Celeste Baxendell writes complicated plots with real characters that draw you in and hold you captive till the very last page.
Tell us about your fairytale retellings and what inspired you to write in this genre.
I have one complete series of fairytale retellings, eight books total and two companion novels set in the same world. The main books of the series are all fairytale combinations while the companion novels retell just one. I honestly don’t really remember what it was precisely that inspired me to do fairytales specifically, but I know very specifically I wanted to retell two fairytales and when I was looking into fairytales, I noticed Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin had several similar elements, and I thought it would be interesting to combine the two stories and explore what that would look like if they were the same story.
How does the theme of power fit into your books, particularly your Rumpelstiltskin retelling, Stalks of Gold? (Answer may contain some minor spoilers)
Power is a double-edged sword, I suppose. In Stalks of Gold, Aurelia is constantly being rendered powerless by those who have more power, King Eadric and Ruskin in particular, while also pursuing power herself. Which of course, comes from the original fairytales, the woman in both stories is very helpless and subject to the whims of the people who control her life. And that’s a reality everyone faces. No one is truly the master of their own life, we’re all subject to outside forces. It’s how we deal with those outside forces that makes the difference. Acknowledging our power or lack thereof isn’t a last step, but a first step.
Ultimately we see several people in the story pursuing power for security’s sake. In King Eadric’s case that was pursuing the power to create gold for financial security. In Ruskin’s case, after he’s gotten physical safety when he ousted Gothel, he begins to pursue Aurelia, who he plans to use his power to secure emotional security by manipulating the circumstances so she would choose him. Aurelia also is constantly pursuing power so she can secure her physical safety from King Eadric then Ruskin, and she ultimately does so when she realizes the power Ruskin gave her by putting his emotional security solely in her hands. The pursuit of power in and of itself isn’t the problem. It’s why are they pursuing it and by what methods are they utilizing to achieve it that matter.
It’s tragic, I think. That Ruskin, without realizing it, inflicts on Aurelia the same sense of terror and helplessness he went through which is why he pursued power so that he could escape it. Once he had power, he continued a cycle that destroyed him in the first place, leaving him so desperate for affection in the first place. Power didn’t solve his problems, and using it to try to manipulate circumstances in his favor only backfired. It didn’t fill the void in his life, and ultimately he lost it all.
A lot of your retellings are mashups of two fairy tales. How do you decide which two to put together?
When I go to do a mashup, I usually look at a list of fairytales, and these days a list of fairytales I haven’t already retold that I see potential in, and I’ll go and read one of the original versions (if there are multiple) and I’ll take notes on the elements I observe in the story that are distinctive to that story and what make that fairytale that fairytale. As I do that I’ll notice similarities in these key elements I write down, what I like to call “cross-over points.”
For example the three main cross-over points for Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin were:
- A young, commonly depicted as blonde, peasant girl, having notable hair
- Said girl is locked in a tower because of the actions of her parents
- A magic deal involving a firstborn child.
These are where the stories intersect and I start, from there I build in other important elements as I go developing the idea to pull in as much as I can from each fairytale while still telling a strong, cohesive story. I always find something in common that binds the stories together.
No one is truly the master of their own life, we’re all subject to outside forces. It’s how we deal with those outside forces that makes the difference. Acknowledging our power or lack thereof isn’t a last step, but a first step.Celeste Baxendell
If you were given the choice of the gift of magic, money, or wisdom, what would you choose and why?
What kind of magic? Like what’s possible with it? Also, how much money? Haha, because those were my first three questions, I supposed I should answer wisdom because it looks like I need it.
What’s something readers might not know about you?
Well, I would say my age (24) and that I used to do theatrical costume design, which is what I studied in college, but I recently shared that on social media. So I’ll say that the first two books I ever “released” publicly (on a serial fiction site), the first one being a tragedy, both of which were dark fantasy. The concept of the first was a girl who was possessed by demons her whole life is used to take over a country and for the first time experiences the world and other people when she’s instated as a puppet queen, particularly including the previous, now imprisoned, king. The second took place twenty years later which involved a prince sent to a foreign country to root out a demonic conspiracy and the main heroine is the bodyguard he asks to assist him, the cousin of the foreign princess.
What do you want readers to take from your books?
I suppose I want readers to take away that suffering doesn’t mean we stop striving. I always strive to write characters who are real, particularly in their flaws, often morally gray, or unheroic, not so that they stay there, but so that we can see their growth, but growth doesn’t mean losing everything that makes a person who they are. The pain and flaws we experience in life are real, and even the happy endings in this life don’t really contain perfection, that even if that we’re still flawed human beings, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still happy. That they’re not still worth pursuing. Even if the redemption isn’t perfect in this life, we should still pursue it, and that doesn’t mean erasing our inherent uniqueness of character.
I always strive to write characters who are real, particularly in their flaws, often morally gray, or unheroic, not so that they stay there, but so that we can see their growth.Celeste Baxendell
What fairytale do you really want to retell but haven’t yet?
I’m very excited about writing a gender-swapped Hades and Persephone retelling, but that’s a little far off right now. I have no promise of when that would release, especially considering the retellings I have lined up before it, but that is one I’m very excited about. Astute readers may already have noticed I’m building up toward it…
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
I aim to wake up around 5:45-6:00, I head to Panera (I am indeed a Sip Club member and you best believe I get my money’s worth, haha) where I either write or edit depending on what’s on my desk from roughly 6:45-11:30, then I head home and eat lunch at home, and depending on what else is on my to-do list, I’ll take care of some business/administrative tasks or keep writing/editing until around 4:30, but honestly it really depends on the day. I might take a break for dinner and come back to it or do some other tasks, or head out for the night if I have plans. I usually have a minimum goal for the day, so the time I meet that minimum really effects the rest of the day and what I take care of!
When you’re not writing, you are…?
At church or spending time with friends, hiking, playing board games, I also squeeze in reading here and there. Once in a blue moon I might draw, paint, or sew, but honestly, I’m usually writing.
What can readers expect next from you?
In terms of books, next year I’ll be publishing a 5 book YA Epic Romantic Fantasy series set in the same world as my Runes of Pain and Peace series, featuring a chosen one, a warrior priest, and a lot of twists and turns!
For all the fairytale fans, my plan is to start the Enchanting Fairy Tales, set in the same world and a sequel series to the Bewitching Fairy Tales, after the YA Fantasy. The Enchanting Fairy Tales series will start with Enrique in a Twelve Dancing Princess and A Princess and the Pea retelling and we get to travel to Salona for the Coronation Trials I’ve mentioned in passing. Don’t fret, Ruskin’s story will be the second of the series in a Little Mermaid and the Nightingale retelling.
Celeste Baxendell has always read anything she could get her hands on, but once she read her first fantasy novel, she was hooked and hasn’t looked back since.
Her love of magic, adventure, and romance hasn’t waned with age, and she endeavors to write nail-biting stories with compelling, complex characters, and finding light in dark times