Interview with Fran Laniado (Beautiful)

Hello Fran, you’ve recently released a stunning debut novel called Beautiful. What was the journey like to getting it published?

It was a long process. After I had a draft, I was unsure how I wanted to go about getting it published. I started by querying agents, but as I learned more about the publishing process I started to wonder if “traditional” publishing was right for me. You can spend years querying agents, revising and resubmitting your work according to their specifications, before finding the right agent. Then an agent can spend years submitting it to publishers, who then take a few years to publish! I felt like, if I was lucky, readers might see something resembling the book I originally wrote in 5 years! 

So, I started to research other options. I spoke to several “independent” authors who published their own work and used various online resources to get it to readers and get the word out. In some ways that seemed very doable: I could have control over the process, and I could make the changes that I felt were appropriate. But it was also very scary! In a traditional publishing environment, you have different people who take care of editing, formatting, marketing etc. If I decided to publish independently, I’d be more or less on my own. But different blogs and groups were very helpful in helping me find beta readers, and freelancers who edited it, formatted everything, did the cover, and helped me put it all together. I’ve found that the writing community is generally very encouraging and supportive.

Beautiful is a Beauty and The Beast retelling. I know you’re releasing a sequel based on the Snow Queen. There have been a few series inspired by fairytale retellings over the last two decades – the Lunar Chronicles, The Kendra Chronicles, Ella Enchanted and Fairest – what sets this series apart?

I’m a big fan of several of those series! One thing I love about fairy tales is how many different variations there are. If you look at a single fairy tale, the Disney version may be very different from the Grimm’s brothers telling, and that might be different from the traditional French version! I think that gives a writer a lot of freedom. You can borrow elements from the different versions, but personally I don’t feel constrained because there’s always room for something new and different. 

My “Beauty and the Beast” is a bit different from other retellings because it’s centered around the character who curses the Beast. She takes on the love interest role eventually, though I wouldn’t call her “Beauty” … But then again, I wouldn’t be so quick to call Finn, the character she curses, a “Beast” either. They have elements of both in their characters. That’s why I gave it the subtitle “A Tale of Beauties and Beasts” The line between the two isn’t always clear. 

How many books do you intend to have in this series?

Right now, my plan is to do one book for each of Eimear’s (the protagonist of Beautiful) sisters. My next novel, based on The Snow Queen, is centered on her sister Aoife. I’ve started some very early drafting for a third book about Deidre, another sister. There are four girls in the family altogether and I’d love to have one book for each sister. But I’m not as fast a writer as I’d like to be! I have a lot of ideas, but they take a lot of time to develop and work my way through. So, things may change…

What’s your favourite fairytale and can you tell us a bit about why it’s your favourite?

To be honest I think Beauty and the Beast has always been a favorite. I love almost every version I’ve read/seen (yes, including Disney!) It’s strange that one of the elements that always appealed to me was the forgotten, enchanted, castle where the Beast lives, but that’s an element that I didn’t include in my retelling at all! I definitely like that it tries to debunk our conventional notions about beauty, but I do think that if it’s done poorly it can end up reinforcing them, so that’s something I wanted to avoid. Another common pitfall is having the central relationship resembling Stockholm Syndrome. I don’t think that’s the intention at all, and that was another pitfall I was anxious to avoid. 

Are there any fairytales you wish were retold more often? Are there any that you feel have received too much attention from writers?

It’s strange: I think Beauty and the Beast gets a bit too much attention, but that’s the one that I felt like I had something to say about! So, I found myself writing my own version. I’m having a similar experience right now with Cinderella. We have a million variations on that story already, but I started to have ideas for my own. So, I’m exploring that currently. 

As for fairy tales I wish were retold more often, I think a lot of lesser-known fairy tales are wonderful. East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and The Six Swans are definite favorites that I feel like I’d love to tackle at some point. I’d also love to see more from non-western cultures and learn more about their fairy tales myself. 

If you could be a mythical creature, which would you be?

I like the idea of being a selkie. I like the idea of being able to take off my skin in a different environment and become something else entirely.

You mention on your website that you are particularly fond of theatre and used to act in high school and summer camp productions. How does your love of theatre influence the way you write, if at all?

That’s a really good question. I think that some of the questions I ask myself as a writer are similar to the questions that an actor asks him/herself when creating a character: how does this person walk/talk? Does this person have any habits or unconscious, nonverbal ways of expressing themselves? Sometimes you can convey a lot about a character very efficiently by “showing” what they’re doing. Little gestures like tapping a toe when you’re nervous or putting objects down with more force than necessary when you’re angry, say a lot. And sometimes it’s better if the character doesn’t say “I’m nervous” or “I’m mad”. Maybe that particular character wouldn’t be that open about his/her emotions. So, you find other ways to get it across to the reader/audience.

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