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As I promised yesterday, we have a guest post from author Maia Chance, author of Snow White Red-Handed (A Fairy Tale Fatal Mystery), officially released today. Welcome to SurLaLune, Maia!
I am excited and honored to be guest posting today here at SurLaLune. I’ve been a regular visitor of this beautiful site for years.
I’m also pinching myself about joining the ranks of fairy tale retellers. My new book, Snow White Red-Handed, is a fun historical mystery that intertwines fairy tale lore with a classic whodunit plot. I dreamed up the story while I was teaching a freshman comp course. In order to help my students think past problems of author intentionality when interpreting literature, I used Maria Tatar’s wonderful anthology, The Classic Fairy Tales. At the same time I was teaching that course, I was reading 19th-century American literature (Hawthorne, Alcott, Melville) in preparation for my PhD exams. Thus, my practical Yankee sleuth, Ophelia Flax, was concocted. . . and of course I had to plop her into the seriously impractical Black Forest.
I believe that fairy tales are a special kind of writing. Each variation may be unique, and many can be attributed to particular authors, but in the end they are a kind of jointly owned reservoir of ideas and emotions and characters that belong to everyone. My own favorite retellings are Robin McKinley’s—Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast just blew me away at age twelve, and I’ve reread it at least twice—and Angela Carter’s jaw-droppingly terrifying and gorgeous The Bloody Chamber. I also adore exploring all the children’s picture book versions out there. My most recent favorite is the exquisite, 1920’s-style version of Perrault’s Cinderella illustrated by Roberto Innocenti, and my kids’ favorites are the versions with James Marshall’s illustrations.
In writing Snow White Red-Handed, I enjoyed exploring themes from the fairy tale in depth, through the mystery and through my own characters. I treated the tale’s central mother-daughter theme partly through Prue Bright. Prue is a girl, as lovely as a princess, whose mother Henrietta is an actress and courtesan. Henrietta taught Prue to rely solely upon her looks in life. Then—related to this—there is the tale’s theme of beauty: what women do to get it and keep it (and isn’t a wicked queen eating a young girl’s liver or heart an “extreme beauty” treatment?). The woodland setting was a pleasure to write, since I’m a forest-lover myself; ancient trees, toxic mushrooms, a miniature cottage in the brambles, an abandoned hunting lodge, and rumors of fairies and elves all found their place in Snow White Red-Handed. And because of the presence of the glitzy Baden-Baden casino that was really a Big Deal in the 1860’s, I found a way to do a new take on “dwarf’s gold.” But I won’t give anything else away!
I hope SurLaLune’s readers enjoy Snow White Red-Handed, as well as the second book in my Fairy Tale Fatal series, Cinderella Six Feet Under, which will be released in September 2015. Please visit me on the web:
READ AN EXCERPT FROM SNOW WHITE RED-HANDED:
“I simply must have you at my side this afternoon, Flax,” Mrs. Coop said. “I’ve come down with a sick headache, but I wouldn’t miss Professor Winkler’s gold test for the world. Tighter!”
“I’m doing my utmost, ma’am,” Ophelia said, straining to cinch Mrs. Coop’s corset laces.
After luncheon, Mrs. Coop had returned to her cream-and-gold jewel box of a boudoir, high in a turret of the castle, to change into her afternoon gown. She’d been breathless and disheveled, and determined to shrink her waist to a smaller compass.
Mrs. Coop’s disarray, and her sudden wish to appear pixie-like, resulted, Ophelia suspected, from the presence in the castle of either Princess Verushka or Mr. Royall Hunt. Mrs. Coop and Miss Amaryllis had made the acquaintance of these two fashionable personages at some point in the last two weeks’ frenzy of excursions into Baden-Baden.
“You must,” Mrs. Coop said, “stay by my side with my smelling salts, should I need them, and fetch me glasses of water and whatever else I may need. I am not well, Flax—even Mr. Hunt noted that I’m white as a lily—yet this is perhaps the most thrilling day of my life.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Ophelia said.
“Just think! Snow White’s cottage on my own estate. And a dwarf’s bones!”
“Do I hear doubt in your tone, Flax?”
“Truth be told, ma’am, it is difficult for me to believe that that house belonged to creatures from a storybook.”
“Difficult to believe?”
“Well, ma’am, near impossible.”
Ophelia had performed with P. Q. Putnam’s Traveling Circus for two years, and she’d known a so-called dwarf. He’d been a shrimp, true, but there hadn’t been a thing magical about him. Unless you counted swearing like a sailor and smoking like a house on fire as magic.
“Of course.” Mrs. Coop sniffed. “I nearly forgot you’re a Yankee.”
Ophelia held her tongue; she was stepping out of character. It had to be the result of exhaustion. Mrs. Coop and her stepsister Amaryllis—they had, Ophelia had learned, different mothers—kept her on her feet from dawn to dusk, arranging their hair, pressing their clothing, mixing beauty concoctions, and running up and down the spiraling castle stairs fetching things.
But how could anyone past the age of pigtails think Snow White and the seven dwarves had really existed?
Maia Chance writes historical mystery novels that are rife with absurd predicaments and romantic adventure. She is the author of the Fairy Tale Fatal and The Discreet Retrieval Agency series, and her first mystery, Snow White Red-Handed, will be released in November 2014 by Berkley Prime Crime.
Maia is a candidate for the Ph.D. in English at the University of Washington. This means that the exploits of Fairy Tale Fatal’s heroine, variety hall actress Ophelia Flax, were dreamt up while Maia was purportedly researching 19th-century American literature and fairy tale criticism. The Discreet Retrieval Agency series was born of Maia’s fascination with vintage shoes, automobiles, and cocktails combined with an adoration of P. G. Wodehouse and chocolate.
Upcoming titles include Come Hell or Highball (St. Martin’s Press, 2015) and Cinderella Six Feet Under (Berkley Prime Crime, 2015). Maia lives in Seattle, where she shakes a killer martini, grows a mean radish, and bakes mocha bundts to die for.