Interview with Malinda Lo

Reading your book made me want to go back and reread the original or even watch
the Disney movie.

ML: I watched a lot of Cinderella movies. There are even more
Cinderella movies than books, as far as I can tell. Every time they came out
with a new one I watched it. It was really interesting to see what they would
do. The Disney one is fascinating to watch as an adult. I loved that when I was a little girl.

One thing I really loved in your version is that the Fairy Godmother is a man
named Sidhean who knew Ash’s mother. Can you talk about why you decided to
write this character in this way?

ML: I had done research on folklore and fairytales that folklorists
had collected from the Irish and English countryside in the late 19th
century and all of the fairies in those folktales were creepy, evil,
people.  They were not “bibbidy bobbidy
boo.” I noticed that there were a lot of similarities between the fairies in
Irish mythology or folklore and vampires. 
There are a lot of stories where they’ll drink blood and they are also
very close to the dead.  A lot of times
they’re considered to be “not quite living.” 
There’s a very interesting connection between vampires and fairies in
our present day aliens — I’m not kidding, with the lights on the hills, the
abductions.   Simultaneously I was
watching a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I think that was around the time
of season six when Spike really became huge. I loved spike.  So, honestly, my first inspiration for
Sidhean was Spike.  But he changed a lot.

One thing I appreciated about their dynamic is how Ash’s feelings for Sidhean
and for the Huntress Kaisa, whom she falls in love with, really seem to model a
young queer woman coming to terms with her sexuality and the confusion of
looking at these two people and seeing how they fit into her world.  Was that intentional?

ML: Ash in some way is falling in love with both of them. But the way she falls in love with Kaisa is
different qualitatively than her experience with Sidhean. It probably does parallel a lot of what young
queer girls experience in terms of figuring out what she wants.

Her feelings and relationship with Sidhean are almost circumstantial. It’s
built out of her loneliness and isolation and striving for connection, whereas
with Kaisa it is different.

ML: Yes, I think the Sidhean relationship is partially
circumstantial because he is the person to pay attention to her. I considered
Kasia Ash’s first experience of really falling in love. I thought of it in terms of first love and
not necessarily first lesbian love. But I guess it’s hard to separate those
when you’re writing as a queer writer.

I was also struck by how the concept of two women as a couple was not
necessarily stigmatized or unusual in this society. When Kaisa tells Ash the fairytale about the
woman who falls in love with another woman, Ash is not surprised or
shocked.  Even the prince seems opened
minded about the possibility of women falling in love with each other.

ML: I definitely thought about that a lot. In editorial revisions
with my editor we talked about it and it was clear to me from the beginning
that I didn’t want to have a world where there was homophobia. I wanted Ash to
have a fairytale.  I didn’t want her to
have a coming out story. It was a coming of age story in which she falls in
love and the person she falls in love with just happens to be female. I decided
to not make it an unusual thing.

Was that difficult to write or imagine?

ML: No, I think it would have been much more difficult to write a
homophobic world where I’d have to deal with coming out issues.  I think that would have detracted from the
fairytale quality.

She has enough problems.

ML: [Laughs] exactly.  She
has enough problems.

Dreams play a big part in the story.

ML: I did think about dreams. The name Aisling is a traditional Gaelic name and it means vision or
visions.  I actually did think she would
have visions.  Some of the dreams didn’t
make it into the final book.  But the
ones that did remain, I think, were important to the story.

In the book there is strong focus on storytelling — storytelling as an act, the
controversy and politics of storytelling, the way a story can change through
it’s telling. 

ML: I definitely had a focus on telling stories as fairytales, but
what you just said, no, [laughs] I didn’t actually think of that.

I thought it was relevant because you were adapting this classic story, which requires
some courage in itself. Did you have any reservations about taking on this
beloved fairytale?

I did at the very beginning because I thought if I made her a
lesbian I’d never be able to sell the book to a publisher. I
thought it was
going to make it unsellable.  Clearly I
was wrong, but once I decided to do it, I had to go all the way with
it. And then I had the benefit of working at AfterEllen for the next
five years and seeing how much people wanted to
read books with lesbians in them in positive ways that
weren’t stereotypical.

So that was really good
for me because I think otherwise I would have been too chicken to
submit it.

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