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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Interview with Zoë Marriott, author of The Swan Kingdom & Shadows on the Moon

You guys probably know the name  Zoë Marriott by now. (If you don't, you haven't been paying attention...) She's been part of Fairy Tale Fortnight from the beginning, and will hopefully remain so for years to come. Makes the fangirling so much easier when they stick around. ;)
Though Zoë's in the midst of the craziness that comes with having a book edging its way toward its publication, she stopped by to chat with us again this year.
Check it out!

In the planning stages of FTF last year, a little birdy (ahem, you) may have mentioned in emails (talented bird) that there will be a follow-up book of sorts to Shadows on the Moon - any more news on that front, or any storyline tidbits you can share?

Heh heh - the little bird was getting ahead of herself there. She hasn't even started writing it yet (and I'm just going to stop referring to myself in the third person here). But yes, there will hopefully be another fairytale retelling set in the Moonlit Lands, if all goes according to plan - it's contracted. It will be based on Beauty and the Beast. Although even as I type that I can hear the echo of future howls of outrage, because when I say 'based', I mean in the sense that you 'base' a cheesecake on smashed up Graham crackers. A lot of the classic B&B archetypes are heading straight into a blender for this tale. *Evil Laughter*

I don't think I should say too much more about it at this stage, just because I know my own mixed up process well enough to realise it could all change and leave me looking like kind of an idiot later on when someone asks me what happened to that scarlet unicorn I was talking about. But I did write a little character monologue when I first got the idea - a piece of free-writing to help me pin my main character's voice down. It started like this:

There is a monster in the forest. And it craves human flesh...

This. Is. EVIL, Zoë .  Evil. (wantssss it, my precioussss)
Your next book to be released, The Night Itself, has some fairy tale elements as well, is that right? (Yes, I know you told me it does, but for the people, Zoë . FOR THE PEOPLE.)

Yes, the whole story is based on Japanese fairytales, folklore and mythology. The Night Itself is book one in a trilogy - my very first trilogy! - called The Name of the Blade. It's urban fantasy, which is also a first for me. It's basically the tale of what would happen if you unwisely decided to liven up your outfit for your friend's costume party by stealing your grandfather's ancient, priceless sword from the family attic....and let all the Gods and monsters of mythical Japan loose in modern day London. Writing these books is my chance to be a huge, unrepentent Otaku and play homage to every fantasy manga and anime that I've loved, and every Japanese fairytale that I've ever thought was cool. It was also my chance to play with, subvert and explore all those paranormal romance/urban fantasy cliches and archetypes that we know and love...

What is it that draws you to any specific tale when you decide to retell one?

As each fairytale or myth is unique, what draws me to each one seems to be unique as well. For The Swan Kingdom ('The Wild Swans') I was always irresistably fascinated - I mean, since the age of about seven - by the strength of this main character who suffers unbearable pain in complete silence in order to save her brothers. The majority of fairytale heroines *get* saved, rather than rescuing everyone themselves. With Shadows on the Moon (Cinderella) I was irked by the sheer improbability of the heroine's actions. Or lack thereof. I tried to imagine any situation where a girl who had the faintest intelligence would, when offered magical assistance by a fairy godmother, choose to put on a nice dress and polka with a prince instead of, you know, actually escaping her life of abuse, oppression, and suffering. And in doing that, I ended up flipping the whole fairytale on its head and turning the character of Cinderella into someone else entirely.

In The Name of the Blade trilogy I deal with the myth of Izanami and Izanagi. It's an archetypal Japanese story which bears a strong resemblance to Orpheus and Eurydice or Persephone and Hades... with one VITAL difference. I'm not going to tell you what that is because SPOILER, but it left me with such a strong sense of outrage and injustice that I wanted to get in there and offer up a bit of poetic justice.

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?

Oddly enough, it often seems to be those problematic elements that *interest* me, and make me want to do a retelling. The out-of-place details seem like clues, a way to work out what might actually have been going on inside the heart or mind of a character whose actions seem nonsensical or malicious or plain stupid. Clearly the Prince was a foot fetishist, who fell in love with Cinderella because of the glimpses he caught of her perfect tootsies in those revealing glass slippers! But sometimes, I agree, you just shake your head and think 'OK, someone, somewhere, must have gotten that WRONG'.

For instance! Along with most women, I have a great fondness in my heart for Beauty and the Beast. This was helped along by the Disney version and by Robin McKinley's legendary Beauty. But I've never quite been able to get over the fact that the Beast was cursed for being selfish and cruel - and yet he *breaks* the curse by giving into the very worst part of himself and indulging those traits. His actions towards Beauty's father - terrorising and threatening him over a trivial matter in order to have an excuse to demand his daughter - and then towards Beauty herself - keeping her prisoner and repeatedly badgering her to marry him - are incredibly cruel and selfish.

