Have you ever wondered how authors come up with new ideas when writing about old favourites? Of course you have. Well now you have the opportunity to get the answer to that burning question – hurrah! Becca Price, author of Heart of Rock, a modern fairy tale featuring gargoyles (that you can read more about here) has kindly answered some of my burning questions about her work.
Becca has written a number of books featuring her own modern fairy tales and you can find out more about them at Wyrm Tales Press, but for now, sit back, imbibe your favourite beverage, and find out more about writing new stories in an old, old genre.
It seems that there are lots of retellings of traditional fairy tales around at the moment – how difficult is it to come up with original ideas for your modern fairy tales?
I have always loved fairy stories, but as I grew older and more sophisticated, I saw some of the patterns in the Grimm Brothers and Andrew Lang stories that I hadn’t seen before: brave, bold men, and domesticated women who need to be rescued. Rebellion against those stereotypes also informs my writing.
I’m a science fiction and fantasy fan, and I figure that fairy stories are the gateway drug to JRR Tolkein and other fantasy books written for adults. I have heard that people don’t read stories to their children anymore, and that kids today read less than my generation does (too many other bright shiny forms of entertainment vie for their time and attention). I wanted to write stories that might be more modern, more relevant to young children than Cinderella and Snow White are, but would still have that archaic, fairy-tale feeling about them that I loved so much myself.
What was it about gargoyles (apart from our stunning good looks, of course) that made you choose them as major protagonists in Heart of Rock?
Heart of Rock had it’s genesis in a couple of interesting events. The first was when a minor acquaintance from the Society for Creative Anachronism appeared at my door looking for a place to stay for a few days. As a guesting gift, he brought my then-husband a gallon bottle of sake; for me, he brought a plaster-of-paris classical gargoyle (you know, the kind that looks rather lilke a distorted pug dog with wings, and a fierce expression and a half-opened mouth showing teeth.) I’d never given much thought to gargoyles before then, I admit, but I was absolutely charmed by this one, and he stayed with me for years.
The second part of the story is that, after my divorce from my then-husband, I stayed with some friends for awhile while getting back on my feet. Their little girl, Gillian, suffered from severe night terrors – she would (still asleep) sit up in bed and start screaming and giving forth heart-rending cries. If you’ve never experienced someone who had night terrors before, they’re just as scary for the people around the child as they are for the child.
So one night, I took my gargoyle, and put it by the side of her bed, and told her the first part of the story – how nightmares (Night Mares – intentional pun) were brought by magical creatures in the night, that they looked like horses with flaming eyes, mane and tails, but that gargoyles could fly after them and nip at their heels and drive them away. (this part of the story was inspired by a friend who had a chow-chow, which the Chinese had bred to fight invading horsemen a long time ago – that was the origin of the breed, and my gargoyle did look a bit like my friend’s chow only not as hairy. For the record, Dominic was the sweetest dog you could ever hope to find in reality.)
Oddly, that was the end of Gillian’s night terrors, but she wouldn’t give me back the gargoyle, and has it to this day in her room – and she’s in her mid-20s now. I’ve never found anything like it to replace it, which saddens me.
So that was the origin of Heart of Rock.
I got interested in gargoyles, and decided that, in spite of their ugly and sometimes frightening appearance, they should be an old race, much given to a love of beauty and seeking wisdom. I decided that there needed to be a story about why so many places have gargoyles carved up high on roofs where they really can’t be seen, and figured that they were there to guard the city against Night Mares and other evil creatures, and to serve as watchmen for enemies. And that was the genesis of the third part of the story came about.
Then I got to wondering – what if two kingdoms both needed the same magical talisman, and their needs were equally pressing – most fairy stories tell about the hero finding the magical talisman and stealing it away from the monsters who guard it and taking it back – but what if the “monsters” weren’t evil, and needed it for their own reasons? and needed it equally as important as the putative hero needed it?
And there was my story.
Why did you choose to write for younger readers?
Why do I write fairy stories? well, Albert Einstein said “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy stories.” I have two children of my own, now in college, but when they were little, I would tell them stories to help them get to sleep . If I read picture books, they’d be involved in looking a the pictures, and wouldn’t go to sleep. That’s why my original books were unillustrated – I wanted the children to be able to see the pictures in their heads. Both my kids tend to be… idiosyncratic, let’s say, and the standard fairy tales and children’s stories bored them (although my daughter liked Paper Bag Princess). My son likes dragons, so there had to be dragons in some of the stories, but not the fierce man-eating kind, because I didn’t want him to have nightmares. My daughter was afraid of the dark for awhile, and that’s the genesis of The Dark, in my firstcollection, Dragons and Dreams.
So I had all these stories written down in my computer, and never did anything with them until a cousin looked into self-publishing her father’s WWII experiences, which he’d written down as a sort of therapy (The book is called Bailout over Normandy, and is itself fascinating – I seem to come from a long line of story tellers) I figured that I should look into self-publishing through Amazon, and it turns out that I have a friend who is a fabulous artist (Todd Cameron Hamilton) and I sent him my first book, and he came back with a lovely painting for Dragons and Dreams, and has done the covers for me for most of my other books.
And one thing leads to another. Writing one story gives me ideas for another one, and some how they keep coming.
Do you have any projects on the boil right now that we should look out for? (And are there any plans to feature more gargoyles in your future works?!)
My immediate goals are to get illustrations for my other books. I’ve stumbled on a wonderful artist who is illustrating Fairies and Fireflies for me, and I hope to get that one out by July. I have a second set of butterfly-fairy stories cooking, but I don’t know when I’ll have time to write them. I’m also working on a fairy tale collection called “Quests and Fairy Queens” that may contain more gargoyle stories.I hope to have Quests out by the end of the year, as well as a few more stand-alone stories.
My beta readers, and other reviewers have told me that there needs to be more to Heart of Rock than the relatively simple fairy tale it currently is. One of my goals, for maybe this year, for maybe early next year, is to expand the current story into something maybe 20,000 words long, aimed at late middle-grade, with more chapters and more details.I’m not sure whether I’ll keep the same name for the longer version or not – but I definitely want to expand on the gargoyles, make them more individuals and characters in their own right.
But yes, there will be more gargoyle stories – they’re too fascinating to leave alone.
Hurrah! We agree. Too many gargoyle stories is never enough. We of the shelf thank Becca for her time and for telling us all about how her ideas get from brain to book.
Until next time,