Posts Tagged fairy tale retelling

Interview with Author Leah Cypess

I’m a huge fairy tale lover, and I just discovered Leah Cypess’s Sisters Ever After series. How did I miss this?! Her latest book in the series, BRAIDED, is coming out May 28. I’m so excited that I got to interview her for our Mixed-Up Files readers!

Please tell us a little bit about your upcoming novel, BRAIDED?

BRAIDED is the story of Rapunzel’s little sister, Cinna, who grew up longing for the return of her kidnapped older sister. The book starts right after Rapunzel’s rescue from the tower. Cinna can’t wait to help her sister take her rightful place as the heir to the throne. But Rapunzel is not what anyone—including Cinna—expected. And whoever took her might still be lurking in the castle…

I’ve always loved the story of Rapunzel (and have recently been looking at some of the origins of it myself). What kind of research has gone into writing this book (and your others)? Have you fallen down any interesting rabbit holes?

I started out by reading The Rebirth of Rapunzel by Kate Forsyth, which you’ve probably come across if you’ve been looking into the origins of Rapunzel! I found the book fascinating, but ultimately I decided to make BRAIDED more of its own story (and more related to TANGLED, despite Forsyth’s dislike of that movie). The previous book in the Sisters Ever After series, THE LAST ROSE, got about as dark as I want to go with these retellings; for BRAIDED I focused heavily on the question of, “What would make this story fun for my readers?”

I ended up doing a lot of research to flesh out the magical system in BRAIDED, since Rapunzel and her sister do magic by braiding spells into their hair. And that let me down a pretty intense rabbit hole about braids and hairstyles. For a while, Instagram was showing me nothing but hair reels all the time. And for a while, my youngest daughter’s hair was very fancy every day.

I’ve found myself drawn to fairy tales these last couple of years, and I absolutely love the idea of looking at the stories from the point of view of the siblings. Can you tell us what inspired you to write fairy tale retellings, and how these unique points of view came about?

I have always loved fairy tale retellings. There’s something about playing with a very familiar story, one baked into our cultural memory, that is both incredibly fun and enormously satisfying. Ideally, you create a twist that draws on the power of that original story while simultaneously examining and/or subverting it.

One way to do that is to tell the story from a different perspective – from the point of view of someone the original fairy tale didn’t consider important or didn’t include at all. With the Sisters Ever After series, that approach is baked into the way I tell the story. But because sibling relationships are so varied, but it still allows me many different ways to use that new point of view. I’ve been having so much fun with it.

You’ve written novels centered on Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Pied Piper, Beauty and the Beast, and, now, Rapunzel. (And, I believe The Little Mermaid is up next). Did you have a favorite fairy tale as a kid? What about it did you love?

My favorite fairy tale growing up was The Twelve Dancing Princesses, about princesses who wear out their dancing shoes every night in a secret faerie realm. I think what I love about that story is how complex it is about what the princesses are doing and why. The story is pretty clear that the princesses are not being forced to dance—they are actively sneaking away and deceiving everyone around them—and yet, in the end, the dancing is what they have to be saved from. Obviously, that’s an easy story to turn on its head, but I like the tension in the fact that the faerie dancing is both fun and dangerous.

Originally, I was going to do The Twelve Dancing Princesses as one of the Sisters Ever After books! But everyone I told about the idea was confused by why on earth that story would need a thirteenth princess. In the end, I wrote two short story retellings of the Twelve Dancing Princesses but never a book. Yet.)

We’re big fans of teachers and librarians here at From the Mixed-Up Files. Could you tell our readers about a teacher or a librarian who had an effect on your reading or writing life?

I’ve been lucky to have a number of teachers who encouraged my interest in reading and writing. My first “publisher” was my first grade teacher, who compiled a booklet of students’ stories. (My story was written from the point of view of an ice cream cone.) In fourth grade, I used to sneak books into class and read them under my desk during math class. My parents told me years later that my teacher knew perfectly well what I was doing but decided to let me get away with it.

