Today I am honored to have author Kate Ellison as a guest blogger! I am also hosting a giveaway of her wonderful book, so be sure to enter that! Details are at the end of this post!
For me, a book usually starts with a single idea—a whisper of a character’s voice, or a solitary scene distilled in perfect clarity.
With The Curse Girl, it began with the power going out. My husband and I had ordered pizza, and we were sitting at the kitchen table with a mountain of flickering, Christmas-themed candles between us as we ate. I decided to put a mirror underneath the candles to maximize our light, and as I set the mirror down on the table, a scene flashed into my head. I saw a girl, all alone and frightened, standing in the middle of a cavernous black ballroom with a candle in her hand and staring at her reflection in a wall-sized mirror. I didn’t know who she was, or even that the story would be a fairy tale retelling. At that moment there was just that single scene and an intense feeling of loneliness and fear. I could almost smell the ballroom—musty and dank like those water rides at Disneyland. I could hear the emptiness of the silence in my head. I could feel the thud of the girl’s heart (or maybe that was just mine, because I was getting pretty excited about this idea).
When I decided my new idea worked best as a retelling of the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast,” that decision started an entirely new spiral of thought processes.
Retelling a fairy tale—and updating it to a modern setting—is an interesting task. When I wrote The Curse Girl, I felt like I wasn’t just retelling the original story, I was reinventing it. I was pulling up the floorboards, creatively speaking, to find out what was hidden beneath in my imagination.
I used three approaches to discover this new story underneath the old.
First, I plotted out logical explanations for things. I grew up reading lots of fairy tales, and while the stories were often lyrical and beautiful in their simplicity, they didn’t always tell why characters did what they did. Sometimes fairy tales almost felt like blueprints for much more detailed stories that were just waiting to be discovered. Rewriting “Beauty and the Beast” as The Curse Girl let me invent deeper, more complex reasons for some of those bizarre character actions. For instance, I’ve often wondered why a loving father would essentially abandon his daughter in the clutches of a vicious beast. Wouldn’t any decent, caring father gladly die for his daughter? Another hurdle—if the Beast was really such a great guy deep down, why did he insist that Beauty become his prisoner against her will? A retelling has to address this.
Second, I used exploration of back story. Going off the beaten path is part of the fun of writing a retelling. What other stories lurked behind the familiar ones, the ones I know so well? With The Curse Girl, I enjoyed brainstorming up hidden motivations and histories that could explain and deepen the familiar narratives I already knew and loved.
Third, I used reinterpretation of characters and events. The original Beauty, while strong in her own way, was a bit too passive for my taste. She mostly sat around while the Beast begged her to marry him. Why didn’t she run as far and as fast as she could? Since my Beauty was spunky and sassy, with a strong sense of self-preservation in addition to love for her family, I had to create some extra challenges to keep her around long enough to fall in love.
Logical explanations, exploration of back story, reinterpretation of characters and events. If the original stories are like blueprints, then each retelling constructs the final result in a slightly different way, and these are the tools I used to create The Curse Girl.
I hope readers enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
You can my review of the book here.
Giveaway: One randomly chosen commenter will be chosen to win a copy of this wonderful book! To gain an extra entry, tweet about it with a link to my post and leave a comment with a link to your tweet. There is a “Share This” button at the end of the post for easy Twittering! Giveaway will end at midnight EST August 23rd!