I am so excited!
I’ve talked about it many times, didn’t I? And now my project to serialise my novel The Frozen Maze – A Snow White Retelling Set in 1920s Germany on this blog is ready to go!
This story has been three years in the making. It’s my usual time for working at a novel… one of the reasons why I know I’ll never be a successful indie author. Churning out three or four novels a year is definitely not me.
I’ve often wondered whether this should worry me. Bur you know, definitely there’s nothing good to gain from forcing on me a model that doesn’t fit me. So recently, I’ve concluded that I should find my own way in today’s publishing environment instead.
Serialisation may be such a better choice for me.
It doesn’t come out of the blue either. I’ve wanted to serialise a novel for decades.
The first time I thought about it was in the last century – ok, fine, I mean the 1990s – when I still used to write lots of short stories and send them to contests and magazines.
There was a coffee producer who called for stories to serialise on their coffee cans. Every week, they would print a piece of a longer story on their coffee labels.
I never found the right story for that context, which I’m so sorry about because I still think that was a formidable idea. But the serialisation of a story kept appealing to me over all these years. The idea to meet my readers, week after week, and share a story. I never tranked that idea though – sadly – I just never seemed to find the right story and right medium for it.
Then five years ago, I started this blog.
I was deep in my trilogy writing back then, and that certainly wasn’t the right story to serialise. But then a fellow dieselpunk author, Holly Gonzalez, invited me to participate in a WattPad contest.
Envision a portal to a different world!
How The Frozen Maze was born
That opportunity came to me at a particular time. Three years ago, I had already finalised my trilogy’s first novel (set in Chicago in 1926) and had had very little luck seeking representation. I had also just published my novella (a prequel to the trilogy) and was struggling to understand how to get readers to know it exists. Basically, I was trying to decide what was the best course for my stories. And 1920s Europe was calling to me since I became interested in how that time had played out in my homeland. In fact, I was considering to set my next story somewhere in Europe.
A chat on Twitter happened to attract my attention to something that I found extremely interesting. What prompted the resurgence of interest in traditions and folklore on the continent was connected to the same movements that would eventually sustain nationalism in so many nations in Europe.
So when Holly’s proposition came, I thought I’d grab the idea to put everything together and write a fairytale retelling set in Germany, homeland to the Brothers Grimm as well as the Nazi Party.
I choose Snow White not only because it’s one of the Grimms’ most popular stories, but also because for some reason, this is a story that has always intrigued me.
Of course, I started by researching the story itself. Unfortunately, I didn’t find more anthropological studies – which were the ones I’d anticipated the most. Instead, I found many more psychological interpretations that considered the story a commentary on women’s position in a traditional society. More precisely, they maintained that the mirror may symbolise the way men look at women and their role and place in society and how this may influence the way women behave.
I had a fantastic brainstorming with a storyteller friend, Jeri, and finally, I came up with my own interpretation of the fairy tale.
You can still read that story on WattPad, if you feel so inclined.
Just be warned that it bears little resemblance to the story I’m going to serialise, other than the setting and some of the main characters. Already while I was writing it, I had to struggle to keep it under the 5000 words limit for the contest. The story wanted to grow. I knew immediately that I would soon rewrite it as a novel.
In truth I realised, this might be at last the idea I had long look after for a serial and right on my blog.
The following year I dedicated my AtoZ Challenge to the history of Germany in the 1920s. I was totally blown away. It was absolutely fascinating!
Sure, Berlin is the place to set a story (which I’m going to do. Bones of the Titans is still brewing on the back-burner), but for The Frozen Maze, I wanted something more closeted. The story calls for it, but the Berliner society is so complex and diverse that I still feel I need to research it before being ready to write a story set there.
Still, a lot of that research could enter The Frozen Maze. I knew I wanted it to. The experience and social position of veterans, for example, was on the cards from the beginning. The dichotomy between countryside and city was too. But above all, I wanted to explore the shifting position of women in the countryside, where they were often the vehicle of epochal changes.
And I wanted it to be a fantasy, of course, but also a historical novel.
