Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What Big Eyes You Have...!

Thought maybe I should get around to promoting another book. This one is a favorite of mine.

In the early summer of 2007 I had just completed a graphic novel adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles for Stone Arch Books, a publisher of fine children's literature. They had assigned me the book based on my long association with Sherlock Holmes. Shortly after turning in the manuscript, Michael Dahl, the acquisitions editor, asked me to meet him for lunch.

I had suspected that Michael was possibly going to go over some revisions for The Hound, when he surprised me by starting up a conversation about Fairy Tales. We discussed Hans Christian Anderson, L. Frank Baum, and the Brothers Grimm, at quite some length before Michael asked me if I was interested in re-imagining one of the classic stories for Stone Arch. After I enthusiastically assured him that I was, he offered me a choice of either Rumpelstiltskin or Little Red Riding Hood.

I have a great fondness for both tales, but I knew I didn't need to think about which one I really wanted to write. Anyone who knows me well would have immediately guessed the answer, and gotten it right. Besides red being my favorite color--I've always loved wolves, even when they're Big and Bad.

Michael seemed a bit surprised, and somewhat relieved, explaining it was the one story nobody else had expressed any interest in. That made me want to do it even more. It's also probably the best-known Fairy Tale in the world. The classic versions were already so multi-layered and so rich with metaphors, the story practically howled for a new treatment.

We finished lunch and Michael told me he'd have the contract sent out right away. Getting home to my desk, I immediately started research for the book by reading every version of Little Red Riding Hood that I could hunt down. The library was full of them, so was the internet. Apparently the story has its origins in ancient China, over two thousand years ago, although that version involved a girl and a wicked fox.

Stone Arch graciously offered me full creative license in re-telling the tale for a 21st Century audience, so in many ways this was a dream project. From the start I knew I wanted to do two new things with the story. First, I dropped the "Little" from the title, thinking that it sounded a bit demeaning. No kid wants to think of themselves as "little" once they're talking and walking, and in such a lightning hurry to grow up. Second, I wanted my Red Riding Hood, whom I named Ruby, to solve her own problem. I sensed that some badly needed "Girl Power" should be an interesting mix into the legend, and that no rescuing hunters or protective fathers would be necessary. Red Riding Hood herself would be the hero of her own story.

Arriving in the bookstores last summer, this was my first published Fairy Tale, and it remains a sentimental favorite of mine, toward the top of the list of my many books. The artwork by Victor Rivas, a sort of cross between Edward Gorey and Tim Burton, is wonderfully atmospheric and utterly charming. (Victor's haunting forest road to Grandma house oozes with primordial menace, and his werewolf villain has a grin like a bristling crocodile.) The hardcover edition, especially, is a real thing of beauty and feels wondrous in my hands.

I love this book.

Although I'm much better known for writing mysteries and pulp adventures, I was delighted that my Red Riding Hood was so fabulously received both by my familiar readers and many new fans. I sold my entire box of comp copies last autumn at Saint Paul's FallCon, and Stone Arch has since hired me to give new spins on Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and, yup, even Rumpelstiltskin, among others that I can't yet reveal.

You're likely to find my Red Riding Hood at the neighborhood library, or if you feel so inclined you may order the book by clicking on the link below. Thanks very much for your interest!

1 comment:

  1. Nice piece, Martin! Always enjoy insight into how an author comes up with their unique view of a beloved tale or character.