Today as a part of the Book of Apex blog tour I am interviewing Marie Brennan. Marie’s contribution to the Book of Apex is the short story “Waiting for Beauty,” which features a dark take on the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast.”
Me: “Waiting for Beauty” is a much darker twist on a traditional fairy tale, and with a very different ending. What was your inspiration behind the story?
Marie: It’s one of a set of twisted fairy-tale retellings I’ve done; I’ve written seven of them, and will be putting them out as a little ebook collection later this year, under the title Monstrous Beauty. The first few I wrote more or less randomly, starting with a comment a friend had made to the effect of, what if the wolf from “Little Red Riding Hood” was something rather worse than a wolf? I actually wrote a different “Beauty and the Beast” retelling, called “Games in the Dark,” but I wasn’t satisfied with it, and after a little while I realized that was because I had broken with my own theme without realizing it. All the stories up until that point had been about the “monstrous feminine” — the women in the stories were the source of the horror. That wasn’t true of “Games in the Dark,” so I scrapped it and asked myself what could go horribly, horribly wrong with Beauty. She’s less of a monster per se than most of the others in the set, but I think this might be my personal favorite of the lot, mostly because I think it has the best last line.
Me: I love the idea behind the Monstrous Beauty collection, and I look forward to reading it when it’s released. Could you tell us a bit about some of the other adaptations in the collection?
Marie: They’re all short enough that it’s hard to say much about them without giving the whole thing away. But there is a Little Red Riding Hood adaptation, as I mentioned, plus one Rapunzel, two Sleeping Beauty, one Snow White, one Cinderella, and one Beauty and the Beast (that being “Waiting for Beauty”), and all of them are about the monstrous feminine in one way or another. And if I tell you that I consider “Waiting for Beauty” to be easily the nicest of the lot . . . I don’t know what part of my brain comes up with these ideas, but I’m a little afraid of it.
Me: Over the years, you’ve written an impressive array of both short fiction and novels. What formats do you prefer? What are the advantages of each?
Marie: I still think of myself as a novelist who writes some short stories, though after forty-some-odd of the latter, I should probably give them more credit. But I knew how to write a novel long before I figured out anything shorter. There’s a lot more room in a novel for *everything* — plot, setting, character, funny lines, etc — and since I love developing worlds in fiction, my heart is probably more in longer works. Still, there’s a lot to be said for short stories: not only the instant gratification of having one *done*, without months of work going into it, but the zinger effect of a single punch well-delivered. You can also get away with things that would overstay their welcome in a longer format, whether it’s a small idea that would be lost in a large work, or a prose effect that would become tedious after eighty thousand words.
Me: While looking through your Flickr account, I noticed that you’ve traveled extensively while researching your books. I especially loved the pictures of Poland. I visited there many years ago, and the fire-breathing dragon in Krakow still makes me irrationally happy. What are your favorite places that you’ve visited? Have any of your travels influenced your stories?
Marie: Oh, travel *absolutely* has influenced me. There’s a section in my next novel, The Tropic of Serpents, that is me channeling the three weeks I once spent in the forests of Costa Rica. I’ve traveled explicitly for the purpose of research — that would be all those trips to London when I was writing the Onyx Court books — but there’s also just the general effect of opening my mind up by going new places. You get out of some of your mental ruts when you put yourself in a place where things are different. I’ve been lucky enough to go to England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Israel, Costa Rica, India, Poland, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Japan, France . . . I’ve found things I love everywhere I’ve gone, whether it’s something huge and famous like Notre Dame or something little like a tree in a courtyard at a medieval almshouse in England. I am especially fond of London, because I’ve studied it so closely for writing, and Japan is also near and dear to my heart.
Me: Outside of your writing, what do you like to do for fun?
Marie: Well, speaking of Japan, I’ll be going to Okinawa this summer for an extended karate seminar. I’ve been practicing Shorin-Ryu karate for about five years now, and am not too far from testing for my black belt, so that should be exciting! I recently got a digital piano so I could start playing again; I took lessons when I was growing up, and realized about a year ago that I craved the meditative pleasure of just sitting down and making music. I also play a lot of role-playing games, which crosses the border into writing, because a) they’re both storytelling and b) I’ve started doing freelance work for Legend of the Five Rings, which is a game I’ve been playing for a little over two years. Between all those things, I keep pretty busy.
Me: Thank you very much for the interview and for being a part of the tour.
For more Book of Apex fun and to see all the stops on the tour, please check out Andrea’s introductory post. Thus far I’ve had two other stops on the tour–an interview with Thoraiya Dyer and a review of several of the stories in the book.
For more about Marie Brennan, be sure to check out her website.