In The Bone Spindle (Razorbill, January 2022), debut novelist Leslie Vedder takes the fairytale we all know as Sleeping Beauty, and turns it completely on its head.
In this imaginative retelling, not only does the damsel save the prince from a sleeping curse—but the damsel isn’t much of a damsel at all. Fi is a magical treasure hunter who is well versed in magical languages and the stories of the four Great Witches. Plus, she has a badass LGBTQIA+ warrior princess named Shane by her side. Shane isn’t the kind of princess who pricks her finger then awaits a prince to rescue her—instead, she uses her battle ax to protect herself and her friends. There is no end to the banter between these two opposites.
This story delivers fast-paced action, romance, and plenty of exploring the unknowns of magic—to the extent where you never know what could be next. Characters Shane, Fi, and prince Briar are all full of snarky dialogue and life, and definitely add more character than the classic cut-and-dried Disney tale does. At its core, The Bone Spindle is about magic, friendship, and the power of female heroines. I enjoyed entering a world that was so familiar but unknown—with characters that represent me as a female, and a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Dead Darlings is pleased to introduce Leslie Vedder.
HT: Fairytale retellings are a common premise for YA novels. What made you want to take on a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, a story everybody knows, and how did you set out to make it your own?
I’m a big fan of fairytale retellings. I love getting to play with all the familiar details of an old story, but totally reimagining it to make room for new characters. Sleeping Beauty was always one of my favorites, but not really for the princess herself, since her part in the story is a bit of a snore. (Pun intended!) So I loved the idea of genderflipping the story and centering it on two girl treasure hunters instead—Fi, the brains, and Shane, the brawn—out to save a sleeping prince.
LV: How many different versions of Sleeping Beauty and Briar Rose did you read before you wrote The Bone Spindle? And did any of them influence how you approached the story?
Not that many, actually! I looked at a few of the oldest versions of the story, and they’re a lot creepier than the Disney version. In trying to reimagine the story, one of the most important questions I started with was: how do you fall in love with someone who’s asleep? Because it was really important to me that Fi and the prince have a real connection. In The Bone Spindle, the Briar Rose character is a sleeping prince who’s sort of haunting Fi like a spirit, and I ended up having a lot of fun with him and his ghost antics!
When you build your characters, what comes first? Is it their voice, their physical appearance, their inner thoughts and desires, or something else?
Voice always comes first for me. I spend a lot of time, in the early stages of an idea, taking long walks with my wife and coming up with dialogue for these shiny new characters, trying out different ideas until I find something that makes us both laugh. Finding Shane’s voice was definitely the most fun—she’s brash and loud and she’s got a lot of opinions! Most of that early dialogue never actually makes it in the book, but it really helps me get to know my characters.
Your story has multiple points of view. Was it challenging to keep track of that many voices? How did you decide which parts of the story each character would tell?
I actually loved having different points of view to play with! Fi and Shane’s voices are pretty distinct, so it was fun to think about which of them should take point in any given chapter. I especially loved Shane’s voice for the action chapters, and Fi’s knowledge of history was so useful for the treasure hunting scenes!
Because the name of our blog is Dead Darlings, was there anything you hated to cut from the book that you had to?
Fi and Shane spend a lot of time snarking back and forth. I love that part of their partnership, but in the early drafts, there were some scenes where they probably quipped too much! So a number of those got cut. I think my editor was probably right that it’s better to keep the best ones, but I do miss some of those jokes!
I hear that The Bone Spindle is the first novel in a trilogy. Did you have all three books mapped out before you started writing the first one? Can you tell us anything about the next one?
Mapped out is a good way of putting it! From the beginning, I had some ideas for where the overall story would go, but Shane’s character arc changed a lot along the way as her character and love story developed. I usually think of outlining kind of like a road map—I have a sense of the major destinations I need to hit, but there’s still lots of room for detours and side trips and other unplanned fun! As for Book 2, I really loved getting the chance to dig deeper into the characters and the love stories! There’s more treasure hunting, more magic ruins, more romance, and of course, more snark!
Why do you think fairytales are important? If given the chance, is there another fairytale you’d like to retell?
Fairytales are such familiar stories. We hear so many different versions from the time we’re young, they become a kind of language. These symbols—like a spindle or a beanstalk or a pumpkin carriage—can evoke a whole story. Retellings give us the chance to make room for new readers to see themselves in these stories. That’s one thing I love about them. As for another fairytale I might retell, I’ve always loved the Robin Hood story (even the fox version)!
And finally, I’m a young, aspiring YA writer. What was the best advice you got when you were starting out that you can pass on to me?
I definitely underestimated the querying/submitting side of trying to get a book published! You’ve put all this effort into writing a book—it’s worth putting just as much effort into getting your pitch right, fine-tuning your query, and being totally ready before you send your book out. I had a few cringe-worthy early query letters that I sent out before I really knew what I was doing, which meant I wasn’t giving my book its best chance at success. On the bright side, just like writing, querying is something you can definitely get better at with practice!
Leslie Vedder (she/her) is a queer ace author who loves fairytale retellings with girl adventurers and heroes! She grew up on fantasy books, anime, fanfiction, and the Lord of the Rings movies, and met her true love in high school choir. Leslie graduated from San Francisco State University with a BA in creative writing, and currently lives in Colorado with her wife and two spoiled house cats.