Author Emma Theriault’s debut novel, Rebel Rose, has quenched readers’ thirst for their next good book.
Rebel Rose is a compelling and immersive historical fiction set in the Disney universe. It invites readers to experience a new sequel to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and it is also Volume 1 in a new book series entitled The Queen’s Council.
Belle and Lio have broken the spell that ensnared Lio and his castle, and they are now met with the onset of the French Revolution. If that is not enough, while attempting to balance duty, love and a mysterious magic, Belle is confronted with many personal – and political – twists and turns.
I have said it before (in my review of Rebel Rose), and I’ll say it again: Rebel Rose transforms Disney storytelling in a way never seen before. I was delighted to chat with Emma about all things Belle, worldbuilding and happily ever after.
Jessica Salafia Ward: Emma, thanks for chatting with us!
Emma Theriault: Thank you so much for having me!
JSW: Your debut novel, Rebel Rose, based on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, will be released on November 10! How do you feel?
ET: Excited! As a debut, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I’m so relieved to say that connecting with readers has been the best part of this experience. I can’t wait for the book to be on shelves!
JSW: You have mentioned in other interviews that you participated in an audition process to become the author of this book. How did you find out you were selected and what was your first thought when you found out?
ET: It was a multi-layered process. I knew a few weeks after submitting that my editor loved my sample and was bringing it to acquisitions, but having been in that spot before with another book and it not panning out, I knew not to assume it would ultimately be a ‘yes.’ I found out that I was selected via an email from my agent. I was with my little brother at the time so he got to witness my reaction. I’ll just say that even with all the positives, I didn’t actually think I’d get the project until the moment I found out I’d been chosen.
JSW: You have also mentioned previously that you were given a lot of freedom in writing this story, but can you tell us a little bit more about the sorts of conversations you had with your Disney liaisons about story, worldbuilding, etc?
ET: My editor and I talked a lot early on about how we envisioned Belle’s arc. I was given a few parameters at the start (like ‘Belle and Lio can’t break up’, as if I’d do that to them!) but most of the direction I was given was stuff I would have incorporated regardless, so it was a really intuitive process and I felt like my vision for the book was supported from the start. As for worldbuilding, it was important to me that the story not be hand-wavy about Aveyon’s status in regards to France, so I was very happy to discover that ‘prince étranger,’ or foreign prince, was a very real position in the French court. It suited the story to have Aveyon be a principality, and Lio a prince, while still being beholden to but largely separate from France. A lot of how I envisioned the story was set up in the early days of my audition, and aside from a few minor things, I didn’t end up having to change much.
JSW: You use all the tools given to you by Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and not only embellish it in a thoughtful, intelligent and inviting way, but you also build on it for the purposes of the next chapter in Belle and Lio’s story. What are some of your favorite parts of the Disney films that you chose to include in the story you wanted to tell in Rebel Rose and why?
ET: I knew I wanted to write this book the moment I read the pitch, but it got really exciting for me once I connected the Enchantress from the films with the lore of the Queen’s Council. I remember it distinctly, my boyfriend and I sat down the night I agreed to audition and listened to the film’s soundtrack. I’ve always loved the film’s prologue and as soon as I heard David Ogden Stiers’s voice (fun fact, he also voiced Cogsworth!) I was hit with a wave of inspiration that went on to form the basis of my book. Of course the Enchantress had a deeper reason for cursing an eleven-year-old boy, and I was so excited to dig into her reasoning against the backdrop of the revolution.
JSW: There are also a lot of unique Theriault additions too. How did your story and character choices come about as part of the planning process? Did you make any or many dramatic changes to your initial ideas along the way?
ET: I did debate whether or not Belle would go with Lio to Versailles, because I would have loved to write about King Louis’s court from a firsthand perspective. But in the end, I knew that the larger than life characters of Louis and Marie Antoinette and even Versailles itself would overshadow what should be Belle’s book. Once I knew that Belle would not be going with Lio to Versailles, it just made sense that she would witness one of the catalysts of the French Revolution instead. A big part of her character arc is the journey she takes from ‘poor, provincial girl’ to queen, so I knew that there would be some discord between Belle and Lio thanks to their vastly different backgrounds. Once I established that Belle is torn between her roots as a commoner and her future as queen, the story came together rather easily. She’s always going to advocate for commoners, and Lio, while sympathetic, grew up in a palace and is living with the trauma of having been cursed, so his perspective is a bit different. As for names, some of the nomenclature in Rebel Rose was an intentional easter egg (you noticed one in your review, Jess!) and the rest are all taken either from census records at the time, or from pictures I took at a French Revolution exhibit in Paris that listed the names of people who died during the Reign of Terror.
JSW: Fans know many of the characters in Rebel Rose from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. How do you “mature” characters while ensuring they don’t stray too far from traits, speech, movement, etc. that we know and love from their portrayal in the Disney films?