Libraries have been a huge influence on me since before I was born. My father grew up very poor, and his family could barely afford enough food; they certainly didn’t buy books. The fact that he could go to the public library and read as many books as he wanted was part of what transformed him into a reader, and the fact that he was a reader was part of what made me into a reader. I am hugely grateful to libraries.

You’ve been writing since first grade, and sold your first story while still in high school. Do you have any advice for our middle grade readers about getting started on a writing life?

Shortly after I got my first publishing contract, I saw this quote on Mandy Hubbard’s blog: “A published author is an amateur who didn’t quit. Don’t quit.” I think that’s the best advice I can give!  I would also suggest that you pace yourself in your writing development… first find your own voice and style, then find a critique group to polish it, and only then should you start worrying about publication.

Where can our readers find you?

My website is The place where I most reliably post writing news these days is on my Instagram, Leah Cypess. And if anyone is interested in getting a personalized signed copy of BRAIDED, I am running a preorder campaign through a local independent bookstore, People’s Book.


Thanks so much for visiting with us, Leah.

Readers, be sure to check out BRAIDED and the other books in Leah’s Sisters Ever After series. Do you have a favorite fairy tale? Let us know in the comments.

Black MG Magic

I firmly believe that it’s important to stand together against racism, and I’ve been making an effort to feature more black characters in my book talks and displays. Many of the book lists that I’ve come across featuring black protagonists have been full of great contemporary, realistic stories that deal with the experience of growing up black in America but haven’t had a lot of fantasy, sci-fi, or horror. So, here is a list of some of my favorite fantastical, magical, and spooky middle-grade stories featuring black heroes and heroines.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky Cover

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia- This upper middle grade follows seventh-grader Tristan Strong who accidentally rips a hole into a parallel world where West African gods and African American folk heroes battle iron monsters. To return home, Tristan must help the heroes find Anansi, who can heal the rift that he’s created between the worlds.


The Jumbies Cober

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste- Eleven year old Corrine doesn’t believe in jumbies, evil shape-shifting creatures that are said to live in the woods near her home, but when her father begins acting strangely following the arrival of the beautiful lady Severine, Corrine begins to suspect that Severine might actually be a jumbie and that she and her father are in danger.


Gloom Town Cover

Gloom Town by Ronald L. Smith- To help his struggling single mom, twelve-year-old Rory gets a job as a valet for the mysterious Lord Foxglove, but he soon discovers that the eerie goings-on at Foxglove Manor will put the whole town in danger, and it’s up to Rory and his best friend Izzy to stop them.



Bayou Magic Cover

Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes- When ten-year-old Maddy visits her grandmother in Bon Temps, LA, she discovers that she can summon fireflies and see mermaids, and when disaster rocks Maddy’s family, her magical gifts are the only things that can save her beloved bayou.



Dragons in a Bag coverDragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott- Nine-year-old Jaxon discovers a package of dragons when staying with a relative for the afternoon. “Ma”, the mean old lady, who raised his mother tries to return the dragons to their magical realm, but a transporter accident strands her, leaving the dragons in Zaxon’s care.



Forgotten Girl Cover

The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown- Iris and her best friend Daniel are playing in the woods behind her house when they discover the abandoned grave of a girl named Avery who died when she was near Iris’s age. Shortly after the discovery, Iris begins having nightmares about a ghost girl in the woods.


The Last Last-Day-of-Summer cover

The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles- On the last day of summer vacation, Otto and Sheed Alston accidentally freeze time in their small Virginia town. Now, they’ll need all their bravery and smarts to defeat the villainous Mr. Flux and save the day.



Shadows of Sherwood cover

Shadows of Sherwood by Kekla Magoon- In this futuristic Rbin Hood retelling, twelve-year-old Robyn Loxley flees to the forest following the disappearance of her parents. She bands together with a ragtag group of orphans and embarks on a mission to find her parents and stop the tyrannical Governor Crown.

