Maybe it wasn’t in any way subtle to name a retelling of “Puss in Boots”, er, Boots. Subtlety wasn’t on the table. You want everyone to make the connection right away with fairytale retellings. Ideally, your audience should already know a version of the story.
What’s that? Why are so many people retelling and repackaging fairytales these days? Once Upon a Time, Grimm, and Beauty and the Beast on TV, Disney movies, and countless novelizations from Gregory Maguire’s Mirror, Mirror to Naomi Novik’s Uprooted.
So why do we do it? Restructure a perfectly good fairytale? Truth is we’ve always done it. Our old stories, whether you want to call them legend, folklore or fairytale, arose out of oral traditions. When we told each other stories by the fire at night, those stories were more fluid, changing with the teller, the year, and the location. Either Aegeus or Poseidon fathered Theseus (that guy who murdered, um, slew the Minotaur), and in the oldest known version of “Sleeping Beauty”, the prince fights through the thorns to the tower, finds the sleeping princess and rapes her. She only wakes up when she gives birth to his son a hundred years later. Romance isn’t what it used to be. Thank goodness.
So versions of fairytales are something we’re all familiar with, down to the small changes from one collection to another. (One stepsister or two? Were they ugly or just not very nice?) Because of the known structure of the stories, fairytales are the ideal medium for restructuring with a purpose. Charles Perrault, the 17th century author who wrote the version of “Puss in Boots” most of us know, wrote it as social commentary about class perceptions.
When we write gender-swapped fairytales or fairytales in which the eventual HEA does not require one man (the hero) and one woman (the rescuee), we challenge the reader to examine assumptions about gender roles and socially assigned traits. We question the nature of the heroic character and what a happy ending looks like. Each retelling may have more than one goal, but all share a single trait—we insist that readers look at the fairytale in a different way, from a different angle in the hope that they may realize something about human nature, about societal constructs, or about themselves.
With Boots? I sincerely hope readers enjoy themselves, but there might be a message or two hiding in the fun. I won’t tell if you don’t.
Willem’s lost his job and his boyfriend, and now possibly his mind when his cat calls him a nitwit.
Willem’s father never approved of his artistic talents, his choices in life, or the fact that he’s gay. When the only thing Horst leaves to Willem is the family cat, he thinks it’s his father’s last insult from the grave. That is, until the cat starts talking to him.
Though Willem’s lost his boyfriend, his home, and his job, Kasha, who claims to be a magic cat, reassures him that all will be well. All he needs is Willem’s trust and a good pair of boots. But giving boots to a talking cat has unexpected consequences when odd events ambush Willem at every turn, such as the appearance of a handsome stranger in his arms at night. While he begins to suspect Kasha’s plans might be dangerous for all involved, how can he distrust such a charming kitty in cowboy boots?
Reader Advisory: This book contains a scene of flexible autoerotica.
Publisher’s Note: This book has previously been released elsewhere. It has been revised and re-edited for re-release with Pride Publishing.
Two hours later, Willem swayed on his feet, teeth clenched against his shivers. They stood in front of a dark hunting cabin, nestled in the hills outside of town.
“We can’t just go in. It doesn’t belong to us.”
“He’s gone until next year,” Kasha said with a push at Willem’s legs. “We won’t do any harm and you need somewhere warm and dry. Rain’s on the way.”
Willem glanced up at the cloudless sky. “It’s probably locked. I’m not breaking in.”
Kasha let out a little growl, apparently growing short on patience. “The key’s underneath the stone turtle by the door.”
Sure enough, it was. “How do you know all this?”
“I visit sometimes. The hunters give me deer entrails, still warm from the kill.”
“Sorry I asked.”
Exhausted and out of options now that the sun had set, Willem unlocked the door with his heart slamming against his ribs. No vehicles sat beside the cabin. No lights shone inside. Still, someone might come.
“I’m going to bite you if you don’t go inside.”
