top of page

Girl and the Machine: From Idea to Publication

Updated: Jan 17

Sometime in 2017, before I discovered Marissa Meyer’s incredible world of sci-fi fairytales, I heard about a short story contest, for which the challenge was to come up with a fairytale retelling set within a genre unusual to its source material. 

My immediate response: “Sci-fi Beauty and the Beast!” 

I never actually entered that writing contest, firstly because I don’t really write short stories, and secondly because I had not yet come into my “serious writing” era. But I did flesh out the idea, and I eventually wrote it a year or so later.

Translating the original story points was easy—obvious, even. The beast would be mechanical rather than animal (a cyborg). Beauty would need some kind of interest in STEM. The enchanted castle would need to be some tech-heavy, ultra-modern mansion. The servants-turned-furnishings would be robots or androids. 

Explaining all of these things, of course, would be trickier. How did the mechanical beast come to be mechanical? Could he, like the prince in the fairytale, somehow be restored to his former human self at the end? How??

What would Beauty’s role be in that process, sans magic? Sure, love can be “magical” in real life, but it doesn’t exactly have a shapeshifting effect. To what extent could I push the boundaries of fictional science to approximate magic?

Was it possible to tell a story of this nature (a male holding a female captive) and make it less problematic and creepy? Could I create a plot that would facilitate this type of forced proximity but also make sense from a logistical perspective (as opposed to him keeping her there simply because he wants to)?

Also, I had to figure out how to bring these two characters together in the first place.

So I started with Disney’s version of Beauty and the Beast as my template. I chose this version because it’s much more familiar to me, more familiar to readers, and a little less complicated than the Villeneuve version (which has an extensive “evil fairy vs. good fairy” backstory, a creepy fairy godmother who tries to seduce the prince and then turns him into a beast when he rejects her, 11 siblings for Beauty, and a plot twist revealing that Beauty and the beast are actually royal cousins). Yikes.

With that in mind, I kept the plot line where Belle’s father has a reason to seek refuge in the place where the beast is currently living, but I decided to have Belle—or in this case, Mirabel a.k.a. Bel—be with him when it happens; thus, they are both caught in this place at the same time, rather than her going after him on a rescue mission. 

After several versions, I ended up changing the father to a brother—enter Mateo!—who is young enough to be of interest to YA readers but old enough, under the characters’ circumstances, to be Bel's legal guardian. I found that the story needed a few breaks in POV, but I doubted anyone would want to read what Bel’s forty-something dad was doing out in the real world while she was trapped with the beastly cyborg. Still, this character does need to be shown more closely in order to make the plot flow better, and now he’s hopefully more interesting, and even has a little b-story of his own.

I added some dystopian elements at first, with tensions between groups of citizens who had been genetically edited at conception and others who had not (outcasts!), along with an overzealous government entity who took surveillance to unethical levels à la Nineteen Eighty-Four, but I ended up scrapping both those ideas because they were taking up too much space and not really contributing to the plot.

At one point, I also had every chapter alternating between two timelines so that I could start in media res when Bel first encounters the cyborg (ominous!) and then slowly reveal “how we got here” in between bursts of what was happening in the present. It was a huge mess, but I simply didn’t know how to introduce the cyborg sooner—he didn't come in until almost halfway through—because I had so much going on in the beginning (hence why I cut out those dystopian elements) and for some reason I thought it would be best to just do past and present at the same time. My first beta reader was very confused.

I’m embarrassed to say that I actually queried one of these earlier versions of the book—the one with the alternating timeline, the dystopian setting, the father instead of the brother, and a bunch of unnecessary prose that I thought was lovely and “stream of consciousness” but was actually just pointless rambling. Thankfully, I was only sending out the first couple of chapters.

Literally within one minute after I got my first rejection via email, the rejecting agent posted this on Twitter: 

Query hot-take: Beauty and the Beast retellings are the new vampires, i.e. 75% of what I see in my inbox. #querytip #pubtip

Now I’m not going to assume that that tweet was spurred by my query, but … I’m going to go ahead and assume that that tweet was spurred by my query. Maybe not only mine, but it was certainly mine that made her snap. And I certainly ugly-cried about it.

Anyway, a couple of years (and a couple of books) later, once I had trimmed the fat, gotten my characters settled, improved some of the backstory and motivations, I settled into a near-final version (which felt pretty much final-final at the time). I queried that and got only rejections or no-replies, and I was getting more attention from a different book I’d been querying for a while, so I decided to focus on an R&R (revise and resubmit) for that instead.

Finally, after attending a writing conference that really put me in the right headspace for indie publishing and developing an author strategy, I returned to Girl and the Machine. I realized (now two years later) that my “final” story didn’t just need some minor tweaks; there were actually several plot points that totally didn’t make sense! So I fixed those, and that is the version that truly became the Final final FINAL 03.pdf (but really this time) that became the actual book, the one you can purchase now. Whew, it's been a long ride.

As for the name? Well, Beauty and the Beast … Girl and the Machine. What can I say? Simple. Unlike writing the actual book 😉


bottom of page