The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest was inspired by the two well-known stories: Robin Hood and Swan Lake. It was also partially inspired by the summer I spent in Germany, in a medieval town next to the heavily forested Harz Mountains.
I spent the summer of 1992 in Hildesheim, Germany. I immediately fell in love with the medieval buildings that were all over the town. The town square, or Marktplatz, was especially enchanting; in fact, it looked as if it was out of a fairy tale. The half-timber guild houses and stone town hall were from another world. The centuries-old churches were maybe even more impressive. I was in awe. I couldn’t stop thinking about how these churches had been standing for hundreds of years before the United States was even a gleam in Christopher Columbus’ eye. They were much older than any building I’d ever seen before. There was also a medieval wall around the town, some of it still standing, and an old medieval tower. Many streets were still made of cobblestones. Everywhere I looked, the past was right in front of my eyes. I was delirious with history and romance.
One day we took a short road trip to another town, Brandenburg, which was on the edge of the Harz Mountains. Being from Alabama, I’d been around thick forests all my life, but these forests were different somehow—older, and just more mysterious. Yes, this was a land of fairy tales, an enchanting place of story and once upon a time.
So in 2005, when I got the idea to write a story based on Sleeping Beauty, I knew immediately where I wanted to set it—medieval Germany.
Fast-forward a few years. I’d written five fairy tale retellings set in my fictional town of Hagenheim. Now I had an opportunity to come up with a brand new series for a new publisher, a series that would be set in medieval Europe and would be based on fairy tales, just like my other series—the same but different. I had already decided it would be fun to make these new stories a mash-up of two fairy tales, instead of just one. I just had to come up with three different ideas for books to put into my proposal.
I had a list of fairy tales that I liked, but I still had not thought of an idea for a book. I remember lying across my bed and thinking that I’d really like to come up with a Swan Lake retelling since that story has such potential for emotion and romance. And then my mind wandered to Robin Hood. Since I like to twist things a bit, I started thinking of a female Robin Hood. At some point I hit upon the idea of having a heroine who poaches deer and a hero whose job it is to put a stop to all poaching.
Then the Swan Lake aspect came into play. How could I make my heroine a “swan” by night and something else by day? Of course, if she was a Robin Hood figure, that could be her secret identity by night, while she was a well-known lady of the town by day. The ideas just started falling into place.
To be honest, it’s extremely difficult to remember how my book ideas come about. One idea leads to another to another to another. I don’t usually remember the evolution of it. But I was quite excited when I hit upon the Swan Lake/Robin Hood combination. My agent loved it and so did my publisher—and I hope my readers will too.
Melanie Dickerson is a two-time Christy Award finalist for her inspirational fairy-tale retellings. She lives near Huntsville, Alabama, with her husband and two daughters.