I know we're supposed to feel that his selflessness and kindness in sending Beauty back to visit her family shows that he has grown and changed, but...no. I don't buy it. It doesn't set her free. He sends her off with a hefty dose of emotional blackmail and tells her that if she doesn't come back he'll die. Then he makes sure of it by starving himself. And when she's filled with guilt over this, he emotionally blackmails her again into accepting his proposal. Not cool, man. I don't think he learns his lesson at all. This was part of the reason I wanted to retell the story.

Which fairy tale would you most like to spend 24 hours inside of, and which the least?

In spite of what I was just saying above - definitely Beauty and the Beast. But only if Beast has a library like the one in Robin McKinley's version, where all the books that ever have been written or ever will be written are available to borrow. The fairytale I'd least like to live in is any version of Rapunzel or The Maid of Maleen, where the heroine is trapped inside a tower with the doors bricked up. I'm claustrophobic and just... no. *Shudders*

Someone gives you a key ring and says you can open any door you want, save one. Then they leave you alone with all those keys and doors. What do you do?

Obviously I lock the door that they came in by behind them so they don't know what I'm up to. [Misty: Thank you! Why does no one ever lock the door when they're up to something?] Then I look in the door I wasn't supposed to look in. If there's cool stuff in there I stick around and explore. If the room is filled with the bodies of this person's past wives, I unlock one of the other doors and escape, calling the police or other authorities as soon as I am safely able.

You have a fairy godmother who is granting you one perfect day: what does that entail?

I don't think I could use that gift for myself. It would be too selfish. I don't need a perfect day - or, at least, I have the ability to make one on my own, if I just work hard enough. I'd ask to hand it off to someone else, someone who was suffering or afraid, someone who was powerless or didn't have much time left. Then I could feel that it was a gift that had truly been well used.

Your favorite obscure (or less well-known) fairy tale?

The Wild Swans is still my number one, and always will be, I think. I have a great fondness for The Twelve Dancing Princesses, too, though. And if we're going for really obscure, there's one called the Three Princes and the Three Tasks which I've read several different versions of, and like a lot. It has a talking fox!

Most overrated fairy tale?

I find the modern, clean, plain versions of Snow White and Cinderella quite anticlimactic. Go a back a bit further, though, and all kinds of interesting, gruesome alternate endings and extra bits start to appear.

What made you fall in love with fairy tales--and decide to write them?

I think it must be genetic, honestly. I can never remember a time when I wasn't completely obsessed with magic, myths, folklore and fairytales. Other girls had posters of boy bands and actors on their bedroom walls. I had photocopies of illustrations from the Oxford Book of Celtic Myths and the Reader's Digest Big Book of Fairytales! The first story that I ever promised myself 'One day, I'll write that...' was The Wild Swans.

That's right, people. NO ONE CAN OUT-GEEK ME.

... Challenge accepted. ;)

This or That:
- Tower or Dungeon? Neither. Seriously, try to stuff me in, I will scratch your frelling eyes out.
- Evil Queen or Wicked Witch? Evil Queen. They can do magic anyway, and hey, crowns are always in fashion.
- Talking Birds or Talking Mice? Birds. Much more useful as spies and messengers.
- Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm? Hans Christian Andersen, even though I've never quite forgiven him for The Little Matchstick Girl. Amen.

Would You Rather:
- have a prince who makes out with your, um...corpse, essentially, or a prince who can only remember who you are by your shoe size?
As a Feminist, I would reject them both and stay single. But if I had to chose, I'd go with the foot fetishist. It's creepy, but not half as creepy as the other guy, right?

- face 3 Billy Goats Gruff or 3 Bears from Goldilocks?
I'm pretty sure either confronation would prove fatal for me. But some goats are cute. I'll go for the goats.

- drink an Alice-ish "Drink Me" potion or eat part of a witch's gingerbread house?
The witch would never fit me in her oven. Gingerbread.
- be cursed with blindness (Rapunzel) or knife-like pain when you walk (Little Mermaid)?
I'd rather never walk again than give up the ability to read. Little Mermaid wins.

Thanks for stopping by, Zoë! 
As for the rest of you, I'll be reviewing The Swan Kingdom in the next day or so, so make sure you stop by for that. And if you haven't read anything by Zoë, I think you know where I'd suggest you start, seeing as I've talked about Shadows on the Moon only a million times or so during FTF so far... ;)


  1. I loved Shadows on the Moon and I can't wait for her new series! Great interview!

  2. Oh, I don't know, I might want to start with her new series. Though I do want to read Shadows on the Moon too. That was a great interview. I'm a big Zoe Mariott fan now, just from that!


    Oh and I won't be around the next few days to comment. Curse my mom's dial up!

  3. She sounds awesome.
    I've not read any of her work yet but I really should.

  4. I realize I'm like a week behind at this point, but I still have to say that I adore this interview (and Zoe). I love her take on fairy tales, especially since she manages to break them down and look at the problems in them, some of which I never really noticed myself (like the emotional manipulation/lack of growth in Beauty and the Beast). Can't wait for THe Night Itself!


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