Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
I have a big soft spot for fairytale-inspired stories, especially ones written by diverse authors. I knew I was going to like Briar Girls from its lovely blurb (a mysterious forest, a cursed girl, and a hidden world of magic? How could I resist?), but I wasn’t prepared to fall head over heels for its realistic, compelling characters and intriguing worldbuilding. We’re so honored to have Rebecca Kim Wells at the Pond today to share a few secrets behind her upcoming YA fantasy book!
Rebecca is joining the Pond today as a cozy, fuzzy polar bear with a scarf and a grilled cheese! Definitely the cuddliest darn Pondsona I have ever seen with my two eyes.
I was on the cusp of a reading slump when I picked up Briar Girls back in August, which is truly a shining testament as to just how good the book was that it clawed its way into my brain and wouldn’t let go until I finished the story! And by the (very satifsying) end, I loved the characters so much that I almost lamented the fact that the book was a standalone. We’re peeling back the curtain behind Rebecca’s writing process and fairytale inspirations today, and I absolutely cannot wait to share her insights with you!
But first, a look at the book we’ll be talking about:
Briar Girls by Rebecca Kim Wells
The Cruel Prince meets A Curse So Dark and Lonely in this epic reimagining of “The Sleeping Beauty” that follows a teen girl on a quest to wake a sleeping princess in an enchanted forest, while searching for the truth behind her own deadly curse.
Lena has a secret: the touch of her skin can kill. Cursed by a witch before she was born, Lena has always lived in fear and isolation. But after a devastating mistake, she and her father are forced to flee to a village near the Silence, a mysterious forest with a reputation for luring people into the trees, never to be seen again…
Until the night an enigmatic girl stumbles out of the Silence and into Lena’s sheltered world. Miranda comes from the Gather, a city in the forest brimming with magic. She is on a quest to wake a sleeping princess believed to hold the key to liberating the Gather from its tyrannical ruler—and she offers Lena a bargain. If Lena assists her on her journey, Miranda will help her break the curse.
Mesmerized by Miranda and her promise of a new life, Lena jumps at the chance. But the deeper into the Silence she goes, the more she suspects she’s been lied to—about her family’s history, her curse, and her future. As the shadows close in, Lena must choose who to trust and decide whether it’s more important to have freedom…or power.
Author Interview: Rebecca Kim Wells
Skye: Hello Rebecca! Thank you so much for joining us today here at the Pond! For anyone just now discovering your work, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Rebecca: Hello, and thanks for having me! I’m excited to be here. I write queer young adult fantasy books full of magic and fury (and often dragons!), including Shatter the Sky (sometimes known around the internet as the “angry bisexual dragon book”), the sequel Storm the Earth, and my new book Briar Girls, an epic queer fairy tale extravaganza. Aside from books, I also love hot chocolate and all things autumnal!
Skye: Where did the spark that grew into Briar Girls come from? What kept you coming back to the story again and again throughout the writing process?
Rebecca: I’ve been in love with fairy tales since I was a child, and I discovered fairy tale retellings at an early age. I still remember reading Ella Enchanted and The Goose Girl for the first time! As I got older, Kissing the Witch, Daughter of the Forest, and Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s fairy tale anthologies found their way onto my shelves. So when I started writing seriously, I turned immediately to fairy tales. Briar Girls initially started out as much more of a mashup than it is today. Characters inspired by Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, and Jack and the Beanstalk all made appearances. As I refined the story, many of those influences were softened. I think Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel are the ones that remain most clearly. It took me eight years to write this book, on and off! I think what kept me coming back (even after putting it down for several years) was that I really believed in Lena’s story, even when I couldn’t figure out how to tell it right. I just refused to give up until I figured it out.
Skye: I’m really fascinated by the ways in which marginalised storytellers engage with classic stories, and I think Briar Girls is a wonderful case study of how a book can both be a love letter to and a subversion of the fairytales it takes inspiration from. Can you tell us more about how you went about weaving familiar fantasy elements into the book while making the story wholly your own?
