'The Hazel Wood' Author Melissa Albert Explains How She Put Her Own Spin On The Traditional Fairy Tale

Ad failed to load

When it comes to fairy tales, most readers know exactly how the stories go: The baby is cursed at birth by a jealous rival; the wish is granted, but with unintended consequences; the ugly old witch is actually a beautiful being in disguise. If their format is so consistent, if their outcomes are so predictable, then why is it we keep returning to the familiar world of fairy tales?

"It’s hard to resist the bold, black and white morality of fairy tales: the brutal punishments, the rewarding of self-abnegation and beauty," The Hazel Wood author Melissa Albert tells Bustle. "Also addictive: the sudden reversals in fortune — paupers to princes, or vice versa — the sudden intrusions of magic on humdrum lives, the satisfying predictability of the more well-known tales."

Albert's debut novel, out now from Flatiron Books, is an original fairy tale story that is certainly addictive, but nowhere near predictable. A unique mashup of fantasy and mystery, The Hazel Wood tells the story of Alice, a 17-year-old girl who spent her life on the road with her mother, Ella, trying to outrun bad luck that never seemed to leave them be. After the death of her famous grandmother Althea Proserpine, the author of a singular collection of devious fairy tales about the "Hinterland" that boasts a cult-like following, Alice and her mom settle down in New York City, where they hope to finally have a "normal" life. That is, until Ella is kidnapped by a mysterious figure who claims to be from Hinterland, and Alice is forced to confront the fact that her grandmother's world of make-believe might not be make-believe after all. With the help of a classmate and Hinterland super-fan Ellery Finch, Alice embarks on the mission of a lifetime: She must find her grandmother's hidden Hazel Wood estate, a mysterious location where reality meets fairy tales, and bring her mother back to the real world.

Ad failed to load

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, $11, Amazon

"There’s something so exciting about the idea that your entire life can change in an instant if you can just find a door," Albert says of portal fantasies, like The Hazel Wood, that allow their characters (and readers) to escape into entirely new worlds in a matter of moments. She created one of her own because, according to the author, her "favorite fictional assumption is that we exist in a multiverse. It’s an idea that kind of makes my writer brain explode with excitement," she says.

Ad failed to load

The promise of the portal fantasy wasn't the only thing that got Albert excited when writing The Hazel Wood: the idea of using fairy tales to drive the plot was a titillating challenge she couldn't resist. "Fairy tales seem, when I reread them now, almost shockingly spare. They’re more of a skeleton you can hang different skins on," Albert says. "The Hazel Wood isn’t a retelling, but it plays with elements of lots of the tales I loved as a kid." Among her inspirations: “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” “The Juniper Tree,” and "The Little Mermaid."

While it does include a lot of classical elements from fairy tales, there is another, more unexpected genre The Hazel Wood draws from: noir detective novels. The idea to mashup these two seemingly conflicting storytelling styles came to Albert while she was reading Helen Oyeyemi remarkable Snow White retelling, Boy, Snow, Bird, and simultaneously rereading Raymond Chandler's classic noir, Farewell, My Lovely. "Fairy tales have a deliberately desultory narrative tone," Albert says, "and I knew I wanted to juxtapose that heartless flatness with the voicey, metaphor-heavy crackle of noir fiction."

The result of this experiment is stunning: The Hazel Wood is a fun and fantastical adventure where the stakes feel as high, and as real, as any dark and twisty detective novel.

Ad failed to load

It may tell a wholly original, and completely fantastical, story, but the characters within the world of The Hazel Wood, feel very real. Many readers will find themselves relating to the imperfect mother-daughter dynamic between Alice and Ella, and that isn't an accident.

"The older I get the more I understand that families free of dysfunction don’t exist, and nobody I know is more than one generation removed from some kind of familial chaos," Albert says. "The sooner young readers can abolish any shame they might carry for having a nontraditional or imperfect family, the better, and I hope seeing diversity in family structure on the page helps."

Laura Etheredge
Ad failed to load

Albert also hopes Alice helps young readers develop new ideas about female characters, and women in general, when they read The Hazel Wood. The novel's protagonist, Alice, isn't a traditional book heroine readers will instantly warm up to. Rather, she is an intense and often angry young woman who will force readers to confront their ideas about female characters and their likability. Whatever you do, though, don't call Alice "strong," a designation Albert, like many female authors and readers alike, are desperate to move away from.

"I hope the phrase 'strong female characters' will eventually be phased out," Albert says, "because for a book or a show to be considered good, complex characters of any gender will be a given."

As for whether or not Alice is a feminist, Albert wants readers to look past the labels and truly explore her character's story for what it is. "By its barest definition, every human being worth talking to is a feminist," she says. "So of course Alice is a feminist, but I think a courtesy all of us fellow feminists should extend to her and to other women—fictional and otherwise—is the understanding that you don’t have to be a role model for your story to be worth telling.

Ad failed to load

"Though I do think Alice’s insistence on determining the narrative of her own life makes her worthy of admiration," Albert says.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

7 Signs Your Energy Is Closed Off To Love, According To A Psychic

Finding love requires more than just the actions of going on dates or setting up an online dating profile. It also requires opening yourself up to love and giving off the vibe that you're open. You may not even realize it if you're energetically bloc…
By Suzannah Weiss

It Took Heather Graham YEARS To Make A Movie About Women Ditching Toxic Men. The Reason? Men.