Interview & Two Book Giveaway with Fred Koehler and Sarah McGuire

I’m thrilled to interview Fred Koehler and Sarah McGuire—both of them had a middle grade novel released this month. Sarah’s is a fairy tale retelling called The Flight of Swans. Fred wrote and illustrated Garbage Island (The Nearly Always Perilous Adventures of Archibald Shrew).

Sarah McGuire and Fred Koehler were once both awkward teenagers who mostly grew out of it. Each draws on their unfortunate adolescence to write stories for young readers. They met at a writers conference and decided to get married. In common they share: love of travel and adventure, dogs over cats, and sci-fi movies. They most often disagree about Oxford commas, whether or not Florida has hills, and who gets the fuzzy blanket.

Huge congrats to both of you! Can you tell us how you met and how you celebrated two book launches in one month?

Sarah: We met three years ago at one of Lorin Oberweger’s fabulous BONI workshops. Fred lived in Florida. I lived in Virginia. And we met in Hood River, OR. The manuscripts that we were working on then both sold– and they released October 1st and October 9th.


Fred: We celebrated in pretty low-key fashion. Dinner out with a little live music. We’ll have a proper celebration with our local community this weekend. A book signing, writing workshops, and other fun shenanigans.



It’s amazing that you met at a writing workshop! How did each of you come up with the ideas for your middle grade novels—and were there any bumps along the way?

Sarah: I’d known for a while that I wanted to write a retelling of “Six Swans.” In fact, I had a really thin first draft by the time we met at BONI. And while I adored the story I was telling and the characters I’d discovered, most of the novel felt like one big bump. The original tale gave me a mute heroine, a six-year timeline, and not too much action other than the relentless suffering of the heroine. So there was lots of work to do!

Fred: As a lifelong fisherman and outdoorsman, I spend a lot of time on Florida’s coast and I pay attention to stories about water quality and pollution. When I learned about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, my first reaction was disbelief. But the more I researched it the more I could visualize how it formed, and I also decided it would be an intriguing backdrop to an animal adventure.


After writing and illustrating so many wonderful picture books, how did you decide to write an illustrated middle grade novel and how did it compare to writing and illustrating a picture book? Can you share a bit of your process, Fred?

Fred: I started with novels, always wanting to write long form fiction. Problem: my stuff was terrible. Picture books became a great learning tool for storytelling, because this format allows 500 words or less to tell a complete, compelling narrative. That word-count limitation permits you to fail fast and try again. Through the process of making picture books, my writerly brain eventually caught up with my artist brain, and I knew that I had the missing pieces to return to novels.

I like to see each chapter or scene as an independent story, the kind you’d pull your friends together and say “Guys you won’t believe what just happened.” Anytime a passage doesn’t grab me with that sort of excitement, I know it’s missing something. Then I’ll go back in and make something explode or someone almost die horribly and the scene improves. 🙂


We’d love to hear some tips for writing a great fairy tale retelling, Sarah.

For me, the key to a great retelling is figuring out what you love and what you want to change. Both let you tap into your deepest emotions about that story– and that, in turn, fuels your retelling.

In “Six Swans” (retold as The Flight of Swans) I loved that a girl did the saving. That was so huge to me when I first read it as a child. I loved how all the siblings looked after each other. I also became fascinated by stinging nettles! On the other hand, I didn’t like that the heroine’s main role to was to suffer in silence. I wanted her to push back. And I really didn’t like how her husband just steps aside at the end when her enemies want to burn her at the stake. Knowing what I didn’t like let me “fix” it. I was able to write a heroine who had agency, not just endurance. And I made sure that she ended up with guy who would appreciate such an amazing heroine.


What do each of you love about your spouse’s novel? What surprised you the most?

Sarah: This is an awesome question! I love the adventure in Garbage Island–the near misses, and the moments when you wonder whether the characters will make it. And I also love how the characters surprised me. Fred is definitely an explosions and mayhem sort of guy, but his characters also have heart and depth and … how can you not love that?


