Knowing When to Turn it Upside Down

Although I hate to do it, I find my writerly energies pulled in too many different directions right now, so I’m taking a break from Rapunzel. Ironically, this is the story I most want to be working on, and I think that’s ultimately why I have to do this — so I can free myself up for it properly by wrapping up a few loose ends — the completion of my Rumpled ebook and a new piece for a contest I’m entering. I’m hoping Rapunzel will feel like my “reward” after all of this, that the time away will only increase my enthusiasm, and that we won’t come together feeling like strangers when everything settles.

And as of last Saturday night, I’m also wrestling with a somewhat offhand comment my husband made as we drove home from an out-of-town wedding, a comment that made me re-envision the entire Rapunzel story. Different setting, different time. I began to wonder if I was doing this all wrong. It fed into a bit of insecurity I’ve had about the story for a couple months now, as I think about retellings in which Cinderella is a Cyborg, Sleeping Beauty is traveling through space, and Red Riding Hood hunts werewolves. Against stories like this, my own retelling seems quaintly traditional, staying close to the time, place, and structure of the original Grimm’s tale. I found myself often asking, Is it different enough to hold any interest, to bring anything new to the table?

Recasting it in light of Ivan’s comments would take care of that issue, but I’m still don’t feel ready to go in that direction. I’ve made so many changes already between drafts 1 and draft 1.5-ish that I kind of want to see how my new vision pans out before I do a complete overhaul of it. As I talked to Ivan about this on our drive, he said, “Why don’t you write both? Finish the one you’re working on now, and then write the other one, and see which one you like better.”

I thought, But do you know how much work it is just to write one novel, let alone two, just for the basis of comparison?

And yet, it wasn’t long before I felt like that was the course I wanted to take. There’s a reason this story won’t let me go, in its current form … and I’m going to stick with it long enough to see what that is.

In the meantime, that car conversation gave me ample fodder for many Novembers to come.


7 Responses to Knowing When to Turn it Upside Down

  1. Jenna says:

    I’m very curious as to what Ivan’s comment was. Maybe you’ll tell me sometime?

    Not that this should sway you one way or the other about your particular story, but it seems to me that current fairy tale retelling enthusiasts prefer a more traditional take when it comes to Rapunzel. I bring this up because I finished reading Alex Flinn’s “Towering” over the weekend, and the top reviews on Goodreads are not fans of her modern twist of the fairy tale.

    Now, a couple of the things that came up again and again in those reviews can be written off as ignorance. A few people accused Flinn of ripping off Disney’s “Tangled,” based solely on Rapunzel’s healing powers. But that point is something that both Disney and Flinn both took from the original tale (and executed it completely differently.)

    But another thing that people seemed to hate is updating the fairy tale to modern day. It seems that people are REALLY unsettled by a woman locking up a young girl in a tower for most of her life if it happens in 2013, but don’t seem to give a crap if it happened a couple hundred years ago. (To me, this is VERY telling about cultural malaise. These people seem to only find kidnapping and solitary confinement enraging if it happens today. Why is it romanticized when it happens in the middle ages?)

    Anyway. The point I was trying to make was … well, I don’t remember now. “Towering” had a lot of problems – it definitely wasn’t my favorite of Flinns – but I personally don’t think the book’s issues came from the fairy tale she chose to update. (And I’m more comfortable saying that Flinn writes contemporary YA with fairy tale elements, rather than saying she writes fairy tale retellings in a contemporary setting.) So. “Towering” was an original take on Rapunzel, but it made a lot of people (on Goodreads) angry. Even though it is different enough and brings new stuff to the table, it doesn’t seem very well-liked by readers.

    (And I know there’s a small handful of modernized Rapunzel retellings out there — Sarah Beth Durst’s “Into the Wild,” Cindy C. Bennett’s “Rapunzel Untangled,” Alyssa B. Sheinmel’s “The Beautiful Between,” Adele Garas’ “The Tower Room,” to name a few — I just haven’t read those.)

    So I guess what I’m REALLY saying is not to let Ivan psyche you out. Maybe he has a good idea, and maybe you were inspired to do something really awesome. But I think that if you have a strong story with compelling characters, it won’t really matter if you’ve brought anything “new” to the table. The point is to make readers care, not to dazzle them simply for the sake of seeming innovative.

