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Tag: Fran Laniado

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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Beautiful

BY FRAN LANIADO

When I finished reading Beautiful by Fran Laniado, I had an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. Not because the book was rubbish. Quite the contrary, I had become so involved, so present with the characters that when the story ended, I didn’t know what do with myself. It was as if I had lost my companions – Eimear, Finn and the horse Eachann. Why did it have to end? I can only hope there’s to be a second book… Is there? 🙁

The story is a Beauty and the Beast retelling and before you roll your eyes, this is not a typical retelling.

The main character Eimear is a socially awkward fairy princess with a weird-looking face and white hair – and before you roll your eyes again, the hair is compared to an old woman’s, it’s hardly exotic.

The love-interest Finn is a beautiful cruel and vein prince from “The World” (human world) whom Eimear accidentally curses, turning him into a sight for sore eyes. But hey, mistakes happen.

The danger with involving a character cursed with ugliness is that it risks communicating favour in conventional beauty standards. Finn was never described in a way that could have been associated with real conditions that result in deformity. In fact, there was a sense of an otherworldly magic in his features. 

In fact, what I appreciated most of all was that the majority of the supporting characters were beautiful except for the two main characters. Yes, take that Hollywood and conventional beauty standards. Think you can handle a supporting cast more beautiful than your stars? It’s a big ask, I know. It was hard enough with Ugly Betty, but I have faith in you. You will achieve it someday.

Putting looks and Hollywood aside, Eimear is exactly how I imagine Belle. I know she’s not Belle. She’s the enchantress. But her personality, the fact that she is clearly not neurotypical and that she’s curious but in an introverted manner, it’s exactly what I wanted in a retelling. 

I also appreciated the nod to the original story when Eimear suggests she go find a “beauty” for Finn to help break the spell. In the original tale it’s a merchant who fetches the beauty. What’s even funnier is that Eimear is so earnest, even though the idea is absurd and Finn points that out. (Don’t worry, she doesn’t follow through).

Maybe this is me on a delusive tangent, but some scholars believe, as well as those in my community (I am autistic), that changelings were most likely autistic babies. Some believe that even fairies – what with their large ears, expressionless faces, wide apart eyes and high voices – were metaphors for those on the autism spectrum. I may be barking up the wrong tree, but Eimear’s love of people-watching, her love of music, her earnestness, how every emotion is concentrated only in her eyes, her lack of interest in socialising, parties and fashion – everything really – made me wonder if Eimear was autistic. For most of the book I just assumed the likeness was a coincidence, but when Eimear had the heart-to-heart with her mother about how she felt like an alien, I began to wonder if she was meant to be autistic.

Regardless of my wackadoodle theory, I thought Eimear was perfect. It’s not every day that I read a book in three days – mostly because I find it difficult to relate to many protagonists. It’s why I like Belle (Disney cartoon Belle). I mean, she likes books and solitude – an all-round sensible human being. It’s about time we had a Beauty and the Beast retelling with a proper Belle character. It’s a cause I feel passionately about. More stories with Eimears and Belles please! 

And some nice sensitive Finns with proper interests like carving and woodwork. None of that “Look at me, I’m shirtless.” Or “I’m so broody and deep and I like my solitude, but hey I do small talk.”

Yeah, Finn’s cool. Apart from when he’s unwell, then he’s hot and sweaty (no swooning matter), but I won’t spoil it for you because you definitely have to read this. I’m calling to all Beauty and the Beast lovers – except those rare fans of Beastly (they tragically exist) – you all need to read this blessing of a book.

And if you’re looking for a heroine whose feelings of difference are not displaced, you’ve come to the right place. (And that kind of rhymed). 

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