eSpec Books interviews David Lee Summers, contributor to Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine, http://tiny.cc/GandG.
eSB: What was your favorite faerie tale growing up and why?
DLS: That’s a tough one, but I think it would have to be “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Although I was afraid of the giant, I liked the idea there was a mysterious, unexplored world on top of the clouds.
eSB: What is your favorite faerie tale now and why?
DLS: My favorite faerie tale now is “Snow White and Rose Red” but I’ll qualify that a bit. There’s a lot going on in this story of two girls who take in a kindly bear and must deal with an obnoxious dwarf. “Snow White and Rose Red” is a moral tale about karma presented with some almost slapstick humor. The problem is that in almost predictable fashion, we find out that the bear is a handsome prince who marries Snow White. Fortunately the prince has a convenient brother for Rose Red to marry. What’s weird about this is that most versions of the story present the girls as quite young.
That said, back in 2002, I bought a German edition of the Grimm Brothers’ Children and Household Tales that included their notes about the stories. Those notes reveal an alternate version of “Snow White and Rose Red” where the prince actually marries the girls’ widowed mother and becomes their step-father. To me that ending seems to fit the story better and it’s nice to see a faery tale step-parent who actually improves the lot of those children he takes in!
eSB: Who would you say is your faerie tale role model and why?
DLS: If I had a faerie tale role model it would be the pig who built the brick house in “The Three Little Pigs.” He doesn’t take any guff from blow-hard wolves and he does what he can to protect his brothers!
eSB: Tell us about your favorite non-European faerie tale.
DLS: I love the many Native American stories about the trickster, Coyote. In the stories, Coyote not only tricks people, but gets tricked himself. One of my favorites is the tale of Coyote and the Money Tree. On the run from men, Coyote stops and hangs money from a tree. When the men catch up, he harvests the money and tells them it’s a money tree. He then sells the tree to the men and tells them they have to wait to harvest their money and he gets clean away. It’s a terrific tale of how greed makes us just plain stupid.
eSB: What little-known faerie tale do you think is underappreciated and why?
DLS: One of my favorite underappreciated Grimm stories is “The Griffin.” It’s a favorite because there are so few stories about griffins, and they are one of my favorite mythical beasts. What’s more, the story features an “iron man” who is either some kind of enchanted toy or clockwork automaton. It’s almost a steampunk story without any work!
eSB: What faerie tale did you base your story on and what challenges did you face ’punking it up?
DLS: I based my story on a little-known Grimm faerie tale called “The Dragon and his Grandmother.” The protagonists of the original story are soldiers running away from a battle. Right away, I imagined British soldiers in India and that the dragon was a mechanical automaton. The first challenge I had was that the dragon in the original story gives the soldiers a magical whip that lets them create gold from nothing. I wanted to make the magical item more mechanical and a little less purely magical. I finally stumbled on the idea of an alchemical engine that felt like it could be created by the same person who created the dragon. Perhaps a bigger challenge was making sure the characters in the story, both Indian and British, came across as fully realized people and not caricatures, which would be easy to do in a faerie tale retelling.
eSB: What interested you in working on this project?
DLS: I’ve loved faerie tales since I was a kid, but gained an even greater appreciation when I took a German literature class in college. One of the projects in that class was translating “Little Snow White” from the original German into English. When Disney’s Snow White was released on DVD in 2001 I recalled the fun I had with that exercise and decided to try my hand at translating a few more tales, which increased my appreciation for the original Grimm library. What’s more, I love steampunk. My first professional sale was a story I sold to Realms of Fantasy back in 2001 about men who hunted dragons from airships called “The Slayers” plus I’m currently working on a Wild West steampunk series called the Clockwork Legion. The whole idea of combining my love of steampunk and my love of faerie tales in one story was just irresistible.
eSB: Have you written/created anything other faerie tale retellings? Please tell us about it.
DLS: I’ve written two other faerie tale retellings. “The Griffin’s Tail” appears in Human Tales edited by Jennifer Brozek and retells the Grimm Faerie Tale “The Griffin” from the perspective of the title creature. My story “The Tale of Blood Red” appears in the collection Blood Sampler published by Alban Lake Publishing and was inspired by many of the vampire-like elements in alternate versions the “Snow White” story related by the Grimm Brothers in their original notes about the tale.
My story “The Vrykolakas and the Cobbler’s Wife” which appears in Cemetery Dance #66 is not exactly a faerie tale retelling but it takes some inspiration from the “Elves and the Shoemaker.”
eSB: What are some of your own works readers can look for?
DLS: My Clockwork Legion steampunk novels tell the story of a small-town sheriff who gave up his career to make a life with a Persian healer seeking justice in the midst of the Russian invasion of America. The first novel in the series is Owl Dance and the second novel is Lightning Wolves. Adult faerie tale fans may also like knowing about my Scarlet Order vampire novels which touch on elements of Greek mythology and Arthurian legend.
eSB: What projects of your own do you have coming up?
DLS: My steampunk novel The Brazen Shark, which is the third novel in my Clockwork legion series, is scheduled for release on February 1 from Sky Warrior Book Publishing. My horror novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt, which is inspired by my work at Kitt Peak National Observatory is scheduled for release later this year from Lachesis Publishing.
eSB: How can readers find out more about you?
DLS: Readers can find out more about me by visiting my website at http://www.davidleesummers.com
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