Fairy tale curses are familiar territory, but for Briar Girls, author Rebecca Kim Wells wanted to go beyond the supposed curse and look at what that magical apparent impediment would do to those that have it, and how they live going forward.
REBECCA KIM WELLS:
When I started writing Briar Girls, I was mostly thinking about how much I wanted to create an epic fairy tale mashup. How many characters could I jam into a plot and still hold it all together? I started with Rapunzel and the witch who cursed her, then threw in Sleeping Beauty, Jack (and the Beanstalk), Hansel and Gretel, and made up some of my own tales for good measure. That was the first spark. Then, of course, I had to figure out how to make these characters feel like real (fictional) people, with compelling thoughts, feelings, desires, and pains.
Lena, the main character of Briar Girls, is cursed—the touch of her skin can kill. She lives in isolation with her father, who has claimed her entire life that there is no way to break the curse.
This is a lie.
Parents lie to their children for all sorts of reasons. If—when—the truth comes out, there are also all sorts of responses: It’s for your own good. I did it for you. You’ll understand when you’re older.
Sometimes these lies are understandable, forgivable. Sometimes they’re even almost a rite of passage, like the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. But what happens when the lie is more significant?
When I was a child, I dreamed that I uncovered a secret that every adult in my life had been keeping from me. The secret itself was consequential, but the emotion that lingered when I woke wasn’t surprise or excitement at the discovery. It was shock—the breathless feeling of having the wind knocked out of me—that the adults I trusted had betrayed that trust. The stab of that pain is still palpable now, decades later.
This is the idea I kept circling as I wrote—the lies we are told as children, and the betrayal we feel when the truth is revealed. How sharply it must sting to be lied to by the person you trust the most. I took all of that anguish and I gave it to Lena. (Sorry!) Then, because this is a fantasy adventure novel, I burdened the lie with life-threatening, world-shaking consequences. Voila! I had discovered the heart of my book.
Books can change immensely over the course of revision. In the eight years it took to bring Briar Girls from first draft to finished book, I smoothed storylines and cut characters, excised entire fairy tales. But I kept my eyes on the lie Lena uncovers, and the pain she endures as a result. And the more I wrote toward Lena’s pain, the more I thought about the impact of her father’s actions.
How do you recover from a parent’s betrayal? How do you learn to trust your own instincts again? How do you trust anyone again?
The bleakest possible answer is that you can’t—that everything is terrible and we’re all doomed. But that wasn’t the answer I wanted readers to take away at the end of this book. Pain and betrayal and loss of trust are deeply human experiences. So is the struggle to move past them, to trust yourself no matter the circumstances, to trust—even to love—others again. As a person and an artist, I want to believe that we can live with our wounds—and even recover and learn from them.
So that’s what I wrote. I deepened Lena’s relationships with the people she meets. I softened the blow of that lie, just a little. And at the end of the story, I gave her hope. Lena’s journey is sharp and a little devastating—but there’s happiness there too.
Briar Girls is my love letter to fairy tales and complicated relationships, and to growing up, trusting yourself, and making your own path. I hope you enjoy it.