Author of Beauty & the Alchemist.
Today I am chatting with Elle Hartford who is celebrating the release of her cozy mystery/fairytale retelling Beauty and the Alchemist which releases today, August 12th, 2022.
Helen: Welcome Elle. Congratulations on the relase of your new book Beauty & the Alchemist. It seems like it’s a mixture of multiple genres, tell us a little about it.
Elle: Hi! I’m really excited for this book. It’s called Beauty and the Alchemist, and it’s a cozy mystery retelling of Beauty and the Beast. My main character is an alchemist named Red, who’s really just trying to live her life making potions in fairy tale Belville. But when a criminal is found murdered in a nearby haunted castle, and Red’s best friend takes the blame, she has to jump in and find the truth. There’s ancient curses, supportive friends, and–of course!–a huge library.
Helen: Oh, and you’re playing with fairytales as well. You are mixing up the bag! How did you come up with idea to mix genres?
Elle: My friends on social media have accused me of making up my own genre, and I guess they’re right! But that’s not what I set out to do. I’ve been a long time reader of cozy mysteries (mysteries where the focus is on the puzzle and the community, not so much on grim crimes or police procedure). A lot of cozies have a witchy or “paranormal” theme, so to me, it seemed natural to extend that just a little bit, to include fairy tales and magic creatures. So, often I’ll describe my subgenre as “fairy tale-inspired cozy” or even cozy fantasy. I just love it, because it takes the warm feelings and brain teasers of cozy mystery and adds magic–what could be better?
Helen: Sounds like an excellent new genre to me! I always think covers are the most difficult to create, how about you? How did you decide what the cover should be?
Elle: I really wanted my cover to have a classic cozy mystery look–a picturesque scene with a hint of danger, and the cozy companion front and center, naturally. So William, the black dog, is sitting on the path watching as Red’s cloak disappears into the woods below the ghostly castle. Normally, William would refuse to sit still while Red runs toward the unknown, but I liked how this scene combines both the lost castle of Beauty and the Beast with the dark forest of Little Red Riding Hood (Red’s namesake).
Helen: I think it’s so interesting that you’re mashing up fairytales as well. Tell us about your protagonist, Red.
Elle: My protagonist is the alchemist, Red, who recently gave up a life of being a traveling potion-maker to settle down in rural Belville. She’s smart, resourceful, and a little bit mysterious. She also cares a lot about her friends, even if she won’t always admit it outright–often, she feels like an outsider, even though many people in Belville welcome her immediately. I myself can relate to Red’s shyness when it comes to trusting relationships, so that’s probably part of why I wrote her. But also, more practically, who better to solve mysteries than a natural scientist with botanical knowledge, an alchemical lab, and an arsenal of special tools?
Helen: If Red could answer this question, why would she say we should read your book?
Elle: Red would say that we should read the book for Luca, her best friend in Belville, or for Gloria, her irascible neighbor. Both Gloria and Luca have their own personal struggles that they have to overcome in the course of the book. Red helps them both, in her way, but she would definitely give them most of the credit.
Helen: Who is your favourite character in your book?
Elle: What a tough question! I love so many of my characters, each for a different reason. But one of the characters who made me smile the most while I was writing is Trent, a young witch who gets roped into the investigation. He reminds me very much of my little brother (though both Trent and my brother are too big now to really be thought of as “little”!).
Helen: When writing cozy fantasy novels, with a touch of fairytale magic, do you still find yourself doing research?
Elle: Tons. If you could see my office, you might think I was an alchemist fresh from the twelfth century–or a scholar of some kind! This series has been a very good excuse to collect books. 🙂 The alchemy that Red practices is based on historical science and mysticism–think things like the Elixir of Life and proto-chemistry. And then, of course, I also research a lot of folklore for each story too, since many of them are based on fairy tales or legends. I love breathing new life into old things!
Helen: Thank you so much for joining me today Elle, and congratulations on the release of your cozy fantasy novel. A final question for you. What advice would give aspiring writers?
Elle: My opinion on this has changed a lot during my journey to publication. I think my advice would be twofold: first, find a critique partner or editor or writing group whose opinion you trust, and who you feel safe sharing your work with. Having someone with a completely different perspective from me point out the highs and lows of my manuscripts has been invaluable–it may feel hard to accept feedback in the moment, but it makes you so much more confident in the end, because you know you’ve covered your bases. So that’s part one: value an outside perspective. But part two is definitely to believe in yourself. If you can do that, truly–and it is very hard!–then you’re golden. A lot of my books boil down to just that.
And catching murderers, of course. 😉
Thank you so, so much for having me on, and giving me a chance to ramble about things I love!
About the Author:
Elle adores cozy mysteries, fairy tales, and above all, learning new things. As a historian and educator, she believes in the value of stories as a mirror for complicated realities. She currently lives in New Jersey with a grumpy tortoise and a three-legged cat.
Find more stories of Red and her friends at ellehartford.com. And while you’re there, sign up for Elle’s newsletter to get bonus material, behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, and terrible jokes!
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