One of peculiar things about my writing process is that I never seem to have the idea right the first time. I get inspiration for a story, and I work on it, but often something is missing.
Usually, that key component is time. When I set a project aside for awhile, the solution to whatever the problem is comes up with no warning, and I’m finally able to get the book I wanted.
It was like that with Little Red Riding Hoodie: A Modern Fairy Tale, the novel I’ve currently got in the Kindle Scout program. (Click here to learn more and nominate LRRH for publication.)
The book began as an urban fantasy novel titled Little Girl Lost. It told the story of Sally Prescott, a sixth-grader struggling at school with bullies and developing at a slower rate than the other girls, while trying to survive the horrors of an abusive father at home. A magic ring from her dreams granted her the power to make whatever she wished for come true, but it was protected by a sinister spirit, who commanded giant, demonic dogs.
I wrote several drafts of this novel and tried very hard to interest agents in it back in 2003.
Despite getting favorable reviews from beta readers, I could never get an agent to bite. By 2004, I knew something was wrong with it, and I put it aside to tinker with later.
This year, the Kindle Scout program, inspiration from my stepdaughter, and having published two previous modern fairy tales gave me the impetus to recast the book as a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. I already had the wolf imagery, and, with my stepdaughter’s suggestion, I realized changing the red hood and cape of the original story to a hoodie would make it easy to adapt a novel I already had.
But there were a lot of changes I needed to make for this to be a novel that worked.
The biggest was the role of Sally’s father. In the original, he is married and both physically and mentally abusive. I originally wrote the novel for adults, so I didn’t sugarcoat the beating scenes.
But one of the ways in which the book was not working was that it was an adult novel but most of the characters were children. The whole book was third-person, exclusive narrator. You only got Sally’s perspective. It read like a YA novel to me, but I didn’t want young people to read the novel’s more disturbing scenes.
So something had to change. I elected to take the abuse out. As much as I think that’s a subject I should write about at some point, this wasn’t the right book for it.
Like he was in the original version, Sally’s father is an alcoholic. But instead of being a mean drunk who hits his wife and children, he’s now divorced and spiraling downward. He’s a pathetic drunk, who can barely care for his children.
I also changed a lot of the things the bullies do. Much of the original material was as horrific as the beatings Sally’s father inflicted. Once again, since I was aiming at a younger audience, I focused on Mean Girls behavior that was cruel but not disturbing.
Partly that was driven by having middle-schoolers of my own. I’ve got a firmer understanding of what the modern kid deals with in the halls of public schools now than I did 11 years ago.
I also changed the magic. In the original, Sally’s magic ring essentially grants wishes. But I used a ring of three wishes as a plot device in Beauty & the Beast: A Modern Fairy Tale last year, so I couldn’t do that again.
Sally is now seeking a key that will open a door to a new destiny. I kind of like that idea better on a thematic level, and it gave me license to incorporate some the Grandma’s House imagery from the original fairy tale.
I also changed the race of Sally’s love interest. One of the things I’ve noticed watching my kids grow up is how much interracial dating and friendship there is at their schools. It seemed to me that if I was writing a book set in a contemporary middle school, I should have it be reflective of that new reality, especially since I view kids being colorblind as a good thing.
So my blonde protagonist becomes involved with a black boy, who is universally thought to be the cutest boy in the entire sixth grade.
Finally, the biggest change I made was the writing. It’s painful to admit, but one of the things I believe prevented LGL from being accepted by agents is that the writing was mediocre. I’ve been polishing my craft for 11 years since I last worked on that book, and I am thankfully much, much better.
I had to write a bunch of new chapters anyway, since the story changed, but I did a lot of rewriting on the scenes I was able to salvage from the original version. I’m kind of embarrassed I ever let anyone read them.
But with a lot of work (and a certain amount of faith — I didn’t have a clear idea how the new version was going to end as I madly banged out chapters), I managed to transform the mediocre Little Girl Lost into the much better Little Red Riding Hoodie. I’m pretty pleased with the results and think I have a stronger novel.
We’ll see what I think 11 years from now.
Want to help me get Little Red Riding Hoodie: A Modern Fairy Tale published by Amazon? Click here to nominate it through the Kindle Scout program.