Back in September/beginning of October we asked author of A Tale Dark and Grimm (and sequels) for an interview and we have all just finally connected, got that interview completed and here we go! So a touch of fairy tale, a touch of horror to bring a little randomness to our January posts :) Enjoy – oh, and I still totally recommend these awesome books!
Interview with Adam
1. Tolkien, in his essay on Fairy Stories, laments the fact that fairy tales have been relegated to the nursery. But as we know, today, there are fairy tales for all ages. As an author and someone who has worked with children and told stories over a number of years, what do you attribute to the success of fairy tales not just amongst children, but among adults in contemporary society as well? Why did you decide to write for children, and about children?
The fairy tale is the most basic form of story. It tells of someone facing a challenge at home, venturing forth from that home and encountering an even greater challenge out in the world, and then bringing the strength, wisdom, or riches that he has gained in the world back home, to solve the original problem. (There are exceptions to this form, lots of them, but this is the basic idea). That form is just as attractive to adults as it is to children. Especially in times of economic recession or national uncertainty, people often want to flee to the forest of fantasy, in an attempt to subliminally work out their real-world troubles, and to then return to the real world, better equipped to face it.
I write for children for an entirely different reason. Adults, by and large, are boring. (I do not escape this condemnation, though I recognize it). Children, by and large, are awesome. When I talk to them, I get more interesting, more excited, more interested in the world. Likewise when I write for them. There is no room for being jaded or blasé. They have been in possession of their little minds for a very short time, and the world is still full to bursting with excitement. As it should be for all of us, as our brains are very small, and the world is very large. They help us remember that.
Also, kids want books that are exciting, and challenging (despite what some publishers believe), and emotionally penetrating, and funny all at once. In writing for adults, one typically has to choose just one of these—either it is a literary drama, or a thriller, or a comic novel. For kids, it’s all of those things at once. When I write for kids, every part of my brain is engaged. That’s all one can ask of one’s profession, I think.
2. I have placed your book somewhere between Fairy Tales month and horror month because I think that your book is a hybrid of the two genres, what do you think? Was this your intention? Did you have a genre in mind while writing?
I didn’t. I was just retelling the real Grimm fairy tales, and trying to get my readers as excited about the tales as the kids to whom I had told those tales in person were. Little did I know that children were such bloodthirsty creatures that they would catapult my book to the bestseller list again and again. But hey, I can’t disagree. Kissing is gross, and blood is awesome. That’s just the way the world is.
3. One thing that I really enjoyed about your book was your narrator. Arguably it is this element of your books that is really unique and creative and keeps us readers coming back for more. The narrator never underestimates the child reader, what is it about oral story telling that is so magical? What led to this choice? Why not just use the more common omniscient narrator or close third person, first person?
My narrative voice was an accident. It came about like this: I was supposed to be the substitute librarian at the school where I teach, and read a story to some second graders. I took a book off the shelf called GRIMM’S TALES FOR YOUNG AND OLD and opened to a story called Faithful Johannes. In it, two kids get their heads cut off…. by their parents. I thought, “Can I read this to second graders? Will I get fired?” And then I thought, “Let’s find out!” So I read it to them, making jokes as I went and trying to make things not too terrifying. And afterwards, half of them were completely traumatized, and the other half asked me to make the story into a book.
I thought this wasn’t a bad idea, except that it already IS a book. How could I differentiate my own telling? And then, one day, it hit me (I remember the moment very clearly, in fact). What if I told the story, and others like it, exactly as I told it to those kids. With all the warnings, and jokes, and side conversations, right there in the text? As for not underestimating them, as a teacher of eight years, I know that underestimating a child is the best way to ensure that your classroom will be destroyed within the hour. An unchallenged kid is a demon. No difference whatsoever.
4. I have flipped through your blog, watched and read some other interviews with you and so I know a little about the inception of your Grimm series and how your characters came about. I wondered, what drew you to the particular tales that you incorporate in your novels? How did you piece together all of these tales into a cohesive story arch? Was there a lot of planning? Did you have to chop any particular tale?
That was fun. That was me sitting with my Grimm book and thumbing through it, choosing the funniest, weirdest, and bloodiest stories I could. I then practised telling them, over and over, until I had the ones that I liked best down cold. Only then did I write them down.
Certainly, in the course of creating one narrative, many stories get truncated or otherwise changed. That’s part of the quilting process.
5. For me, the moral of your stories aren’t necessarily in tales themselves, as with the Grimms originals (however obscure and brutal these morals might have been). However, there is a message within the characters: the genuine affection between Hansel and Gretel, and wonderful struggles between Jack and Jill. The relationships are so believable, funny and cruel; these children are relatable and real. What drew you to this choice? Where did you draw your inspiration for your child characters and their relationships?
That’s very kind of you to say. But I don’t believe the Grimm’s tales have morals. They dramatize emotional situations—betrayal, loss, fear, ambition—but they rarely moralize. What’s the moral of Cinderella? Don’t cut off your toes, or you’ll never marry a prince? But the emotional situation of Cinderella—being unappreciated, teased, isolated—is universal. I just tried to live up to the high standards that the Brothers Grimm set.
6. According to a number of critical theorists, such as Bruno Bettelheim, fairy tales teach children to assimilate culture. As such, children learn to perform gender and differentiate between each other through these stories. How (if you do so, and I think you do!) do you subvert traditional expressions of gender in your stories?
My favorite story about gender and my books took place at a school, last autumn. A third grader was examining my book, when he looked at me and demanded, “Why is the girl holding the sword?” I smiled at him and replied, “Because she’s going to use it.” He said, “Woah…” There are plenty of strong girls in fairy tales, though. I love Bettelheim, but I don’t entirely agree with him on that point.
7. What should we most look forward to in the third and final installment of the Grimm series The Grimm Conclusion? Besides that it will be equally ghastly, gory, and hopelessly hilarious. Will we see the return of any of our beloved protagonists? How many times will our lovely narrator tell us to turn back?
I’ve taken so long to respond to these questions that you can now find out for yourself!
A big thanks to Adam for the interview no matter how late it is always nice to read through these interviews. Do check out Adam’s books, blog and keep an eye out for the live action film of A Tale Dark and Grimm!