They say you should write what you know. But in Hollywood, that age-old advice apparently needs an addendum: Write what you know — as long as men are into it. And for actor and newly minted director/screenwriter Heather Graham — a woman who swam thro…
By Kelsea Stahler

Target Just Launched A Gorgeous New Home Brand — And Most Pieces Are Under $30

Design lovers rejoice! Everyone's favorite store for pretty much everything is about to make all your daring decorating dreams come true. Today, Target's corporate blog issued a press release that provides a peek into Target's new homeware line, Opal…
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

17 Brilliant Ways To Support Parkland Survivors Wherever You Are

Following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, survivors are demanding Congress take action. A large group of students who survived the shooting are opposing politicians' "thoughts and prayers," arguing that inst…
By Sarah Beauchamp

Bustle's Editors On K-Beauty + McDonald's

If you're a glass-half-full kind of person, you're probably rejoicing over the fact that the week's more than halfway over. And if not, keep your chin up. I've got some insane Fashion Week and McDonald's news to hold you over. So, without further ado…
By Melissa Mills

Here's Where Your Next Trip Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

If you've been craving a vacation, now is a good time to take the plunge. According to data collected by travel site Expedia, late winters and early spring are pretty much the best times of the year to go on vacation. Based on average airfare ticket …
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

How This Quadriplegic Beauty Lover Beat Cancer & Became A Professional Makeup Artist

In 2010, one day before she was supposed to start cosmetology school, Steph Aiello was involved in a car crash that left her paralyzed from the waist down with limited ability to move her hands and one of her closest friends dead. She would spend the…
By Sara Tan

7 Common Marriage Rules That Aren't Good For Relationships

When it comes to marriage, everyone loves to give their two cents, and with all the warnings and advice floating around out there, no wonder people find marriage intimidating. Luckily, you don't always have to play by the rules, and there's some bad …
By Carina Wolff

The Infuriating Way Hollywood Movie Sets Are Designed To Make Life Harder For Women

Whitney Cummings is fed up — with the way Hollywood treats women, and in particular, the way the it treats female directors who have children. While the entertainment industry may be working hard to get more women behind the camera, Cummings wants to…
By Casey Cipriani

Why Uggs Are Never Going Away, Whether You Like Them Or Not

Uggs. The word alone can conjure up memories of teenage years, regrettable outfits, and undeniable comfort. But if, like me, you thought that you've already said goodbye to those fleece-lined tan boots, you can think again. It seems fashion has adopt…
By Lauren Sharkey

Netflix's New Romantic Movie Will Have You Crying Like It's 'The Fault In Our Stars'

Cancer movies are a heartbreaking staple of Hollywood and have been for decades. It's almost a law of nature: new year, new cancer movie. This year, it's Netflix's Irreplaceable You, a heartbreaking original about a longtime couple who get thrown for…
By Olivia Truffaut-Wong

Here Are All The Terms You Need To Know If You’re Watching Olympic Ski Events Right Now

Every four years the Winter Olympics rolls around to remind me that A) there are so many important Winter Olympic sports, and B) I know virtually nothing any of them. And I know for a fact, I'm not alone, I bet most people don't know what the differe…
By Danielle Colin-Thome

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu Have Matching Tattoos & The Story Is So Cute

Olympic season gives people the feels. From those shipping Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Shaun White's gold medal win on Tuesday, the feels are real. Now, there's another reason to get all up in your emotions. Adam Rippon a…
By Shea Simmons

A New Study Says Being In A Relationship Could Change Your Taste In Wine — Here's How

I’d be willing to bet that for many of you, a nice bottle of wine is awaiting you in your near future — and if you’re planning on sharing that bottle with a partner, there might be more to your choice than meets the eye: According to recent research,…
By Lucia Peters

Carrie Brownstein On Why Even The Obama Era Should Have Enraged You

An icy January morning soon after Hollywood's show of solidarity for the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes and almost exactly one year into the Trump Administration feels like a momentous time to be sitting across from Carrie Brownstein. The Sleat…
By Samantha Rollins

Here’s What The Upcoming Year Of The Dog Means For Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

On Feb. 16 the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, welcoming the Year of the Dog in like the good doggo it is — we hope. A new year means new zodiac predictions for the 365 days ahead. So, what does the Year of the Dog mean for your Chinese zo…
By Brittany Bennett

7 Signs You're Ready To Get Into A Relationship, According To Experts

It can be difficult to tell when you're ready to start dating again. Maybe you're coming off of a bad breakup, maybe you've just been focused on other things. And, ironically, one of the signs that you're ready to be in a relationship is that you're …
By Lea Rose Emery

I Got A Breast Reduction & It Was About So Much More Than The Size Of My Boobs

As a young teenager, I pretty much reached peak physical maturity overnight. One day I was wearing my first training bra a la Lizzie McGuire, and the next I was sweatily fumbling around a Victoria’s Secret with 32DD boobs, trying to summon up the cou…
By Sierra Taylor Horton

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
via Romper

The 15 Best Fiction Books Of February Feature Tons Of Extraordinary Women

When the cold winds of February blow in, there's nothing I want more than to hide under my covers with a good book. Luckily, there's more than a few fantastic new fiction books coming out this month, so the only tough decision you'll have to make is …
By Melissa Ragsdale

17 Moms Reveal The Most Disgusting Part Of Their Pregnancy

Pregnant bodies do weird-ass things. Weird-ass, gross things. I mean, my pregnant body did (twice), and I have long-suspected I'm not alone. So I asked other moms to share the most disgusting part of their pregnancy and I learned that, not only am I …
via Romper