Tag Archives: fairy tales

Book Review: Over the Darkened Landscape

Canadian fiction, speculative fiction, Fairwood Press, fantasy, SF

Derryl Murphy’s collection is stellar.

When I go to writing/fan conventions I usually try to pick up a couple of books or magazines to purview. Last year, at When Worlds Collide in Calgary I picked up Derryl Murphy’s reprint collection Over the Darkened Lanscape. Derryl is a fellow Canadian writer and I know him somewhat (translation: like many writers, we’ve chatted writing over a drink or two). But I wasn’t sure I knew his writing. As well as Derryl, I wanted to help support Patrick Swenson’s Fairwood Press, out of Washington, who has always done a quality product.

The trade size book has an intriguing cover. I don’t know how it was made but I’ve never felt a cover that was so velvety, almost like skin. It holds up well to greasy paw prints as well. The cover art is not necessarily dark or even speculative in the SF/fantasy sense, and in a way it reflects Murphy’s stories perfectly. As well, this guy with a distorted face is sliced by a canvas that he peers over. When you read Derryl’s coven of stories you’ll find they are poignant perspectives of delving into a very human psyche, sometimes in extraordinary circumstances, sometimes in that visceral way where life tugs on you revealing its glories and sorrows.

I’ll try not to give away too much about the contents so you can enjoy the slow reveal of them. Murphy does a deft blending of science with the human machine and this is seen in the unique perspective of “Body Solar.” “Last Call” is not really speculative except for imagining what you would say to your wife while in space. Very poignant and one of the stories I had read before. “Frail Orbits” is a sad and tender handling about used up veterans. “Voyage to the Moon” is probably one of my favorites for a very fresh way of handling a fairy tale as science fiction. I won’t say more but even that might be too much. I really enjoyed the deft new twists.

“More Painful than the Dreams of Other Boys” deals with a world where kids don’t always grow up and one who does; growing pains always hurt. “The Day Michael Visited Happy Lake” is another tale about the reality we give our favorite childhood tales. One of the more disturbing tales, another that I had read before, “Clink Clank” examines a future where government farms out the feeding of prisoners and what children who don’t listen to their parents discover. It’s a cautionary tale of how one can place a command in someone’s thoughts. By saying “don’t touch that” we can no longer think of anything else but touching that object.

Louis Wain, H.G. Wells, paranormal, horror, speculative fiction

Wain’s paintings grew increasingly more demonic.

The collection covers vast reaches from the earliest times, to our future travels in space. But “Ancients of Earth” truly links the past and the present with a teacher in Dawson City at the time of the Gold Rush, who tries to save an ancient find, and is targeted by those ancient memories. A careful blend again of science and magic. “The Cats of Bethlem” begins with the true tale of H.G. Wells intervening in the commitment of Victorian artist Louis Wain to a sanitarium Wain was obsessed with drawing cats and it’s now believed that as he aged he grew more schizophrenic while his paintings of anthropomorphized cats grew more abstract and wild.  But what if….

Other tales take Canadian history and put it into a Gordian knot. “Canadaland” is a very tongue in cheek look at our (Canada’s) future. While the Canadians reading it will truly get the nuances, there are ample narrator-biased footnotes. Well worth a trip through our cultural foibles. “Northwest Passage” is a lonely tale of fighting the frozen winter environment that holds its ghosts close. “Cold Ground” travels into the vestiges of the Riel rebellion from the point of view of its surviving sorcerers. The title piece of the book, “Over the Darkened Landscape” was probably one of my other favorites with MacKenzie King (Canada’s 10th prime minister) and his talking dog who solve mysteries, including what happened to the missing painter Tom Thomson, who was one of the famous Group of Seven. Here, the painting is the medium, in all senses of the word.

These stories are both historic and speculative, fantastical and empathic. If I could choose only one word I would say that Derryl Murphy’s tales are visceral in pulling you along the emotional ride of  humans in odd or life threatening situations. Ingenuity, acceptance and compassion flavor Over the Darkened Landscape. I didn’t know what to expect originally but I found the stories resonated for a long time with me. It’s an excellent collection well worth reading. I’m not the only one of this opinion. Murphy’s collection has been nominated for this year’s prestigious Sunburst Award. Check it out.

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Book Review: In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed III

The second tale “The Magic Muntr,” in Mitzi Szereto’s In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed interested me more because I’ve read so many versions of Cinderella, from the centuries old through the Disney and Grimm versions to modern and futuristic adaptations and retellings. But “The Magic Muntr” was new to me, a tale from some Persian stories about a man  duped into exchanging his form for a parrot’s.

