The Duke of Snow and Apples, Guest Post
People always ask writers, “Where do you get your ideas?”
Well, I’m a pantser (as in, I write by the seat of my pants with no outline), so I typically come up with the concept before I discover the story itself.
Now, I adore fairy tales and grew up with the films of the Disney Renaissance. Out of all the films, I always loved The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast the best. In the earlier princess films, the princesses weren’t really the main characters. They danced and smiled and sang on cue, but mostly they remained in the background while the more interesting dwarves, mice, and fairies fueled most of the action.
However, my two favourite princesses from the Disney Renaissance are unquestionably the heroines of their own stories. Moreover, these two heroines save their heroes. Yes, Mermaid’s Ariel is very young, impetuous and naïve – but she has agency. Ariel is the character who dives into the sea to save her prince from death, and later from a fate worse than death (marriage to Ursula, ick). Meanwhile, Beauty and the Beast functions a bit like a reverse Sleeping Beauty – where the prince and his household labour under a spell until the princess overcomes his thorny temper.
For my own story, I thought, what if I went further than simply adapting a fairytale to give the heroine more agency? What if I switched the roles entirely and gave both hero and heroine equal stakes in this story? I wound up thinking about Snow White, since in both film and fairytale versions, she comes across as especially helpless to me – probably because she’s not the brightest apple on the grocer’s cart. Hell, in the fairytale, the Evil Queen tries to kill her three times (with a girdle, a comb, and then an apple) and she never learns not to take stuff from strangers.
So what if I switched it? What if Snow White was a young man, hiding in obscurity, waiting for his princess to come and rescue him? What if the Prince Charming was a somewhat spoiled, but ultimately good-hearted woman determined to overcome her own insecurities and pursue the man of her dreams?
That was how I sparked the idea for The Duke of Snow and Apples. However, filling in the blanks, and coming up with the story for our runaway duke and his Princess Charming, was an entirely different task. In the original fairy tale, Snow White had to work for her room and board with the Seven Dwarves, so I thought, “Why not make Frederick Snow a footman?” Where better for a fleeing aristocrat to hide than in the invisible role of a servant?
Working as a servant in 19th century England (or a fantasy realm based on 19th century England) required a great deal of stamina, skill, and patience, in return for relatively little reward other than one’s wages. If you were a lower servant (housemaid or footman), you’d be lucky if your boss got your name right.
While researching the lives of servants in English households, I then began to develop more of Frederick’s character. He is definitely a Beta hero, strong and supportive rather than arrogant and assertive, but with an unbreakable moral core of loyalty, compassion, and self-sacrifice. However, he’s built such an icy wall around his emotions in an effort to protect himself and others that he’s almost completely isolated from everyone else. This, in turn, helped inform my development of Charlotte’s character. I definitely needed someone outrageous, impulsive, and a little silly to counter Frederick’s guarded seriousness and drag him out of his shell.
The more I wrote, the more my story and the symbolism of the original fairy tale braided together. The tragedy of a cold prince forced to live behind glass, the forbidden temptation of a red-peeled apple (or in this case, a girl in a red dress), and of course – the transformative power of a kiss!
Several rounds of editing, critiquing, and revising later, that story became The Duke of Snow and Apples – a Snow White retelling with a magical, romantic twist.