Henderson Smith - A New Kind of Fairy Tale
Award-winning screenplay writer Henderson Smith has always been fascinated by fairy tales. Growing up, like most little girls, she enjoyed stories about princesses, but she could never quite relate to them. Which is why she decided to write a fairy tale the way she would have liked it - with a princess who is not beautiful. Today she chats with us about her book, "The Ugly Princess: The Legend of the Winnowwood." She explains why she made her princess ugly, why she finds the original fairy tales so enchanting and how her heart is ruled by a certain papichuahua.
Give us a short summary on what The Ugly Princess: the Legend of the Winnowwood is about
What would you give up to become breathtakingly beautiful? Princess Olive could become that beautiful whenever she wanted, but at a steep price – the loss of her magical powers. For Olive is the last of a magical female race and is determined to remain a Winnowwood no matter what it costs her. And the costs will be high. The Ugly Princess will take you on an amazing adventure filled with twists, turns and an ending that will take your breath away because it is also a love story of the most unusual, magical kind.
You have a deep love of fairy tales, which one is your favorite and why?
One of my favorite fairy tales is The Little Mermaid (not the Disney version). I think parents really didn't pay attention to children reading fairy tales, thinking them benign little fables, but the original fairy tales, like Hans Christian Andersen and Grimm's Fairy tales were very grim indeed. The original Cinderella I read had the evil stepmother and stepsisters drawn and quartered as punishment at the end of the story, which certainly shocked me. The Little Mermaid does not have a happy ending in the original tale, she gives up her life to save her beloved. I was touched by that story and often thought of what she sacrificed for the one she loved. It also had the amazing setting of the ocean and the land of mermaids, which was enchanting.
Why do you think beautiful princesses and charming princess are so common in fairy tales?
I think most of us like to project ourselves into the princess/prince roles, where we are loved and admired by all, which is rather unfortunate in many ways as it plays into the appeal of being, "beautiful". Usually, most of the "evil" characters are ugly, again reinforcing the assumption that good = beauty and evil = ugly. I know a friend of mine asked her daughter if she wanted to read, The Ugly Princess, and the little girl didn't want to because she didn't want to read about a princess who was ugly. Trying to overcome that stereotype was the key reason I wrote The Ugly Princess.
Apart from Olive, which character in the book was the most interesting to write about?
I love the character of Bart. As a man, he is fighting similar stereotypes as Olive since he is short and unattractive, but he does it with such wit and charm, yet, is brave and has a lot of integrity.
How did you come up with the unique lore of the Winnowwood?
That is a great question as it was a slow process as I wanted to think of something that hadn't been done before. It just slowly evolved as I outlined the story and kind of grew bigger and bigger. The lore and legends of the Winnowwood will get bigger and more expansive in the sequel.
What is the message that you want to leave with readers after they have finished the book?
That who you are as a person is far more important that what you look like.
Your book contains all the classical fairy tale elements, but still manages to stay unique. Did it take a conscious effort on your part to sidestep all the genre tropes?
Yes, it did and thank you if you think I accomplished that. The more I grew to know Olive, however, the easier it did become as Olive is such a unique heroine that she dictated a new world to write about.
Can you tell us a little more about your writing process?
I think about the story and the characters a great deal before I write anything. I spend a lot of time just making notes and running the story in my head. I then move on to a pretty detailed outline of the story's events and then I begin to write. By that time, I feel like I know the characters well enough that I often feel like I'm just describing the action in my head as I watch them versus "writing".
Animals feature prominently in the book, do you have any of your own?
When I was little, I hated dolls. I only had stuffed-animals and would create all kinds of magical stories about them. I used to have cats when I was younger, but have turned into a "dog person" and my heart is now ruled by Freddy Pooka, an eleven-year-old pappichuahua (cross between a papillon and a chihuahua).
Tell us a bit more about the book cover.
I love my new book cover. It was drawn by Mikey Brooks (insidemikeysworld.com) who is a fellow writer, but also does a lot of young-adult book covers. I told him about a scene in the book where Olive is on a bluff above the ocean and the invaders are coming and there is a storm and lightning and he created it so quickly from that description. It is a very key scene in the book - will Olive be able to master her powers and save her people?
You are an award-winning screenplay writer. What is more challenging, writing screenplays or fairytales?
They are very different mediums, yet, obviously share in the telling of Story. I started writing screenplays, which are very concise, visual and action-oriented and have very specific formulas. I think it helped my writing a great deal because it now makes me write in a very visual style which my readers have appreciated. I think writing a fairy tale, which must be conveyed only on the page for the reader to escape into that world, is harder than a screenplay where you have the wonderful vehicle of film to showcase the story.
Which elements of fairy tales resonate most with you and your personal life?
That anything is possible in a fairytale. I like to look for the potential in life as well, to live well, to try hard and make the most of the gifts given to you.
What are you working on right now? Are you planning on publishing any other fairytale-inspired books?
I'm about 2/3's of the way through a book called The Dog Show, which is based on another screenplay of mine and is a great tale about a bunch of dogs at a shelter in Las Vegas who must win a Dog Show to save their shelter. It's really about learning to be brave and believe in yourself. I am also working on the sequel to The Ugly Princess which is tentatively called, Betrayed by Beauty. I actually have plans for The Legend of the Winnowwood to be an 8 volume series.
Where can readers find your latest releases or interact with you?
Either on my Facebook page (The Ugly Princess: the Legend of the Winnowwood) or on Goodreads. I'm a frequent poster on both.