Exclusive piece by Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver started life as a short story, or at least in theory. As a writer, I’m very much an explorer rather than a planner, and I don’t really know where a story is going or how long it’s going to take until I get to the end. But in this case, I’d been asked to write a fairytale retelling for an anthology of short stories called The Starlit Wood. So I sat down meaning to write a short story, 5,000 words or so, only the story just kept growing on me, and around 10,000 words in, I wrote a line that I realized opened the story up radically in a new direction instead of closing it down the way that I needed to: A power claimed and challenged and thrice carried out is true; the proving makes it so.

Well, that was very inconvenient at the time, but the line felt right to me: it has both that kind of rigid justice that is such a crucial aspect of fairytale magic, and represents a more fundamental truth that’s a core aspect of the book, which is that magic happens when we are challenged to go beyond what we think is possible for us to do, and we succeed. So I knew it needed to stay, but I also knew I wasn’t really going to be able to tell that full story in time.

There was a different story possible that I also found interesting to tell, so I was able to finish my short story without completely blowing the deadline—that’s why the end of the short story is completely different from the book—but even as I sent it to my editors (Dominic Parisien and Navah Wolfe, who are putting together another anthology, this one of myth retellings, that I’m writing for as we speak), I was asking them if they minded if I turned the story into a novel at the same time. (And when they agreed, I sent the short story off to my editor Anne Groell at Del Rey and asked her if they wanted the novel version.)

And one of the other things that made me want to write the novel-length version was that there were a couple of key instances in Miryem’s story where she met another young woman, Wanda and Irina, and even as I wrote down what she thought about them, I knew she was wrong about them, or not seeing them clearly: she didn’t have a chance to see them clearly, and I wanted to tell their stories too, and the longer version of Miryem’s, and how each of those stories—like all stories—is intertwined with so many others.

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