In which I answer a reader's email

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Every so often I get an email from a reader that I think would benefit from my answering it on my website, since I think others might also be interested in my response. Warning: There are MAJOR SPOILERS here for Ash.

"My name is [name redcated], and I have recently read your novel Ash for a Young Adult Literature course I am taking at [name redacted] University.  One of the requirements of this course is to write a research paper relating a topic of our choice to one of the novels we read in class.  As you may now have guessed, I chose to complete my research paper on Ash, and was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me?  My thesis for the research paper is somehow going to relate why there was a need for homosexuality within the novel, and the differences between your retelling of Cinderella and the tales we have grown to know.  My first is, why did you choose the tale of Cinderella for your retelling?  You could have easily chosen another tale such as Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, therefore, what made Cinderella's tale so special?  My next question is, why did you decide to spin the tale into a story involving homosexuality?  The well-known tale of Cinderella is one whose format and story line thrives from the need of a heterosexual relationship- a strong male character to "save the day."  My final question revolves around Ash and the Huntress.  What made you choose the Huntress for Ash to fall in love with?  For most of the novel, the reader begins to believe that Ash is in some way in love with Sidhean, that the bond they were forming was a strong one.  Then suddenly a relationship sparks between the two women, why didn't you follow the common tale format and allow Ash to fall in love with Sidhean?  I am aware that there are some short answers to some of these questions on your website, but I was wondering if you could elaborate more on them.  Tell me truly what your thoughts were, and give me any other information that might be helpful."

Let me begin with the issue of students emailing authors for information to include in their research papers. Many authors get these emails all the time, but for whatever reason, I haven't gotten too many until recently. My thoughts are this: If your teacher asks you to email an author to interview them for a research paper, I think your teacher should change their assignment. I know that many authors are extremely busy, and it may take months for us to respond to reader emails.

I try to respond to every reader email, but the more questions you ask, the longer it's going to take me to respond. If your research paper is waiting on my responses in order to be completed, your paper is going to fail. I will most likely never be able to respond in time.

But more importantly, a research paper in which you analyze a novel does not need the author's input, and this is what I'll eventually tell you. A novel is a finished, completed thing. It exists on its own. I'm pretty sure that your teacher is interested in your perspective on the book, not the author's. The author's perspective is already there: It's in every word printed on the page. You can debate the death of the author if you want, and sometimes, yes, an author's intentions are interesting, but are they necessary for your paper? Probably not.

So, if you want to email me to ask me what I think about my own book, I suggest that instead you just do some research into what I've already said about my book. This is really easy, especially since I have a website with tons of information about my books.

I've decided to answer your questions here on my website, this time, because I found them … surprising. You may not be aware of this, but they came off as sounding homophobic to me. I was, initially, offended. But I think that you probably didn't realize they came off that way. So let me go through them one by one.

"My first is, why did you choose the tale of Cinderella for your retelling? You could have easily chosen another tale such as Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, therefore, what made Cinderella's tale so special?"

I have answered this here in the Ash FAQ.

"My next question is, why did you decide to spin the tale into a story involving homosexuality?  The well-known tale of Cinderella is one whose format and story line thrives from the need of a heterosexual relationship- a strong male character to 'save the day.'"

Ash is a retelling of "Cinderella." The purpose of a retelling is to change the story, to reimagine it with a different angle. If I hadn't changed the story in some way, it wouldn't be a retelling. It would be the same.

Why did I change it into "a story involving homosexuality"? I can see why you've interpreted Ash that way, but I don't see it like that. In Ash's world, there is no homosexuality or heterosexuality; there is only love. The story is about her falling in love. It's not about her being gay.

Traditionally, Cinderella marries a prince. But I wouldn't say the story "thrives from a need of a heterosexual relationship." The character of Cinderella is chained to the customs of her time and place. In nearly all traditional, Western versions of the tale, Cinderella's only way to escape her life of drudgery and servitude is marrying a wealthy man. This isn't about thriving — this is about survival. For all women in these traditional fairy tales, marriage is the only way to be successful. This is because these tales reflected societies in which this was the way of life: if a woman wanted to better herself, she had very few options. It's not like she could go to college and get herself a great career. She could marry well, or she could become a nun. Both were legitimate choices. Cinderella had the opportunity to marry well, and she took it.

The fact that she had that opportunity with a man is, I believe, beside the point, because there was simply no other option. The point of my version of the tale is that she does have another option.

Now, regarding "a strong male character to 'save the day'": This is true in some fairy tales, such as "Sleeping Beauty" and "Snow White." But in "Cinderella," the prince doesn't really save anybody's day. He shows up with a shoe. He doesn't slay any dragons, climb any towers, or even wake anybody up with a kiss. He finds a lost shoe. Honestly, this is why I think the prince in "Cinderella" is the most pathetic prince in all of the fairy tales.

Beyond this, I firmly and adamantly reject the notion that strong male characters are needed to save the day. In my world, in my life, the sisters can sure as hell do it for themselves.

"My final question revolves around Ash and the Huntress.  What made you choose the Huntress for Ash to fall in love with?  For most of the novel, the reader begins to believe that Ash is in some way in love with Sidhean, that the bond they were forming was a strong one.  Then suddenly a relationship sparks between the two women, why didn't you follow the common tale format and allow Ash to fall in love with Sidhean?"

Many readers seem to believe that Sidhean plays the role of the prince in "Cinderella," but this is incorrect. In Ash, there is a prince: Prince Aidan, who hosts the ball in which he chooses a wife. Prince Aidan is the prince.

Sidhean is the fairy godmother.

I thought this was pretty clear, but it seems that Sidhean's seductiveness has seduced many a reader and caused them to believe that he is the prince. But no. He's a fairy. He is the one who helps Ash go to the ball by giving her the magic dress and the magic coach. Thus, he plays the role of the fairy godmother. In the traditional tale, Cinderella definitely does not fall in love with the fairy godmother, so it is not accurate that this would be the "common tale format."

I know that many readers really like Sidhean and wish that Ash would have ended up with him. I get this. I like Sidhean, too. He's sexy. But you know what? He wants to kill Ash. Sometimes, yeah, Ash wants it, too. They have a twisted relationship, and I know that twisted relationships have their allure. I'm not judging her for wanting it sometimes — it's very human. But think about it. Do you think Sidhean is the right choice for Ash?

As for why she falls in love with Kaisa, all I can say is this: From the very first draft, Ash only had eyes for her. It was always Kaisa. Even before I knew it was Kaisa, it was Kaisa. I've said before that in the first draft, I made Ash fall for the prince. It wasn't until a friend of mine read it and told me that Ash seemed interested in the huntress that I figured it out.

The answer to "Why Kaisa?" then, is simple: Because Ash wanted her. And that is the story that I, at some unconscious level, wanted to tell.

There was no grand political intention behind this. There was no plan to subvert a much-beloved fairy tale (at least not at the beginning). There was only the fact that I created these characters, and the ones who had chemistry together were two female characters. Given that I'm queer, and that I was telling this story to myself at the time, it makes perfect sense.

Writing certainly involves making some intellectual choices. But I don't know many writers who intellectualize every storytelling decision they make. In my experience, the things that appear most symbolic in my novels are the things that I wrote mostly by instinct. So if someone asks me why I wrote A instead of B, the answer is probably, "Because it felt right."

This is another reason why it doesn't matter what my intentions are. In a critical essay or paper, what matters is what you think. Not what I felt.