In Julie Murphy’s If the Shoe Fits, a plus-size, aspiring fashion designer is cast into the spotlight when she shakes things up on a reality dating show. The novel is the first title in the Meant to Be series, a line of books from Hyperion Avenue that recasts classic fairy tale stories as modern romantic comedies. Murphy, author of the young adult novels Dumplin’, Puddin’, Ramona Blue, and Side Effects May Vary, talked with PW about writing a Cinderella character and what it means for a plus-size heroine to step into the proverbial glass slipper.
The Cinderella story is such an enduring part of our collective imagination. How did you go about making a familiar tale feel fresh again?
Going into this project, it was really important to me to redefine and complicate the family dynamics. So the stepmother is a hardworking mover and shaker in Hollywood. She has the ability to be cold and disconnected when she needs to be, but she’s also very heartbroken by the death of her husband and is committed to her family. The stepsisters are still great comedic relief and at times a little ditzy, but they’re more supportive. The little mice are a set of adorable triplets. The fairy godmother is a younger queer producer trying to make a name for herself. Prince Charming is funny and human with his own emotional baggage that he needs to contend with. The hallmarks of the Cinderella story are there, but in a more relevant modern-day way.
Tell me a little about your protagonist, Cindy. What are her aspirations and struggles?
Cindy was so much fun to create. She loves fashion, especially shoes. As a plus-size woman, she always found herself gravitating toward shoes and accessories. When she was a teen shopping with her friends, it was always the one thing she could count on to fit her. Now, she’s a recent fashion school grad who is still grieving the death of her father and is trying to figure out what home means to her. Going on a reality TV show seems like the perfect opportunity to escape while also creating a platform for herself and her—hopefully—future brand.
There’s a lot of need for levity and humor these days, but If the Shoe Fits provides real talk about body image and body positivity. How important was it for you to integrate these themes into the story?
It was very important to me. The average American woman is at or above a size 16. Cindy makes frank observations about the fashion industry and bodies and the media, but she’s also just a regular young woman who wants to be valued and find love. Having the opportunity to reimagine Cinderella as a plus-size woman is the kind of big step that body positivity and fat positivity has strived for. Bodies of all shapes and sizes deserve to fall in love and have a happily-ever-after and live their wildest dreams. As a reader, I want and need to see more bodies of all shapes in every corner of the media I consume, and I’m not alone.
From a dating reality show to a character moving back in with a parent, your book feels so contemporary and timely. Can you talk about blending modern touchstones into the book while also maintaining a fairy-tale feel?
Modernizing this tale was such an exciting aspect of this project. A reality dating show seemed like the perfect set up. We don’t have royalty in America, but we do have celebrities and I think there’s something about shows like The Bachelor that intrigues me endlessly. Cinderella is so iconic for a reason. For as unattainable as her story might seem, there are certain aspects like loss or being taken for granted that we can all relate to, so finding contemporary avenues to tell this story was surprisingly easy. And moving back in with your parent—especially a stepparent—that’s just great, layered conflict waiting to happen.
As you were writing, did you re-familiarize yourself with the original Cinderella story and/or its many different stagings?
I did! I looked at everything from the original to Ever After to Disney’s most recent live-action version. I’ve got a real soft spot for A Cinderella Story with Hillary Duff and the 1997 Cinderella with Brandy.
Speaking of happily-ever-afters, does Cindy get to have one? If so, what does it look like for her?
Without giving too much away, she does. She gets the happily-ever-after she needs. She’s searching for her place in many ways, so it’s more than just falling in love. She must find her purpose and a way to move past her grief for her father while still holding him near.
What do you hope readers take away from If the Shoe Fits?
I hope readers connect with Cindy and just have a fun time reading her tale, but I also hope that this book helps broaden the idea of what it means to be a princess.
Can you talk about the Meant to Be series and how you became involved in the project?
I truly love the idea for this whole line. Each book will reimagine a different princess story as a modern-day romcom. I was approached by my editor, Jocelyn Davies, and I knew immediately that I wanted to write a plus-size Cinderella. She was always so emblematic of what it meant to be a Disney princess. I can’t tell you who the next author or princess is, but I can say you won’t be disappointed. The fangirl reader in me is chomping at the bit for the next book. All told, it’s a line I’m so proud to be part of.
I’ve got to ask. How many pairs of shoes do you have in your closet?
I have quite the collection, but it’s nothing compared to what I imagine Cindy’s to be. I would say I’ve got about 50 to 60 pairs of shoes, but I do think I value comfort much more than Cindy does, so there’s not a heel over two inches in sight in my closet.