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Interview: Jo Karaplis on Fractured Fairy Tales

Jo Karaplis lives and breathes books. During the day, she works for a children’s publishing house in Toronto. In the evenings, she’s usually either reading a book or working on her own. Jo’s also a member of the Toronto Middle Grade/YA Writer Group (Torkidlit), which is how I met her.

Jo’s website:

You can find also Jo on TwitterFacebook and Goodreads.

Love the way you told each of the three fairy tales in a slightly different style. What made you decide to use this format? How did you choose which style would be best suited to each fairy tale? 

Honestly, it wasn’t something I planned out in great detail beforehand. “Snow White and the Seven Dorks” was the story that came to me first. I could picture Yuki perfectly, and I knew she’d want to talk directly to the reader, so I let her be the narrator. The scene at the school dance was the most captivating for me, so I wanted to have it at the beginning of the book, but I didn’t want to bog it down with back story, so I decided to switch back and forth between the action at the dance and how Yuki ended up there. 

When brainstorming about different fairy tales, Cinderella struck me as a tale that would have turned out much differently with cell phones or the internet, which gave me the idea to tell it entirely through texting and blogging. It was really fun to write, but I did worry that readers would find it unsophisticated. (Thankfully, most people who reviewed the book have really liked that story!)

I originally tried to tell the final story, a retelling of The Little Mermaid, in the third person just for variety, but it was such a personal story that I switched back to first person, which I think worked much better. Because of the ending (which I won’t spoil!), it was necessary to do that one in straight chronological order.  

What are some of your other favourite fairy tale retellings? 

I actually haven’t read too many retellings, although I’ve got some on my to-read list now. And I loved the movie Tangled! 

Twisting and retelling fairy tales is an old tradition. I remember seeing fractured fairytale cartoons on Rocky & Bullwinkle reruns as a kid. When I was in high school, fractured fairy tales popped up a few times: my younger sister brought home a picture book called The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (Jon Scieszka), the Politically Correct Bedtime Stories series by James Finn Garner came out, and I read a few fable retellings in Margaret Atwood’s Good Bones. I was inspired to do my own versions, and ended up writing a play in which a few famous fairytale princesses went on a talk show to discuss what happened after “happily ever after” (hint: they had some grievances to air!).

What was your writing process for this book? (outline first or plunge right in? how much prep? etc.) 

I always plunge right in, then end up stuck, then procrastinate for a while, then do a lot of revising and outlining, then finish writing. I usually end up with notes in the manuscript like “fight scene here” so that I can come back and write that bit when I have a better idea of how it’s going to unfold. I always re-read what I’ve written before continuing to write, so either that’s a part of my process or I need to learn to turn off my editor-self when I’m writing!

Cyberella took the least revising out of all the stories: there’s something about text messaging and chatting that just lends itself to speedy writing. It was fun playing the part of both Cindy and her friend Matt, and jumping rapid-fire back and forth between the two of them. It was also very quick to read back the conversation, so I could see right away if something just sounded wrong. The only hard part of writing a short story entirely in texts and blog posts was trying to describe action in enough detail that readers could picture it.  

How long did the entire process take, from when you started working on it until the book made it into print? 

I’d say about two years. I started writing it in April 2008, submitted the final draft two years later in April 2010, and it came out in November 2010. But part of the delay was that it was first under contract with a different publisher (same editor). I think under normal circumstances it probably would’ve taken about a year from first draft to publication.  

How much does your experience working in the publishing industry as an editor influence you as a writer? 

It doesn’t affect me as a writer (that is, it hasn’t made me change my writing style), but I think it makes me more realistic about being an author. I don’t expect to make a living off my books (not yet, anyway!), and I know that I need to do a lot of promotion on my own (not that the publisher doesn’t help, of course!). Also, I don’t take rejection personally, because I understand that this is a tough industry and publishers can only take on books that they really believe in and know they can sell–and there are tons of reasons that a book can be rejected that have very little to do with the author (for example: a similar book just came out or is in the works; it’s a sci-fi manuscript but the publisher only publishes poetry; the publisher’s list is already booked full for a year and they don’t want to hold onto something they can’t publish in a timely manner, etc.).

Also, having worked with authors professionally, I know what makes someone a “dream author” and I try to keep that in mind when working with my editor!Sounds like you’re working on multiple projects at the same time. How do you manage that, in terms of work process/time?I work on one until I get stuck or bored or both, and then I switch to one of the others. It’s great because taking a break from a work in progress usually allows me to look at it with fresh eyes when I finally return to it. And it also turns my procrastination into productivity, which is an added bonus. Usually I only do this with a maximum of two projects at a time, though, and one of them typically takes up the bulk of my time whereas the secondary project just gives me a break when I’m getting burned out on the primary work.

Some authors believe that the bulk of the marketing & promotion of their books should be the publisher’s responsibility, not theirs. What’s your take on this?This is such a tricky question–doubly so since I’m both an author and work in marketing at a publishing house! So I can definitely see both sides of the argument. On the one hand, there are things that a publisher definitely needs to do and is better-equipped than an author to do: make sure the book is widely available in stores and online, submit the book for awards, send the book out to reviewers, purchase advertising, promote the author to appropriate festivals and events. 

However, I believe that the author can be more effective than the publisher at personal promotion such as writing blog posts about the book, setting up and monitoring a Facebook fan page and Twitter account, giving interviews on blogs and websites, etc. Readers are much more excited about talking to or hearing from the author than the publisher, so authors should take advantage of being a literary rock star!

Also, there are some marketing and promotion techniques that aren’t effective for all books, and should ideally be jointly considered by the author and publisher; some examples would be book trailers, launch parties, and giveaways. Overall, though, I’d say that the success of a book’s marketing efforts hinges on communication: the author needs to tell the publisher what efforts they’re making, so that the publisher can help support and publicize those efforts, and the publisher also needs to tell the author what they’ve planned for the book, so that the author knows which areas are covered.

How do you juggle writing vs promotion time as an author?I have a full-time job and am also planning a wedding this year, so I’m stealing little bits of time here and there and hoping I’ll have more time come winter. Last year, I participated in National Novel Writing Month and found that writing on my daily commute allowed me to make good use of all that time I spend riding the subway. I’d like to get back into that habit again this year. As for promotion, I did the bulk of it once the book was available for purchase (I had a few book launches, set up a Facebook fan page, organized a giveaway through GoodReads, contacted bloggers to set up a blog tour, etc.). Now that the book has launched, my efforts have scaled back. I have Google alerts set up so that if any reviews or mentions of my book appear online, I can add them to my website and share them with my social networks, but other than that, I’ve switched from promotion mode to writing mode. I think it’s possible to do both at once, but you need to be quite disciplined–well, more disciplined than I am, anyway!Any current or upcoming projects you’d like to mention?

I’m the kind of writer who loses steam if I talk about things I’m working on, so all I’ll say is that I’ve got at least three more projects in the works, and leave it at that.Any advice for aspiring writers?Read, read, read. Then write, write, write. Remember that you need to make bad art before you can make good art, so don’t judge yourself too harshly (for example, don’t compare your first drafts to a published author’s masterpiece!). Find a writing community–either online or in person–who will critique your work. Go to your friends and family for praise, and your writing group for feedback. Finally, have fun!

Where to find out more about Jo Karaplis:

Her website:

On Twitter:

Her Facebook page

Her Goodreads page

For more insights from book creators, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators From Book Creators.