Thank you for the free advanced copy of Grump for the Storymamas to read. It publishes today, so be sure to get your copy! Between the three of the Storymamas, we’ve heard Liesl Shurtliff speak at our schools on two different occasions. She’s entertaining and engaging, so it’s no wonder her books are, as well!
I read Liesl’s first book, Rump, when it was published, and have been leading a 3rd grade fairy tale book club with the book for the past three years. I’ve noticed that as soon as my book club ends, the copies of her other books fly off my shelves. One of my students discovered my copy of Grump on my desk, and now the only time I see it is when it passes hands!
Grump: The (Fairly) True Tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves tells the story of Borlen, a grumpy dwarf that decides to do exactly what he’s been told not to; emerge from the underground and go to the surface. Enticed with as many gems and rubies to eat as he wants, Borlen is befriended by the evil Queen, becoming magically bound to her after misunderstanding her words. When Borlen accidentally gets taken by the beard by her step-daughter, Snow White, he finds himself obligated to her wishes as well, and his world gets turned even more upside down.
Grump kept me entertained from start to finish! Liesl Shurtliff’s talented writing and creative ability to tie in the elements of the known fairy tales, while making them her own, is one of a kind. The Storymamas were thrilled to be given the opportunity to interview her for our blog, and we hope you enjoy reading her answers as much as we did! Be sure to grab your own copy of Grump today!
Three Questions About Grump
What are three words you would use to describe Grump?
Unexpected, Humorous, Adventure
What was your process for writing Grump and your other fractured fairy tales? There were so many times when I was reading Grump that I had those “aha” moments of how the story and plot related to what I know about Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Where do you start in order for it all to tie in and relate to the actual fairy tales?
My process is very organic. I rarely “plan” anything, but rather ideas, characters, and storylines pop up as I work on other things, and then I have to figure out how to make it all work together. It can be very messy, but exciting too. A story could start anywhere, any moment, with a simple concept, a character, an object, or a line. My first book, Rump, didn’t even start with Rumpelstiltskin. (Crazy, right?!) My initial idea was about a world where names are your destiny, and that led me to Rumpelstiltskin, which led me to tell it from his point of view in this unique setting. Jack and Red both developed in similar ways as I was writing Rump.
I never considered writing a Snow White retelling. To be perfectly honest, I have a love-hate relationship with princess tales. Maybe that’s why when Borlen the dwarf shows up in my last book Red, almost out of nowhere he calls Snow White a spoiled brat. It felt like it came out of nowhere, but it also felt like it came directly from Borlen himself, and that he was somehow leaving a little clue for me to follow. Why would a dwarf call Snow White a spoiled brat? And then I thought about how the dwarves are so marginalized in the original tale. Forget Disney for a moment. In the Grimms’ version they don’t even have names or distinct personalities! But really, the dwarves are some of the most interesting and mysterious characters. Lots to mine there (pun intended), but I feel like sometimes we throw the diamonds out with the dirt. What would the Snow White tale look like if the dwarves were put front and center, and one dwarf in particular? This was a very exciting idea, but also quite difficult to execute. It required me to recast all the events in Snow White, not only from Borlen’s point of view, but also with him as the one driving the action. It required a lot of creative acrobatics, even contortionism! When you retell an old story in a new way, you really have to make it bend and flip. Grump is probably the retelling that required this a little more than the others, with maybe Rump as a close second.
I also get very into my world building, because that can inform so much of the story for me, in terms of character development and plot. I grew up in Salt Lake City, and then right after I graduated from college I moved to Chicago and have lived here for the past fourteen years. The two places couldn’t be more different in almost every way, but both cities have played a major role in who I am, and I’ve since realized that we’re all products of our environments and cultures, so it seems logical to me that if I want to develop interesting and unique characters and stories, I need to build interesting and unique worlds.
Grump is your fourth fractured fairy tale! When you originally wrote Rump, did you have more than one book in mind? Is there a book five?
When I wrote Rump I was just hoping I could get that book published, though in the back of my mind I did hope that I might be able to write more. I knew I wanted to write a book for Red, though she ended up taking a longer time to figure out. When I committed to writing Jack and Red I thought that would be it. Three fairytales. A nice little trio, but then Borlen came onto the scene in Red and I knew we weren’t done. I don’t currently have plans for a 5th, I’m working on some other projects right now, but I don’t think I can definitively say Grump is my last. There’s just so much to mine in these tales, I can’t possibly predict when a character is going to come knocking and say, “Hello. It’s time to tell my story.” When that happens, I’ll listen and write.
Three Questions About Liesl Shurtliff
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be and why?
This is a surprisingly difficult question for me to answer in a short paragraph! Before I became a writer, I was pursuing musical theater as a career. That was my major in college, and though I was pretty determined to “make it” (whatever that means), I took a break in order to be at home with my kids, and it was during this time that I turned to writing. I thought it would be my creative outlet until I could go back to the stage. But when my writing career took off in such a wonderful way I never looked back. So the question is, if the writing hadn’t worked out, would I go back to theater? I think I might dabble in directing or choreographing in some local theater, but I’ve sort of lost my love for being on the stage. I’d rather create material for others to perform.
What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?
Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder. I recommend it to everyone. The writing is superb, it has a fairytale-like quality that I absolutely adored, and the ending leaves you with a sense of openness and possibility that is breathtaking.
What is one item in your refrigerator that tells us about you?
Oh dear, this feels almost as personal as opening my underwear drawer. Avert your eyes! Okay, so in my fridge I have a giant jar of homemade date syrup. It’s basically dates soaked in hot water and then blended. We use it as a whole food sweetener in everything from oatmeal to smoothies to cookies. This tells you that we are pretty health conscious, but I also have a major sweet tooth.