Swanky Seventeener Nisha Sharma recently sat down with Sweet Sixteen debut Bridget Hodder, to talk about Bridget’s new middle-grade fantasy, THE RAT PRINCE (August 23, 2016, Macmillan/Farrar, Straus & Giroux).
Cinderella thinks she must work alone to save her noble family from the ruin and disgrace her stepmother has brought upon Lancastyr Manor. She has an ailing father, a sweet, innocent little stepsister and dependent servants to protect from the wicked Wilhemina–and no way to call attention to their plight unless she figures out how to attend the royal ball.
But Cinderella knows nothing of the ancient pact between the House of Lancastyr and the rats who live within the walls of her ancestral home.
Nor is she aware that the sleek black rat she thinks is her pet is actually the Rat Prince…
and she is not alone.
Bridget Hodder is a shameless do-gooder who loves cake, tango dancing, starlit skies fairytales and flower gardens–without a trace of irony. Really. You can find her on Twitter @BridgetsBooks or on her website: http://bridgethodder.com
Also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BridgetHodderAuthor
Nisha: The concept for your story is SO fantastic. It really puts into perspective who the underdog really is in a fairytale that so many children know by heart. Do you have a special “feel” for the underdog in stories?
Bridget: Absolutely. I don’t find privileged characters all that interesting. It’s the people who struggle, who are rejected and told they “can’t”, who are the ones to watch. Even an achievement that seems small–something others would take for granted–can be breathtaking when it’s done by someone against all odds, and against everyone’s expectations.
Nisha: There is a lot more at stake in ‘The Rat Prince’ than in ‘Cinderella’. The tension is high and it kept me flipping pages until I read the very last word. What advice do you have for writers who are struggling with tension in their novels?
Bridget: To me, tension is emotional investment in a particular outcome, and uncertainty over whether or not it will come to pass.
So if you want to create tension in a story, make sure your characters are genuine enough that the reader will identify with them and have real hopes for them. Then, go ahead and cast doubt on the desired outcomes–either by making it hard to guess what the right outcomes would be, or by putting up barriers to their achievement.
A good rule of thumb is, if a situation would make you tense in your own personal life, it will do the same for a reader when it happens to a character they care about.
Nisha: Did you do any special research for this book?
Bridget: I already had a scholarly background in European history when I started. But I had to read up a lot on rats! I even consulted with a specialist at MIT on some aspects of rat anatomy (although rat enthusiasts will notice we actually kept a couple of things in the story that aren’t, er, accurate, for the sake of the narrative…sorry, MIT).
To tell the truth, before writing this book I had sort of a natural horror of rats, ever since I was a little girl. I feel totally different about them now.
Nisha: After reading your story, I felt like Rose was an empowered heroine, something so different than what we expect from the traditional fairytale. What other empowered heroines in middle grade fiction (or in fairytales) do you admire, and why?
Bridget: Thanks for noticing that about Rose!
I’ve always been inspired by Sara Crewe, the heroine of the classic A Little Princess, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett in the late 1800’s. Sara’s a kind, book-loving little girl who’s orphaned and forced to become a servant at the private school where she was once the show pupil. She survives through her strength of character, and also by escaping into the imaginary worlds of her own stories, which she shares with the other girls at the school. She also befriends a rat in her attic room, called Melchisidec…
Lightning round questions!
Oddest job you ever had?
I think parenting is actually a very odd job.
First concert you ever attended?
I don’t remember my first concert, but I do remember going to see the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical EVITA as a young kid. Wow.
Airplanes or boats?
Sailboats. I always loved sailing, but it made me so seasick! Then I moved to a beautiful harbor town and got serious about sailing lessons, only to discover that what I thought was seasickness were motion-based migraines and I WILL NEVER BE A SAILOR.
Now you’re really cracking me open. A Disney hero; I won’t say which. Leave me that small shred of dignity.
Best vacation destination you’ve ever visited?
Oh! Italy’s northern lake region for sure! It’s like something from a storybook.
Favorite fairytale character? Take a look at Morgiana the slave who ruthlessly outwits absolutely everyone in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (which really should have been called Morgiana and the Forty Thieves Who Had No Idea What They Were In For). Actually, don’t take a look unless you’re over 10 years old, because…gruesome. But then again, most fairytales are!
Nisha Sharma is a lover of all things Bollywood. She lives with her cat Lizzie Bennett, and her Chihuahua Nancey Drew in central New Jersey. Her novel ‘My So-Called Bollywood Life’ is set to release in fall 2017. You can find her at www.nisha-sharma.com or on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nishawrites.