“If I were stuck on a desert island with nothing to write on I’d tell myself stories in my head and scratch them out in the sand with a stick, even knowing the tide was going to wash them away. I can’t not write.”
Tracy Barrett is an author who defines the word “cool.” She speaks Italian, has degrees in Classics-Archaeology and Medieval Italian Literature, and skydives for fun. All this, and she still finds time to write popular retellings of fairytales and myths. Her latest YA novel, The Stepsister’s Tale, has received rave reviews, including starred reviews from both PW and Kirkus. The Stepsister’s Tale is the classic Cinderella story, but with a twist: instead of focusing on Cinderella, Barrett brings the often misunderstood stepsisters to life, offering their side of things for a change.
“I just didn’t buy Cinderella’s version of events—it sounded all too familiar! If a teenager with a new stepmother and stepsisters told me that she had to do all the work, and that her stepmother was mean and her stepsisters were ugly and bossy, I’d suspect that maybe there was another side to the story,” said Barrett.
Suspicious of a flawless ingenue, Barrett set out to get to know Jane and Maude Montjoy, sisters whose lives are upended when their mother remarries and presents the girls with an entitled new stepsister, Isabella. Barrett brings a sense of reality to the story, portraying poverty and family dynamics with as much candor as sensitivity.
“In fairy tales, especially, we don’t often know why people act the way they do, and also we rarely see any personal growth. Cinderella starts out good and sweet and beautiful, and at the end she’s still good and sweet and beautiful. The stepsisters start out as selfish bullies, for no particular reason, and at the end they’re still selfish bullies. I wanted to not only figure out why these fairy-tale people act they way they do but also show them grow and change,” said Barrett.
Barrett’s love of retellings extends to her reading. Books like Ella Enchanted and Wide Sargasso Sea sit on her shelf, with Donna Jo Napoli’s Beast ranking as one of her favorite novels. The Stepsister’s Tale is far from her first retelling – Dark of the Moon looks at the myth of the minotaur, while King of Ithaka tackles Homey’s Odyssey.
“I taught Italian at a university for twenty-eight years and wrote almost all my books during that time –The Stepsister’s Tale is my twentieth book! When I took on a major volunteer role with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators I discovered that I just couldn’t spend as much time on my teaching as I felt I should and still write, so one of them had to go. I quit teaching three years ago and have been happily writing — and volunteering — full-time ever since,” said Barrett.
Despite The Stepsister’s Tale being Barrett’s twentieth book, the road of publication hasn’t been the easiest.
“I hope young writers will avoid a mistake that I made, one that kept me from writing for years: I thought that a published book flows out of the mind of the author onto the paper or computer screen and maybe needs just a little polishing and then voilà — a timeless book is born! I didn’t realize that it takes many, many drafts and many, many people to turn a first draft, which is usually garbage, into something worthy of publication. I was so discouraged at my drafts, especially when I compared them with my favorite books, that I quit writing for years. But I’ve learned otherwise!”
Barrett now spends time in a “wonderful” critique group, one that looks at every word she writes before she sends a project to her literary agent. Both her agent and her editor work to change and improve her novels even more – a process Barrett seems thankful for.Author Tracy Barrett. Courtesy of Jennifer Abbotts.
“All these people are so good that when I read the finished product I can’t tell what was originally in the manuscript and what came about after someone pointed out that a passage was too slow, or a character acted in an uncharacteristic way, or whatever. So don’t judge what you do against what you read. Know that your favorite writers had lots of help, and there are many people who will help your writing be the best it can be.”
The Stepsister’s Tale is available now. For more about Tracy Barrett, visit her website. You can also enter to win a copy of The Stepsister’s Tale here on YA Interrobang.