Interview with Author Katelyn Barbee
June 6, 2018
Renee Frey, COO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
On May 31st, our friends in the Just-Us League published their fifth anthology A Bit of Magic: A Collection of Fairy Tale Retellings.
A Bit of Magic
The oldest story can be made new again, changed and altered until it is reimagined and restored.
Pride interferes with happily-ever-afters: a proud princess is tested and tests the prince in return; a young thief is caught red-handed and must make amends; and a vain queen struggles to save her stepdaughter.
Finding love is not a simple task: a hero searches for the ideal magical bride; an innocent librarian is charmed by a man with a menacing secret; a queen takes a spoiled prince as her sole deckhand; and a well-intentioned princess seeks to make things right with her father.
Change causes chaos, for better or worse: a scheming cat seeks to better the lot of his daydreaming master; a cursed pirate captain is given a second chance when he finds a young stowaway; a spoiled teenager suffers the consequences of turning her best friend into a toad; and a thief and a rebel hiding secrets meet at a ball.
Follow these characters on their journeys as eleven magical tales are turned on their heads and seen from new perspectives.
Today, I'm here with Katelyn, author of "The Thief and the Spy," a Cinderella retelling included in the anthology.
Katelyn, thanks for joining us! What inspired your retelling?
I wanted to challenge myself. Cinderella has been done so many times, how could I make it my own while still leaving it recognizable? Which is how it turned into a story with spies and thieves. Freedom became a central them. My Prince Charming (Theo) has a great deal of freedom and wants to help others to obtain it. My Cinderella (Asha) has none, nor does she think it is possible for herself or others.
Did you use any famous fairy tale symbols? How did any metaphors, similes, or symbols in the original inspire your retelling?
Cinderella is of course famous for the glass slipper, so I put a fun twist on that. Instead of losing a shoe, Asha loses one of her magical wooden hands. I also incorporated her dresses getting progressively finer each night and my Theo never finding out Asha’s name throughout the ball. He has to earn that. Also, I mixed one of the stepsisters with the fairy godmother/mother’s spirit character, resulting in Dove, whose name is a nod to the birds that help Cinderella throughout different versions of the tale.
A4A fans, you can read my recent blog post on fairy tale symbolism here.
So Katelyn, what was the hardest part of writing your story?
The ending! Specifically, making sure the ending satisfied the expectations I’d set up for myself. Cinderella is one of the most well known fairy tales, perhaps even the most well known because it’s so universal, so creating an ending that respected the different versions while also giving the readers something fresh and interesting was a challenge. I think I probably went through four or five complete rewrites before I got it right!
What short stories have you participated thus far in the JL anthologies, and how did this experience differ from your previous JLA stories?
I have a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin (set in the same universe as my Cinderella retelling) in our first volume, From the Stories of Old, and I also participated in volume three, Whispers in the Shadows, our horror anthology.
This one being my third short and second retelling, it was a bit easier to know where to start when writing. My first short story, The Miller’s Daughter, was often trial and error. For that one, I set out with a vague idea of what I wanted and so it went through several significant changes with each round of critiques. This time around, while I did have to do a significant amount of rewriting, the story itself changed less overall. It was more a process of refining what I already had written.
OOH, interesting! Are you building a cosmere, like Brandon Sanderson and some other fantasy writers? And can we expect a full-length novel in this shared setting?
Yes, actually. Both of my JLA fairy tale shorts take place in the same world as my first novel (currently titled Brisingamen), only in different time periods and locations. There are Easter eggs for both through the novel and other books in the series. Brisingamen picks up about 30 years after the events of The Thief and the Spy. It follows the children of some of the rebellion heroes from Asha’s and Theo’s generation.
What made you choose the fairy tale you did?
Cinderella has always been one of my favorites, though not necessarily for the romance aspect most modern versions include. I think I like the idea of the universe righting the life of someone who perseveres and remains kind to others despite her own unfortunate circumstances.
Cinderella is definitely a fun story to adapt and play with!
Did you stick closely to the fairy tale you rewrote?
Er...sort of? I do follow most of the plot beats, especially as the story goes on, but I have several significant divergences as well. My Prince Charming character, Theo, for example, isn’t terribly interested in finding a bride, but rather recruiting for the rebellion he’s a member of. I might’ve also taken the “charming” aspect of his character a bit literally and given him the ability to magically persuade the minds of others…
And my then there’s my Cinderella, Asha, a thief with magical wooden hands. She’s only going to the ball because her mother wants her to dig up exploitable secrets on the wealthy. To Asha, the ball is just another job until she (quite literally) runs into Theo and he starts pursuing her.
Do you prefer a happy ending, and did that affect how you wrote your story?
I do love happy endings as long as they’re earned. That actually was rather tricky to get right for my story. I didn’t want to turn Asha into a damsel in distress and have Theo to rescue her from a life of servitude. Modern readers expect more of their heroines than that. But I also didn’t want to turn Theo into a prize for Asha to “win” in the end, so they end up saving each other instead.
How long have you been writing?
Since high school. Growing up, I would tell stories (orally) or draw out scenes or character depicting what I couldn’t find the (written) words to express. It took some time for my writing skills to catch up to my imagination.
Other than Brisingamen, what projects are you working on now?
Currently, the big one is my YA fantasy series. Book one (Brisingamen) is complete and I’m about to dive into editing it again for what will be my third draft. I’ll hopefully have that one ready to query by the end of this year or the beginning of the next one. I’ve also written about a third of it’s sequel. Books three, four, and five have all been outlined to various degrees as well.
I also have several short stories in the works for JL future anthologies. You can expect to see more from me in #5, #6 and beyond!
Thank you so much for your time, Katelyn! And readers, don’t forget to purchase your copy of A Bit of Magic, available in ebook or paperback on Amazon.
Katelyn Barbee is a Phoenix college student by day and a writer by night. When not working on her fantasy series, you can find her at the cinema catching the latest flicks or enjoying a nature walk when the weather is nice.