Twisting Fairy Tales with Author Mary Waibel

Posted by Katie L. Carroll on May 15, 2015 in Books, Fairy tales, Guest, Mary Waibel, Writing, Young Adult |

Back when I was doing research for my NESCBWI15 workshop about mining fairy tales, myths, and legends to write fantasy, I scoured the Interwebs for interviews with fantasy authors and also directly contacted a few. Mary Waibel, master of twisting fairy tales, was one of the gracious authors who provided me with an insight into her writing process. Though I couldn’t include all her wonderful info in the presentation itself (it was only an hour long!), it was too good to not share. So Mary let me put it on the blog. Thanks, Mary!

Cover Quest of the Hart 300dpiHow Fairy Tales Inspire Me

by Mary Waibel

I love fairy tales. I always have, but I’m not sure why I fell in love with them. Maybe it was the Disney influence of growing up with Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. But regardless, give me a fairy tale and I’m happy girl. I guess it makes sense that my love of fairy tales creeps into my own writing. In fact, several of my books are twists on some well known tales.

Quest of the Hart, my first published novel, and the first book in the Princess of Valendria series, is a reverse Sleeping Beauty. This story all started when a friend suggested I write a book where the girly-girl saves the guy. While thinking about how to adapt this idea, I kept thinking of the princess in the tower needing rescue, and Sleeping Beauty popped into my mind. I pulled out my DVD, sat down with pen and paper, and jotted down the sequence of how things happened in the Disney version. Armed with a plan, I started working on my own version, and Quest of the Hart was born.

Charmed memoriesThe second book in the Princess of Valendria series, Charmed Memories, started out as a twist on Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. I never intended to borrow from another fairy tale in it, and it wasn’t until someone messaged me and said, {SPOILER ALERT} “This is a twist on The Little Mermaid, isn’t it?” that I realized what I’d done.

The third book in the series, Different Kind of Knight, isn’t a retelling of anything, just a continuation for one of the characters in book two.

When a call for short stories themed around a pocket watch type device came out, I sat down and penned a reverse Cinderella, where the princess used a magical sundial/watch looking device to find the unknown prince she’d danced with at the ball. When I learned the anthology hadn’t gotten enough submissions, I pulled the story and extended it into The Mystery Prince, a novella that I self-published.

The Mystery Prince 300dpiWhile I don’t have a set way for plotting and writing my stories, I do have a way of thinking about how to twist fairy tales into my works.

First, I think it’s important to incorporate as many elements of the original story as you can, but give your own spin to them. For example, In Sleeping Beauty, Aurora is pricked by the spindle and the spell is cast. In Quest of the Hart, Devlin is cut by a magic dagger and the spell is cast. Prince Phillip finds a sword, slays the dragon, and kisses the princess awake. Princess Kaylee has to go on a quest to find a sword, get a drop of dragon’s blood, and make an elixir to wake her prince. In this manner, Quest of the Hart, truly follows the storyline of Sleeping Beauty, but it isn’t a retelling. It’s a twist on the themes.

Second, make a twist. I tend to reverse roles. Have the princess go on the quest, do the dangerous stuff the guy usually does. But you could also make other twists. Set it in the present. Maybe Sleeping Beauty is a girl in a coma and her prince is the doctor trying to wake her up. Set it in space. Maybe Rapunzel is trapped on a faraway planet because her spaceship ran out of gas (thanks to an alien life form who wants to trap her there for her company) and she’s just waiting for another spaceship to land and rescue her. Find a twist that interests you and run with it.

Of course, a fairy tale isn’t complete without a Happy-Ever-After (and this is probably why I love them so much.) No matter what improbable odds are stacked against them at the beginning (a dirty child sitting in the corner who fancies herself in love with the prince-or, as in my version, a bodyguard impersonating a prince), or what obstacles are thrown in their paths (running away when the clock strikes midnight-sending someone else in your place to see who is chosen to be her husband) the characters will be together at the end.

And that’s how I borrow from fairy tales, twist them, and make a new story.


A reverse Sleeping Beauty tale where the princess goes on the quest to save the prince.

Princess Kaylee has never had to fight for anything. Her entire life has been arranged, even her marriage. But when Prince Devlin falls under an enchantment, she finds she is willing to do anything to save him, even if it means fighting a dragon.