Fred: Anytime I can see the story someone is telling, I know it’s going to be a good one. Sarah paints a world of words that I want to live in. Without any visual art, she inspires the imagination to create gorgeous landscapes filled with intricate detail, characters whose faces I can see in my head, and dynamic lighting that matches the magical mood of her story.

Both of your responses made me smile! I can hear the excitement and appreciation you have for each other’s work.

Can you share a writing exercise?

Fred: Stealing Jon Maberry’s “What’s the Story?” game. It’s brilliant, it works for every genre, and it goes like this: Walk around until you see two things that don’t belong together. A cat in a pizza box. A flip flop on a rooftop. A businessman on a swing set. Then ask yourself, “what’s the story?” By the time your imagination creates a dozen scenarios that could have gotten those two mismatched items together, you’ll have one or two really fun beginnings.

Sarah: I always hear and write dialog first. I can’t help it. I don’t delve much into the physical surroundings or body language until I’m revising. So when I hit dialog-heavy portions of my book, I’ll ask myself what the speaker is holding, touching, or looking at. (This is a variation on advice that Hannah Barnaby once gave me.) What’s in her pocket? What does he hope someone won’t find in his satchel? What’s the one gift she wishes she’d never received? These objects don’t always show up in the story, but they’re a great way to help me understand and develop my characters.


Thank you so much! These are fantastic writing exercises that I’m sure writers and teachers will love to use. I’ll definitely play “What’s the Story” to help me come up with a bunch of future book ideas during Storystorm in January. And I also hear and write dialogue first and can’t wait to delve deeper using Sarah’s suggestions.  

What are you working on now?

Fred: The sequel to Garbage Island is due, um, yesterday and I’m about 80% finished. I’m calling it The Sailing City. It’s got the same loveable, flawed, adventurous characters with even more mayhem, misguided inventions, and deadly peril.

Sarah: I’m working on a YA retelling of a Russian fairy tale, “Finist the Bright Falcon,” where a princess in iron shoes and an eagle huntress embark on a quest to save an enchanted prince.


Those both sound wonderful! I hope we’ll have the chance to read them soon.

Is there anything else you’d like your readers to know?

Fred: A positive Goodreads or amazon review is always super-helpful and encouraging.

Sarah: I’ll be offering free Skype visits to classes and book clubs- look for information on my website.


Thank you both for this wonderful interview and your generous giveaway. The way you two met and have middle grade novels coming out the same month feels magical, and I can’t wait for our readers to learn more about you and your awesome books.

You can find out more about Fred on his website and Twitter.

Learn more about Sarah—including her FREE Skype visits on her website and follow her on Twitter, too.

Enter the Rafflecopter widget below for a chance to win signed copies of The Flight of Swans and Garbage Island (The Nearly Always Perilous Adventures of Archibald Shrew).  One lucky person will win both books on Thursday, November 1. Good luck!

*This giveaway is only available in the United States.

The Flight of Swans

Princess Andaryn’s six older brothers have always been her protectors–until her father takes a new Queen, a frightening, mysterious woman who enchants the men in the royal family. When Ryn’s attempt to break the enchantment fails, she makes a bitter bargain: the Queen will spare her brothers’ lives if Ryn remains silent for six years.

Ryn thinks she freed her brothers, but she never thought the Queen would turn her brothers into swans. She never thought she’d have to discover the secret to undoing the Queen’s spell while eluding the Otherworldly forces that hunt her. And she never thought she’d have to do it alone, without speaking a single word.

As months as years go by, Ryn learns there is more to courage than speech . . . and that she is stronger than the Queen could have ever imagined.


Garbage Island

Mr. Popli, the mouse mayor of Garbage Island, is always at odds with Archibald Shrew, a brilliant but reckless inventor. When Garbage Island, their home in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, splits apart, they are trapped together in Mr. Popli’s houseboat, desperate to find their way back home. At first, they only argue, but when they face a perilous thunderstorm and a series of predators, they begin to work together and recognize – in themselves and in each other – strengths they didn’t know they had.

a Rafflecopter giveaway