Curbing curiosities, or an interview with Claire Eliza Bartlett author of The Winter Duke


the winter duke

The Winter Duke

By: Claire Eliza Bartlett

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: March 3rd, 2020

An enchanted tale of intrigue where a duke’s daughter is the only survivor of a magical curse.

When Ekata’s brother is finally named heir, there will be nothing to keep her at home in Kylma Above with her murderous family. Not her books or science experiments, not her family’s icy castle atop a frozen lake, not even the tantalizingly close Kylma Below, a mesmerizing underwater kingdom that provides her family with magic. But just as escape is within reach, her parents and twelve siblings fall under a strange sleeping sickness.

In the space of a single night, Ekata inherits the title of duke, her brother’s warrior bride, and ever-encroaching challengers from without—and within—her own ministry. Nothing has prepared Ekata for diplomacy, for war, for love…or for a crown she has never wanted. If Kylma Above is to survive, Ekata must seize her family’s power. And if Ekata is to survive, she must quickly decide how she will wield it.

Part Sleeping Beauty, part Anastasia, with a thrilling political mystery, The Winter Duke is a spellbinding story about choosing what’s right in the face of danger.

1) A book goes through a lot of different versions and rounds of editing before it’s complete.  What are some “fun facts” or behind the scenes info you can share about the characters from your book or the world you created for it that may or may not have made it to the final draft of the book?


Initially, I wanted to have a bit more about the rest of Ekata’s family. They’re all such terrible people! Unfortunately, since they all fall ill about five pages in, I decided to include just flashes of Ekata’s poor relationship with them. There was also a scene in which the prime antagonist, King Sigis, is a real jerk and unable to understand Ekata’s bodily autonomy; while it was so much fun to have her kick him in the sensitive bits, it didn’t end up working out in the final novel. That mostly seems to be what I’ve cut – scenes that expand upon existing character traits. I think the one character I nixed from the entire book was a loyal servant to Ekata’s father; he appeared in two scenes, then disappeared in the subsequent political intrigue and was eventually deemed irrelevant. Poor fellow.


2) Who was your favorite character to write and who gave you the most trouble? If you could ask a character of your choice from THE WINTER DUKE one question what would it be?

My favorite character to write was definitely Inkar. She was fun and positive and a little bit sly, and I enjoyed making Ekata fall for her against her will. The characters that were hardest to write were the ultimate villains – I can’t say more than that, but ensuring they always had motivations and working out what they did behind the scenes was often a struggle.

Okay, the second part of this question has a somewhat silly and embarrassing answer. If I could ask one character from THE WINTER DUKE a question, I would ask the kennel master if I could ride in the dog sled. I’m sorry! I love dogs and I’ve always wanted to do that.


3) What scene from the book are you most proud of (because of how you handled the atmosphere, characters, dialogue, etc)? Is there a scene that you had difficulty with and just had to “power through” to finish the book? Or a scene that made you very emotional?


There are a few scenes that I found myself smiling through during edits and thinking, “Man, I’m freaking hilarious.” (Writing is half self-loathing and half unrestrained arrogance.) I really loved writing Inkar’s first real scene, in which Ekata gets married out of desperation – and gets herself into a whole load of trouble.

The scenes that I powered through initially were a lot of the political scenes. I think the hardest part was getting these motivations down on the page, thinking about why people were opposed to Ekata, to her family, to their entire style of reigning.  Part of the struggle was that I wanted Ekata to be overwhelmed by all this information, but not the reader!


4) What is your favorite part of the world you created for THE WINTER DUKE? Was there an aspect that you struggled with but still felt compelled to include?

The first seeds of THE WINTER DUKE started many years ago, with the setting: a world on top of a frozen lake, and a world beneath it, connected and bound to each other. I loved writing about the Duchy Below and exploring a less human and more unnerving culture. By contrast, for a long while I didn’t really know the mechanics of my magic – why people wanted it, what it could do, what its place was in the world.  Thankfully, once I got my answers I was quite happy with them!


5) Do you have a special story, a discovery you made while doing research, or an innocuous thought that grew into something bigger that is behind your inspiration for THE WINTER DUKE?
In fact, the inspiration for THE WINTER DUKE comes from two places: The setting I mentioned above, and the story of a ridiculously devious man who managed to get away with regicide. Peter Ludwig von der Pahlen was an advisor to the Romanov tsar Paul in the late 1700s. Not only did he play the tsar and his heir, Alexander, against each other, but he managed to get in the confidence of both. Von der Pahlen planned moves and countermoves with both Paul and Alexander, arranged the assassination of Emperor Paul, and managed not to get his head separated from his body even when his true role in the coup was revealed. That became the catalyst for THE WINTER DUKE.

I am a writer and tour guide in Copenhagen, Denmark. Though I originally come from Colorado, I left the US when I was eighteen and I haven’t lived there since.

More permanent stops on my travels have included Switzerland, Wales and Denmark. The arrival of a Danish husband has somewhat cemented my living situation, but I get my travel in smaller doses these days.

I like to write fantasy, mostly, though I dabble in soft sci-fi. My short stories are more adult, my novels more YA.

I’ve studied history, archaeology, and writing. I like to take my inspiration from historical events, and the more unknown and inspiring the event, the better.

I am represented by Kurestin Armada of P.S. Literary.

To keep up with what strange things I’m researching and writing, you can sign up for my newsletter here. I send out a short newsletter once a month.

Find the author:

Goodreads | Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook


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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us. The author image, info, and more were provided by The Fantastic Flying Book Club Tours.

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