In Spinning Silver (Del Rey, July), the story of “Rumpelstiltskin” is retold and transformed through a myriad of character voices.
Spinning Silver started out as a short story you wrote for an anthology. How did you approach expanding it into a novel?
Before I finished the short story, I knew that I actually had this larger narrative. It was supposed to be about 5,000–8,000 words. I sailed past 11,000, and I wrote a line that is still in the book, in which the Staryk, the fairy lord, tells Miryem, “A power challenged and thrice carried out is true.” As soon as I wrote that, I realized that I’d completely opened up the story instead of closing it down. I had to put aside what I was mentally writing, because it was clearly becoming a novel, and finish the short story version. When I went back, I gave myself permission to let the story grow.
Spinning Silver is grounded in folklore from all over Eastern Europe. Were you brought up with these folktales?
I grew up with an interesting combination of fairy tales, folktales, and songs that my parents brought with them from Poland and Lithuania and Russia along with a very small handful of books. They just happened to bring books of fairy tales. I also grew up with my family’s stories about their own lives. In many ways, my mother brought more stories, more fairy tales, more books, more legends from Poland with her, and that’s a lot of what went into my novel Uprooted. Spinning Silver is driven a little bit more by my father’s side of the family, where it was much more about personal family experiences—things that they went through both during the Holocaust, in the war years, and afterwards under the Communist regime, how they coped with that. Those combinations of stories really kind of influenced this.
What does it bring to these stories to frame them in a Jewish context?
I was drawn to “Rumpelstiltskin,” in which there are a bunch of anti-Semitic tropes and depictions—the avocation of hoarding gold—and those things felt to me like they struck a chord. I wanted to tell a deconstructed version of it, and it really synchronized well with my family background, my family story. The story really evoked for me the resentment of experiencing anti-Semitism. That, I think, is the core of Miryem, who is one of the protagonists of the book. I found her anger a really interesting and powerful emotion to work with for a character. As a writer, I feel like when a character has a really strong opinion, a really strong emotion that’s driving them, that gives you a lot to work with. That’s where all of that came together.