ET: It helps to look at Belle’s journey as an adult. My relationship with Beauty and the Beast has grown and changed since I first saw it in the early 90s. The movie ends with a supposed ‘happily ever after,’ and that made sense to me as a child, but any adult would know that breaking a curse doesn’t mean you’ll never make a mistake or face doubts ever again. Belle and Lio have fallen in love, but their relationship started with Belle as his prisoner. I knew any honest portrayal of their partnership had to include that aspect of it. And then everything is dialed up to eleven in Rebel Rose because of the onset of the French Revolution. Maybe Belle would have gone years without confronting her deepest fears and doubts if she hadn’t been thrust into a violent, changing conflict that required her to take on much more responsibility than she’d ever anticipated. I did my best to be authentic to the Belle we all know and love, while still exploring her humanity.
JSW: What is your process for introducing new characters? Do you “trial” characters during the brainstorming process to determine if they are a good fit or does it happen more organically as part of the plot?
ET: I wanted Belle to have the friendships we didn’t see her have in the animated film, and so the first draft of Rebel Rose actually had another female character named Céline in addition to Marguerite. For simplicity’s sake they were merged into one character during revisions. But I would have to say the process is very organic for me. There aren’t too many new characters in Rebel Rose, but the few I created are pretty integral to the plot so they’ve mostly been there since the brainstorming process.
JSW: We know from other interviews that you are not really a fan of drafting but you are a wizard when it comes to editing. What other likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, can you share with us about your writing journey on this project and others?
ET: This was my first time writing under contract, and so I was forced to write my first draft faster than I’d ever written anything before. It was nice to see that a deadline does in fact make it possible for me to draft at a non-glacial pace! But my favorite part of the writing process is when I get to sprinkle in worldbuilding details I gathered from research (for example: Bastien shows off a cabinet he describes as a “Riesener original,” Jean Henri Riesener was Marie Antoinette’s favourite ébéniste). For me, rich historical details help to ground a story in the past more firmly.
JSW: Besides Belle and Lio’s relationship, what other relationships were important for you to explore in this story and why?
ET: I loved writing scenes with Belle and Mrs. Potts. They developed a closeness in the animated film that I was really excited to explore in Rebel Rose. Belle has a special bond with all of the characters in the castle, but Mrs. Potts is sympathetic to the struggles that Belle faces as a woman thrust into a position of power she never much wanted. She is also there to push Belle to do better, for herself and for her people. It’s a parental sort of relationship, but I like to think that they emerge from the events of Rebel Rose as friends.
JSW: Themes in this book include dealing with trauma, the pursuit of understanding, belonging and adventure. What do you think are the key takeaways, and what theme(s) resonate most with you, from Rebel Rose and why?
ET: I think I identify most with the idea that your dreams can change as you change. Belle dreamed her whole life of leaving her too-small, too-backward kingdom behind, and so when she marries its prince and suddenly has the weight of that same kingdom on her shoulders, she has something of an identity crisis. It gets worse with the outbreak of the French Revolution, and Belle struggles to come to grips with both her newfound power and privilege in a role she didn’t necessarily choose for herself. She has to learn not to hold herself too rigidly to her past expectations, and to be open to seeing herself in a different light, but that takes time. I don’t know if it’s a universal journey, but it resonated with me as I wrote it.
JSW: Who is your favorite character in this story and why?
ET: It feels a bit like cheating to say Belle, but I couldn’t have emerged from having written Rebel Rose without loving her fully. She is a complex character. Of course she is empathetic and courageous and smart, but she’s not perfect. Her confidence in her convictions is a strength, but it can also be a weakness. In Rebel Rose, Belle eschews two titles because she does not think of herself as worthy of ruling a kingdom she long desired to leave. She is a commoner who married a prince, and she is reminded of her status at every turn. It is very difficult to disabuse her of the notion that she is doing the right thing by remaining, simply, Belle. The journey she takes in Rebel Rose is different from the one she takes in the animated film. If the film is about Belle discovering her capacity for loving others, Rebel Rose is more about learning to love and trust herself.
JSW: I understand that a visit to Paris became somewhat of a research trip for you. What other non-Disney resources did you look to for inspiration?
ET: I read a few books about the French Revolution (my favorites were by Ian Davidson and Simon Schama), watched Marie Antoinette (for the vibes), combed through the Palace of Versailles website (an amazing wealth of information!), read contemporary political pamphlets (like abbé Sieyès famous Qu’est-ce que le tiers état? which plays a big role in the book) and researched the Enlightenment thinkers and activists that Belle would have felt inspired by (like Olympe de Gouges, Nicolas de Condorcet, Mary Wollstonecraft, etc.).
JSW: What is next for Emma Theriault?
ET: I finished a YA fantasy between my Rebel Rose deadlines about the power of memory and the insidious pull of revenge for two different girls trying to kill a king. I hope to have more news soon! And I’m currently drafting (ugh) a new YA fantasy about renaissance astrology, a reverse exorcism, and a city ruled by a too-powerful god and his mortal henchman.
JSW: Whoa, we can’t wait to hear more about those projects! In the meantime, what do you ultimately hope readers get out of Rebel Rose?
ET: It’s a book about Belle finding the strength to become who she is meant to be, even in the face of her own fears and the doubts of others. ‘Happily ever after’ is something Belle has to fight for, both for herself and for her kingdom, and I hope readers will never stop fighting for their own happy endings.
Rebel Rose is now available wherever books are sold.