One of the first books I truly adored, Watership Down, captured my imagination when I was probably seven years old. Of course, at that age, the symbolism and deeper meaning of that brilliant story were beyond me, but I remember falling deeply in love with Hazel and his friends. The intricate world they inhabited seemed perfectly reasonable yet wholly imaginary. As I continued to read ravenously and transitioned into adult novels, my favorite books usually followed some variation on that theme. The characters felt like my own dear friends. I related to their internal struggles. The worlds they lived in, however, were either magically or historically foreign to me, yet intricately and viscerally alive.
Of the thousands of books I've read in my life, some stand out to me: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Ride the Wind by Lucia St. Clair Robson, Pride and Prejudice, myriad Stephen King novels (IT, The Stand, and The Dark Tower Series being my personal favorites), His Dark Materials, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Other Boleyn Girl, Atonement, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, The Handmaid's Tale, Gone with the Wind, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter in all his glory, The Hunger Games, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and my personal favorite book of all time, Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. I must also mention a recent wonderful YA find, the Wayward Children Series by Seanan McGuire, as well as The Power by Naomi Alderman.
These books may seem to run the gamut of the literary experience, but there is a common thread: 1) deeply relatable characters; and 2) rich settings, either speculative or historical. I'm not saying that I don't like a good plot. All stories need a story, after all, but the events of these tales are not what led me to read them over and over (and over and over and over). I want to learn something about myself through the character's experiences, but I want to escape.
By the time I reached my early thirties, I found that I was, indeed, repeatedly returning to my old favorites. I was bored as a reader. Genre fantasy was too plot heavy. Historical fiction felt overdone. Contemporary women's fiction wasn't interesting enough. It had been a long time since something new really sparked my passion. I found myself craving stories with a bit of everything. I wanted intensely creative speculative elements and worldbuilding (a la Harry's Wizarding World, or Stephen King's Derry, Maine) and strong, relatable, timeless female characters (like Lizzie Bennett and the Ya-Yas).
One evening, I was driving my two young daughters back home after ballet, and they were listening to the Cinderella story on some kids' radio station. As the narrator ended with happily ever after, I thought, "Sure, she probably died in childbirth."
With that one thought, the idea for The Cracked Slipper Series quickly took shape in my mind. A familiar fairytale, set in a fabulously magical and romantic kingdom full of witches, unicorns, and dragons, but centered on a heroine who faces the challenges women universally tackle: relationships, parenting, bad decisions, insecurities, childhood trauma, and family drama.
My latest novel, Charleston Green, is in many ways a departure from The Cracked Slipper Series. Unlike Princess Eleanor, Tipsy Collins inhabits our world, albeit the wonderfully unique microcosm of American life that is Charleston, South Carolina. Tipsy's challenges are those of everywoman, but Tipsy also has to contend with ghosts complicating her already messy life.
After reading Tipsy's story, some have asked me: "Do you see ghosts, Stephanie?"
No, I don't see ghosts. But it thrills me that Tipsy's experience is compelling enough that someone might wonder if I see them.
I plan to write the next chapter or two in Tipsy's life, because I've come to love her haunted version of my hometown and its undead interlopers with the same passion that I have for Eleanor's fairytale kingdom. After that, I'm not sure where my writing journey will take me. But I promise you this, dear reader, if you come on this storytelling voyage with me, I'll always try to offer you a vivid, meaningful, relatable escape, with a magical twist.