Devlin’s own sister, Princess Arabella, is behind the deadly plot. She wants the throne and will use any means necessary to gain it. Her perfect plan unravels, leaving Devlin caught in a magical sleep that is slowly spreading through the kingdom of Breniera. All Arabella needs to finish her spell and claim the crown is a drop of Kaylee’s blood, but obtaining the single drop is proving more difficult than expected.

To save her betrothed, Kaylee embarks on a quest to find an ancient sword and gather a drop of dragon’s blood, while trying to stay out of Arabella’s traps. But Arabella’s traps aren’t the only danger. Time is everything. For once the last inhabitant of the kingdom falls asleep, the spell will be sealed, and not even true love’s kiss will break it.

Quest of the Hart can be purchased at MuseItUp PublishingAmazonBarnes and NobleKoboiBooks, and Smashwords.

Book Excerpt:

Abella’s fingers trembled on the hilt of the dagger as desire for the animal swept through her. He was perfect, not a point out of place or a blemish on his coat. She gazed longingly at him, until a sound from Kaylee brought her back to the task at hand.

Shaking her head to clear it, she watched Kaylee speak to the creature. Did she honestly expect him to answer? Arabella stopped her snort before it gave away her presence. There would be no better chance than this.

Holding the dagger before her, she lined up Kaylee with the tip of the blade. It had to be a perfect throw, as she would not get another chance. She dipped the blade forward once, twice, thrice, then let it fly through the air with a flick of her wrist. The blade spun, end over end, sailing forward. Arabella held her breath, watching, praying her aim was true.

The dagger flew on target, but just before it buried itself in Kaylee’s back, the princess moved, and the dagger embedded itself into the chest of the hart.

Author Photo- Mary WaibelAbout the Author:

Twisting Tales One Story At A Time

YA Author Mary Waibel is a romantic at heart. Her love of fairy tales, fantasy, and happy-ever-after fill the pages of her stories.

When not twisting her own tales, she can be found with her nose buried in any book she can get her hands on. Some of her favorite authors are Nora Roberts, Shannon Hale, Lisa Shearin, and Kristin Cashore.

Mary lives in upstate New York with her wonderful husband, hockey player son, and two cats. Many a Friday or Saturday night she spends hours gaming with family and friends. In the fall and winter she can be found at the ice rink, cheering on her son and his team, and in the summer, she enjoys escaping with her family on camping trips all over the states.

Interacting with her readers is one of Mary’s favorite parts of being an author. You can find her at these sites: author websiteFacebookTwitterGoodreads, and author blog.

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  • Mary Waibel says:

    Thanks so much for hosting me today, Katie!

  • Mirka Breen says:

    New twists on old tales is an art all its own. Congratulations, Mary, on doing it well.

  • Kai says:

    This is great advice and I appreciate the definition you provide between re-telling and twist. I’ve ‘borrowed’ themes for my Weaver Tales and never felt comfortable calling them re-tellings, because there are only small aspects of the original stories. I think readers like the familiarity, but also crave a unique touch.

    • That is an important distinction, Kai. I like what you say about readers wanting the familiarity but also something unique. Well put!

    • Mary Waibel says:

      Thanks, Kai!

      Yes, there is a difference between retelling and twisting. Retelling would be moving the story to a different time and place, like West Side Story is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet in a modern setting. Making a change in the theme is what makes it a twist.

      And I love the way you used themes in your Weaver Tales. A great series of books for MG-tween (and even adult) readers.

  • I <3 fairy tales, twisted or otherwise!

  • I think it is great how you two are supporting each other on your blogs this week! I was talking to some fifth graders a few weeks ago about “fractured fairy tales”–there is definitely an enthusiastic audience out there for them! Thanks for the advice, Mary (and Katie). Now I have MORE books to add to my summer TBR pile! = )

    • Mary Waibel says:

      Thanks Becky! It’s been my experience that most authors try to help out other authors with visits on blogs and shout-outs online. I know Katie is wonderful at doing this.

      Enjoy your summer TBR’s 🙂

    • Mary is one of my best online writing buddies…maybe one day we’ll meet in person. I love her books, definitely greats ones to add to your TBR pile, Becky. My pile is ever-growing!

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