Monday, December 2, 2013

Paco José Madden: Cinderella, Dragon Slayer

Name: Paco José Madden
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Cinderella, Dragon Slayer

I have been haunted by a dream. 

Flames flicker all about me.  My mother screams from above.  A screeching sound of something terrible rips through the air and pierces in my ears.  I place my hands over them, hands much smaller than my hands are now.  How old was I then?  Five?  Six?  In the dream, I run to the stairs but the burning steps collapse in ash and smoke.  The fire is blazing so fast.  My father stumbles from his workroom.  I run towards him.  A flaming beam falls on top of him and traps him underneath.

‘Papa, please.  Let me help you,’ I her myself cry.

My little hands can’t lift the burning wood.

‘Go!  Get out!  Save yourself.’  He says through fits of coughing.

‘I’m not going to leave you and mama.’

‘You’ll die. You’ll—’

Then my father looks up at me strangely.  What’s wrong I think?  Before those words can escape my mouth, the roof crashes down, and I awake up.


Our house was destroyed by a dragon.  When the townspeople came to the wreckage, they weren’t expecting survivors.  Underneath the charred roof they found me.  Still alive.  Bruised and cut.  But without a burn on my entire body.  From that point forward, I was called Cinderella, the girl found in the cinders.

I’m sixteen now.  For the past eleven years, I have been living with Auntie and her two daughters, Elvira and Esmira in a manor house on the outskirts of town.  To say they took pity on me would be a lie.  Auntie gives me nothing to wear but an old gray shift and no slippers for my feet, even in winter.  I am also tasked with all the chores within and without the home.  Before dawn, I the carry water, make the fire, cook, and wash.  I clean in the afternoon.  I prepare dinner and run errands before the sun goes down.  Life isn’t so terrible if it is simply drudgery, but Auntie and her charges find every opportunity to cause me grief and make me look ridiculous.

“Handle the plate and silver with a dishtowel.  We don’t want it to get grubby,” gripes Auntie.

“I dropped a bowl of lentils out my window.  Pick up every bean,” orders Elvira.

“Cinder, gray suits you.  It is the color of blandness,” sneers Esmira.

They laugh.

The trio do nothing all day but gossip and stuff themselves with teacakes.  They imagine every idleness a virtue and hard work a sin.  Without me, these lollygags would most likely starve and die.  That fact doesn’t make them treat me any better.

I hate my life.  I really do. 

My only happiness is what I find on my windowsill each evening.   When I go to bed, after all my labors are done, when my relations have teased and tortured me to no end, there on the ledge outside my window lies a cut red rose.  I don’t know who brings it.  I don’t know why.  And I have never been able to catch the bestower.  But without fail, since my thirteenth birthday rain or shine, freezing cold or blistering hot, a red flower greets me when darkness falls and the stars come out of hiding.  I sometimes imagine it’s my dead mother or father descending from heaven to cheer me up.  Silly, I know.  Perhaps it is some admirer from afar.  But who would admire me?  It may just be some wandering soul who pities me.  But I am grateful.  That daily act of kindness tells me there is still good in the world.  It gives me hope. 

“Daydreaming again?”  Auntie calls from the playing table.

I stand in the kitchen doorway, leaning against a broom. 

Her brows furrow, cracking the white paint on her face.

“Lazy girl,” adds one of my cousins looking over a hand of cards.  A beauty mark dots her chin.  

“Sweep!  Sweep!” says the other and fans with her suits of cards in such a motion.  This one’s cheeks are so red with rouge you would think she was constantly blushing.

I get back to the work and the three idlers return to their game.


A rope snaps and a crossbeam tumbles on one of the masons building the home for orphaned children.  He screams, as the wooden timber crushes his legs.  The first to arrive on the scene is 

Prince Perfect in his royal blue cape and jodhpurs.

I am walking home from the market with a basket full of goods when I see this happening right in front of me.

Prince Perfect is the heir to the throne and only child of the King and Queen.  His real name isn’t Perfect, but everyone calls him that because he strives in every way to be faultless.  In courtesy and manners, in manliness and courage, in compassion and humility, the Prince is an exemplar, hence the nickname.  This was in not due to his parents’ care, but the nursemaid who raised him.  She was a saintly soul, who loved and disciplined the child as required.  The nursemaid taught him never to treat the servants as chattel, that kingship was a privilege not a right, and that one must always endeavor to do good with the gifts in one’s possession.  It was said that the Prince as a child told a lie about a theft he committed and blamed it on his manservant.  The nursemaid did not punish him, but her disappointment was so great that the Prince vowed never to lie again unless it was to save a person’s life.  Prince Perfect meant every word and never lied or committed a misdeed since.  He also joined the nursemaid on her daily calls about town to assist the poor and sick.  The Prince was a willing helper.  He enjoyed being kind and generous.  When this gentle-hearted angel of a nursemaid passed away, Prince Perfect was terribly grieved, but he kept her spirit alive by continuing to do good and acting properly at all times.

Now kneeling down in front of the stonemason, the Prince shouts for help, as he tries to lift the beam from the hurt builder.  I drop my wicker basket to the ground, fruits and vegetables spilling everywhere.  I bend down to help lift the timber.  Another set of hands grabs hold of the other side.  Something rank stings my nostrils, but I am too preoccupied to investigate the scent.  The injured man moans and cries out in pain.

“On the count of three we lift.  And you”—the Prince shouts to one of the carpenters at the worksite who arrives—“pull the poor fellow out.”

The carpenter puts his hands under the man’s armpits.  He nods at Prince Perfect.

“One.  Two.  Three.”  The three of us lift the great block of timber just enough, so the carpenter can free the man lying below.

“Let go.”  The Prince instructs.  The log drops to the ground with a thud.  Several other men arrive and load the injured man onto a cart.  He mumbles agonized ‘thank you’ to the Prince, who takes the worker’s hand and says some encouraging words.

Then he turns to one of the mason’s.  “Take him at once to the doctor in the castle.  Make sure he receives the best care.  His legs still might be saved.” Prince Perfect places a gold ducat into the man’s hand.  The men carry away the injured party, as the Prince bends down to collect the fruit and vegetables that fell from my basket.

“Thank you both for helping lift the beam,” he says, as he puts a pair of tomatoes in the hamper.   I look behind me.   So that was where the foul smell was coming from.  The swineherd’s son was the other person lifting the beam along with the Prince and me.  The boy stands on the opposite side of the girder with his hair can clothes splatter with mud and slop.

“What are your names?” asks Prince Perfect still gathering my fallen produce.  From a kneeling position, his blonde lashes catch the sun and sparkle like the gold that was in his palm a moment ago.   I don’t know why I remain standing and do not bother to collect the fruits and vegetables myself.  Somehow I feel fixed to the spot.

“My name is Cinderella,” I tell him.

The swineherd’s son, on the other hand, dashes off before saying a word.

“I hope I didn’t offend him by asking his name.”  The Prince rises and hands me the basket.  

 “He’s the swineherd’s son.  He smells and no one likes him.”  I wrap my arms around the wicker vessel.  

“If you had been working with pigs all day, you would reek too.  I wonder if there is anything I can do to help?”

I blush, embarrassed, by what I said about the swineherd’s son.  I forget that I’m talking to a prince and Prince Perfect at that.  “You’ll think of something,” I reassure him.

“Again, you have my gratitude.”  The Prince is known for profusely thanking those who help him do a good deed.  “I hope I shall soon see you again, Cinderella.”  He removes his feathered cap and bows.  A footman brings his horse around.  Prince Perfect mounts the silvery steed and gallops away. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I liked the idea of reviving the story of Cinderella. I like even more the idea of a Cinderella dragon slayer.
    I would have liked to see right away her special connection with dragons. Maybe dragons fly around the village or she spies on them. Isn’t Cinderella supposed to have a special connection with animals?

    Starting with a dream is considered cliché. You say it is a dream, but it is more of a nightmare. Actually, it is a memory. Since it is a memory, it sounds like info - dump. Starting with a nightmare sounds like you are trying too hard to hook the reader and tugging at the reader’s emotions. It usually does not work. Also, it is preferable to start with the actual story or problem.
    I love the paragraph that starts with “Our house was destroyed…” I think you should start there. I’d love an explanation why she would not be burned. It is puzzling. You make it sound like the people didn’t find any problem with it. Was she protected by someone, a spell or is she different? If you can slide this in and explain what problem that could cause her, I think you would have a great hook. Also, it’s a beautiful explanation for the name “Cinderella”.
    I suggest you do not use lists when you describe her chores (and the prince’s qualities). Instead, describe little things she does as she goes along her day, preferably something cute that cast some light into the character. What follows the list is very telling. You could just show them being mean. Anyway, everybody knows Cinderella’s story. In my opinion, if you want to revive the fairy tale, you should add some characteristics that are unique to this Cinderella. Maybe she plays with the fire or put her hand in the flames without being scorched. Maybe people even think she is a witch.
    She says she hates her life, but earlier she says it’s not so bad. Choose.
    The story stops being so telling when you mention the flowers she gets every evening from a secret admirer.

    The passage to the building accident is very jarring because you do not prepare the reader for it. I was not sure it was Cinderella talking at first. The details of the accident and the arrival of prince Perfect are swiftly drawn. I would like more details. I just cannot see the scene and it does not hook me. It sounds like you are trying to replicate the fairy tales telling style. It just does not work because that’s a YA novel. Also, she has no reaction, no feeling, no emotion. How are the workers reacting? Is anybody complaining? Is anybody saying anything? Apart from the prince.

    This piece sound more MG with a YA voice.
    There is a lack of use of the senses in your story and I felt it was missing terribly. Also, it does not hook me because you do not add little details that make the story unique and believable.
    However, I liked the idea and I can see the story develop into something really exciting.

    Happy revision :)
    Sylvie Leclerc

    1. Sorry for messing up with messages. I forgot this part:

      “I hear myself cry.”
      “I awake” or “I wake up”
      “I have to carry water”
      “He mumbles agonizing”
      “with his hair and clothes splattered with mud and slop.”

  3. Thanks for your notes Soumyana. I have a response on some ideas for edits. But anyone feel free to chime in.

    1) Is there a better way to convey what happens in the dream section? I would like to keep it as the opening. I think when I initially wrote it, it was a lived experience, that is, it took place in real time and I jump eleven years later, but I couldn’t get the voice of a five or six year old to convey this. Should I simply recount it as a memory? Maybe I can have this triggered by something Cinderella is doing like making the fire. She looks into the fireplace and remembers. Something like . . . “Fire. It’s all I ever think about when I stack wood in the fireplace. The fire that changed my life. I can see it happening right before my eyes.” Then she recalls the experience and I have Auntie or one of her cousins interrupt her.

    2) Regarding Cinderella attitude towards her life she says:

    Life isn’t so terrible if it’s simply drudgery, but Auntie and her charges find every opportunity to cause me grief and make me look ridiculous.

    I don’t know if this sentence is clear that Cinderella feels like her life is awful. She doesn't say her life isn't so bad. She says it wouldn't be so bad if. However, I am wondering if I really need the line: “I hate my life. I really do.” or should I cut it.

    3) The townspeople thought of Cinderella’s rescue from the house as a freak occurrence. I tried to wedge the following text into the section where she is found by the townspeople: “They thought my escape from harm a freak occurrence or dumb luck, but I don’t know what saved me.” However, it breaks the narrative flow and feels awkward. So I am trying to figure out what to do there.

    4) The first third of the story follows the Cinderella plot with some variations. I want to start with the familiarity of a Cinderella we all know who transforms into a different Cinderella by the end of the story. Currently, Cinderella doesn’t know she has any special powers or abilities. This gets revealed later, much, much later. Actually, it happens when she needs it, that is, when she faces the dragon. It is, however, alluded to later on in the story when her dragon slaying mentor suggests she has the blood of a true dragon. There may be more I can do to reveal her character, but it creates a different story arc for Cinderella if she believes she is imbued or suspects she has magical powers.