You could say this is a tale of curiosity killing the cat, and the transformed ruler, because of his inquisitiveness, nearly loses everything to a wicked rakshas posing as a sage. As a bird, he views many things, including women bathing, but details are often lacking where a build-up would benefit an erotic setting. The maharajah is left with a curse of voyeurism.

“The Demon of Adachigahara” is another story of the Far East, this time Japan, and as unfamiliar to me as the one above, which also piqued my interest. This sadistic demon has a penchant for snaring weary pilgrims, especially those  men who bring around (tongue in cheek) religious and inspirational pamphlets. Szereto seems to want to capture a different era, or an anachronistic feeling, and instead of saying covered in black leather she says, “Their muscled flesh had been partially covered with a supple black hide…” But there is a naiveté about each main character that is hard to believe. The male pilgrim, on discovering the chained men “…caressed the bulging arc of flesh held imprisoned by its plaited ring, [and] he found himself being sprayed with the same spumy substance that stained the captive’s costume…”

It starts to become obvious after three stories that Mitzi Szereto isn’t just writing about erotic sex but about different fetishes as we have the shoe fetishist in the first story, then the voyeur, and then sadomasochism. The next story is “Rapunzel,” quite familiar to everyone, and starts with a classic beginning. However, Szereto throws in an anachronistic image against the medieval aspects that grates as opposed to being a good blend. Rapunzel is a rap artist, playing off the name, and though she has a unique way of getting her lover up the tower’s walls, I found the rap aspect so anachronistic that it didn’t make sense nor add anything.

“The Swineherd” is a familiar Grimm’s tale, if not the most well-known, where a nobleman goes in search of a wife, but under disguise as a common man. He falls in love with the scourge-wielding warlord’s daughter and tries to woo her with ingenious, handcrafted tools of the kinky sort. Yet this woman is also ignorant of any man’s genitalia and she sees, in regards to the swineherd’s “scepter” that “For some mysterious reason, the swineherd had stuck a very large purple plum on the end of it…” At least her maids inform her it’s not a plum. The nobleman gets his masochistic dreams fulfilled.

“The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces” is similar to the “Twelve Dancing Princesses” of Grimm’s fame. The twelve princesses (or countesses) always have worn out shoes in the mornign.  This story is more successful but again there is an odd hesitance to actually acknowledge the sexual activities and everything is couched in peculiar terms that are not necessarily those of the time period. In fact, I have a book of medieval bawdy tales and the “naughty words” are the same as ours (ass, cunt, shit). The seasoned soldier who solves the mystery dons a black, rubber cape. A rubber cape, especially in another medieval setting, makes me question why. Either modernize the tale or keep the innovations within the context of the time. The soldier is naive of the women’s activity though perhaps this naiveté is for the audience?

“The Ebony Horse” is from The Arabian Nights (a collection far vaster than the complete Grimm tales, which takes up numerous volumes–I have two volumes of selected tales), collected by Sir Richard Burton. I did go and read the original of this to compare it to Szereto’s version. The tale starts out very similar, but shortened and continues with the adventures of the mechanized and magical ebony horse. The sultan’s son is whisked away and eventually meets a beautiful sultan’s daughter, and proceeds to take her up on the horse, where she discovers she enjoys being exhibited naked before others’ eyes. The sultan’s son is also enraptured with her rose petal and for once the euphemisms actually fit the actions and lend to a sensual and poetic tone.

“Michel Michelkleiner’s Good Luck” is an obscure European story about a simpleton’s adventures, which Szereto has extended past gaining his fortune. I found her version disturbing as it begins with Michel’s rape by a group of brigands. Szereto’s style  does  not make it clear that Michel enjoys this forced sexuality, yet he  views the brigand as doing a most “extraordinary jig–or at least it seemed extraordinary to his unversed prey.” But it seems that Michel does indeed come to enjoy their ministrations and so his adventures continue.

Known as King Thrushbeard and Taming of the Shrew, “Punished Pride” is a tale of putting a woman in her place. It is similar to “The Swineherd” in that a rich/noble man disguises himself to win a spoiled/ill-tempered bride. This time she falls for the lowly gardener and leads a life of poverty and work alongside her husband. But her toils take on a lascivious nature when she must attend one lady. Now this noblewoman married her gardener who is the Czar in disguise so they have consummated their marriage and any woman would know what breasts are, yet here is the description of the lady the woman must attend: “…the lady had been endowed with two very large conical objects that she wore proudly upon her chest,…”

She seems somehow innocent of a woman’s anatomy when “No matter how thoroughly she scrubbed at the wriggly knurl she found and the two furry puffs encasing it, her mistress refused to be satisfied.” Maybe, just maybe a storyteller would tell a tale thus to an audience in the 16th century, but somehow the euphemisms get in the way here, as well as being bizarre. Furry puffs? I found I had to stop a moment and try to visualize this. Still, it’s one of the better stories, with more depth of  love and somewhat believable sexual ministrations that do contain erotic content even though the descriptions become more bizarre. As the woman submits to a flogging she looks between her legs (at herself) and sees “…a fiery red flame extending out form her body….exactly like the vermilion tongue belonging to the furry creature that lurked between her former mistress’s thighs.”

