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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Interview with Elizabeth C. Bunce, author of A Curse Dark as Gold and StarCrossed

With us today we have the lovely Elizabeth C. Bunce, author of A Curse Dark As Gold a fantastic retelling of Rumplestiltskin (set in the Industrial Revolution!  Brilliant!) and the "Thief Errant" series, which is about Digger, a spy and thief who unwittingly finds herself at the center of a magical rebellion.  The first book, StarCrossed, is out now, and the second, Liar's Moon, comes out in November!
Make sure to stick around till the end of the interview for a chance to win your own copy of StarCrossed!
Without further ado, I give you: Elizabeth C. Bunce!

~What inspired you to set the tale of Rumplestiltskin in the Industrial Revolution?
A couple of things, actually. First, I wanted to set the novel in the time and place of fairy tales—that imaginary Fairy Tale Country—and thanks to classic artwork by Dulac, Dore, and others, for me that's the 18th century. Second, it was a natural extension of the decision to set the story in an ailing textile mill, because the social and economic changes of the Industrial Revolution presented an existing set of realistic obstacles and conflict for the plot. And, to be perfectly honest, I was in love with the clothes of the era, and just couldn't imagine Uncle Wheeler dressed any other way!

A Curse Dark As Gold~What was the research process like for the story, both on the fairy tale front and the historical front?
On the fairy tale front, I read as many traditional versions of Name of the Helper tales as I could—not just early "Rumpelstiltskins," but also pieces like England's "Tom Tit Tot" and Scotland's "Whuppity Stoorie." But my goal was always to focus on the story of the girl who bargains away her infant son, so I did stick pretty close to the "Rumpelstiltskin" framework. The rest of the research—oh, mercy! I dug into everything from everyday life in the 18th century, to traditional folk magic and ghost stories, and, of course, a huge amount of research (both book learnin' and the hands-on kind) into the woolen textile industry. I have monographs on wigmaking, esoteric economic histories of individual mill towns, even the journals of period woolworkers. For me, research uncovers not just the things you know you're looking for—but almost more importantly, the things you had no idea you needed.

~Will we ever see more stories set in Charlotte’s world?
Yes! I have one published now, a ghost story called "In for a Penny" in the Scholastic anthology Bones, edited by Lois Metzger (July 2011). And I have a few more ideas—including more retellings—up my sleeve, as well.

~Why fairy tales? What is it that calls to you, personally,as a writer, and why do you think readers connect to them the way they do?
As a reader, I'm even a bigger fan of retellings than I am of the original tales. I am fascinated by the ways authors expand and adapt the source material while keeping the stories fresh and accessible to today's readers. There's so much potential in the fairy tales, and I find it really comes to life in a brilliant retelling. I'm particularly drawn to the fairy tale landscape—the dark woods, the impenetrable briar hedge, the castles. But as a writer, I like the challenge of re-imagining those classic settings; expanding the borders of Fairy Tale Country, as it were!
~StarCrossed seems pretty different from Curse; did you feel it was a departure for you? How does StarCrossed’s Digger compare to Curse’s Charlotte?
I like to say that Curse was written for my adult literary and fairy-tale scholar self, while StarCrossed and Liar's Moon were written for my inner 16-year-old fantasy fan. So in that way, I can't say the series is a departure, although it did feel very different to write Digger's story than Charlotte's. As characters, Digger is a complete 180 from Charlotte. Charlotte thinks over everything before she makes any move, and Digger is very much more a Shoot First, Ask Questions Later kind of girl. Oddly enough, their goals end up being the same (saving the people they care about), but their methods are a little different. I have a feeling Digger would have taken one look at Shearing and Stirwaters, said, "To hells with this," grabbed everyone, and lit out of there.

~StarCrossed is a series, so I know you’re in the middle of that, but are there any plans to tell more straightforward fairy tale retellings in the future?
Definitely! The first novel I ever wrote was a retelling, I have a collection of short retellings that's been in the works for a while, and I've just started collecting research materials for a Victorian-era fairy tale project I'm excited about.

