Patricia C. Wrede has enjoyed a long career as a fantasy writer, beginning with Shadow Magic, released in 1982, but she may be best known for her Enchanted Forest Chronicles, starting with 1990’s Dealing with Dragons, which playfully subverts fairy tale tropes by reimagining the traditional dragon-princess dynamic as a friendship. In The Dark Lord’s Daughter, Wrede’s first new release in 10 years and the first in a two-book contracted series, she upends fantasy cliches when 14-year-old Kayla Jones discovers that the biological father she never knew was the dreaded, now deceased, Dark Lord of a magical realm—and she’s expected to follow in his footsteps. PW spoke with Wrede about her hiatus, her approach to parodying fantasy tropes, and the role of family in her writing.

What drew you to this particular idea?

It was a story that has been in the back of my head for a very, very long time, almost since I first started. I wanted to do some kind of portal fantasy, where somebody from our world goes to another world. I felt I was only going to get one shot at it, so I had to pick the right idea. I really wanted somebody who was more of a normal person faced with all of the cliches of being the Dark Lord, and expected to become the Dark Lord instead of fighting them. I wanted someone who wasn’t going to defeat the bad guy by cutting their head off or blowing them up in a big magical battle—they’d win by refusing to become that kind of cliched evil. It’s a mental and emotional kind of rejection of that way of thinking. I thought about having my heroine’s father be a retired Dark Lord who raised her normally, or sending her off to Dark Lord School and her deciding that wouldn’t work. I tried all kinds of silly ideas.

Then Mallory [Loehr] at Random House called me up and asked if I’d work on a particular project they had, but it didn’t appeal to me. But I mentioned in the conversation that I could do this book I’d been thinking about. The next thing I knew, I had a contract. Everything just came together at the right time.

What was the reason behind your decade-long hiatus?

Basically, for the past 15 years, I’d been dealing with elderly family members, and that’s extremely distracting. I managed to finish the Frontier Magic series, but after that I just didn’t have the time or capacity to get much in the way of writing done. Things are settling down a little bit, and I’m making some good progress. I’m back to writing, and saying yes; it’s time to get back to doing what I love.

There's a long tradition of this sort of parody in science fiction and fantasy.

Like your Enchanted Forest Chronicles, The Dark Lord’s Daughter subverts and plays with fantasy tropes. What’s your approach to this style of storytelling?

A lot of it is just how my brain works. I think something is funny, and I put it in, and then I worry that it’s going to be over the top. I’m nervous until someone else reads it and laughs, and then I know it’ll be okay. It’s fun because so many of the things that have become fantasy tropes have changed over time. If you look at where they started, when and how they were used, they were fine, but now people don’t think about them logically, they don’t ask why these things happen or if they even make sense anymore. My approach is looking at it from a logical point of view. “You’re a giant, and you’re tired of pillaging villages? Well, have you thought about consulting? You’ve got lots of experience.” If you approach these from a practical side, it becomes unexpected because people don’t think of fairy tales and fantasy as being practical.

In The Dark Lord’s Daughter, I looked at the characters and wondered how a young woman would see these things from the context of someone living in a modern world. She’d ask why the people in that universe did things in this fashion. It’s like how kids look at things clearly because they don’t have the background, so they go, “That doesn’t make any sense.” If you apply that attitude to a fantasy world with the standard tropes where this sort of thing is normal, and get someone from outside to question it, it gets interesting. There’s a long tradition of this sort of parody in science fiction and fantasy, like Diana Wynne Jones’s Tough Guide to Fantasyland, and The Dark Lord of Derkholm. Those books were brilliant. I read them long ago, and deliberately didn’t go back to reread them, because I didn’t want to use anything not already in my subconscious.

This book has a strong family vibe, whether it’s blood, adopted, or found. What can you tell us about this theme?

I tend to gravitate towards that in a number of my books. I came from a very large family. My mom came from a family of 10 kids, while my dad had one brother. I have three sisters and one brother. So I got the whole spread of how families work, from large to small. Family is important. Who you grow up with and how you grow up has a lot to do with who you are and who you become, and whether you accept what you grew up with. In Kayla’s case, the family that raised her is very different from the expectations of her biological family, even if they’re not really around anymore. She has to navigate these conflicting expectations. Her adoptive father, Michael, was a major influence on her before he died, which has a lot to do with how she reacts throughout the rest of the book. Then you get an echo of that with Archie, whose family wants nothing to do with him. I need to know about people’s families in order to understand the character, and as soon as I start making up the family, they shove their way into the story. They’re important parts of your life, even if you’re going off on adventures.

The Dark Lord’s Daughter by Patricia C. Wrede. Random House, $17.99 (Sept. 5) ISBN 978-0-553-53620-1