Juliet Kincaid’s Cinderella, P. I. Fairy Tale Mysteries
Most of us heard or read fairy tales when we were young or view Disney versions of stories like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We still can and do as grown-ups. For instance, Disney recently has brought us Tangled, the story of Rapunzel, one of the folktales transcribed by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812. On television we can watch Grimm or the family friendly Once Upon a Time. As many of you know, I’m writing a series of mysteries featuring Cinderella as a private detective twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball.
How did I come to write these mysteries?
Well, back in 1996 at a writing conference I heard someone say that it’s very hard to write a complete story in fewer than 2,000 words. (This obviously was before the rise of flash fiction that typically tops out at about 500 words.)
Shortly after that, with this challenge in mind, I set out to write a story in fewer than 2,000 words.
Why did I choose Cinderella?
Now, at the time, I happened to have a copy of Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum by Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen in my office at the community college where I taught writing for twenty-five years. This textbook includes a unit on fairy tales, specifically “Cinderella,” the best-known fairy tale in the world. Indeed, there are more than 700 versions of this fairy tale including traditional versions handed down from generation to generation before they were written down and published by folks like Charles Perrault in the Mother Goose Tales of 1697 and literary versions like Tanith Lee’s “When the Clock Strikes.”
FYI: the earliest version that scholars have a specific date for–between 850-860 A.D.–is the Chinese story of Yeh-hsien, who had tiny feet. One of the more recent versions is Marissa Meyer’s Young Adult novel Cinder, first published in January of 2012, in which Cinderella is a cyborg.
But back to the start of my journey with Cinderella, I’ve always been intrigued with the “happily ever after” tag that ends many fairy tales. I feel that if you’re bored you’re not happy. So what would keep Cinderella from getting bored in her life with Prince Charming? I asked myself. And as a reader of crime fiction, I promptly decided that my Cinderella would be a private investigator. (I was terribly naïve about how busy Royal families can keep with their duties, causes, etc.)
Before I started writing, I made some technical decisions to keep the story short. These included using a first person narrator who could provide background information succinctly without sounding like a manual. Also I chose present tense in preference to past tense, so I wouldn’t get mired in “haditis.” (After I heard an agent say she never represented fiction written in present tense, though, I switched to past tense.)
Once I made those decisions, my Cinderella started talking to me, as characters often do. And lucky for me, she has continued to do so through twenty-nine stories and two novels.
Also lucky for me, the fairy tale provides certain expectations that made writing go more easily.
For instance, most folktales use the same plot line. The protagonist wants something. In the classic Grimm version of the tale, for instance, Cinderella, called Ashputtle in this rendition, wants to go to the ball thrown by the King whose son is in need of a wife. To get there, Ashputtle must surmount several obstacles. But never fear, she prevails, dances with the Prince and after a few more challenges, marries him and lives happily ever after.
I also had a setting in time and place. My Cinderella’s world is sort of like our middle to late 19th century. People still got around in horse-driven carriages. But once my heroine started talking to me in a voice rather like my mother’s, I got in at least a few contemporary touches. That first story, for instance, starts with “So that morning, as usual, I’m out on the balcony on the treadmill, trying to run off a few extra pounds. . . .” The treadmill is mechanical, but her obsession with her weight is 21st century.
The basic plot supplied important characters. In her happily ever after, Cinderella has a charming husband, but she also still has her stepmother and stepsisters, collectively called the Steps in my mysteries. She also has a helper, a fairy godmother. In “Cinderella, P. I.,” though, the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, and Cinderella helps her fairy godmother find her magic wand that’s gone missing.
When you work with such a rich tradition as folktales provide, often serendipity operates. For instance, in the first story I needed someplace for the fairy godmother to live. And what should appear in my head, but the little cottage in the woods formerly owned by the Three Bears. Plus I never quite know who will show up in these stories. For instance, when I needed to get my protagonist somewhere far away in a hurry in “Cinderella and the Usual Suspects,” she flew “Air Mother Goose.”
Along with the basics, the original story has certain logical yet sometimes unexamined elements. For instance, logic demands that our heroine’s name is actually Ella with “cinder” a pejorative prefix. Indeed, in my stories, Ella’s royal in-laws insist that the “Cinder” be dropped. Also, implicit in the basic tale is the story of an abused child and how she prevails over an unhappy childhood without losing her inherent kindness and sweetness of character.
One last thing, it’s logical that Ella missed out on her education and so she doesn’t speak like you’d expect a princess would. As a result, even as I wrote the last draft of Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel, I couldn’t always predict what my Cinderella would say and how she would say it. I hope she keep surprising me as she continues to live happily ever after in my stories and novels.
Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is currently available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI and as a trade paperback: ISBN 978-0-9899504-1-1.
Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is now available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00LGXFB2W.
Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mysteries is available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI.
COMING SOON: two more story collections featuring Cinderella twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball: Cinderella Around the World and Cinderella and the Holy Grail.