    6) My intended audience is probably the upper range of MS and the lower range of YA or basically a MS/YA crossover though it could be squarely in the MS camp. I am writing a series of reinventions of fairy tales. This is the second in the series. There’s a bit more violence and mature themes in the first one of the series and probably the third.

  4. Hi Paco,

    1) I just loved your suggestion concerning the introduction of the memory. There is definitely something going on with the fire and showing her poking at the fire, remembering a fire, is great. The memory would definitely work better if part of a moment in her daily life. However, if you place a memory in the first chapter, you need to include consequences. She cannot escape a fire untouched and not attract the suspicion of the villagers or her family. I still think it would be cool for her to play with the fire and know the special bond she has with this element. Actually, she already knows if she saw her body resisting the fire. How can she not know? However, oops, that's not what you want to do.
    My question is why describing this memory if you are not going to use it to explain something, to show a problem or to characterize your MC? It sounds gratuitous. And you know that every scene in fiction needs to have a purpose.
    You already know that fiction needs a cause and a consequence: because Cinderella was untouched by the fire, then this and that happened. Because this and that happened, then other things happened, etc. The consequence, IMO, cannot be she had to live with her aunt.

    2) I may have misread. This being said, it is telling and the reader already understands without Cin. having to say it.

    3) That can't be a freak occurrence. Ask any firefighter. There's no way. And she must feel it in her heart. She witnessed it. Did she feel the heat of the fire when the blaze was raging?

    4) IMO, and other critters may think differently, people are so familiar with the story, they don't want another story with the story in it. I mean, if your Cin. is the exact same I see in the movies and in the books, I am not going to read your novel. You need a twist on your Cin. character and her story early on. Her aunt and cousins need to be different too. That's the whole point, IMO, of reviving old fairy tales, making them fresh. If the unusual part is at the end, I am not going to read that far.
    Really watch the TV series/show "Once Upon a Time." They did a great job reviving old tales.
    Maybe if that was MG you could have a shot, but YA has to be really exciting, even dark or unusual to be successful. YA has a lot of edgy content and I don't see this happening here.

    6) I hope you will learn something from the critters here and I hope you will be very successful and your stories will be the page turners we all want them to be.

    Happy writing :)

  5. Here’s what I am going for in CINDERELLA, DRAGON SLAYER.

    In CINDERELLA, DRAGON SLAYER, I want to develop a story with the archetype of the hero with the hidden talent. It’s not a bad idea to create a Cinderella with magical powers, and the Cinderella I am writing does have special powers related to why she survived the burning house. It’s just not apparent. The reason why Cinderella survived the burning house is something that gets revealed later in the story.

    I’ve watched a few episodes of ONCE UPON A TIME and they handle fairy tales differently, so do other novels and books with all kinds of remakes. Sometimes the characters are the same as fairy tale version but the story a little different. Sometimes the fairy tale character is different than what we expect. In many remakes, the setting is different. I recently watched the ONCE UPON A TIME episode Skin Deep which is a take on BEAUTY & THE BEAST. Belle is pretty much the same as Belle in classic versions of the tale. She is imprisoned by the Beast. The Beast eventually gives her back her freedom, but she returns to him out of love. Skin Deep simply ends differently than the traditional B&B story. Instead of the Beast (played by Rumpelstiltskin) accepting Belle’s love, Rumpelstiltskin rejects her love. I’m writing something along those lines. It’s the Cinderella we all know but in the time of dragons. However, instead of Cinderella getting the prince in the end, she needs to save the prince from a dragon. Cinderella goes on a hero quest (which is completely different from what Cinderella experiences in the classic versions and becomes a different character as a result.)

  6. By the way, I love the way you handled "Red Riding Hood" somewhere else on this blog.
    It really worked out great.

    Good luck on the rewriting :)

  7. Thanks Soumyana. One of the comments that I get from that piece, particularly, the first scene ,is to make it more "immediate." But no one gives me an illustration of how to do that or where I fall short.