  2. I agree with Jenn in that it doesn’t matter if it’s modern or not, only if the characters and story are compelling and written well. Which yours are. I also agree with Ivan, and it was the first thought I had too, just write both. And not in an either or setting. Don’t compare them. Just write both, there’s no reason you can only write one re-telling of one story. Who cares? If you want to connect them (i.e. past lives…), find a way to do it, but I don’t think you have to. Once you start writing the other, you’ll come up with enough differences anyway.

    • Jenna says:

      Truth. There’s no reason NOT to write multiple retellings. Look at Vivian Van Velde – she writes several and puts them all in the same book! (“The Rumplestiltskin Problem,” “Cloaked in Red.”) Granted, those are short stories and novels are exponentially harder (depending on who you talk to). Still, if you are passionate for the story, it really doesn’t matter how many times you tell it.

  3. Also, don’t hold off pushing your current Rumpled story off until you finish the other. Take your time with the other one, but finish the first one to your liking. Just pretend it’s a whole new story.

  4. Thanks so much for both of your thoughtful comments. Jenna, I’ll be happy to tell you about the conversation with Ivan in more detail in an IM conversation or something — I don’t want to write about it too much here because it applies to other fairy tale retellings I want to do and I don’t want to give too much away here. But even though it caused a little angst surrounding my Rapunzel story, it gave me just what I was looking for for a Snow White one. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Jenna, I appreciated your insight about Towering and the way folks have reacted to it. I don’t remember Rapunzel’s healing powers being part of the original (Grimms) tale. Is it in the Grimm version or in earlier/other versions of the Rapunzel story? I have a book of collected Rapunzel stories from around the world, but I’ve only gotten through a few of them. It is a little frustrating that, with Disney taking Rapunzel “mainstream” in Tangled, people who are working from the original face the inevitable comparisons to that, rather than to the source material.

    I didn’t know there were so many modern retellings of Rapunzel. I’ve read “Into the Wild” and was unimpressed — it’s more a fairy-tale mashup that has a Rapunzel character, and it annoyed me that, although she had a child in it (the PoV character is her daughter), they left out her “twins” — just one girl.

    I think I am going to write both, and finish the one I’m working on now with my original vision and inspiration. Krystl, I hadn’t thought about the possibility of connecting them — that’s an interesting idea. I also think that once I begin writing the other one, it will emerge as a distinct, separate-enough story that I won’t have to worry about retelling the same story twice … although, I’ve recently decided that I’m free to steal any of my own ideas from past novels to put in new ones until I’m published and readers can actually call me on it. ๐Ÿ˜‰ So if elements show up in both places before I’m published, I’m not really going to stress out about it.

    Your insights were very valuable, and reassuring. I appreciate it!

    • Jenna says:

      Rapunzel’s healing powers are there, but if you blink you’ll miss it. Here’s the passage from the Jack Zipes translation:

      “Thus [the prince] wandered for many years in misery. Eventually, he made his way to the desolate land where Rapunzel was leading a wretched existence with the twins, a boy and a girl, to whom she had given birth. When he heard a voice that he thought sounded familiar, he went straight toward it, and when he reached her, Rapunzel recognized him. She embraced him and wept, and as two of her tears dropped on his eyes they became clear, and he could see again.” (page 49, “The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm”)

      So it is there – but not explicit. Could it just be her love that cures him, or does she have a deeper magical power? The story doesn’t really say, but both Disney and Flinn picked up on it and used it in their stories. (In Flinn’s, it is explicitly Rachel’s tears that heal – while I think in Disney’s the exact healing source is unclear.)

      Is the collected Rapunzel tales you’re talking about the one by Heidi Anne Heiner of SurLaLune FairyTales? I’ve been curious about her books, especially the mermaid one. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Oh, of course! I just had a major “face-palm” moment. I guess I’ve always thought of the healing of the prince’s blindness as just being “magic.” But you’re right, there are a lot of things that could actually mean, and Rapunzel having “healing powers” is the logical extension of that scene. And yes, the book I have is the SurLaLune one. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s a low-quality book, very flimsy, a few typographical errors, but SO much easier than hunting down all those stories individually. ๐Ÿ™‚ And the content itself is not low-quality.

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