Elizabeth Bunce has always been passionate about folklore and fairy tales. So when long-held questions about the old nugget Rumpelstiltskin simmered to her mind's surface in 2002, she set out to answer them. The result is A Curse Dark As Gold, her gorgeous young adult novel debut.
Bunce, an accomplished needlewoman and historical costumer, sets her version of the tale at Stirwaters, the crumbling 18th century textile mill of the Miller family. Upon her father's death, it falls to oldest daughter Charlotte to save her beloved mill from bankruptcy – and the curse that has tormented the family for generations.
Bunce shares her fascinating technique for crafting a successful fairy/folk tale retelling in my July children's market column at Authorlink.com. Cheryl Klein, Bunce's editor at Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, gives helpful specifics, too, as to what makes retellings marketable. You won't want to miss their very practical words of wisdom, free for the next ten days or so.
Bunce's writing is so beautiful, so dimensional, that I found myself swept up immediately in Charlotte's plight. I think I related so strongly with Charlotte, in part, because of her deep connection to the family's old fortress of a mill. As an admirer/restorer/owner of antique homes, I know just how a building can have a soul of its own, how it can seem to speak to you. So I asked Bunce if she intended for the mill to be a "character" in her book, not merely a setting.
She answered, "As a writer and reader, I definitely respond to strong, vivid worlds, so in a way, my settings do often become almost characters of their own. However, I had never had a setting come alive so literally as Stirwaters did! During the initial drafts, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the nature of the mill's magic really was, and it wasn't until I actually wrote the scene where Charlotte figures it out that I figured it out! When Charlotte is standing in the attic with Jack Spinner, looking down at the floor and listening to the mill, and the pieces all fall together at last... I was right there with her, sharing that revelation. That was a shivery moment, but as I wrote it and then looked back over the rest of the book, it was so obvious. The spirit of the mill had been there all along – I just had to go through and highlight those moments where it speaks most strongly to Charlotte. Once I knew, of course, it was fun to play with the idea of the mill being a semi-conscious, willful character with as much stake in the plot as Charlotte."
Learn more about Bunce and her books at her website.
Causes Susan VanHecke Supports
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
National Trust For Historic Preservation