Rebecca: I think of Briar Girls as more of a reimagining than a retelling, so I felt really free to play fast and loose with basically all of the story elements while writing. I’ve always been interested in giving fairy tale heroines more agency, and in inventing interesting backstories for characters whose actions seem strange or inexplicable. For Briar Girls, I kept the premise of a Rapunzel-esque girl cursed and claimed by a witch. Then I asked myself why? What does the witch really have to gain from her actions? Next I wanted to understand Lena’s parents. What was their backstory, their motivation for making such a deal? At some point Sleeping Beauty entered the mix. There’s a sleeping princess held captive in the center of a mysterious forest. Why? Whose captive is she? I wasn’t overly concerned with including every character and plot beat from the familiar fairy tales. I was much more interested in surprising and disrupting reader expectations while still evoking a fairy tale atmosphere.
Skye: Lena is such an easy protagonist to root for! I love how forthright she is when faced with inexplicable magic, and her relationships with the other characters felt so believable and compelling (that Miranda becomes such an integral part of Lena’s way of staying tethered to herself will forever live rent-free in my mind). Please let us in on your secrets of writing compelling character arcs?
Rebecca: Oh wow, thank you so much! I love everything about the dynamic between Lena and Miranda too. When it comes to writing compelling character arcs, especially in fantasy, I try to stay rooted to real-world conflicts and situations that readers can relate to. Most people can’t kill with a single touch, but I think a lot of people can relate to the awful sense of betrayal Lena feels when she realizes her parents have lied to her, even though they claimed they were doing it for her own good. Briar Girls is an epic fantasy adventure with a lot of magic, but Lena’s personal journey is toward independence, taking ownership of her own life, and learning to trust herself and make her own decisions. It’s a very human journey, whether you live in our world or the Gather.
Skye: The casual queerness and diversity we’re beginning to see in SFF is so heartening to me, and I really love how representation was handled in Briar Girls: it’s a defining element of the world and the characters that inhabit it, but also doesn’t represent the full sum of the story. As a writer of speculative fiction, what does diverse representation mean to you personally?
Rebecca: I love writing diversely in speculative fiction because I’m not tethered to anything in the real world except my own imagination. The sky is the limit! So it’s been such a great gift to be able to write worlds where queerness exists without oppression, where I can imagine other ways of being. I hope to be able to continue exploring with future books!
Skye: Ultimately, what do you hope young readers take away from Briar Girls and Lena’s journey?
Rebecca: First, I want readers to be entertained. I want readers to finish the last page and close the book and feel that heartache that means simultaneously “that was amazing!” and “oh my gosh, I wish there was more!” and “I want to read it again, right now!” That’s the feeling that all my favorite books evoke in me. And from Lena in particular, I hope young readers learn that strength comes in many guises; that even if all else fails, they can trust in and rely on themselves; and that finding good friends makes everything just a little bit easier.
Skye: Okay, looking forward to the future a little: what’s your wildest pie-in-the-sky writing dream?
Rebecca: What I want most is to keep writing books I am thrilled by, and for readers to be thrilled by them too. Bestseller lists and special editions and movies and TV would also be fantastic! I would not complain about any of that. 🙂
Skye: Closing on a sunny note! What is something—big or small—that’s been bringing you joy lately, despite everything else currently going on?
Rebecca: In keeping with the autumnal theme, today I ate the best apple cider donut I’ve ever had in my life. I also framed and hung a new art print, and it is perfect. In things that other people might also be able to enjoy, I really liked the new TV show Only Murders in the Building! And I recently loved You Had Me at Hola and A Lot Like Adios, by Alexis Daria. Romance novels are a delight and more people should read them!
About the Author
Rebecca Kim Wells writes books full of magic and fury (and often dragons). Her debut novel Shatter the Sky was a New England Book Award Finalist, an ALA Rainbow Book List selection, an Indies Introduce selection, and a Kids’ Indie Next Pick. She is also the author of Storm the Earth and Briar Girls, published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. She holds a BA in Political Science from UC Berkeley and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Simmons College. If she were a hobbit, she would undoubtedly be a Took. (Photography: Carter Hasegawa)