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Yesterday I reviewed the OMG SO EXCELLENT The Princess Curse, and tomorrow I'll be reviewing Handbook for Dragon Slayers, but in between, I thought it'd be nice to chat with the author of both awesome middle grade adventures, Merrie Haskell!
Seriously, if you haven't already figured out from my months of endless praise, I dig her writing and think you should pick up her books A-to-the-SAP.
What inspired you to write a retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" (and the other tales touched on w/i the retelling)? Any plans to retell any more fairy tales?
If I checked my folder of abandoned stories from my childhood, I know I could unearth at least one attempt at retelling Hades and Persephone. There are several other abandoned retellings in that file, as well. I like retellings. I had always wanted to retell "Twelve Dancing Princesses"--in part because the illustrations of the story from my childhood book of fairy tales depicted the princesses wearing those magnificent iconic pointy hats with the veils, and I also wanted one of those SO BADLY for, like, ever. But I don't think I got around to it until there as a call for submissions to write a fairy tale retelling, wherein an established author would write a version of the same story from your villain's point of view. How could I resist? Of course, the limit was something like 10,000 words, and mine ended up being 18,000, and only with vicious, vicious chopping did I get it down to 12,000, which I sent in and hoped no one would notice. (Ha! Don't do that!) Ultimately, I got a rejection, which was actually just fine with me, because by that point, I realized I had something. Incidentally, there was never any intention of retelling "Beauty and the Beast" -- as far as I'm concerned, Robin McKinley has that fairy tale sewn up -- but Hades and Persephone, if you ever want a version of Hades to be sympathetic, sort of automagically becomes "Beauty and the Beast."
I had not actually intended to retell any more fairy tales with my next two books, though certainly there are elements of fairy tales in Handbook for Dragon Slayers. The book I just turned in (which may or may not be called Sundered Castle) somehow became a version of "Sleeping Beauty" but I would say that it was so accidental that it's beyond deconstructed. I mean. Okay. Maybe not accidental. But my subconscious was clearly working overtime. I never actually told myself that it was a fairy tale. (It totally is.)
What exactly would it take for there to be a follow-up book to The Princess Curse? (Who do I need to bribe/threaten/sweet-talk...)
Um, well, let's see. My contract was pretty specific in that it was for three stand-alone novels, not a series, so there has been a lot of hesitancy on my part to broach the subject seriously with my editor(s). It was sort of a "well, if they really want one, they'll ask, right?" situation in my mind, as well--like, "if the sales are good enough, it sort of becomes a foregone conclusion!" Gaugh. It's kind of like dating, isn't it? "Well, I don't want to hint TOO much about the prom, because if he says no, then it's really no!" But at some point, I have to fish or cut bait. I suspect Sadie Hawkins day is coming. But be warned: the boy could say no. (Note: no actual boys involved.)
In any case, I know people want more story. Oh, boy, do I know it. I think I have exactly ONE reader who has said, "I liked where that ended. Ambiguity is my cuppa tea!" I also know that there's more story to tell, but it's really Dragos's story, not Reveka's--she's had her greatest moment of sacrifice; in some ways, she's done her most heroic deed, and all before she turned 14. So, figuring out how to tell the story from Reveka's point of view is a challenge, because a character who has already done their most heroic deed is sort of a boring character. I don't think I want to tell the story from Dragos's point of view, because, ugh, that guy's depressed, and frankly, his head is not safe for Middle Grade readers. So I've been using this time to figure out what more can happen for Reveka--what part of her mettle can still be tested, what heroic deed yet lies in her future--and still manage to let Dragos's past come out--and still be Middle Grade-appropriate.
So, what it takes: a seriously good proposal from me, some bravery (again from me), and the acquisitions gods to smile upon me.
While The Handbook for Dragon Slayers isn't a fairy tale retelling, it certainly has fairy tale-esque elements and a sense of historical place to tie it to Curse (including a certain spell for invisibility...); will your next book tie into these 2 in any way, and sort of keep loosely expanding this world?
Funny you should ask! Why, yes.
Cynthia Voigt's Kingdom books and Sharon Shinn's Truthteller/Safekeeper/Dreammaker books are my model for this kind of Easter egg/companion linking, more or less. It's happening in these books to such a degree that I think I need to start thinking of a name for either this world or this not-series. Initially, I sort of called the series the Apprentice books in my head, because I had planned out The Herbalist's Apprentice (became The Princess Curse) and The Dragon's Apprentice (which I have backed off on because, wow, research) and thought everything else I might write in that world would fit into that title scheme. Well, The Herbalist's Apprentice didn't keep that title, and Handbook might have apprentice dragon-slayers and apprentice princesses in it, if you reaaally stretch, but... nah. Anyway, this sideways medieval world (not even Europe, because the I'm-not-writing-this-yet Dragon's Apprentice would take place in Africa) doesn't seem to lend itself to being named, either.
