Teens’ Top Ten: Five Questions for Sarah Cross
Over 32,000 teen readers cast their vote for the 2013 Teens’ Top Ten, and The Hub is celebrating their choices! Today we feature Sarah Cross, whose book Kill Me Softly is #9 on this year’s Teen’s Top Ten list.
We all know that life is no fairy tale–unless you live in Beau Rivage, a city of secrets and curses where familiar stories come dangerously to life. In Kill Me Softly, Mirabelle runs away to Beau Rivage seeking answers about her parents’ death and instead discovers the truth about herself. Like the other inhabitants of the city, Mira is caught between the promise of happily ever after and the power to determine her own destiny–if she can survive that long.
Here is my interview with author Sarah Cross:
If you were a fairy tale character, who would you be?
Maybe Gretel from “Hansel and Gretel.” I have the same lack of common sense (eating someone’s house? It seemed like a good idea at the time …) and I was always really protective of my little brother, who was definitely the type to get himself locked in a cage by a witch. Although I really like the princess from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Traveling Companion.” Her garden is full of the skeletons of suitors who have failed to solve her riddles. It’s one thing to have your suitors killed in fairy tales, but this girl has their bones hanging everywhere like Christmas tree ornaments. And she’s not even an evil queen yet.
Kill Me Softly is definitely a departure from the typical fairy tale retelling or mash-up. How did you come up with the idea of a town full of people doomed to live out fairy tales?
I knew I wanted to incorporate multiple fairy tales, but I didn’t want any of the characters to be the one-and-only Snow White or Cinderella, because who is that, really? There are so many fairy tale variants; there’s no one definitive Cinderella tale, just versions that are more or less familiar to us. And so I liked the idea of fairy tale curses, because you can have more than one version of these characters and their stories can play out a little differently. And since the cursed characters know their stories and have these fates hanging over their heads, some feel like there’s no way out, while others are fighting to have the life they want, instead of the one they’ve been promised by their fairy tale curse. Happy endings are subjective, after all, and not everybody gets one.
I love the clever nods to the Disney versions and, of course, the details from the original fairy tales. Why do you think these stories continue to have such a hold on readers through the centuries?
I think fairy tales have lasted as long as they have because they’re so flexible. They’re short and full of imagery that sticks with you, and because the characters are so flat, their stories are ripe for adaptation. Every generation can have a Snow White that appeals to them, and the core of the story never has to change. Disney’s 1937 Snow White, the vampiric Snow White of Neil Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples,” the warrior-princess Snow White of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, Ever After High’s blonde fashionista Apple White, the Spanish toreador Snow White of the 2012 silent film Blancanieves… they’re all Snow White. Fairy tales are too alive to ever really get old.
You mention on your website that you are working on a companion novel about Viv. What else can we expect from Beau Rivage? Are there any other characters whose stories you want to explore more fully?
I’d love to introduce Beau Rivage’s Rapunzel, and also to write Layla’s story (Beauty and the Beast). The fun thing about working with a city full of people who are cursed to live out fairy tales is that the fairy tales overlap, so even when you’re telling one or two main tales, you’re brushing up against the other stories as the cursed characters go about their lives. So there’s room for a lot of cameos. You might see the Twelve Dancing Princesses eating breakfast at a diner in the morning, before they’ve even bothered to change their worn-out shoes. Or you might get a text from a girl with a Wild Swans curse, because she needs a ride to the graveyard to collect more nettles for those jackets she’s knitting to save her brothers’ lives. Just another day in Beau Rivage.
What is one weird thing you do when you are writing–a part of your process that is uniquely yours?
Okay, this is pretty weird–I don’t know if I’m the only person who does this but it definitely feels unique to my process. When I’m drafting, very often I’ll write a word or a partial line, and then right away I’ll think of another word or phrase that I might like better. So instead of stopping the flow of words to decide on one of them, I’ll type a forward slash, then type the alternate text right after it. I do this constantly. It’s actually kind of annoying, because it means no one but me can make sense of my drafts until I go back and clean them up. Every few lines there will be, like, a sentence within a sentence within a sentence. But that’s the way my mind works. I like to leave my options open.
If, like me, you cannot bear to wait for Sarah’s next book, you can find a short story set in Beau Rivage on her website!
-Wendy Daughdrill, currently reading The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt