My Fairy Tale: Ella Enchanted

by Gail Carson Levine

Today, I received my copies of the twentieth-anniversary edition of Ella Enchanted. I lifted a book out of the box, held it, felt its weight — a paperback, not heavy, but heavy with significance for me.

Flip back more than twenty years to 1993 when, unpublished, I was starting a new writing class, feeling uncertain what to write, and doubting whether whatever I wrote would be read by more than my teacher and the stalwart members of my critique group.

I had always loved fairy tales. In my parents’ cramped apartment, we had the twenty-volume Book of Knowledge, a children’s encyclopedia that had illustrated fairy tales in every volume. I read and reread them and mooned over the illustrations. In my mid-forties, my thoughts went back to those tales.

Though I loved them all, the biggie for me was “Cinderella,” so I picked it. I’ve told many times that I ran into trouble immediately, because I couldn’t understand why the heroine did everything her miserable stepfamily told her to. After a few weeks of confusion and staring at the blank paper in my typewriter, I came up with the curse of obedience.

I started writing and turned in twenty pages. My teacher read the first chapter (anonymously) to the class. After my classmates weighed in with helpful and encouraging comments, the teacher revealed she didn’t care for any of it, and, in a suspicious tone, called the writing smooth.

I almost abandoned the project. But first I gave the pages to my husband to read, and he loved them. So I pressed on and eventually won over my teacher. As I wrote, I thought about what I loved to read. Well, I’m a sucker for romance. In went romance. And I enjoy humor in books (and out), especially character-based humor. The curse was a help there. My favorite funny moment is when Ella has to chase after the parrot Chock to kiss him. Finally, I like a story that gallops along. Again, the curse helped–at any moment, Ella could be ordered to harm herself or anyone else!

All my earlier manuscripts had been rejected by every publisher in the known universe, but Ella was rejected only once. When I got the news that it had been accepted, I had to leave my job for a little while, go outside, and breathe. My office was near the harbor in New York City. I stood on the waterfront, watched the boats, the traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, and felt that everything had changed.

But I never imagined how much. I hoped my book–my words–would be read by a few thousand children, and, if I was lucky, I would be able to write more books and publish them, too.

Jump forward a year or so, and my pages were bound into an advance reading copy, its last stage before publication. Copies were sent to me, and there it was, my story as a book, which I held, just like today, and probably hugged and carried with me everywhere. Now jump forward to publication and to my first fan letter, from an eight-year-old girl, who pronounced Ella a “good book.”

I’m still pinching myself.

Gail Carson Levine’s first book for children, Ella Enchanted, was a Newbery Honor Book. Levine’s other books include Ever, a New York Times bestseller; Fairest, a Best Book of the Year for Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal, and a New York Times bestseller; Dave at Night, an ALA Notable Book and Best Book for Young Adults; The Wish; The Two Princesses of Bamarre; A Tale of Two Castles; and the six Princess Tales books. She is also the author of the nonfiction books Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly and Writer to Writer: From Think to Ink, as well as the picture books Betsy Who Cried Wolf and Betsy Red Hoodie. Gail Carson Levine and her husband, David, live in a two-centuries-old farmhouse in the Hudson Valley of New York State.

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