Today I am thrilled to present to you author Elise Forier Edie, as she delves into the mythic, and very human, inspirations behind her newly published novella, A Devil In Midwinter. A mash-up of Mexican folklore and the classic Sleeping Beauty, set in the orchards of Washington, A Devil In Midwinter is a stunning romance that put me in mind of the lush works of Charles De Lint when I first read it. You can find this spectacular novella in the anthology A Winter’s Enchantment, by World Weaver Press.
WAKING THE PRINCESS
by Elise Forier Edie
“The Devil in Midwinter” combines Mexican folktales, Aztec myth, Native American folklore and traditional fairytales with an original story of romance and adventure set in the little rural town of Mattawa, Washington. But despite its multicultural motifs, at the end of the day, the spine of the piece was inspired by the universal archetype of the Lost Princess. We know her best as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel, but she appears all over the world, in all sorts of guises. She is a young girl, asleep or imprisoned, who is rescued, or kissed awake, by a handsome prince.
The idea came to me while I was still teaching Theatre Arts at a university in central Washington State. Back then, I used to make my Intermediate Acting students do an archetype exercise ever year. They had to personify an aspect of their character that they felt was holding them back creatively—their biggest block, their worst fear. They were required to develop an exaggerated point of view, come to class in costume and surrender to an improvisational interview. I used to get all sorts of archetypes in the room for that exercise—orphaned children, stoic soldiers, uptight perfectionists, good girls, wounded animals, beauty queens, ugly stepsisters, and monsters of all walks.
One young woman—I will call her Trista—appeared dressed as a beautiful princess. She built an elaborate barricade out of tables and chairs. Then she hid behind it and cried and cried because she had been waiting and waiting for a prince to come and save her, and no one was coming; she was beginning to believe no one would ever come. Her heartbreak was completely real, I promise you. The whole class wept.
It was never my job to argue with the archetypes in this exercise. I didn’t try to alter them or transform them. I just let them speak, and let the insights fall where they may (and more often than not, they fell were they were supposed to).
But I wanted—so much!– to argue with Trista’s princess. I wanted to rouse her from her victim stupor. I wanted to point out that waiting to be rescued was a huge waste of time and energy. I wanted to say, “How do you know your rescuer will be a prince? Maybe he’ll be horrible!” I wanted to say, “Wouldn’t you rather dismantle this stupid barricade yourself? Get off your duff! Stop waiting! Kick some ass!”
But I didn’t. Instead, I went home and wrote a story about it. I made my heroine a college student. And I thought of Trista’s heartbreak the whole time.
I cannot write a story without doing research, and so I learned a great deal about lost princesses while I worked. I was very interested to learn that they can be looked on as ancient symbols for the fertility goddess, asleep in the winter, and kissed awake by the sun. So I set my story in a contemporary farming community at the turn of the year. And then, since many of the farming communities in Eastern Washington are decidedly multicultural, I drew on Native and Mexican folkloric traditions, as well as European traditions, to make the story more rooted in its place and time.
Thus Esmeralda is Xilonen (who, by the way, the ancient Aztec priests actually sacrificed and skinned every year, in order for the corn to grow), but she is also Sleeping Beauty, and Brunhilde and Sittukhan and Wadiah. But rather than have her simply sleep in a tower, waiting to be kissed, for the sake of poor Trista (and the argument I longed to have with her archetype), I threw a devil (Blue Beard, skinwalker, Dark Man, demon) in her path. I gave her a mystery to solve. And I didn’t let my hero erase her problems with a kiss. Instead, I made my princess fight. The result is “The Devil in Midwinter,” a blend of many traditions, and many stories, with a twist that is wholly my own.
I know there are many Tristas out there—young women (and men) who are waiting for someone mysterious and magnificent to take them by the hand and awaken them to their lives. They ignore or denigrate their own powers; they lose themselves in fantasy; and their heartbreak is real. Because it’s a lousy lesson to buy into: “Just wait for your prince! And he’ll take care of everything!” I say it’s time for our princesses to wake up and start fighting.
Don’t get me wrong; I do believe that your prince will come. I believe everyone’s prince or princess is out there. But I also think it’s a good idea to dig into your own life, tap into your own power, rather than just lie in your coffin and wait for that kiss. Wake up. Fight for your life. Be ready to say “yes,” and kiss back when the time comes. And wherever you are Trista, I hope you’re off in the world, kicking some ass.
INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: I gave my Xilonen a different husband. In traditional Aztec mythology, Xilonen is married to Tezcatlipoca, the god of war, who has much more in common with my demon, Justin, than he does with my hero, Xavier. To avoid confusion, and a repetitive character type, I put the Aztec Fifth Sun, Nanahuatzin, as hero and consort to this incarnation of Xilonen. It’s a little like Brunhilde dumping Siegfried for Baldr, or Persephone shucking Hades to run off with Helios, but whose to say that’s not a good story, too, even if it’s the “wrong” one? I hope my readers can forgive the transgression. A strong but gentle consort seemed a more fitting and fulfilling companion for my awakened, active, problem-solving princess.
Elise Forier Edie is an author of paranormal romance and YA novels, as well as several stories and popular plays with magical and speculative elements. Her most recent publications include “Leonora,” in Penumbra magazine, the fairytale “Black Dog” in The Enchanted Conversation and three short plays for young actors in the anthology “Original Middle School Scenes and Monologues” edited by Kent R. Brown. Her paranormal romance “The Devil in Midwinter” is available now through World Weaver Press. Elise is married to actor Keith Edie and lives in southern California with their two dogs, Krypto and Jubilee. When she is not writing, she likes to make quilts and soup, but rarely at the same time.
She is also is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), the Romance Writers of America, Los Angeles (RWA) and the Authors Guild. She has taught writing and arts classes at Central Washington University, Northland Pioneer College, Fountain Valley School and the Arizona Commission on the Arts.
In addition to working as an author and script writer, Elise is also a professional actress. This year, she launched her first original one-woman show, “The Pink Unicorn,” which was selected to be at the United Solo Theatre Festival, and played in New York City, on Theatre Row. Visit her blog for more from this spectacular author!