~What’s your favorite scene you’ve ever written?
I don't know! What a great question. Since we're talking about Curse, let's narrow it down some. I still think that book has some great scenes (I especially love the conjuring of Jack Spinner, the introduction of Biddy Tom, the crossroads, and the denouement) ... but today I'm feeling romantic, so I'm going to say Randall's gift of the watch. There's something magical about those rare moments where you can capture everything about a story in just a few lines, and I think this scene between Randall and Charlotte tells us so much about both characters.

Lightning Round!

~Rapunzel is named after lettuce; what odd thing would you be named after if you were in a fairy tale?
Hopefully I'd get a name! But it would probably be something like Donkeyskin or Aschenputtel. Maybe Doghair. Hundehaare. That sounds about right.

~ Using that name, give us 1 line from your life as a fairy tale:
Hard by a great prairie, in a cottage surrounded by mud in all seasons, guarded by a pack of hounds, lived a woman known as Hundehaare, whose back was permanently bent from bending over her books, her fingers gnarled and pricked from the needle. But from her muddy cottage, Hundehaare crafted things of great wonder, and her work was sought by folk from distant lands.
(Ok, that's two lines!)
[The judges confer...Two lines is acceptable, since they are such good lines.  :)  ]

~Best fairy tale villain and why?
Well, see, I tend to take a longer, more sympathetic view of my fairy tale villains, so it's difficult to come up with a list of inexcusable baddies. The thirteenth fairy in "Sleeping Beauty" is awfully petty, but, then, who hasn't felt wounded at being excluded from a party? And for mismatched dishes? But after giving this some deep thought, I'm going to have to go with The Pea.

~Favorite tale from childhood? Favorite tale as an adult? Least favorites?
My favorite always was and will probably always be "Beauty and the Beast." The least favorite one is hard to answer; it used to be "Rumpelstiltskin," hands down—but I feel kind of bad about saying that now, since the story has actually been very good to me!

~If you could be any fairy tale character, or live through any fairy tale "happening," who/what would it be?
Although it directly contradicts another answer below, I'm going to say I'd like to accompany the soldier as he follows the dancing princesses to Faerie.

~Would you rather:
-- eat magic beans or golden eggs?

-- live under a bridge with a troll, or all alone in a high tower?

-- be forced to spin straw into gold for hours on end, or dance every night until your shoes are worn through?
Spin. Was there ever any doubt?

Thanks so much for stopping by and chatting with us, Elizabeth!  For those of you who haven't read A Curse Dark as Gold (was there ever a better title?), Misty and Ashley both highly recommend it!   And if you haven't read StarCrossed, here's your chance!


Thanks to the awesome people at Scholastic, we have a beautiful finished hardcover copy of StarCrossed to give away to 1 winner!
To enter, answer this question: If you were to retell a fairy tale, what would it be and where/when would you set it?
Then, fill out this form.
Ends May 5th May 8th!


  1. I'd retell Peter Pan in modern day New York City.

    meredithfl at gmail dot com

  2. Thanks for the giveaway! Snow White in a dystopic world.

    cc932005 at hotmail dot com

  3. I would re-tell Snow White but in a post-apocalyptic world. That way she has plenty of helpers. :)

  4. I would do Jack and the Giant Beanstalk in Kansas, modern day!

    thegirlonfire27 at gmail dot com

  5. I would remake Snow White in Middle Earth. She always seemed one with nature to me and Hobbits would be dwarfs! She would also travel atop giant Ents and sing her songs!!

    Rachel Leigh
    TheOneRing111 at gmail dot com

  6. Q: If you were to retell a fairy tale, what would it be and where/when would you set it?

    A: I would re-tell a kick-ass Cinderella with side-kick fairy godmothers to save the world from evil step-sisters :) - this is an epic fantasy tale in a land long long ago far far away, not a paranormal romance, so the bit with the prince will have to be a side-tale...