Evening blanketed the interior, but enough light remained to make out a table and two wooden chairs, a cot by the wall, a kerosene heater and a gray stone fireplace. “Okay, I’ll be there in a minute. Just need to get some wood.” He was about to stoop to squatting on someone else’s property, but he’d be damned if he was going to steal the man’s kerosene as well.
Kasha sat on the cot, tail curled around his feet, eyes closed, while Willem schlepped logs and branches in from the woodpile. Though his hands were shaking from cold and exhaustion, he managed to get a respectable fire going. The cheerful snap and crackle lifted a thin layer of shadow from his heart and Kasha, now that the hearth was warm, padded over to join him.
“Are you hungry?” Willem dug in his backpack. “I have a tin of sardines in here somewhere we could share.”
“You always were a thoughtful boy,” Kasha said as he curled up beside Willem’s thigh, his front paws tucked under his body. His ears pricked forward at a delicate metallic clatter against the stones as Willem rifled through his pack. “What would that be?”
Willem peered over his leg and picked up the little wire-and-scrap-metal sandhill crane. “Oh, that. Nothing.”
“If it’s nothing, you wouldn’t keep it. Did someone give it to you?”
“No.” Heat crept up his face. Why he felt embarrassed in front of a cat, he couldn’t imagine, especially a cat he had known all his life. “I, um, made it.”
“Did you now? Huh.” Kasha rubbed his head against Willem’s knee. “I believe you said something about sardines.”
“Right. Sorry.” Willem turned the key to open the can, the sudden, sharp fishy scent mingling with wood smoke in an oddly comforting way. Warmth and food, I suppose. His hands still shook as he divided the contents in half and placed Kasha’s portion in front of him on the lid.
Feline eyes stared up at him. “Are you ill?”
“No. I mean, I don’t think so.” He wolfed down his sardines—barely enough to fool his stomach into thinking it had been fed. With his arms wrapped around his ribs, he scooted closer to the fire. “Just can’t get warm.”
Kasha rose with a languid stretch and a sharp-toothed yawn. He trotted over to a cabinet by the cot and hooked a claw under the door’s bottom corner to pop it open. With his teeth, he snagged a wool blanket and pulled it out, the cloth unfolding behind him to three times his length as he dragged it across the floor to Willem. When he tried to repeat the process with the down comforter from the cot, Willem finally snapped out of his shocked stupor.
“Hey, um, maybe we should just sleep on the cot.”
“Warmer by the fire,” Kasha muttered with his teeth still closed on the comforter.
Can’t argue that. Willem rose on shaking legs and made them a nest of blankets on the hearth. He curled up with Kasha snuggled in his arms, the gradual spread of warmth calming his jangled nerves.
His father was dead and he wasn’t certain how he was supposed to feel. Numb, definitely numb. It was all so inconceivable, that Horst Aufderheide, larger-than-life, never satisfied, never still Horst, could be gone. Not that he had ever been close to his father. His contempt for Willem’s ‘doodling’ and his constant irritation about his lack of ‘drive’ and ‘initiative’, had built a Kinzua Dam-sized wall between them.
Kasha began to purr, soothing vibrations rippling through his chest. “Go to sleep, Willem. You need to rest.”
Between fire crackle and purr, Willem drifted off.
About Angel Martinez
The unlikely black sheep of an ivory tower intellectual family, Angel Martinez has managed to make her way through life reasonably unscathed. Despite a wildly misspent youth, she snagged a degree in English Lit, married once and did it right the first time, (same husband for almost twenty-four years) gave birth to one amazing son, (now in college) and realized at some point that she could get paid for writing.
Published since 2006, Angel’s cynical heart cloaks a desperate romantic. You’ll find drama and humor given equal weight in her writing and don’t expect sad endings. Life is sad enough.
She currently lives in Delaware in a drinking town with a college problem and writes Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around gay heroes.
You can take a look at Angel’s Website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.