Today I'm welcoming novelist Elizabeth Blackwell who is retelling Sleeping Beauty's tale in her new release While Beauty Slept. Find out more. Enjoy!
Elizabeth welcome to The Reading Frenzy.
What a great premise. Tell my readers a bit about While Beauty Slept.
While Beauty Slept is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty legend as if it really happened. All the expected story elements are there—the curse, the spinning wheel, the prince’s kiss—but they’re given new twists. Although the book takes place in a made-up “fairy tale” land, I approached it as historical fiction, creating a world where events sprang from human actions and emotions rather than magic. The book is told from the viewpoint of Elise, a servant who becomes a confidante of the royal family. I wanted to explore that Upstairs, Downstairs/Downton Abbey dynamic, showing the glamour of life at a palace but also the grittiness of daily life for anyone who wasn’t royalty.
Does this story, like a fairytale, have a moral?
What a great question! I don’t know if Sleeping Beauty does have a moral—other than to invite absolutely everyone you know to your daughter’s christening! In the original Sleeping Beauty, the evil fairy curses an innocent baby princess to death. It’s a very dark premise. I wanted to maintain that sense of looming danger throughout the book, that feeling of never being completely safe, regardless of your position in society.
We expect fairy tales to wrap everything up neatly with a kiss and a happily ever after, and I very consciously wanted to address how that would work in the real world. If you’ve been locked away in a tower and left for dead, wouldn’t you always be traumatized by that experience? Even if you did marry a handsome prince?
What gave you the idea to retell Sleeping Beauty’s story?
Believe it or not, it was from watching the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty with my young daughter. The movie is very moody and atmospheric, with a truly creepy Maleficent as the villain, and I was always kind-of surprised that my four-year-old liked it so much. After repeated viewings, this idea suddenly popped into my head: “What if all this really happened? And the princess fell asleep not because of a magic curse but because…” (Sorry, you’ll have to read the book to find out what I came up with!). The events in While Beauty Slept unfold very differently from the movie, but the castle I envisioned when I wrote the book was definitely influenced by the look of Princess’s Aurora’s castle.
Elizabeth this is your third published novel. How has your writing changed from then to now?
My first two novels were romances published by Harlequin, The Letter and The House of Secrets. They both had fairly strict limitations in terms of length and content. While Beauty Slept allowed me to take what I’d learned from those two romances and amp it up: more characters, more backstory, more drama, higher stakes. It allowed me to be more ambitious, which—to be honest—also led to a lot more rewrites. Weaving all the plot strands together was like fitting together a puzzle: frustrating at times in the short term, but immensely rewarding when you see it completed.
I love hearing authors’ “the call” story. Tell us please about selling your first novel.
My first romance novel, The Letter, began as a contest entry. I saw an announcement from Harlequin and had an idea that I literally could not shake. I’d go to sleep thinking about it and wake up with thoughts about the main characters. I wrote the first three chapters and a synopsis and submitted them right before the deadline.
When I got the call from the editor telling me I’d won—and that she would like to see the full manuscript—it was the same week I learned I was pregnant with twins! I have a very clear memory of crying, from a mixture of joy and hormones. Then, shortly after, a minor panic when I realized I would now have to finish writing the book!
Talking about stories; was becoming an author a dream come true or something totally different?
Absolutely a dream come true. Like so many other writers, I’ve been a hard-core reader since I was a child, although it took me a long time to build up the confidence to write a book myself. I worked in publishing right after college, then got my master’s degree in journalism and worked as a magazine writer for more than 10 years. It was great training in grammar and sentence structure and the importance of editing. Because of all those experiences, I don’t fall to pieces if an editor says I should take out a big chunk of text or rewrite an entire conversation. (Not that I love hearing it, either.)
I noticed you’ve gotten some rave reviews for your new release. Are you an author who loves to read her reviews or do you dread them?
Like every other author, I love reading the good reviews and hate reading the bad ones! It is extremely gratifying when something I’ve written resonates with another person. It’s especially fun when a reviewer picks up on some element I worked really hard on (yes! It worked!). With bad reviews, I try to remember that it’s not a judgment on me as a person; the book just didn’t work for that particular reader. Haven’t we all had an experience where we raved about a book or movie to a friend, and they ended up hating it? You never can be sure what will click.
Are you working on another historical novel?
Yes! My next project is a family saga set in the late 1800s and 1920s. I’m taking a break from fairy tales for now, but the story will have the same Gothic-suspense feel as While Beauty Slept. That is definitely my comfort zone, writing-wise.
Elizabeth thank you for chatting with me today. Good luck with the new novel!
Elizabeth Blackwell works as a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Ladies’ Home Journal, Parenting, and the Chicago Tribune, among other publications.