#LastListEgmont: Once Upon an Interview: Sarah Cross and Sarah McGuire Talk Fairy Tales
As the two authors with fairy-tale retellings on Egmont USA’s Spring 2015 list, Sarah Cross (Tear You Apart) and Sarah McGuire (Valiant) thought it might be fun to interview each other about fairy tales, happy endings, and how they approach their own retellings. The conversation took place in the library of an enchanted castle, over tea and cake served by magical household objects. The transcript has been edited to remove occasional interruptions by a Beast wearing a blanket cape.
CROSS: Valiant is a retelling of “The Brave Little Tailor,” so I have to ask: how did you first encounter that fairy tale? And did it involve Mickey Mouse? I was not the kid with the stack of Grimm’s fairy tale books; I had like, these big Disney fairy-tale anthologies that were sold at the grocery store. So my first exposure to “The Brave Little Tailor” was through the 1938 Disney short. The Grimms came later.
MCGUIRE: I think it was Grimm’s–or some variant. (Though I do remember Mickey as the tailor!) I also remember that I didn’t like the Grimm’s version very much. I felt like the tailor was taking advantage of the dumb giants. But later, I was telling the story to two girls that I nannied, and one especially loved the tailor’s cleverness–a trait I admire as well. So I suppose Valiant was my attempt to keep a clever protagonist, but not have her win because she tricks stupid creatures.
The first fairy tale books I truly remember were Andrew Lang’s Fairy Tale books and Trina Schart Hyman’s gorgeously illustrated tales. If the library in Warrenton is still there, I think I could still walk to that part of the library and find that specific shelf.
CROSS: Trina Schart Hyman’s art is so beautiful.
CROSS: In college, one of my professors started the semester off by talking about fairy tales, and how different the old tales are from the adaptations most people are familiar with. Learning that there were darker versions of the fairy tales I’d grown up with was eye-opening and intriguing to me, and I started reading all the nonfiction fairy tale books in the library (Jack Zipes, Marina Warner, Maria Tatar, Betsy Hearne), the complete tales of Hans Christian Andersen, Afanasev’s Russian fairy tale collection, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, and anthologies like Spells of Enchantment. I like dark, twisted stories and I also like sparkles and princesses; put those things together and I guess you have the blood-and-glitter aesthetic of Beau Rivage.
The setting–the city of Beau Rivage, where people are cursed to live out fairy tales–was one of the first things I envisioned when I was building my mash-up Kill Me Softly. I knew I wanted a place where I could play with a bunch of different fairy tales and put a modern spin on them, without losing any of the darkness or weirdness of the past. How did you approach retelling “The Brave Little Tailor”? What did you need to hammer out first on the way to making the story your own?
MCGUIRE: I knew pretty much from the beginning that the tailor in my retelling would be a girl. I think the biggest issue I needed to work out was the giants. I knew I didn’t want them to be dumb . . . or monsters. So I wanted to find something wonderful, even exceptional, about them. Then I had to figure out why they could be tricked so easily at first. In doing so, I discovered a culture and a history I hadn’t expected. (Not that I had it figured out entirely at first. It definitely deepened as I wrote.)
CROSS: Do you have an “I wish someone would retell this” list? Personally I would love to see Madame d’Aulnoy’s fairy tales as YA novels. Her tales are wildly imaginative, and she’s really good at torturing her protagonists. Holly Black did a stellar job with her reimagining White Cat, but there’s endless potential there.
MCGUIRE: Ooh! Madame d’Aulnoy! Those would be fun! I always had a sense that she relished the tales she spun–they’re extravagant and long and . . . wonderful.
I’d love to see Russian fairy tales retold. There’s a specificity to them. It’s not a witch, it’s Baba Yaga. It’s not a wizard, it’s Koschei the Deathless. Some of the Russian tales are so dark.
Speaking of dark, I think you do an excellent job of bringing that out in your Beau Rivage stories, Tear You Apart, specifically. In one interview, you made the point that there’s no way you can make Snow White’s story sweet or argue that it has a truly happy ending. (We’re dealing with a prince who likes dead girls.) Me, I like happy endings–the eucatastrophe Tolkien found in fairy stories: “. . . Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” Are there any fairy tales that you think have that kind of happy ending?
CROSS: I think a lot of the literary French fairy tales written by the so-called précieuses have truly happy endings. These were women who, like Snow White in the fairy tale, had very little say over their own “happy endings” (marriages), and so they took this form of literature that was sort of looked down upon and used it to convey their ideals about love, loyalty, justice and independence. They wrote what they wanted to see, as a way of drawing attention to what was lacking in society in reality.
MCGUIRE: What’s your favorite Disney fairy-tale movie? Why? (Mine is Beauty and the Beast–he gives her a library. Also the scene where he changes to a man still makes me catch my breath.)
