“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their…well, Inspirations and Influences. The cool thing is that the writers are given free reign so they can go wild and write about anything they want. It can be about their new book, series or about their career as a whole.
Today’s guest is Anne Ursu, Middle Grade author extraordinaire, here to talk about her newest book, Breadcrumbs. Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen”, Breadcrumbs is the story of an intrepid, brave girl as she fights to save her best friend from a cold, lonely fate.
Please give a warm welcome to Anne!
I never read “The Snow Queen” as a child. I remember finding Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales a little strange—I was more at home in the dark, tangled forest of Grimm. And then two winters ago I went to a ten-day residency at Hamline University, where I teach with the MFA in writing for children. At a faculty meeting, someone commented that writers all had “their” fairy tale. Everyone nodded, and our program head said hers was “The Snow Queen.” Since she was my boss, I thought I should probably read it.
Anyway, I was stuck. I hadn’t been able to start writing a book since I’d finished my trilogy a year before. I didn’t know how to write for any characters other than the ones I’d just spent five years with, and I was in a long, uncomfortable period of waiting for some story to grab hold of me.
That residency, my colleague Jacqueline Briggs-Martin gave a lecture on setting in fairy tales and folk tales and she told us, “If you’re stuck, go read these stories.” And the editor Wendy Lamb came to speak and told us that no one could understand why she was willingly going to Minnesota in January. She leaned in and said, “I think magic is closer to the surface in the snow.”
That did it. I picked up “The Snow Queen” when I got home and was struck by the story of a girl whose best friend gets a piece of enchanted mirror in his eye and then stops being her friend. This is part of growing up, after all—we lose friends as we grow and change. But in this case, the girl decides she’s going to get her friend back.
The story took hold of me and I had my book—a contemporary retelling of “The Snow Queen” that would really be about friendship and the challenges of growing up. And stuff. And that’s how the book began to lay itself out before me: Hazel is a Minneapolis fifth grader and Jack is her very best friend in the world. One day Jack gets injured on the playground, the next he’s cruel to Hazel, and a couple of days after that he disappears. Hazel learns he’s gone into the woods—taken by a mysterious woman in white, and because she’s his best friend, she goes in after him.
When I started writing I didn’t know what would happen to Hazel in the woods. Gerda’s adventures in Andersen’s tale are scattered and don’t have much connection to the broader story. I decided to make the woods a sort of dark Hans Christian Andersen theme park, with characters who could have come from his tales. I wanted Hazel’s adventures to challenge her and change her, and I wanted them to have resonance with the ideas I’d planned to explore about, you know, growing up and stuff. I scattered thresholds, put in imagery of transformation, of permanence and impermanence, nostalgia, time.
I gave the first draft to Laura Ruby, my author friend whom I make read everything I write. She told me in her gentle way that she thought the book was actually about grief. I smiled and nodded, secure in my knowledge that it was about growing up; I had imagery, after all. And I handed the first draft in to Jordan Brown, my annoyingly perceptive editor, and he said that this was indeed a story about the process of growing up, about the way things shift and fall away—but “more importantly,” it was a story about the way we deal with pain, grief, and loss.
They were right. I was writing about grief and loss and I didn’t even know it. You don’t tell your story what it’s about—your story tells you. It sneaks up very quietly while you’re blithely skipping around scattering images of birds and flowers and stuff. Breadcrumbs’ Andersen-World woods is populated with people who have retreated there because they are trying to escape from grief in one way or another—because they’ve bought into the idea that there is somehow escape to be had. Jack thinks so too—he leaves the difficulties of real life for a fairy tale. And, like everyone else in the woods, a fairy tale world is one Hazel thinks she knows how to navigate, one she wants to navigate; in the real world you lose friends, but in fairy tales you can rescue them. But one thing I learned reading Andersen’s stories as an adult—in fairy tales, getting what you want comes at a cost.
Inspiration lets a story start spinning its way out of our heads onto a page, but after that the story takes control. I thought I was writing a contemporary fairy tale, but I think it ended up being about leaving fairy tales behind.
Neither Hazel nor I finished this book in the place we thought we would when we started. But that’s the whole point of journeys, after all.
About The Author:
Anne Ursu is the author of the three middle-grade novels that comprise the Cronus Chronicles trilogy: The Shadow Thieves, The Siren Song, and The Immortal Fire. She teaches at Hamline University’s MFA program in Writing for Children and is a lifelong Minnesota Twins fan. Anne lives in Minneapolis with her son and cats.
Breadcrumbs Blog Tour Details:
For more about Breadcrumbs and Anne Ursu, make sure to check out the following stops:
Monday, 9/26 – Guest Post at The Book Whisperer
Tuesday, 9/27 – Review and Book Giveaway at Mundie Kids
Wednesday, 9/28 – Review and Skype Giveaway at Great Kid Books
Wednesday, 9/28 – Book Giveaway at 5 Minutes for Books
Thursday, 9/29 – Interview at Bildungsroman
Friday, 9/30 – Review, Guest Post, and Book Giveaway at Bookalicious
Saturday, 10/1 – Interview and Skype Giveaway at Kid Lit Frenzy
Sunday, 10/2 – Review, Interview, and Book Giveaway at The Reading Zone
Monday, 10/3 – Guest Post at Galleysmith
Tuesday, 10/4 – Review at Galleysmith
Tuesday, 10/4 – Guest Post, Review, and Book Giveaway at The Book Smugglers
Wednesday, 10/5 – Review and Illustrator Interview at A Backwards Story
Thursday, 10/6 – Guest Post at The Mod Podge Bookshelf
Friday, 10/7 – Interview at Book Rat
Also, for those that are interested, today (Tuesday, 10/4) at 8pm EST Anne Ursu (@anneursu) and Bigger Than a Breadbox author Laurel Snyder (@LaurelSnyder) will doing a chat hosted by Paul W. Hankins (@PaulWHankins) called “Magic is Real: Fantasy, Magic, and Realism in Middle Grade” under the hashtag #magicisreal. Make sure to stop by to tweet with these phenomenal MG authors!
We have ONE copy of Breadcrumbs up for grabs! The contest is open to addresses in the U.S. and will run until Saturday, October 8 at 11:59PM (PST). In order to enter, simply leave a comment here letting us know which fairy tale is your favorite. Only one entry per person, please – multiple comments will be disqualified. Good luck!
Also, make sure to stop by later today to check out our review of Breadcrumbs!