Anyway, yes. Or at least, this is my plan. I'm not done revising the next book yet; things can go topsy-turvy in revisions. I think it is safe to say that, at minimum, there is a minor link. I won't spoil it! Maximum? There might yet be a pretty major link.
As much as we may love any particular tale, each has its own "problematic" aspects (for me, I can't get over the fact that Prince Charming has to find Cinderella, the glorious love of his life, by matching up her feet. I mean, really?). Which problematic aspect of a tale really gets under your skin?
I don't think I'm unique in finding stories where female agency is non-existent or is punished as really troublesome. One of the reasons I love fairy tales is that there are so many about girls and women. I'm not even talking about the waiting for rescue parts; I don't love that, mind you, but where are the choices? One thing I like about the full version of Rapunzel is that after she gets out of the tower, she is separated from her prince, and she goes to find him. Granted, she's with child, which makes the whole thing problematic again (um, was all that stuff that happened in the tower due to fully informed consent, sir?), but you know? She could just go do something else. She actually bothers to hunt him down. I tend to read that as her choice, even if the rest of her story isn't very choice-driven for her.
But I think you were asking something more specific, and in my case, I would say it's the casual way in "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" where all the guys who fail to break the curse are put to death. Um, what? Honestly, the fix-up for that really is what generated the whole of The Princess Curse.
Which fairy tale would you most like to spend 24 hours inside of, and which the least?
Please deposit me in "Beauty and the Beast." Give me a peek at that magical castle! Least interested in any of the ones where the heroines are bored for long periods of time ("Rapunzel," I imagine; would not like to spend time with Cinderella, either).
You have a fairy godmother who is granting you one perfect day: what does that entail?
I may now clutch my head! I'm a writer, so I feel like I'm only as good as my day's output. And since there could never be a day when I could put an entire book on paper, I'm not sure a perfect day exists. But a close second would be a long summer day at the lake, surrounded by friends and loved ones, with perfect vegetable enchiladas I didn't have to cook, a good writing session, a long swim, a nap while a warm breeze blows in, and then a night of stargazing. Complete with meteor shower.
Your favorite obscure (or less well-known) fairy tale?
I do love "The Princess on the Glass Hill" with Cinderlad (it's an Andrew Lang-collected tale). I took elements of it for Handbook, particularly the gold, copper and silver horses that come with full suits of armor, who can eat an entire field of wheat in a night. I grew up with this one, but it really doesn't seem to be known. Gail Carson Levine wrote a version called Cinderellis and the Glass Hill, which I vetted after a draft of Handbook to see if I'd been duplicative of her efforts (answer: no; which is usually the answer when retelling fairy tales). In any case, it is apparently SO obscure that one of Levine's reviewers--like from one of the big, professional review publications--said that it was a charming male version of Cinderella. I was like, "Um, what?" Names aside? Nope.
I also love the Romanian version of "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" which is called "The Enchanted Pig." It's kind of darling.
Most overrated fairy tale?
Oh, "Red Riding Hood." We get it. The wolf is sex.
QUICKFIRE FUN STUFF:
This or That:
- Tower or Dungeon? Tower. Ventilation!
- Evil Queen or Wicked Witch? Witch. At least the wicked can be redeemed.
- Seven League Boots or Glass Slippers? Seven League Boots! Love them in Howl's Moving Castle
- Talking Birds or Talking Mice? Hm, birds? [You do realize you're speaking to The Book Rat, right Merrie? ;P ]
- Prince or pauper? Um, a computer guy who likes rock-climbing?
Would You Rather:
- ride in a pumpkin carriage (sticky) or climb a hair-rope (tiring) to get where you're going? Ride, please. I would never get anywhere if I had to haul my butt up a rope.
- drink an Alice-ish "Drink Me" potion or eat part of a witch's gingerbread house? I could sooo take that witch. Gingerbread.
- be able to spin straw into gold or have precious gems drop from your lips when you speak? Spinning. The other would give me a complex.
- be cursed with blindness (Rapunzel) or knife-like pain when you walk (Little Mermaid)? Since I already have knife-like pain when I walk due to bone spurs, and we live in a world with ice and Ibuprofin? I'll go for the devil I know.
Merrie has kindly offered up a prize pack of a copy of The Princess Curse AND an awesome parchment bookmark to one lucky winner! This giveaway is INTERNATIONAL, and ends April 10th. Fill out the Rafflecopter to enter!
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