Author Interview with Shonna Slayton

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Today, we have an interview with Shonna Slayton, the author of these two lovely Cinderella books!

A brief background on the books:

Cinderella’s dress is not as magical as the stories say. It didn’t disappear at midnight! Instead, Cinderella kept the dress and the shoes and passed them down to her female descendants and gave her best friend and maid the duty of “Keeper of the Dress.” Hundreds of years later, in the 1940s, teenaged Kate inherits this legacy. But the descendants of the evil stepsisters are still around,too, and will stop at nothing to get it back.

And now for the interview with the lovely Shonna!

 

Interview with Shonna Slayton

 

It’s good to have you here with us today, Shonna! Why did you choose to write about Cinderella?

Short answer: NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was looming and I needed a story!

Longer answer: Cinderella’s Dress is a descendants story, set in the 1940s, and focused on a family heirloom–the dress. I first formed the idea of turning Cinderella’s dress into an heirloom to be passed down through the generations after I saw a picture book of the same name. (The picture book was about the animals making the dress and the book cover shows a young girl sliding down a banister in a modern-looking house.)

Why the 1940s? I also had the notion to write about department store window dressing as a career option newly open to women during WWII. I was surprised it was considered a male occupation until then, so when I read that tidbit in a history of retail stores, it stuck with me.

These seemingly disparate ideas smashed together in my mind to create an image of Cinderella’s dress in a department store window.

Now, how was I going to make that happen? I had the month of November to write 50,000 words as part of the NaNoWriMo challenge to find out.

Wow. Another NaNoWriMo success! And the combining of ideas is pretty cool. I wonder if I’ve read that picture book, because it sounds somewhat familiar… What was your favorite chapter or part of Cinderella’s Dress to write and why?

Uncle Adelbert and Aunt Elsie are my two elderly characters. There is a scene in the second half of the book where they dance together in their living room. It’s a quiet scene, but one of my favorites. When I was imagining it, it made me cry. I know their history, and the sacrifices Adelbert has made for Elsie, and that scene, for me, was a final showing of their lifetime of love. Adelbert is so tender with her.

I remember that scene! It was so beautiful and sweet. Why didn’t you make Cinderella the main character?

There are two levels to this answer!

1-why a descendant story? and 2-why a servant story instead of a princess one?

First, I had read so many great fairy-tale reimaginings, I didn’t see the need to add another basic retelling to the mix. What hadn’t been done yet? At the time, there weren’t any descendants stories for fairy-tale characters (that I know of), so I saw an opening.

Secondly, I toyed with making Kate, the main character, Cinderella’s descendant, but I pushed myself even more to tell another kind of story. In a royalty-based story, there is usually only one princess, but lots of supporting roles. What if a supporting character got a chance to be in the spotlight?

Even though I had started with very different ideas for a Cinderella novel—the 1940s, a family heirloom—I still began writing a lot of Cinderella parallels in the first draft. Then I stopped myself. I took out the sisters and gave Kate a brother. Instead of a stepmother, Kate has both her parents (sort of!—Dad is off to war.) When I saw myself conforming to the mold, I broke it so I would force myself to tell a different story.

You certainly did break away from the mold of Cinderella stories, too. What was the most interesting thing you learned while researching the books?

I loved researching the 1940s. The books take place mostly after WWII has ended, turning the focus more onto the home front and the aftermath of war.

It was fascinating to find out when our “modern day” items were invented—like hairspray (attempts for a better bug spray during the war led to technology after the war being applied to hair products!)

And when I dove into the research for life in Europe after WWII, for the SHOES book, there was so much that I had never thought of before. The day after peace is declared is so much like the day before—bombed streets, food shortages, anger, and frustration. It takes a while for nations, for people to figure out their new normal and try to make sense of what just happened. So much of what I learned never made it into the books because I wasn’t going for a dark tone. In SHOES, the character Lidka might seem a little rough around the edges, because she was how I dealt with all the horrible things I read about. She has a dark past and is working her way back.

Hair spray comes from bug spray!?! Weird. And, Lidka was a memorable character. You did a good job portraying her and the post-WW2 world, as well. What parts of the retelling do you think are better or worse than the classic Cinderella fairy tale because of the lack of magic?

Interesting question! When I was first drafting the book I toyed with not having any magic at all. To make the reader feel like the Cinderella story was actually a part of history, and that over time the story had become a legend that included a fairy godmother with magical abilities.

In the classic Cinderella tales, there is, actually, very little magic. Cinderella is going along, living her ordinary life, but when she needs help, (one version) her fairy godmother enters and gifts her with the means to go to the ball, or (another version) the tree under which her mother is buried gifts her on three separate nights with the clothes and shoes to wear to the ball. That’s it for magical intervention. Oh—and the birds help her pick out lentils from rocks—magic?

At some point in the writing I realized I much preferred to have a little bit of the fantastical in my story. So the dress, having survived all these generations—despite the rumors it disappeared at midnight—has some special qualities to it. There is a reason it has survived this long. However, DRESS is definitely more history than fantasy. The sequel SHOES has more fairy-tale fantasy mixed in with the history as I pull on more threads from the original tale to wrap up the story.

Good point – there wasn’t as much magic in the original Cinderella stories as there is in the more modern retellings. What is your favorite retelling of Cinderella (short story, book, or movie) and why?

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine is the book that introduced me to fairy-tale retellings so it will forever be a favorite. The opening paragraph is genius.

I adored Ella Enchanted as well! It’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever read and, yes, that opening paragraph is genius. 

That’s all for the interview! What did you think? Isn’t the idea descendants from the Cinderella story pretty cool?

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