I revised the story through two NaNoWriMo.
The first year I basically built on the short story. The arcs of all characters expanded into ideas I already sensed were there, the ones that had bothered me while trying to keep the story in the contest limits. But as I did so, I realised I needed a more extensive cast, mainly because I wasn’t comfortable with Grete being the main antagonist.
So I first created a male associate of her, Florian. A middle-aged man and a business person like her, but more grounded in the old ways of life. Someone not as open to the new position of women as he shows to be.
Yet, that didn’t sit well with me. The Frozen Maze is in many respects a story of women – the short story sure is – so I felt that the antagonist should be a woman too.
That’s how Lotte was born. A character that still makes me scratch my head. With her, Florian transformed into a young man who allowed me to make a true fantasy out a story that had so far been mostly a historical novel.
This first revision also introduced quite a few male characters.
I say this because it’s quite unusual for me. I normally prefer to write male characters (always have), but this story started off on the opposite side.
I just found it curious.
The second revision, one year later, was all about going deeper.
I know that for many writers, trimming down the first draft is what revision is mostly about. For me, it’s the other way around. My first drafts are very detailed synopsis and what I need to do in revisions is expanding and exploring the bare bones I wrote down.
During this second revision, I realised that I needed to look at Ingeborg – my main characters – a lot deeper. I should explore her desires and fears and especially why she should care so much about a place she left so long ago.
To do so, I needed to expand on the central part of the story, which I already considered a ‘return to the origin’, a clear path of rediscovery for Ingeborg. But I wanted it to be a part of the story, rather than dialogue and exposition as it was in the first draft.
That’s how Elsie – a maid in the manor and a character I created for mere story economy – became a main character and strengthened the fantasy flavour of the novel even further.
Nothing new that characters decide by themselves who they want to be.
Why the maze?
I don’t know. It just came with the story. But this is a story of discovery, so I suppose the maze just made for good visualisation of the theme.
I knew immediately that the maze should belong to the fantasy heart of the novel. That’s a place of magic, a place of search and possibly a place of finding.
That’s where the dwarves live.
I won’t hide that I love writing about it.
I’ll confess it. I love working with big casts.
That may sound funny since most of my writing life had been involved with short stories. But when I came to writing novels ten years ago – which happened kind of unwittingly – I just fell in love with handling many characters.
I love crowded scenes. I love it when many characters interacting together. It’s like solving a puzzle, finding the right place, the right role, the right words for each one, so that the whole is harmonious.
It was probably inevitable that I should start with a small cast in the short story of The Frozen Maze (I basically had only the three main women), but would end up with a big one. Characters entered naturally as the story expanded, in stages, not all at once. They came as I realised I needed more character’s arcs to explore themes, though I promise I tried to keep them under check!
The story unfolds in two different locations – Schneezwerg the manor and Schneedof the village – both with their own cast of characters and across time.
At the core of the story, there are still the three women of the short story. Ingeborg (my main character), who sometimes is as confused as I am trying to navigate this story. Dagmar (her aunt), who’s in many regards the heart of the novel. And Grete (her step-mother), who I’m particularly fond of because she’s so flawed. With the addition of Elsie, who seems to have the sympathies of most of my beta readers and certainly has mine.
But I’m very fond of my added male characters too. Florian is especially close to me because he’s a character that has slowly built his own personality, place and troubles in the story. But I’ll admit that Josef, the faceless veteran, who’s mostly an extra, stole my heart. And nobody dares to touch doctor Jean Jacques! He’s one of those positive characters of mine that I always love and always worry about.
So. In a couple of days, you’ll start to meet them too. I can’t wait to hear what you think of them.
I hope you’ll enjoy the story.
I’d love to hear what you think of it, your ideas, your impressions, your feelings. The story is almost entirely written, but I still consider this a work in progress. One day, I will publish it as a book, so I’m asking your help to make it as enjoyable as possible.
It starts on Sunday. I hope to see you there.
DISCLAMER: None of these images belongs to me. I’ve only collected them in order to share my story and to give a feeling for it to the readers of this blog. Every image belongs to its own creator.