    Cherry Mischievous
    cherrymischif-soldier [at] yahoo [dot] com

  7. Great idea with Jack and the Giant Bean stalk!!

  8. A retelling of Goldilocks in early 19th century London where the three bears are dashing axe-murderers!

    Rumplestiltskin was one of my favourite fairytales cos it was so different! How interesting that there's a retelling with the industrial revolution in the backdrop. Excellent bit of research there!


  9. I think I might trap the 12 dancing princesses in Hollywood. They'd be contestants on "So You Think You Can Dance" or another show like that.


  10. I would retell Beauty and the Beast in Ancient Greece. Between a god and an ugly mortal and his love made her beautiful.
    Thanks for the giveaway!!!

    artgiote at gmail dot com

  11. I would tell Beauty and the Beast during the Gilded Age in New York City! ... that could work, I think.

  12. I'd rewrite Hansel and Gretel and put them modern day New York.

  13. If I were to retell a fairy tale, I would retell Beauty and the Beast set in California.

  14. I would retell my favorite fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. And I would really like to set it in my favorite time period: 16th century England.

  15. SLEEPING BEAUTY. Early 18th century Austria.

  16. I would retell The Little Mermaid. I would have her be turned human to protect her and have her not know she is a mermaid. Also, I would have the Lost City of Atlantis involved in the story line. Please enter me in contest. I love fairy tales. Tore923@aol.com

  17. I think I will totally love to be the Princess and the frog. Only the frog not that slimy. Thanks!

  18. Very enjoyable interview. :)

  19. I would retell Snow White and the setting will be in modern day Maine.

    aikychien at yahoo dot com

  20. I would retell Sleeping Beauty but in a futuristic, sci-fi setting.

  21. Definitely the Flight of the Hypogriff back in medieval times. Probably a nameless/countryless European type state.

  22. I'm going to say... Hansel and Gretel set in modern times. It would be told from spilt perspectives; that of H and G as they're coddled and spoiled (and over fed) at the home of the seemingly harmless "granny", and the detective who is trying to find them ala CSI. There would be a certain level of stockholm syndrome going on with H and G because their new "home" seems better than their old one--video games, toys, and they can eat whatever they want, mostly candy and cake--so it might be something like a psycholigical thriller/gritty cop tale hidden under the guise of a modern fairy tale.

    PS I accidentally submitted my form midway through the address. Sorry!

  23. I think Red Riding Hood in Ancient Greece or Rome would be a interesting one.
    Just based on history alone there is SO much one could do with that!



  24. I would write the story of Sleeping Beauty as a contemporary YA novel set in a city (New York?). The protagonist would be a girl who is in a coma after a car accident. The "prince" would be the guy who crashed into her. He never knew her before the accident and also he has his own issues (that led to the accident). Somehow he ends up visiting the girl and talking to her many times while she is in a coma...

    Haha this question was fun and now I want to write this story!

    rain_orchid11 (at) yahoo (dot) com

  25. Probably The Prince and the Pauper set in medieval/celtic Wales.

    Nara xx

  26. Hello I would have to say Sleeping Beauty.

    I would set it in the Modern day and maybe its cliche I dont know but instead of just having Prince Charming coming to the rescue, I'd want a sort of bad boy? (Someone not so prince charmingish) going to her rescue too.

    So it would be like a race or battle for her love I guess.
    And the truth of who her true love is would be determined when they get there... or by fate?

    Well something along those lines :p I would have to have more time to think about all the details but yeah :)

  27. I'd love to see Repunzel set in modern day New York. Imagine her "tower" being one of those massive skyscrapers.
    Plus the price could be afraid of hights--so how he is gonna face his fear, brave the hights and save the girl?


  28. Hum... I REALLY like the old Greece setting, and I absolutely LOVE Beauty and the Beast... so maybe I'd make a mix of mythology and fairy tale? LOL :))

    kah_cherub at hotmail dot com

  29. I'd re-tell Alice In Wonderland, and it would be set either in the Underworld or the world from Avatar- Pandora!


  30. I would love to re-tell Cinderella and I would set it in 18th century England. It would be great.



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