“Once upon a time” becomes “Once upon a con” in Geekerella: A Novel, a modern-day fairytale set in the fandom world. Penned by devoted fangirl Ashley Poston, this Cinderella-inspired novel, released this month by Quirk Books, is the publisher’s first original YA title since Ransom Riggs’s bestselling Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series.
Elle, Geekerella’s teenage heroine, is a die-hard fan of the Star Trek-like series Starfield, and works at the Magic Pumpkin vegan food truck, which is run by an unlikely godmother. After Elle enters a Starfield cosplay contest, she wins a trip to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball—and a meet-and-greet with Darien, the actor slated to play the prince in the new Starfield film. Their ensuing love story plays out within the world of fandom.
The premise of Geekerella was conjured up in-house, explained Quirk editor Blair Thornburgh, who noted the simultaneous timeliness and timelessness of the novel’s conceit. “Geek culture is so relevant right now, and is gathering steam as people become more aware of it,” she said. “People have such strong emotional connections to stories they love—in books, in movies—and the Internet and Comic Con make it easy to find one’s tribe and to build friendships with others who are passionate about the same things. On the other hand, Cinderella is such a classic love story, and readers will be drawn to that element of the novel even if they aren’t part of geek culture.”
Thornburgh, who knew Poston casually and had followed her on Twitter, didn’t have to search far to find an author for the project. “I knew immediately that I wanted Ashley to write the novel,” she recalled. “She is a great writer, and is so passionate about fandom and geek culture, that I knew she would be the perfect author.”
Poston, for her part, eagerly signed on. Handed flap copy and a summary of the story that would become Geekerella, she recalled, “I went with it, gave life to the idea, and wrote the story from the ground up.” The author was grateful for, though not surprised by, the “wonderful organic relationship” she established with Thornburgh. “I knew from the start that working with Blair would be easy, since we both had the same ideas for the story,” she said. “It all went very smoothly. I sent what I wrote to Blair, and then we talked, and I rewrote. She let me tinker with the proposal and add different things, like a dual narrative perspective and text messages. It was a very free process.”
Thornburgh praised Poston’s skill at updating a familiar fairytale for today’s YA readers. “I think one of the challenges of working with the Cinderella story is that it isn’t very exciting dramatically,” said the editor. “The heroine goes to the ball and falls in love—but Ashley was able to flesh out the basic narrative so that it becomes a love story between equals, which is so central to Geekerella. Ashley makes it easy for a modern audience to appreciate and identify with the characters.”
That was, in fact, a high priority for the author, who before writing the novel read contemporary Cinderella-themed books and watched film versions of the tale, including 1998’s Ever After, which she called “the pinnacle” of Cinderella movies. “I knew that I wanted Geekerella to have robust characters, and that both Elle and Darien had to rescue themselves,” she said. “I knew that Elle would never want Darien to come and save her, but would want to get out of her unfortunate situation by herself. It was so much fun for me to figure out how she would do that!”
To build buzz for Geekerella, launched with a 47,500-copy first printing, Quirk partnered with booktuber Christine Riccio to create a book trailer, and worked with Icey Designs to create a “Once Upon a Con” candle based on the book. The publisher is also partnering with “nerd makeup brand” Espionage cosmetics to establish a signature Geekerella look, which will be revealed online later this month. A Spring 2017 Kids IndieNext List pick, the novel caught the attention of bloggers early on: more than 1,200 requested a copy of the book before its release.
Other highlights of the publisher’s promotional plans include digital advertising, featuring a Facebook ad campaign; an in-school campaign focused on all-girl high schools; an author tour of Poston’s home state of South Carolina; and author events at several bookstores in other states. And, not surprisingly, Poston will participate in panel discussions at C2E2, Chicago’s Comic and Entertainment Expo, April 21–23.
Poston (whose next novel, Heart of Iron, is due from HarperCollins’s Balzer + Bray imprint in winter 2018) looks forward to introducing Geekerella to her fandom peers—and perhaps hooking others on the fandom world. “I grew up in fandom—I began writing in middle school—and writing Elle and Darien felt so natural to me,” she said. “It is always therapeutic, and validating, to meet people who have a similar spark inside of them, and I hope that this community of passionately enthusiastic, like-minded people will continue to grow.”
Geekerella: A Novel by Ashley Poston. Quirk, $18.99 Apr. ISBN 978-1-59474-947-6