Diane Zahler, the author of three great fairy tale retellings: The Thirteenth Princess, A True Princess, and Princess of the Wild Swans. She can also be found on twitter and goodreads. Thanks for sharing with us, Diane!
Stirred, Not Shaken
Maybe it’s that today is Friday, and five o’clock is approaching…or that it’s has been a very, very long week. But when I started thinking about writing this post, it was cocktails that came to mind.
Fairy tale retellings and cocktails? Do tell.
Well, the train of thought went something like this. A fairy tale is, in itself, a very basic story. In the original Grimm Brothers’ or Hans Christian Andersen tales, there’s usually not much characterization or setting. Motivation might be hard to figure out, or missing entirely. The tales have plenty of plot, and that’s about it. A straight shot of story.
Now, I’m not saying that shots don’t have their place. There are times when you just want to throw back the Scotch, or the bourbon. Or, if you’re young enough still to remember your college professors’ names, the tequila. But sometimes you want a sipping drink. Something with complexity, to spend some time with, to savor. A narrative negroni. A sidecar of a story. A Tom Collins of a tale.
As a writer, you take the plot – the vodka, rum, gin. You add some characters – a liqueur, maybe crème de menthe or triple sec. Vermouth, sweet or dry. Some setting – the mixer, tonic , fruit juice, soda. That holds it together. Then comes the hard part. Details, motivations, descriptions. Fleshing out your characters. Making your dialogue believable. Creating a setting that readers can visualize. Tying up loose plot threads. Add a dash of bitters for a character’s villainous betrayal. A twist of orange for an unforeseen plot turn. An olive for a character whose motives give him depth. A maraschino cherry for the happy ending.
Of course there’s no single recipe. Some fairy tales are retold in ways that create concoctions of amazing depth and complexity. Robin McKinley’s Beauty and Spindle’s End, Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl, Edith Pattou’s East, and Malinda Lo’s Ash are the martinis of the genre. Deceptively simple, elegantly styled, packing a wallop. Other retellings are more straightforward. And I can think of one or two that ended up a little like the stingers my parents used to serve at their parties in the 1960s – luscious to consume, but with an unexpectedly disagreeable effect (the guests often had to be carried home).
The Thirteenth Princess, A True Princess, and Princess of the Wild Swans -- aren’t martinis. They won’t leave you reeling at the end. I like to think of them, along with a fourth book to be published in September, Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters, as champagne cocktails. Light and tasty, with a number of possible ingredients that all work together to create a bubbly confection that goes down easily. The Thirteenth Princess stays pretty close to the original tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” but it includes a thirteenth princess who is the narrator. A True Princess has “The Princess and the Pea” at its core, but other tales and legends – and a German poem, “The Erl-King” – are blended in. Princess of the Wild Swans is the retelling that sticks closest to the original. The basic tale is there, but as with any fairy tale retelling, there are new characters, new settings, new plot developments. New ingredients. And just as I like my cocktails with a twist, my books all have them too: evil witches, betrayals, bad fairies, plot setbacks, horrific monsters. Just enough to balance the sweetness and leave you wanting more… or so I hope!
And now that I’ve beaten that metaphor into submission, the bar is open.…
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