embarrassed to report that, yet again, the original story came to me in a dream – a dream of a girl on broomstick fleeing an evil queen by plunging out of a castle window into the night. I woke up thinking “Wow!” And also “Maybe this could get me out of the Dairy Queen sequel!” The story took over my existence, and I wrote the first draft in the next sixteen days. The book has changed since then, particularly the first three chapters and the last quarter, but the meat of the story remains what I came up with two years ago.

Why did you write this book? What interested you in the material?

I’ve always loved fairy tales, and writers’ endless reworking of fairy tales – the three little wolves and the pig, for example. These stories are in our blood, and have so much to teach us. The tweaking reveals what really matters in the story, and how our interpretations alter (we now have sympathy for wolves, for example, sympathy that didn’t exist a century or two ago). I also place a lot of value in the process of maturing – that’s what so many of these stories are about, after all – and I wanted to explore the meaning of that, particularly from a female perspective. There’s a line in the book where Queen Sophia tells Benevolence that kingdoms aren’t lost on the field of battle, they’re lost in “interstitial conversations,” and I truly believe that. If nothing else, this philosophy empowers women, who have never been present on the field of battle except as glaring exceptions to the rule, but who excel at diplomacy. At the end of Princess Ben, the heroine saves her country not through magic or brute strength, but because this short, plump, awkward girl is an amazing person. The lesson is that anyone can be amazing, that it’s something worth working on.

My first children’s book, Dairy Queen, I wrote because I wanted to read it. That’s a pretty selfish explanation, I know, but it applies to Princess Ben just as much. I loved this character, I loved weaving in sly references to other fairy tales, I simply swoon over castles – I mean, what in that equation wouldn’t appeal? A few months ago a middle-school student asked me what I would do if I didn’t write, and I looked at her blankly for far, far too long. I have to write. Look how long this questionnaire is getting! I’m just lucky that other people feel my writing is worth reading. And getting paid for it is the icing on the cake.

Did Princess Ben involve any special research or travel?

No, and yes. As I’ve indicated already, writing the first draft was rather an out-of-body experience (I developed shiny calluses on my hands where they rest on the keyboard). I spent a great deal of time studying an etching I’d bought fifteen years ago, of a castle, because it had the same effect I was trying to convey. Curiously, when I first bought that etching I showed it to my oldest friend, and she said casually, “that looks like the kind of book you used to read.” Now I guess it looks like the kind of book I like to write! I even tried a bit to make it the cover, but Houghton wisely went elsewhere.

How does Princess Ben compare to similar books in the genre?

Actually, I’ve tried very hard NOT to read other books in this vein, because I feel strongly that the possibilities, if not limitless, are far broader than most writers ever give themselves credit for. For example, Ben finds a book of spells that’s so magical that she can’t even turn the page: the book knows which spells she needs to work on, and will only display what it feels it appropriate. I personally love this detail – not that I’m biased – and my kids got a big kick out of it when I read Princess Ben aloud to them. Well, a few months ago my son was reading Garth Nix’s series The Keys to the Kingdom, and Nick pointed out that hero in that series also encounters a magical book with pages that sometimes won’t turn. I had to explain – with a bit more passion than perhaps the situation warranted – that I hadn’t read Garth Nix when I wrote Princess Ben, so I couldn’t “copy” (Nick’s word) it. Now, if I had read Garth Nix, I would be far too self-conscious about being accused of copying – by eleven-year-olds, no less – to ever incorporate the Book of Spells into my novel. And that, frankly, is a crying shame, because the magic in The Keys to the Kingdom and Princess Ben have very little to do with each other, and the stories are so different that there is more than enough room for such confluent detail. After I’d published Dairy Queen, I learned about an after-school special about a girl quarterback, and this girl-football story and that girl-football story . . . all I can say is thank God I didn’t know about that stuff earlier or it would have paralyzed me. And Dairy Queen would never have been written.

That said, I am now, finally, reading The Goose Girl, which I’m enjoying very much even though there are, again, confluent details. I see the same irreverent respect for fairy tales in movies such as Hoodwinked and Shrek. And that’s okay.

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I have read Princess Ben countless times, the book matches its description perfectly — it’s no normal fairytale. But I have always struggled to imagine what Florian would look like and I somehow always get this image of my economics teacher in a crown, riding a horse and looking like one of those cliche princes you get in kid movies (its not a nice image). So I was wondering if Princess Ben was to be made into a movie who would you cast as Florian?

  1. -Allison