GeekDad or not, when you’ve got a daughter, it’s awfully hard to avoid the whole princess scene. Me, I tried to balance it out with regular doses of fossil digging and Star Wars. And anyway, my daughter turned 12 this year, so the sugar-icing-pink sorts of princesses haven’t been a force around our house for awhile.
But Jim C. Hines‘ strong-willed, butt-kicking versions of Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, whom he introduced in January in his fantasy novel “The Stepsister Scheme,” have re-sparked a little bit of interest in the princess world – one much more fitting for an almost-teenage kid who’s seemingly more independent by the hour.
It’s fun stuff, and way more than just bits of the old fairy tales tweaked for laughs. If you need proof of the book’s success and appeal, look no further than publisher DAW Books’ three planned sequels, the first of which, “The Mermaid’s Madness,” was released today.
Jim recently took some time for an email conversation about his takes on classic tales, mining for material, and raising his own geeklets:
GD: How about a little background on your choice to adapt well-known fairy tales: Was it tied to becoming a parent?
JCH: Being a father had a lot to do with why I wrote this series. My daughter was five when I first had the idea. She was going through the princess phase, and our house looked like the wreckage of a Disney/Barbie collision. We had princess bedsheets, princess toothbrushes, princess tissues, and so on. I wanted to offer a different kind of princess, to show her that princesses could be strong and save themselves, that there was more than just posing and looking pretty. The first book was dedicated to her, and I was delighted when my cover artist was able to use my daughter as inspiration for one of the characters.
GD: Of course, the key difference is that you’ve taken the “damsels in distress” trope and flipped it on its head. How important was this particular concept, as opposed to simply retelling a fairy tale with new action and humor?
JCH: Turning that trope on its head and putting the damsels in charge of their own stories is really the heart of the whole series. The characters aren’t perfect. They’re human, and sometimes their choices have unexpected consequences, and things go wrong . . . but they’re making their own choices, not sitting around waiting for someone to rescue them. They work together to rescue themselves, and in the end, that teamwork is what makes them such a strong team.
GD: As the parent of a 12-year-old girl, I was struck by the overall accessibility of the book: The language and storytelling style don’t have that simplistic air that sometimes hurts books specifically aimed at young adults, but it’s also definitely not an over-the-top swords/sorcery/sex epic. You’ve struck a nice balance in addressing some tough themes and hitting home emotionally, but I’m still more than happy to have my daughter willing to read it – it’s a great sharing book – was that something you were aiming for, or is that just your style in general?
JCH: Thank you! To be honest, I didn’t have any particular audience in mind. I write books I want to read and hope others will want to read them too. I try not to shy away from the darker stuff, but I also believe that stories should be fun.
GD: Now, on to “The Mermaid’s Madness” – At what point did you realize you wanted to continue writing about these characters and playing in this world? And since their backstories unfolded in “The Stephsister Scheme,” was it difficult adding depth to the existing characters, having already fleshed out those backstories and given the “real” version of the fairy tales?
JCH: I knew early on that I wanted to continue writing about these characters, but I wasn’t sure exactly how. At first I thought about an ongoing series of self-contained adventures. Then I realized I wanted the characters to grow and change, and that led to an overarching a story arc. Each book should still stand on its own, but now I have a definite ending in mind for my trio.
I’m having a lot of fun delving more deeply into the backstories. We hear a little about Talia’s awakening in Stepsister Scheme, but in book three we actually get to visit Arathea and learn the real truth behind the curse of Sleeping Beauty. I’m working on book four right now, exploring some of Snow White’s mysteries in more detail. Fairy tales offer so much variety and history to play with; I’m really enjoying it.
GD: What other fairy tales will we be revisiting in “Mermaid’s Madness?”
JCH: The Little Mermaid is the central tale in The Mermaid’s Madness, but I was working with the original Hans Christian Anderson version, not the Disney. Anderson wrote some seriously dark and depressing stuff, and the ending . . . well, Anderson’s ending just didn’t work for me. I’ll be bringing back Danielle, Snow, and Talia as well, so we’ll get more development of their characters and histories. I also worked in other mermaid tales and folklore to flesh out The Little Mermaid’s society and background.
GD: What do you do with your kids for fun – Anything particularly geeky? And what books or stories are your favorites to share? Which ones are on the “I can’t wait for the kids to be able to read this” shelf?
JCH: My son likes to tackle me when I get home from work each day. In 4-year-old speak, this is how you say “Welcome-home-Daddy-let’s-roughhouse!” My daughter has gotten busier this school year, so we’ve started going out to breakfast once a month, just the two of us, to make sure we get a little time together. She and I were doing karate together for about two years, though she recently decided to take a break. As for the geeky stuff, I’ve trained both children in the fine art of lightsaber combat, and my son is thoroughly indoctrinated into the worlds of Superheroes and Transformers.
I’d like to see what my kids think of the books I loved growing up: Wrinkle in Time, Narnia, Oz, not to mention folks like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. I’d love to see them grow into SF/F fans, but as long as they’re reading, I’ll be happy.