Issue 047 Author Interview: Allison Mulder and “The Backwards Princess of Unusual Parentage”

Today’s Issue 047 author interview is for all the fairy tale lovers out there! Allison Mulder is here to give us the scoop on how to approach writing a fresh fairy tale like “The Backwards Princess of Unusual Parentage.”

LSQ: This was an absolutely brilliant use of the magic mirror trope! Where did the idea for the mirror men and their magic come from?

Allison: This story was first drafted in 2016, and I’m afraid the original story seed may be lost to time. However, I’ve always been interested in fairy tales and their retellings, changeling and doppelganger folklore, that kind of thing. If I reverse engineer the story concept, it likely grew out of wondering something like either, “What if a queen fell in love with her magic mirror?” or, “Why would a fairy tale charlatan even want a firstborn child anyway?”

I respect authors with very organized worldbuilding and plotting strategies, who can fill charts and story bibles with details before they even begin to write…I respect it because I usually cannot do that. My story-building approach is often a lot of If…thens. If I’ve decided X is true halfway through a draft, that means Y must have happened to make that possible–so those choices ripple out to the rest of the story. If a queen did fall in love with her mirror, clearly their child would be left-handed and extremely skilled at reading backwards. How could a mirror even have a child? Well, the queen must have made the sort of magical deal worth promising her firstborn for. Why would anyone want a queen’s firstborn child? Well, clearly, as anyone could guess, there must be one thousand sorcerers holed up in a mirror world, hoarding magic but needing somebody to act as their go-between in both a physical and political sense–and I bet those sorcerers would be very angry if the queen failed to hold up her end of the deal…

I find what story-logic makes sense to me, then try to smooth out the rough edges until it will seem perfectly reasonable to the reader, too.

LSQ: Which fairy tale tropes did you find were crucial for this story? Which ones do you reject?

Allison: As I said, I love changelings and doppelgangers, the whole concept of mirror-worlds, and that definitely influenced the imagery with the mirror-men, and the firstborn royals who sometimes come back a little…different. I’m also interested in deals with the devil–trades that can give a character everything but also bring them so close to ruin.

I drew on Snow White and Sleeping Beauty for some things–the existence of the magic mirror, the idea of trying to hide away everything that might trigger a princess’s curse, like hiding every spindle in the kingdom lest the princess prick her finger. But the magic mirror’s owner in this story isn’t evil, there’s no prince to speak of, and the “curse” plaguing the princess didn’t come from any personal grudges or that kind of thing. It’s the consequence of a deal her parents walked into willingly–playing off the idea that magic always has a cost. Whether the sorcerers were offering a fair asking price is a whole other question…

In the end, I think this tale grew into its own new thing. At least in my opinion, I wouldn’t call it a Snow White or Sleeping Beauty retelling, though the inspirations are definitely still present. It’s a mish-mash of tropes I like and topics that interest me, and I’m still personally very fond of the result.

LSQ: What do you think are some things people should consider when writing a fairy tale-esque story?

Allison: One of my favorite things to do in fiction is take a familiar or seemingly overdone story, and find a new way to tell it. “What could make this interesting again?” “What’s an angle I’ve never seen considered?” I love zeroing in on side characters or minor plot points and making them the center of a story. Or even just considering what might have happened way before the Once Upon a Time, or long after the Happily Ever After.

Fairy tales and the style they’re written in can be a fun jumping off point, but don’t feel too bound to what exists already. I think there’s a lot of room for originality and fresh perspectives–especially coming from writers who’ve been underrepresented previously. How can you tell this story in the way only you can tell it? Try telling the same story twice, but differently! Splice things together, or veer off completely… Some of my favorite retellings are the ones practically unrecognizable from the source material. That said, reinventing the wheel isn’t always necessary. What interests you about the style or story you’re drawing from? What makes you pick up a story you may have heard a thousand times, “But now I’m going to tell it my way.”

LSQ: Are there any other projects you’re currently working on? If so, could you tell us a bit about them?

I tend to jump around from story to story, so I have many shorts and novel projects in the pipeline, which I’m slowly chipping away at until they’re presentable for other humans. Lately I’ve been in the mood for a lot of science fiction, and eerie horror-leaning tales, and sometimes the intersection between the two.

Also ghosts. Lots and lots of ghost stories, some scary, some not, each with a different world-building schtick. Earlier in this interview I mentioned finding new angles on familiar concepts? I could someday fill a very weighty anthology with all the times I’ve excitedly burst into a new Word document like, “I found a new way ghosts are!”

But then again, all this talk of fairy tales has me thinking maybe it’s time to revisit that old project about what happens long, long after the events of Rapunzel…