When people ask me where I got the idea for Snow White Red-Handed, I’m not sure where to start. I can say with certainty, however, that the entire Fairy Tale Fatal series began as a self-indulgent, irresponsible project.
Yes. Call it Escape from Academic Drudgery. Charge me as guilty for writing an entire novel as a way to procrastinate on my homework.
This is what happened: I’ve always been fascinated with fairy tales, so when I had the chance to pick my texts for a freshman comp class I was teaching, I decided to use fairy tales and fairy tale criticism as a way to help my students learn to write about literature. So I had fairy tales on the brain, big time. The next thing I knew, the fairy tale stuff had cross-pollinated in the back of my mind with the nineteenth-century American literature texts I was reading in preparation for my PhD qualifying exams. Louisa May Alcott, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Walt Whitman . . . yeah. How the heck does that crowd mix with fairy tales? But the more I thought about it, the more excited I got. I’ve always loved stories with outsider protagonists, and a Yankee girl in the Black Forest sounded like a book I wanted to read. So I decided to write it. Kind of for fun. And as a way to procrastinate on grading student papers and chewing through that pesky PhD reading list.
Once I got started writing and researching Snow White Red-Handed, other things worked their way into the story. Some of them are personal. For instance, my heroine Ophelia Flax is a variety hall actress, and one of my great-grandmothers was a singer on the variety hall stage.
Other personal ingredients are the Baden-Baden and Heidelberg settings. When I was in college, I spent two summers in Heidelberg working as an orchestral violinist in Heidelberg’s Castle Festival, and I traveled a couple of times to Baden-Baden on my days off.
Baden-Baden has a simply amazing thermal spa, by the way, if you aren’t averse to getting whacked on the rear after your scrubbing has been completed by a muscly attendant. Seriously. I was enchanted by the area, and it evidently left its mark on my imagination. I even have a recurring dream of hiking to a castle inhabited by elves, hidden on a mountain above Heidelberg. There is a story to that, and no, it doesn’t involve a psychotherapist. Although maybe it should.
Another personal inspiration: I’ve always had a secret crush on the composer Johannes Brahms, and Brahms spent a lot of time in Baden-Baden. In fact, even though the hero of Snow White Red-Handed, Professor Penrose, is British, I picture him like the young Brahms, plus spectacles.
Okay, so I had this amazing setting that I’d always been in love with, a hero who looks like the young Brahms, and the fruitfully absurd concept of a practical Yankee variety hall actress who finds herself in the patently impractical land of German fairy tales. Add a castle, a murder, and a cast of shifty characters, plus a hapless friend for Ophelia by the name of Prue, and off I went.
There were times, I’ll admit, when writing Snow White Red-Handed seemed like a lot more work than just doing my homework and grading my students’ papers, by golly. The historical research was time consuming, though once I found Mark Twain’s two travelogues The Innocents Abroad and A Tramp Abroad, things got smoother. Getting my characters’ speech to sound historical without confusing twenty-first century readers was also tricky (fingers crossed that I pulled it off). Oh, and then there was the little issue called the mystery plot. Tangled, indeed.
In the end, though, Snow White Red-Handed almost miraculously turned out as that book I’d wanted to read: an unexpected, frivolous, magical, adventurous, and romantic romp. I am so delighted that Berkley Prime Crime picked up my Fairy Tale Fatal series, and I hope readers will enjoy escaping into the mysterious woods of the nineteenth century as much as I did.
The publisher has generously offered a copy of Snow White Red-Handed to one of my readers. Please comment below before midnight on November 12, 2014. Entries from the US only, please.