Anyone else hate the idea of ‘love at first sight’ in fairytales? Heather Walter is very much in agreement. At Breaking the Glass Slipper, we are absolute suckers for a gorgeous love story, but we are SO HERE for the trend of creating healthier and more interesting love stories than we were fed in original fairytales.
Heather Walter’s debut novel Malice, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, is out now from Del Rey.
Villains are just… more fun, aren’t they?! What did you want to explore by having your protagonist fit the archetypal villain role? And why *are* villains so much more fun to read, write, and fantasise about?
With MALICE, I wanted to explore what makes a villain . . . villainous. Often, we see two-dimensional villains who plot the downfall of the world simply because they “feel like it”. Female villains especially are frequently portrayed as having superficial motives—like being prettiest, catching the prince, etc. As a reader, those motives rang true to me. I knew those characters had to want more. In Sleeping Beauty, in particular, there’s only one dark fairy? Why? And how does this character feel about being surrounded by a kind of magic (the “good” fairies) that is obviously opposite to her own, and then being excluded because she’s different? I know how I would feel—and I think that’s why villains are more fun. They represent pieces of ourselves we sometimes don’t like to admit are there. They follow paths we might wish we could take—and we love them for it.
How do you make a villain and morally grey character work as a protagonist? Do you think it is different to create a sympathetic morally grey female protagonist over a male one? What other villainous females in fiction do you love?
A morally grey main character, especially a female character, is tough. Male characters often get to pursue big, complex goals, and their means to achieve those goals aren’t questioned in the ways that a female character might be. So often, I see female characters (like female public figures) criticized because they aren’t “likeable”. So I honestly wasn’t sure how readers were going to receive Alyce. I did write her with a tragic backstory, but that wasn’t to gain sympathy points. Alyce, like the dark fairy in Sleeping Beauty, is the only one of her kind. Her magic is opposite of those around her, the Graces, who are praised for their gifts. Alyce is regularly excluded and ostracized, but then sought out, because of the very power that the people of Briar fear. Not every villain needs tragedy, but that fit for Alyce. And because it did, I tried to make Alyce as real as possible in her world. Her reactions, retaliations, goals, and dreams all stem from who she is and where she came from. I think, at our core, we’re all morally grey. And I wanted Alyce to reflect that.
Other villainous females I adore are: The sea witch (Ursula), the evil queen from Snow White, and Soraya (GIRL, SERPENT, THORN) to name a few.
While I love a good fairytale romance, I take issue with the idea of ‘true love’ that occurs after merely gazing longingly at one another across a room. In Malice, your romance has a much stronger foundation. Why did you want to ensure Aurora and Alyce had more ‘screen time’ together than in the traditional Sleeping Beauty tale?
I have a huge problem with the way attraction is often confused with love in fairytales. In many versions of the Sleeping Beauty tale, the princess doesn’t even set eyes on the prince until she wakes up and he’s standing over her. And then she . . . marries him? That message definitely warped my own perceptions of love as a child. So, for Alyce and Aurora, I wanted to better explore the idea of “true love”. That’s not to say those two have a “perfect” relationship by any means. But it starts with friendship and shared interests. It’s a slow build on purpose, letting the characters get to know each other—and choosing each other despite the odds against them. Who we love is not a choice, but standing by that person definitely is. And I think that’s what true love might be. Far more than an initial spark—a kind of bravery in which we put ourselves in the hands of another, no matter the cost.
In your novel, you have both an F/F love story *and* overturn the usual – and highly overrated – trope of having the woman be saved by the man. Both of these changes bring women to the forefront of a story, though titled for the female characters, often rests on the actions of men. Why did you want to recast the narrative with a feminine perspective?
Many times, fairytales were told to impart messages or lessons. And when I look back over tales like Sleeping Beauty or any of those Grimm stories, I’m struck by one, resounding message for female readers: wait. Wait to be told what to do. Wait for your prince/man to come. Wait to be rescued—oh, and clean house while you do it. Unfortunately, I believe that message is alive and well for women today. I never questioned the roles of female characters in those fairytales until my mid-twenties, and that says something.
For MALICE, I wanted to create a cast of female characters who weren’t waiting. Whether their actions are “good” or “bad”—those characters own them. The message I hope to send with MALICE is: don’t wait! Take your fate into your own hands instead of pinning it on someone else. O Magazine in the US said it best, I think. MALICE is, “. . . for all the queer girls and women who’ve been told to keep their gifts hidden . . .” I know I was taught to hide mine for a long, long time. Alyce was, too.
As for the F/F pairing, I’ve always had crushes on villains, so that was an easy ship. However, before I knew that the princess would fall for the villain, I really thought about the dark fairy in the Sleeping Beauty tale. Why on earth would she lock a complete stranger in a tower for a hundred years? The only plausible answer I could come up with was that the princess wasn’t a stranger at all. And the only thing I could think of that would instigate such an extreme reaction—was love. So then I knew.
Pitch us Malice! Why should we pick up a copy?
MALICE is a Sleeping Beauty retelling told from the point of view of the villain. It follows Alyce, the Dark Grace, whose magic is both feared and desired in the kingdom of Briar. Alyce wants nothing more than to leave Briar and the hatred of the realm—until she meets Princess Aurora. But Aurora is cursed to die if she can’t find her true love—and possibly by Alyce’s own kind of magic. Against all odds, Alyce and Aurora develop a friendship in pursuit of breaking the curse, leaving Alyce to wonder if leaving Briar is really what she wants. But as dangerous secrets are revealed and time to lift Aurora’s curse is running out, both women learn that true love is more than a simple fairytale.
You’ll love MALICE if you like villains, stubborn princesses, angsty angst, slow-burn romance, and revenge. I wrote this book in the hopes that readers will see a bit of themselves in Alyce. And for queer people everywhere—we deserve to be the star of the show.
Heather Walter has been telling stories for as long as she can remember. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with both English and Information Science degrees, books are–and always will be–a definitive part of her life.
As an author, Heather loves writing about what-ifs, flawed protagonists, and re-imagined history. Her favorite characters are usually villains.
When not writing, you can find her reading (duh), knitting, binging TV, and planning her next travel adventure.