Retellings: Spindle gives tired Sleeping Beauty an update

First of all, let me say that I’m a sucker for a good fairy tale retelling and author Shonna Slayton’s historical updates, including the wonderful CINDERELLA’S DRESS, are always great because they combine the essentials of the original tale with a compelling setting and more modernized characters.

When I found out that Shonna had a Sleeping Beauty reboot, I was curious. Sleeping Beauty is one of my all-time favorite fair tales and Disney movies. But as a character, there’s not much to Briar Rose. She just doesn’t do a lot throughout the story. Let’s face it. Most of the time, she’s sleeping.

So to celebrate today’s release of SPINDLE, I chatted with Shonna about how her Briar character breaks the mold. But first, here’s a bit about the book.

In a world where fairies lurk and curses linger, love can bleed like the prick of a finger…
Briar Rose knows her life will never be a fairy tale. She’s raising her siblings on her own, her wages at the spinning mill have been cut, and the boy she thought she had a future with has eyes for someone else. Most days it feels like her best friend, Henry Prince, is the only one in her corner…though with his endless flirty jokes, how can she ever take him seriously?
When a mysterious peddler offers her a “magic” spindle that could make her more money, sneaking it into the mill seems worth the risk. But then one by one, her fellow spinner girls come down with the mysterious sleeping sickness…and Briar’s not immune.
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Q: You and I were talking about how passive the traditional Sleeping Beauty character traditionally is in fairy tales. What’s different about Briar and how did you turn what is generally damsel-in-distress character into a kick-butt heroine?
SHONNA: If Briar wants to save the girls―and herself―she’ll have to start believing in fairy tales…and in the power of a prince’s kiss.
At its core, the classic Sleeping Beauty fairy tale is not a story about the princess Aurora. Aurora is not the main character, even though the story is named after what happens to her. It’s really a story about the fairies and their conflict with each other. Aurora is simply a pawn in the middle of it all.
My story, Spindle, continues that story, that war, but from the perspective of a daughter of poor immigrants. An innocent. A teen on the sidelines of life, drawn into a drama she didn’t ask for, but has to finish.
Briar works in a Vermont cotton mill as a spinner girl in order to keep her family together like she’d promised her parents. Her meager paycheck goes first to her room and board at the company boardinghouse, a token amount for savings, and then the rest to support the children. It’s not enough, and the caretaker she’s found for the children will only keep them until Briar’s seventeenth birthday. She is a girl feeling unequipped and out of options.
By setting up her background this way, I gave Briar something to fight for. Something outside of herself to give her courage. We’ll often fight for others more than we’ll fight for ourselves.
The time period for this novel was another deliberate choice. The 1890s represents the later part of the American Industrial Revolution and the middle years in the push for women’s suffrage. 
I found the history of the suffrage movement and the involvement of the factory girls to be so interesting. These young women were intelligent and motivated. Even after working long hours, many would go out to lectures or to improvement societies. They helped each other see what their lives could be like. By positioning Briar in the midst of such a group, I was able to influence her character to grow beyond herself. 
The suffrage movement has always interested me, and one day I’ll probably write a novel more solidly focused on the movement, but for this story, suffrage was the perfect backdrop to parallel Briar’s situation. And while I started out making historical choices based on the research that interested me, these choices grew into one of the themes, that of burgeoning empowerment. 
Spindle is more about the fairy tale than suffrage, but the suffrage movement is part of Briar’s world and her character arc. She is waking up to the possibilities around her. She is not a Sleeping Beauty, but a teenager becoming wide awake. 
SHONNA SLAYTON writes historical fairy tales for Entangled TEEN. She finds inspiration in reading vintage diaries written by teens, who despite using different slang, sound a lot like teenagers today. When not writing, Shonna enjoys amaretto lattes and spending time with her husband and children in Arizona.
Find out more about Shonna’s books, including how to download a free one, at
How about you? Do you love fairy tale retellings too? I’d love to hear about some of your faves!