I am thrilled to announce that I have accepted an offer from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers to publish my novel, Ash, in the fall of 2009. I just announced it on AfterEllen.com, and more details will be published in the March 10 issue of Publishers Weekly. I'll be blogging here about Ash as well as my next book, which I am fleshing out right now. Which brings me back to a beginning, of sorts. Although Ash still needs some editorial work (and I think I'm one of the only writers on the planet who actually likes to revise!), I'm very familiar with the characters and setting of that book, and I'm only now starting to feel my way into the second. So I've been thinking about how I started Ash.
To make a long story short (because I'm writing this in the middle of the night and I'd really like to get to sleep soon!), I was unhappily muddling my way through graduate school (doing my Ph.D. in Cultural and Social Anthropology at Stanford) when 9/11 happened. It was actually the first morning in my new apartment, and I was sleeping on the floor. I had set my clock radio to NPR, and it woke me up that morning with the news that the Twin Towers had been hit.
Before I was in graduate school at Stanford, I lived in New York, where I was an editorial assistant at Random House. During a year of my time in New York, I lived in Battery Park City, a neighborhood that used to be right in the shadow of the World Trade Center. Every day I took the E train from the WTC uptown to work; every day I walked through the mall down there. I stopped at Nine West and Borders a lot. So when 9/11 happened, it really shook me.
I realized, I guess, that there I was, doing this graduate degree I didn't particularly like, when all my life I'd wanted to be a writer. I'd written three novels before — all in high school (yes, I was that geeky) — but since I went away to college, my creative writing had been limited to a few writing workshops where I focused on shorter works. I wondered if I'd forgotten how to write something, well, long. But after 9/11, I basically realized that the building above my head could fall down at any time, and what was I doing in this Ph.D. program I hated?
So I began to think about what I wanted to write. It sounds very melodramatic, but honestly, that's what happened.
I decided to write a fairy tale partially because some of my favorite books when I was a kid were fairy tales retold, particularly those written by Robin McKinley (read her blog here). She had never written a "Cinderella" tale, so I decided to do it myself. I read pretty much every version of "Cinderella" I could find, and then, because I was an anthropologist by training, I read a bunch of folklore studies of fairy tales to try to understand the underlying meaning of them.
What I learned was that "Cinderella" is the tale of a girl who has an excessive amount of grief for her dead mother, symbolized by the cinders that cover her. You wouldn't get this from the Disney version — that tale is almost entirely about Cinderella getting lucky with Prince Charming. But none of that would have come to pass had Cinderella's mother not died, which then forced her father to remarry before he died as well, making Cinderella an orphan.
So I started with her mother's death, and the rest sort of followed from there.
And now it's very late, and I really do need to call it a night. Thanks for reading.