Archive for February, 2011

Fairy tales and folklore

A lot of the stories that I write are inspired by fairy tales and folklore.  Why is that? 

I believe that old stories, folklore, mythology, superstitions, etc. have something profound to say about the human condition — about what we believe, what we fear, and the stories that were so important that they were told over and over.   I think some of my favorite poems and short stories that I have read riff from fairy tales and other folklore, and I would be thrilled to ever write something as moving and beautiful as “Glass, Blood, and Ash” or “A Delicate Architecture” by Catherynne M. Valente, and all the stories in the wonderful fairy tale anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling like Snow White, Blood Red and Black Thorn, White Rose.  These were my treasures when I occasionally wrote poetry, but had never tried to write short fiction.

The first short fiction story that I wrote and published was The Frog Princess (published in Crossed Genres), which began as a poem and evolved into a short story.  It’s on-line so you can read it here.

Of my stories that are going to be published in the next year, 3 more have fairy tale inspirations, including The Faithful Tin-Glazed Terracotta Soldier” in Full Armor magazine (March 2011); “The Aesthetic Engine” in the Growing Dread:  Biopunk Visions anthology from Timid Pirate Publishing (May 2011); and “Mr. Worthy’s Waltz” in the Steam Works anthology from Hydra Publications (May 2011). 

So those four pieces above include inspirations from the frog princess, the steadfast tin soldier, snow white, and cinderella.

I also currently have pieces out for review that are inspired by rumpelstiltskin, rapunzel, sleeping beauty, a baba yaga tale (Vasilissa the Beautiful), alice in wonderland, hansel and gretel, and the princess and the pea. 

And, today, I’m realizing that I write from fairy tales because they are honest.  They’re dark.  Brutal at times.  Life is like that.  Not like the Disney versions (which I enjoy too, but for different reasons). 

They teach us to be good and cautious, which are useful lessons. 

They teach us to respect dark places, to acknowledge their temptations and choose wisely, pack breadcrumbs to find our way back, or choose to lose ourselves entirely in dark woods, but knowingly and not through innocent ignorance of what waits in shadows.  

I’m generally a pretty optimistic person but I’m trying to make sense of some things that are not happy news, and the truth is, you get what you get. 

Remember to make friends along the way; they will always help you face the worst things and suprise you with their gifts if you are kind first with no expectation but the joy of being kind to others, and welcome companions to walk beside you on the twisted path. 

Be brave. 

Be clever. 

Be beautiful, remembering that fairy tale beauty is not always visible on the outer surface, but becomes visible in the presence of love.

Write with a pen fashioned from glass and thorns, and inked with blood.  Or type with gloves made from the same brutal beautiful things.


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Wendy Wagner has a great post of advice for new writers, where she discusses a very logical process for selecting markets to send your publications.  It made me reflect on my own process, which is less logical and professional than her advice.  So, new writers, don’t take this as advice.  Take this as a window into my own process only.

First, I must admit that I very much enjoy writing to a specific topic.  For that reason, I like anthologies and magazines with theme issues.  I find it inspiring to have a topic and a deadline.  I like topics that are going to require me to do some research — for example, regarding a particular time period, culture, science, or mythology.  I like topics that are very specific.  I’ve thought about why this is, and I think it’s because much of my formal training as a writer was as a poet, and I enjoyed writing to forms rather than free verse.  Specificity is a constraint.  Making something beautiful within a constraint, in my experience, leads me away from my most cliched thoughts and into something new. 

Beyond that, I have a number of other factors.

I adore print.  I’m still new enough as a writer that receiving a hard copy book or magazine with my name in it is a thrill beyond description.  I want to touch it, and put it on my bookshelf.  I like to be able to show it to my friends.  Look!  That’s me!  You can show your friends an online credit, but it doesn’t have the same tangibility to me. 

I am a sucker for an enticing cover.  Cthulhurotica became my number one priority market when I saw the cover.  It’s a proxy for me for the quality of the end product, and, again, a source of inspiration.  The same is true for Historical Lovecraft.  Of course, these were both also excellent examples of very specific and inspiring themes.

I like to be able to submit electronically.  Probably just lazy here, but I work full-time and have multiple hobbies, so my time for writing-related activities is pretty limited.  Electronic submission is delightfully efficient.

It really helps if your market is on Duotrope.  I like to use their online tracking tools.  It’s my dashboard.

I do want to get paid, but primarily because it tells me something about the competitiveness and professionalism of the market.  I will submit to a token market if the theme inspires me.  Most of my submissions are to semipro and pro markets.  I’d really like one SFWA qualifying sale at some point.  But, I’m probably less motivated by pro vs. semipro than folks who don’t have a full-time job that pays the bills.

If I’ve met the editors through twitter and other contexts, I am definitely more likely to submit.  The primary reason is that I get a lot of pleasure from networking with other writers and editors.  I have found that some markets put a lot of terrific energy into connecting their writers – with opportunities to introduce yourself to each other, and be part of an on-going e-mail or google group, for example.  That’s a real value for me.

I think that’s it. 

What inspires you?

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