Tomorrow, the final part of the review.

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Book Review: In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed II

Mitzi Szereto starts off her collection, In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed, with an introduction to the erotic fairy tales. Here she talks about the influence of cultures and how scholars have discovered that many of the tales can be traced to Asia specifically. There is a long lineage and evolution to the fairy tale, and though many may have come from Asia and India, others were created in other areas, growing out of legends such as the Greek myths, or taking on local flavors. Indeed, there are common motifs and tales found through many lands and whether they were one migratory tale travelling a winding path, or many tales born of similar seeds, it’s hard to say. After all, Jung talked about the cosmic consciousness and how the human intellect tended to evolve or develop at the same time. A person in South America would come to the same revelations as someone in Europe, based on our understandings of the world, and a common foundation of reasoning and problem solving. This theory has proven true in the case of  inventors creating the same thing within the same time as another (or even such basics designs as the Greek key showing up in Aztec/Mayan Americas as well as in Greece).

With an erotic book I would expect the stories to be erotic; titillating or sensually stimulating in some way. Now one erotic tale won’t do it for everyone but there will at least be some tales in a collection that will appeal to a person’s imagination and sensual sensitivities. This book is marketed as erotica and the cover actually gives no hint to the fairy tale context. I imagine this is probably because erotica sells better than fairy tales, where adults might still think that those tales are for children or are some Disneyfied, pristine production. So it makes sense. Cleis is primarily a publisher of erotica and everything is packaged under that heading.

With a book of modern fairy tales I would expect either completely new tales but done in a fairy tale style, or known fairy tales that are skewed or deviate from the original in some compelling way. Some of the standard fairy tale formats are cautionary tales (if you stray from the rules, you’re going to end up in hot water), coming of age tales (you must go through these trials to attain your reward), common man tales (by virtue of quick wits you will conquer all obstacles to get your reward), and virtue tales (if you are good and pure, you will overcome the greater evils pitted against you and get your reward). In the last, the reward is often a prince/husband for the girl. There are other types of fairy tales but those are common themes. As well, fairy tales almost always have some type of magic or magical being in them, whether they’re the Arabian Nights or Grimm’s fairy tales.

I confess that I was somewhat biased before picking up this book. I love fairy tales and I’m certainly not averse to erotica. From what I can tell Mitzi Szereto is intelligent and energetic and takes her craft seriously. This collection contains 15 tales  from a wide range of sources. The introduction ends with Szereto mentioning that the tales captured the imaginations of such writers as Dickens, C.S. Lewis and Bernard Shaw, thought not mentioning Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, or Oscar Wilde who sometimes created their own. She states that, “It is in this very same creative spirit that I continue the age-old tale-telling tradition…, choosing to rely not on the unexpurgated  versions of the past, but rather on those considered suitable for all  eyes–including the eyes of children. By working in this way, I can remove myself from all previous erotic influences and make the tales my own.

I found this slightly odd for an erotic fairy tale book, since the expurgated versions certainly are cauterized in many ways.  If she is writing adult erotica, why start with the family version, but I thought, okay, there are erotic undertones to some of the tales so let’s see what happens. Each tale begins with an introduction, talking about its roots, influences and changes through time.

The first tale is “Cinderella,” an extremely well known story. Early variations had such names as “Aschenputtle,” “La Gatta Cenerentola,”  and “Rashin-Coatie.” In Szereto’s introduction to the tale she goes back to its beginnings in China, as well as discussing the original erotic content (or perhaps lack) in this story, which had me wondering how she could remove herself from the erotic influences if she’s read and done all this research before writing her version. The tale unfolds as we know it, with Cinderella taking care of and dressing her ugly stepsisters. When they run off to the ball Cinderella’s fairy godmother appears, which seems to be a hairy fairy in drag. Why this particular character, I’m not sure. He/she eyes the coachmen in buttless pants. Nothing more happens with the godmother and I found it an odd deviation or embellishment that didn’t further the plot.

Cinderella’s ventures veer to her stepsisters having a fondness for parsnips (and not for eating, which the not so sweet Cinderella laces with peppers) and the prince having more of a fondness for the shoe, where he plunges “the bulky protuberance he had released into the right slipper,” than the woman. Her reward is not so rewarding and I was left…let down. I could see the tongue in cheek humor to this piece but there was little of erotic description and odd usages of words (mounds for breasts) to the point of a bevy of euphemisms. But then this was the first tale and perhaps Szereto was trying to capture the flavor of innuendo and tales of old.

