Note: My answers may contain some spoilers for the book—please don’t read this if you haven’t finished the book!
How did you get the idea for Just Ella?
I think I can credit (or blame) my daughter with inspiring this book. When she was about 2 or 3, she was fascinated by fairy tales, and would beg to have me read them to her again and again. I’d certainly heard all the fairy tales when I was a kid, but somehow they sounded very different to me when I was an adult reading them to my daughter. It really bothered me that the princes and princesses and other heroes and heroines in the stories always fell in love with each other at first sight—and all that really seemed to matter was their beautiful (or handsome) appearances. Sometimes I even changed the stories for my daughter, coming up with lines like, “And then the prince looked at the princess, and he could tell just by looking that she was a very, very nice, smart, wonderful person, and so he fell in love….”
Then one day when I was watching my daughter putting together a Cinderella puzzle that she loved, I started thinking about what a horrible role model she was for little girls, because she never actually does anything; her godmother does all the work. And then it was almost like I heard a “new” Cinderella talking to me, telling what she insisted was her true story. She told me she’d never had a fairy godmother and never had to rely on magic—she’d made things happen for herself. And then I had so much fun imagining her alternative tale that I decided to write it down.
Is Cinderella your favorite fairy tale?
I’m not sure that I really have a favorite. But I think the idea that Cinderella can go from rags to riches is very appealing to lots of people. I just choose to believe that she could achieve that transformation (mostly) on her own. And that she could make other transformations, too…
Are you going to write a sequel?
I already have, although it’s probably more accurate to call it a “companion book” rather than a sequel. Palace of Mirrors, which came out in September 2008, takes place in a neighboring kingdom. Ella plays an important role in the book, but she is not the main character—that role goes to a girl named Cecilia.
Is Ella going to marry Jed?
Hmm. What do you think? I purposely did not end the book with either a wedding or a proposal, because I wanted readers to think for themselves about what might happen. Would Ella be trusting enough to get engaged again, after her first engagement turned out so disastrously? Would they actually make a good couple?
Personally, I do think that they get married, and that they have very long and happy (but not uncomplicated) lives together.
Are you going to write any more takeoffs of fairy tales?
I don’t have any plans to. (Even Palace of Mirrors, though set in a fairy-tale-ish world, is not related to any pre-existing fairy tale.) My daughter has now outgrown fairy tales, so I’m not as immersed in the genre as I once was. But who knows? Maybe I’ll get some unexpected inspiration.