Author Tracy Barrett gives a twist to the classic tale of Cinderella in her new novel from Harlequin TEEN, The Stepsister’s Tale, which has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus. Editor Annie Stone interviewed Tracy about why she wanted to reimagine fairy tales, her inspiration and which classic story Tracy is taking on next. Read on to learn more about the book and how you could win a copy of The Stepsister’s Tale!
I’ve loved working with you too, Annie!
The shorthand I’ve been using to describe The Stepsister’s Tale is “Cinderella from the point of view of one of her stepsisters,” but really, it’s not Cinderella’s story. Instead, it’s the story of a girl named Jane who is living in a crumbling mansion with her younger sister and her widowed mother, who can’t cope with the realities of their situation. When their mother remarries unexpectedly, Jane suddenly acquires a not very pleasant stepsister, a beautiful and spoiled girl who is unaccustomed to the hard work that Jane and her sister, Maude, are used to. The story doesn’t revolve around Cinderella but around Jane, and Maude to a lesser extent.
You’re known in the industry for your amazing historical fiction. What made you decide to write a fairy-tale retelling?
My historical fiction is mostly retellings, as well. King of Ithaka retells part of Homer’s Odyssey from the point of view of Odysseus’s teenage son, Telemachus, and Dark of the Moon tells the story of the Minotaur as narrated by the “monster’s” sister and his killer. I’m always interested in characters who serve as a foil for the protagonist—the best friend, the enemy, the sidekick, etc., who exist only for the sake of the main character. Fairy tales are perfect for this kind of retelling, since the secondary characters in them are usually caricatures. Cinderella’s stepsisters are only ugly and cruel—they have no inner life, no growth and change. We never know why they treat Cinderella the way she claims they do. I love fleshing out those characters and giving them their own hopes and dreams, their own fears, their own destiny.
How did the idea for this particular twist on Cinderella come to you?
I was always interested, when my kids were little, in the way that they perceived any arguments or fights that they had. They rarely disagreed on the facts of the event—he pushed her, for example. What differed was the motive: “He was trying to knock me down” vs. “I was just playing.” It occurred to me that we only have Cinderella’s word for why she had to work hard. What if there was another explanation?
Cinderella has been retold many times and in many different ways. What are some of your favorite retellings of this tale or of other classic fairy tales?
I love the stories of Cinderella from other cultures, either folk tales or retellings. I think my favorite is Donna Jo Napoli’s Bound, which is set in China.
Anyone who knows your writing knows that you are a historical writer with a strong attention to detail. Did you set The Stepsister’s Tale in a particular time and place? What kind of research went on behind the scenes of this project?
I wanted to keep the “once upon a time” feel of the story so I deliberately refrained from making any specific allusions to the time or place of its setting. It’s vaguely sixteenth or seventeenth century, vaguely Northern Europe. I was originally going to set it in an earlier time period (I’m most knowledgeable about the ancient Greek and Roman world and the Middle Ages) but if I had done that, I would have had to do without a pumpkin since Europe didn’t have pumpkins until after they began to be imported from the Americas.
One of my favorite characters in the book is Maude, the younger of the “ugly stepsisters.” What inspired Maude? Are any of the characters based on people you know in real life?
It took a long time for Maude to develop, and in fact I probably wouldn’t have included her if the fairy tale hadn’t emphasized the fact of there being two stepsisters. But I’m glad I did because she turned into one of my favorites, too! Originally she was going to be just one more burden on Jane, who has to take charge of her family after her father deserted them and their mother retreated from the world, but that was just too dreary, so I decided to make her more of a companion to Jane. Then, as characters tend to do, she took off and developed all sorts of interesting character traits, and wound up possessing a secret (although she’s unaware of what she has) that makes a big change in their lives at the end.
As your editor I have the privilege of knowing a bit more than everyone else about your next project. Do you want to give the Harlequin blog readers a tiny sneak peek?
Gladly! My next project is a retelling of Snow White, and this time it’s the stepmother who tells the tale. In my version, she’s not much older than her stepdaughter, and isn’t a witch but Snow White’s ally. This time I grounded the story in a real time and place: England in the year 1213 (there’s a good reason for that specificity!).
About The Stepsister’s Tale:
What really happened after the clock struck midnight?
Jane Montjoy is tired of being a lady. She’s tired of pretending to live up to the standards of her mother’s noble family—especially now that the family’s wealth is gone and their stately mansion has fallen to ruin. It’s hard enough that she must tend to the animals and find a way to feed her mother and her little sister each day. Jane’s burden only gets worse after her mother returns from a trip to town with a new stepfather and stepsister in tow. Despite the family’s struggle to prepare for the long winter ahead, Jane’s stepfather remains determined to give his beautiful but spoiled child her every desire.
When her stepfather suddenly dies, leaving nothing but debts and a bereaved daughter behind, it seems to Jane that her family is destined for eternal unhappiness. But a mysterious boy from the woods and an invitation to a royal ball are certain to change her fate….
From the handsome prince to the evil stepsister, nothing is quite as it seems in Tracy Barrett’s stunning retelling of the classic Cinderella tale.
Giveaway! Want to win a copy of The Stepsister’s Tale? Head on over to the comments and let us know what fairy tale you’d like to see retold for a chance to win! open to residents of the US and Canada, excluding Quebec. Contest closes June 22 at 11:59 pm ET. One winner will be drawn from all eligible comments and announced June 23. For full official rules, click here.
Update: This contest is now closed.
For more from Tracy Barrett and The Stepsister’s Tale, follow The Stepsister’s Tale blog tour:
- Monday, June 16th - The Irish Banana
- Tuesday, June 17th -On the Verge
- Wednesday, June 18th - Refracted Light Reviews
- Friday June 20th - The Book Cellar (Guest Post)
Visit the Tour Page for more information.