CROSS: Sleeping Beauty forever. Beauty and the Beast is probably the superior movie, but I love the art style in Sleeping Beauty, the Middle-Ages-meets-1950s fashion, the meet-cute in the forest between Prince Phillip and Aurora . . . and Maleficent is my favorite Disney villain by far. (Unabashedly evil Maleficent, that is; not the more humanized Angelina Jolie Maleficent.)
MCGUIRE: I have such a soft spot for Sleeping Beauty! I had a record (yes, a record) of songs from Disney movies when I was little, and I adored Sleeping Beauty’s “Once Upon a Dream.” I so wanted to see the movie, but that was just before VHS (and Beta!) tapes emerged. So even though I’d heard the songs and read Disney picture books, I’d never actually seen Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. I still remember running through the house shouting when Sleeping Beauty was released!
Also, I completely agree about Maleficent.
So one final question: Why fairy tales? Of all the stories that could be told, what keeps you coming back to these stories?
CROSS: Fairy tales contain so many of my favorite elements: magic and secrets, ball gowns and poison, happily ever afters and gruesome ends. There’s something so powerful about these stories, so memorable . . . and I think that’s because you do have the darkness and the horror right alongside the fancy dresses and the romance. I mean, “Cinderella” is the classic wish-fulfillment fairy tale, but at her wedding to the prince, doves peck out her stepsisters’ eyes. On Snow White’s wedding day, her stepmother is forced to dance to death in red-hot iron shoes. And this doesn’t happen in a dungeon; it’s part of the festivities! I can’t forget a story like that; it’s burned into my brain. I want to pick up all the pieces and play with them.
As a writer, I’m kind of like the doves in Grimm’s “Cinderella”: the prince is riding away with one of Cinderella’s stepsisters on his horse, thinking he’s found the mysterious girl from the ball (just like some people believe fairy tales are all sweetness and light), and meanwhile blood is filling the slipper because the stepsister had to chop off her big toe to make it fit, and I’m yelling, “HEY! Prince! There’s blood in the shoe! Didn’t you look? Don’t you know what’s going on here?” I’m totally into the sparkles and magic, but I want you to see the blood in that shoe, too. Because I can’t stop looking at it.
MCGUIRE: I am so glad the shoe bothered you, too! I remember reading that and wondering about the prince. How could he not notice?!? Twice, actually. He didn’t notice twice!! Not a brainiac, our Prince Charming.
But . . . that’s not what drew me to fairy tales.
When I was a girl, I’d watch storms with my Dad outside our home in Texas. I remember watching them roll towards us with this mixture of fascination and fear. There’s this moment when the lip of the storm slides over you, and the wind’s pulling at you, and you can hear the growl of thunder and smell the coming rain. It’s amazing.
Fairy tales felt the same way to me–bigger and grander than normal life, glorious and terrifying all at once. Fairy tales were a return to awe, I think, and that’s something I try to capture in my retellings.
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Publisher’s Book Descriptions
If you want to live happily ever after, first you have to stay alive.Viv knows there’s no escaping her fairy-tale curse. One day her beautiful stepmother will feed her a poison apple or convince her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Henley, to hunt her down and cut out her heart before she breaks his. In the city of Beau Rivage, some princesses are destined to be prey.But then Viv receives an invitation to the exclusive club where the Twelve Dancing Princesses twirl away their nights. There she meets Jasper, an underworld prince who seems to have everything—but what he really wants is her. He vows to save her from her dark fate if she’ll join him and be his queen.
All Viv has to do is tear herself away from the huntsman boy who still holds her heart. Then she might live to see if happily ever after is a promise the prince can keep. But is life as an underworld queen worth sacrificing the true love that might kill her?
A debut fairy tale retelling featuring a strong female character and a daring quest just right for fans of Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George, and Gail Carson Levine.Saville despises the bolts of velvet and silk that her father loves- he’s always prized them more than he’s ever loved her. Yet when he’s struck ill, she’ll do anything to survive, even donning boys’ clothes and begging a commission to sew for the king.Piecing together a fine coat is far simpler than unknotting court gossip about an army of giants led by a man who cannot be defeated. And they’re marching toward Reggen to seize the throne. But Saville knows giants are just stories, and no man is immortal.
Then she meets them, two scouts as tall as trees. She tricks them into leaving, but tales of the daring tailor’s triumph quickly spin into impossible feats of giant-slaying. And mere stories won’t deter the Duke and his larger-than-life army.
Now only a courageous and clever tailor girl can see beyond the rumors to save the kingdom again.
Valiant richly reimagines “The Brave Little Tailor,” transforming it into a story of understanding, identity, and fighting to protect those you love most.
Filed under: Egmont USA
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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