Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs… reimagined.
When a wagon train of Black pioneers rescues the seven orphaned Dalton cousins from the side of the trail, it seems like an answer to their prayers. As they roll west toward Kansas, fourteen-year-old Levi Dalton is dazzled by the beautiful Mrs. Mallone. She’s a healer, and her knowledge of medicines and herbs inspires Levi to want to become a doctor. Maybe then he can stop people from dying of fevers and illnesses like his folks did.
But Mrs. Mallone’s stepdaughter, Hopeful, warns Levi not to become too attached to the healer. Levi dismisses her warnings and his own misgivings until the day he sees something dreadful.
Levi knows he needs to tell someone what he’s seen before it’s too late. But will anyone believe the story of a fourteen-year-old orphan? Will anyone stand up to evil, no matter how beautifully it’s packaged?
The hot sun bears down on the backs of a group of orphans, digging a grave. Fourteen-year-old Levi finds it hard to believe his aunt and uncle have died of the fever amid the prairie wilderness. But then a stranger rides into their midst, a handsome Black cowboy named Ness. He climbs down off his horse and helps Levi’s cousin Jacob bury his folks.
Left with nowhere to turn and a desperate need to reach their new home in Kansas, the seven orphans join a wagon train of Black pioneers. Levi soon becomes besotted with the beautiful Mrs. Mallone, wife of the preacher, and a healer. But her stepdaughter, Hopeful, does not seem to share his high view of the woman and warns him to take care, her stepmother is not all she appears to be…
Rachel Kovaciny writes westerns based on popular fairy tales, and this one, inspired by Snow White, is my favorite of her books so far. The setting reminds me of my childhood days of reading Little House on the Prairie and watching the miles fall away beneath a wagon train. Levi is a wonderful narrator – a believable teenager in a previous century with all the mixed feelings and desires for manhood that you expect from him. Compassionate, sweet, eager to help, and kind, he is an active participant in events but also allows room for the memorable members of the wagon train to shine. Hopeful is a lovely Snow White, with her basket of apples and tenderness for five small children crying in a wagon after losing their mother and aunt. Ness, however, is my favorite character – a strong, protective man who rides all night to make sure the kids and the woman he loves is safe.
Then there is Mrs. Mallone, a charming, devious and believable villain whose Cruel Stepmother lingers in your mind. As do many of the other scenes, from a lantern-lit wagon interior and a box of mysterious medicines to the dust kicked up in the boys’ faces riding at the end of the wagon train.
Rachel has a gift for picturesque writing that makes it all feel real, a love of happy endings, and a style suitable for even youngsters to read.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel about her new book. Please read it below, then go forth and purchase her new novel!
My Interview with Author Rachel Kovaciny
What was the hardest part of writing this book, and what was the easiest?
The hardest was my villain. Villains are always a struggle for me — I just don’t like them! I don’t want to spend any more time in their presence than necessary, even though they’re imaginary. But a story is only as strong as its villain, so I have to force myself to get to know them enough to make them realistic and three-dimensional. But I don’t enjoy that, and it does not come naturally to me. Mrs. Mallone in One Bad Apple was no exception. I did more rewriting because of her than anything else in this book.
Dialog is always the easiest for me. I could write a whole book about people just sitting around a potbellied stove talking to each other. Nobody should be surprised if I do that someday!
I really loved Levi; what made you choose him for the narrator? Was he easy to write?
I knew that, as a white person, I did not feel comfortable writing this book from a Black character’s perspective. I could have used third person, like I did for Cloaked, but I’ve come to realize that first-person narration is one of my strengths. I didn’t want to withhold one of my strengths from this story, I wanted it to be as good as I could possibly make it. But that left me with the seven white orphans for narrators. I picked Levi because he’s at that age where you wish you would just hurry up and get old enough to be taken seriously already, but you also take refuge in the safety of your youngness sometimes. There’s a lot of emotional depth in those turning years, so I actually picked Levi before I got to know him very well or realized how entwined he would get with my villainess.
Levi was not easy to write at first. I had a lot of trouble finding his voice for the first three or four chapters. It wasn’t until I realized he’s telling this story as an adult, looking back on this formative experience, that I could hear him clearly. I had to go back and rewrite those first chapters when I’d finished the first draft so they would match because they had such a different tone. Once I could hear him, he was so chatty and obliging, definitely a joy to write.
Who is your favorite character in this book?
My favorite new characters are Hopeful and Ness, my Snow White and Handsome Prince characters. I can’t pick one over the other. They’re both genuinely kind, helpful people living out their Christian faith in the middle of a very bad situation. My favorite character overall is actually someone from a previous book who pops up in the middle of this one. You’ll know him when you find him!
Do you have any notion of what happens to the characters after the story ends?
I do! There will be a short-story sequel coming out toward Christmastime that follows the Dalton kids. I may eventually write one about Hopeful and Ness too, but haven’t had any ideas crop up for it yet, though I do generally know what happens next for them.
Would you like to share anything about the Black wagon trains to my readers?
Going west as a pioneer was difficult for everyone, but especially so for Black pioneers. White employers were not keen to see their cheap labor leave them. There’s a good fictional movie about that called Buck and the Preacher (1972) that stars Sidney Poitier, which I recommend with the caveat that it is not family-friendly. Which, by the way, is the only movie about a Black wagon train I have ever been able to find. There are a few books about them, mainly nonfiction. Almost all the fiction books about Black pioneers are for kids! Weird.
Once Black pioneers got past where white people knew them and might be trying to stop them, their struggles were similar to those of white pioneers, except Black pioneers were almost always poorer. I don’t touch on that a great deal in this book, except having most of my Black characters use mules to pull their wagons instead of horses. In reality, sometimes Black pioneers didn’t even have that. The Exoduster Migration of 1879 saw many people leave their homes and head west with only what they could carry or push in hand carts. Which tells you just how badly they were being treated after Reconstruction, if they were that desperate to move away and start new lives.
I actually share a list of good books for various ages about Black pioneers at the end of One Bad Apple, for anyone who wants to learn more about this overlooked part of American history.
What was it like to deal with sensitivity readers? Did they have a lot of suggestions?
It was a joy! The two ladies I worked with were so kind and helpful. One of them has a great interest in history, and the other loves literature, so they really were ideally suited to giving me feedback and suggestions that improved my book. I wouldn’t say they had a lot of suggestions — they didn’t tell me I needed to change any plot points or rewrite any characters, for instance. But they definitely showed me places where I had unknowingly made gaffes or misrepresented something. For instance, I had a long discussion with one of them about Black hair and how to manage it that all my research into historical hair care practices could only hint at. They also let me know on no uncertain terms what things I absolutely needed to keep and not change, which was very helpful too.
Enter Her Giveaway: It starts on July 27, the kick-off day for the tour, and is open to US & Canada addresses only. ENTER HERE.
From Charity: This concludes my interview with Rachel. Please explore her website and visit her blog for more information on this and the rest of her Fairy Tales Re-Imagined as Westerns novels! And don’t forget to BUY HER BOOK!