March 14, 2012
Imagine that Cinderella’s been murdered, distracted by a bluebird and run over by a truck in New Never City. Now imagine her stepsister calling on Rumpelstiltskin (stripped of his villainy as punishment for rage issues) to investigate. This is the premise of J.A. Kazimer’s Curses!: A F**cked Up Fairy Tale.
Cinderella’s stepsister Asia, believing her sister’s death to be a case of foul play, shows up at what she thinks is Sherlock Holmes’s door. Only, he hasn’t lived there for a while, not since RJ, as Rumpel prefers to be called, stuffed him into the chimney and took over the residence. Asia, much better-looking then the original story had led us to believe, convinces RJ to help, but really he’s just doing it in hopes that she’ll sleep with him.
As the two dig deeper into Cindi’s untimely death, everyone becomes suspect: Prince Charming; the butler; Dru, the second and not-so-pretty stepsister; even Asia.
Blending favorite fairy tale characters with today’s cultural references and sensibilities, Curses! flips the childhood staple on its head to create a wholly adult, and highly entertaining, reading experience.
Here, author J.A. Kazimer talks about reimagining stories and casting secondary characters, and explains how a clichéd hooker sparked the idea for this novel.
I’d never read a book like Curses! before, a blending of fairy tale with cheeky romance. I’m curious to know how you explain it to people.
Curses! is, as the subtitle subtlety suggests, a f***ed up version of a mesh of fairy tale characters and stories with a few twisted nursery rhymes thrown in. A friend once described it as: ‘Neil Gaiman meets Shrek and they live happily ever after…or NOT’. That kind of says it all.
It’s funny you say that. While I was reading your book I kept thinking ‘Neil Gaiman’ but instead of ‘Shrek’, I paired it with a bodice-ripper. ‘Shrek’ makes a lot of sense; Curses! has a cartoon quality about it that a romance novel doesn’t convey.
Since this was a fun book to read, I’m imagining, barring all the anxiety-provoking situations that come up when writing a book, that it was fun to write as well. Was it or am I off?
Writing this book was hell. HELL! Imagine the horror of spending hours telling lies and running Cinderella over with a bus (She deserved it. I mean, come on, who wears glass slippers after Labor Day?). I’m shocked that I survived writing this book at all. Oh, the punctuation…
Okay, really, writing Curses! was the most fun I’ve had writing a book. My research consisted of re-reading old fairy tales and trying to lure princesses into the street with a bluebird (you’d be surprised by how hard that actually is). Staying in the mood to write humor when reality intruded was the hardest part of writing this book and others in the series. After an especially bad day, I don’t have the energy to laugh, let alone have my characters make others laugh, but I find writing eases even the worst of days.
Your book is fairly bawdy. Why did you choose to write it as a fairy tale?
Why, thank you. I’m a fan of bawdy. To me, fairy tales lend themselves to being told in this manner. Most of us remember our fairy tales via the Disney rose-colored glasses, which is great, but 200 years ago, The Brothers Grimm told a far different tale, filled with violence and bloodshed. Plus I do love to swear. A lot.
It’s odd that we have these two separate notions of what fairy tales are. Did you know how dark the originals were before you started to write this book?
Until I started writing Curses! I hadn’t realized just how gruesome they were. I grew up in the Disney-fied world of fairy tales, where everyone lives happily ever after. Then I read ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ the Grimm version, and my eyes opened to a whole new world. I’m still a sucker for a happy ending though, so my intent was to merge the two worlds. And yet, I ended up with something far different. That’s the beauty of writing a book; you never know what you’ll have until the very end.
Which fairy tale do you remember the most vividly?
From the age of three until I was eight or so, the only book I’d read or let anyone else read to me was Cinderella (the Disney version, of course—my parents weren’t monsters), which explains so much, or so my psychiatrist says. The major take-away from that was, one day a prince with a foot fetish would save me from my awful sister. Imagine my disappointment when my first real boyfriend was far more interested in my boobs than my footwear.
