Friday, January 31, 2014

Bellflower and Beauty & the Beast

After publishing Bleeding Heart last summer, one reviewer surprised me with her interest in Zachary Taylor, a secondary character who works as a cook in a lumber town. When others seemed to like his character, too (although I believe Myghal is the general favorite), I decided to feature him in a short story I wanted to write for the Five Glass Slippers contest hosted by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. Actually, the inspiration was sort of a combination of the two - the writing contest paved the way for giving Zachary his own little story. And I had a blast weaving elements of the Cinderella fairy tale through a short but sweet Western romance. So much so, that it later hit me: I could do this again with other fairy tales!

At some point this winter, the thought of having several more companion short stories came to life for me, and my proofreader can attest to my eagerness to explore these options. While I'm not sure yet if I'll pursue more, I did follow through on writing a Beauty & the Beast retelling... It was after I had proofread Forget Me Not a few weeks ago, with a couple of secondary characters fresh on my mind, that I started to write Bellflower. The 6,000-word short story came together in three days (not counting the proofreading and finalizing after that, of course)! 

Anyway, since Bellflower is out now in readers' hands, I thought I'd share some of the connections between Bellflower and the fairy tale it loosely follows. Please note that there are SPOILERS to follow!

Bellflower and Beauty & the Beast
  • The heroine's name. I wrote Bellflower long after I finished the first draft of Forget Me Not, so that wasn't actually planned... But it worked out perfectly to have a character named Annabelle be the heroine of this Beauty & the Beast retelling.
  • Annabelle's beauty. Like Belle, Annabelle is attractive. Unlike Belle, Annabelle is very aware of her looks, using them to her advantage.
  • Annabelle's love of books. Both Belle and Annabelle read to escape from their reality. Instead of living a "provincial life" that lacks adventure, though, Annabelle lives a harsh life that lacks the sweetness and innocence of heroines she reads about, such as Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey. Annabelle also considers sticking her nose in a book to hide from stares, whereas Belle does the same while mainly unaware/uncaring of the stares.
  • Jacob's shadowy entrance. You may have picked up by now that most of my familiarity with Beauty & the Beast comes from the Disney version. ;) So, like the Beast in the Disney version, Jacob makes his entrance by stepping out from the shadows and into the light. Although Jacob is hardly as...different....and intimidating as the Beast, Annabelle is still impressed by him and his obvious authority.
  • Rufus's introduction in town. Rufus O'Daniel first shows up in the story in the middle of looking at his reflection in a store window, fixing his hair and preening. Gaston does the same thing in the "Little Town" song (albeit with a pot instead of a window). If you're interested in watching the sequence, here's a YouTube link: Belle (Little Town) - Beauty and the Beast (1991) Rufus also shares Gaston's interest in beautiful women...
  • The walk to Annabelle's new room. Jacob's in a "beastly" business, but he's determined to treat Annabelle well. Like the Beast, he leads the way through dark parts of his building to a decent room. The setting is very different, but there's a similar atmosphere in the scene.
  • Jacob's dinner request. Jacob asks Annabelle to join him for dinner, and then gets frustrated when she refuses. Unlike the Beast in the Disney movie, he doesn't exactly throw a temper tantrum. ;) But he is very determined to get what he wants, or at least figure out why Annabelle would refuse him. Annabelle responds by slamming the door in his face and cutting off the conversation.
  • Jacob's "girls." Three soiled doves are mentioned by name in the story - an echo of the three blondes who act like "Gaston groupies" in the movie.
  • Annabelle's confinement. Annabelle and Jacob have a different agreement than Belle and the Beast - but the result is similar. Annabelle is supposed to stay in her room and follow Jacob's instructions.
  • Jacob's books. Jacob doesn't have a library the size of the Beast's, but he does have enough books of his own to share with Annabelle.
  • Joe. While Joe isn't under a spell or directly affected by Jacob's second business, he knows about Jacob's "beastly" side and still offers his friendship, like Mrs. Potts, Cogsworth, and Lumiere (although I doubt Joe would appreciate being compared to Mrs. Potts, LOL).
  • The yellow dress. Annabelle wears one, too, though it's not as gorgeous and decent as Belle's, unfortunately.
  • While this isn't a direct connection to Beauty & the Beast, according to A Handful of Flowers by Catherine Lee, the bellflower symbolizes "gratitude." Annabelle shows signs of feeling such when Jacob tries to protect her from Rufus (perhaps Gaston is a type of wolf?). [Jacob] couldn't tell whether the emotion suddenly glinting within her gaze was amusement or gratitude.
  • Annabelle's imaginings. While Belle attended a real ball with the Beast (albeit it was just the two of them), Annabelle only pretends she's entering a ball as she descends the stairs. 
  • References to royalty. The bellflower's pointed petals are compared to a crown, and Rufus thinks Annabelle has a royal air about her while wearing her purple dress. Of course, in the fairy tale, the Beast is the one who was once royal. But "the Beast" encompasses both Annabelle and Jacob in this story...and Belle becomes royal in the end by marrying the Beast, in any event.
  • Rufus's determination to have Annabelle. Rufus thinks Annabelle should be his and doesn't appreciate Jacob's interference, like Gaston with Belle and the Beast. While Jacob isn't badly injured like the Beast, he and Rufus do get into a bit of a fight.
  • The agreement's end. Time runs out for Jacob like it runs out for the Beast, but both had fallen in love and received love in return, so that time is no longer an issue.
  • Annabelle's tear and her song. Annabelle cries in Jacob's arms, like Belle does with the Beast when he "dies." And the song Annabelle sings is simply referred to as an "old" one, like a "Tale as Old as Time."

Obviously, with the different setting and characters, and the fact that this short story is a companion to its own series, Bellflower doesn't follow the story of Beauty & the Beast exactly. But I hope you enjoyed discovering some of the similarities between the two, and I hope the differences/twists stood out all the more to you - like the ambiguity of who is actually a "beast," the hopeful but not necessarily happily-ever-after ending, and the fact that the only thing that dies is the distance between Jacob and Annabelle.

One of the main reasons I wanted to offer this to newsletter subscribers instead of putting it up on Amazon or some other site right away is that the story is very much dependent on the rest of the series - meaning that it doesn't stand very well apart from the rest of the story. Annabelle and Jacob's story continues in Forget Me Not, so this is not "The End" for them (thankfully!). There's also some very critical foreshadowing in Bellflower to events in Bleeding Heart involving Rufus and Joe. I didn't really see that coming, until suddenly Rufus said what he did after the fight, and it hit me how events might have been set off and how consequences can be so incredibly far-reaching.

While reading Bellflower isn't necessary in order to understand and enjoy Forget Me Not and Bleeding Heart, writing the short story tied some important elements together for me and helped me care about Jacob and Annabelle even more. The ending of Forget Me Not is even more tender because of it, in my mind.

Well, I've rambled on long enough! Don't forget that you can still request your free copy of Bellflower (in either .mobi or .epub format) by signing up for my newsletter (link below header) and sending me an e-mail. And if you'd like to see some visual connections between Bellflower and Beauty & the Beast, be sure to check out the Pinterest board!

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