Interview with Emily Short about Alabaster  

Posted by Wishwords in ,

Alabaster is an interactive fiction project created by Emily Short. After reading the interview, I hope you all go check it out and give it a try.

I asked Emily to tell us about the project itself and answer one question: Why did you choose this creature for your story?

Here's what she said:
"Alabaster is a twisted retelling of Snow White, in the form of interactive fiction.

It starts from a simple hook: you're the woodsman, in the woods with Snow White, and you have to decide what to do. Out of pity, you might want to help the princess. Then again, she's a bit suspicious: that very white skin, the very red lips, the very black hair. She doesn't seem to like mirrors very much either; and then there's the whole business of being apparently dead in a coffin, before coming back...

Did the Queen maybe have a good *reason* to want Snow White's heart in a box?

This idea has been with me for two or three years at least -- I'm not sure quite when it occurred to me, but I've been playing with alternate readings of fairy tales for a while. In particular, I enjoy asking whether there's an alternative way to read the villains' behavior that makes it not just an expression of pure evil. What if there's something else going on?

It turns out (though I didn't know this until after I started the project) that there's actually something of a mini-tradition about Snow White-as-vampire. Neil Gaiman has a short story called Snow, Glass, Apples with the same premise, and I've found several images (1) (2) (3) (4) of vampiric Snow Whites, a Yahoo question on the topic, only some of which is specifically Gaiman-inspired. There's even one person with a goth-themed Etsy shop called "Snow White was a Vampire".

I think the appeal is obvious: you have a character who is apparently innocent, vulnerable, and beautiful, and you subvert the story by making her secretly be the one with the power. Besides, so many aspects of the Snow White story tie together neatly when you view them this way that it's hard to resist the idea once you've thought of it.

The hook was also a good one for my purposes, because I knew I wanted to write an interactive story where the protagonist was in some amount of danger, but needed to resolve that danger through conversation (at least at first) rather than combat. The question of vampirism was appealing because vampires start out as people -- sometimes people the protagonist knew and cared about -- and that provides fertile territory for horror that involves character relationships rather than just physical fear.

Alabaster was also a collaborative project, and that took it in some unexpected further directions. I started out by sending my collaborators an unfinished game where the protagonist is worried about Snow White's identity and can ask her anything they like. The participants then added dialogue of their own -- things for the player to say, and things for Snow White to say in return.

As you might imagine from the starting premise, different participants had different takes on whether Snow White was likely to be innocent. Some of them made her sound lost and lonely, unfairly libelled by the Queen; others made her sound decidedly scary. And a couple of them introduced a further twist on the story and the nature of Snow White by bringing in another legendary character. I won't go into detail about that because it would give away the story. Once all the collaborative elements were in, I went back and worked out some endings (eighteen in all) to combine all the different strands that people had contributed.

Whether Snow White is or is not really a vampire is a question you'll have to resolve for yourself.

If you're interested in trying Alabaster, the project website is here:

It's a free work that runs under Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux. If you've never tried interactive fiction before, don't worry: there's a built-in tutorial to demonstrate how to play."

So, go try it out and let me know what you think!