You twist characters around and create new personas for them. Is this something you’ve always done? Re-imagine people and stories?
As far as altering them in my head, yes, I’ve often altered fairy tale characters, as well as television and movie characters, to fit my own tales (see above psychiatric statement). The reason is simple; they aren’t doing what I want them to do when someone else is telling the tale. I like to be in control, damn it! The world would be a far nicer place if people only did what I wanted them to do.
For some reason I didn’t think Cinderella was your favorite character. You seem more like the villain type. Who was your favorite?
Hands down, my favorite villain is the wicked queen from Snow White, a woman so deluded by what a mirror says that she ultimately destroys herself. I think society can learn a very good lesson about perception from this cautionary tale. Namely, if your mirror starts talking to you, don’t go handing young girls poisoned apples.
In Curses!, one of the main characters is Cinderella’s stepsister. I love the idea of secondary characters becoming leads. What made you decide to tell the story this way?
Thank you. In so many stories, I wonder, what happens to the minor characters after the hero and heroine ride off into the sunset? After writing Curses! the ugly stepsister has her happily ever after (sort of), and so does her uglier stepsister. Choosing a lesser known character allowed me to create an interesting character without any preconceived ideas about her. Readers think Cinderella’s stepsister, and the only thing that comes to mind is how ugly she is. The rest of her is all mine to craft.
Was there an influence? Something that got the ball rolling?
A book with a clichéd hooker with a heart of gold started me on the path to this novel. I began thinking about the cliché, and eventually formed the idea of writing a novel about a villain who suddenly must become a hero, and hates every minute of it. There is no heart of gold here. RJ is a villain. He loves being a villain, yet circumstances beyond him are forcing him to play nice.
You mention before that you re-read fairy tales as part of your research. Did you do anything else to make sure there was a sense of authenticity?
I knew I wanted to write a book from the perspective of a villain, to see if he was evil after he finished punching the clock. And if so, how does that affect things like Sunday family dinners or simple things like going to the grocery store? I also wanted to use a mesh of characters and tales. As you can imagine researching villainy was difficult. I had to steal candy from babies and trip old ladies as they crossed the street. Writing is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.
Do you have any thoughts on the deeper meaning of fairy tales?
While getting my master’s degree in forensic psychology, I had a class with a professor who used fairy tales as a treatment tool. I love the idea. Fairy tales have survived and, recently, thrived as a medium for a very important reason; they reflect the psychological health of a society. I won’t bore anyone with my theories but if you have a moral or ethical dilemma, look to fairy tales for an answer. The answers are there, in black and white. These are cautionary tales handed down through the centuries to protect societies.
Do you have a writing routine?
I am the world’s worst writer in terms of routine. I don’t write every day. I write when the mood strikes (oddly often when the clock strikes midnight). I’m a terrible procrastinator who actually hates to physically write (crafting coherent sentences with correct spelling and grammar sucks). If anyone ever says that they like writing they are LIARS or masochists (likely the latter knowing my author friends). However, all the pains of grammar and spelling are lessened by the actual storytelling, by breathing life into the people in my head, by listening to others laugh at something I’ve labored over for hours. It makes it worth every apostrophe.
You mention author friends and people laughing. Do you belong to any writing groups?
I belong to the writer groups Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Pikes Peak Writers, and Mystery Writers of America. These groups keep me sane in many ways. If not for these groups, I wouldn’t be doing this interview today. They are the reason I still write. If you’re new to the writing game, my best advice is to join a writer’s group.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
I have another book, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, coming out from Champagne Books on April 2, 2012, and then next year sometime, the second book in the F***ed Up Fairy Tale series, tentatively tilted FROGGY-STYLE, will be released from Kensington. I’m currently working on the third book in the series.
Where can people find you?
Read my fairy tale news blog, The New Never News.
On Twitter at @jakzimer.