So I moved on to the next one, “The Magic Muntr.” I have many fairy tale books; a complete Grimms tales, various ethnic folktales, Hans Christian Andersen’s tales, the modern anthologies by Windling and Datlow, several books on the analysis of tales, several Arabian Nights, etc. However, I have not read all these books. The complete Grimm tales alone is a hefty tome of 279 tales, some only half a page and not too interesting, but extensive nonetheless. So I was intrigued to see this tale and read its history.

Tomorrow, Part III of the review.

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Book Review: In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed I

This will be a very long and involved review of Mitzi Szereto’s In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed, a collection of erotic fairy tales published by Cleis Press. In fact it will be at least three, maybe four parts, so hang on to your hats.

When I received The Sweetest Kiss and In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed for review I decided to do the vampire erotica first (Sweetest Kiss) since it was nearer to Hallowe’en. Plus, I love fairy tales. They’re a good memory of my childhood and I still have (managed to find again actually) some of the volumes I had as a kid. (Those influences can be read in previous blog entries on worlds of what-if.) I took one course in university on children’s lit but specifically fairy tales, which gave me a deeper interest in the form. I’ve read numerous tales from Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen and the brothers Grimm to updated interpretations by Angela Carter, Sarah Moon and the collections edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. I’ve written a few of my own, including poems, and continue to search out and enjoy the varied tales that are there, from the ancient to the new.

Fairy and folktales began a very long time ago. Along with the myths and superstitions that set up the religious structures of culture throughout the world, people were attempting to explain other things or events. And they were entertaining each other. However, not all entertainment had a single purpose. Much was in the way of passing on information: histories, cautionary tales, moral tales, tales of hope and trickery in the little guy/or common person who is rewarded for great deeds/virtue/quick wit, etc. The list is quite extensive.

These tales were told over and over again, passed down through generations and cultures, adapting and evolving with the times. Once Charles Perrault and before him Giambattista Basile, and after, the brothers Grimm, started to set the tales down in writing, gathering them from various sources, the tales began to evolve less and become frozen in time and sentiment of an age. There is evidence that these tales were written down centuries before in various lands, and in different versions but overall I follow the belief that most tales were passed from person to person, tales told by bards and travellers. This is not the view that Mitzi Szereto takes, stating that most tales were gathered from the more noble or richer classes, and there is obvious truth there as written tales would have been for the more educated and therefore wealthy classes. But all these tales started somewhere, being listened to by groups of people. Whichever it may be, there are variations all over.

Just as religions adopted gods from one country to another and similar sun gods, resurrection gods, grain gods and weather gods can be seen in most early religions, so it is that many of these fairy tales are part of the cosmic consciousness that Jung believed in and is quite evident in the evolution and progress of human intellect and thought. Books have been written just on the subject of fairy tales alone, besides the volumes of fairy tales themselves.

The earlier versions are often violent and bloody, and have characters not so redeeming as how they appear in some of Perrault’s and the Grimm brothers’ versions. Indeed, by the time Disney got hold of the fairy tales they were sanitized of any true lessons and every good little princess got her man, as long as she was virtuous, pretty and good, a role model for every submissive female for the 20th century and more.

This brings us to a reclaiming of fairy tales that happened the more adults began to take them seriously again and examine their content. Even though the Grimms edited the tales to suit their views, they were purveyors of folk literature and took their work seriously. Many others have come along to look at the tales and their hidden meanings and mysteries. Some of these scholars of today are A.S. Bayatt, Emma Donohue, and Angela Carter, who did her own rewriting of many a tale. In the Company of Wolves is a great rendition of the Little Red Riding Hood tale and can also be found in a “now” old film of the same name, starring a younger Angela Lansbury. Bruno Bettelheim and Jack Zipes are well-known scholars of fairy tales. Author Sarah Moon did a chilling rendition of the same Little Red Riding Hood as Carter’s but more as a cautionary tale than a coming of age story, with her stark black and white photos of a  young girl in the glare of a car’s headlights and with connotations of a pedophilic stalker, making the tale very modern and terrifying.

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling edited collections of modern tales that take these fairy tales with leaps in new directions. Jane Yolen, and other authors have also written different rendtions that are darker and deeper than the original tales. Although it is less storytelling, authors are still taking these archetypal tales and bringing them along through the centuries to match our times, with warnings and morals and fears that hit closer to home.

There are many authors, editors and scholars in the realm of fairy tales who are researching, reading and telling new tales. Having written an erotic fairy tale for a Harlequin anthology that I based off of one of the many (and lesser known) Grimm tales, I was excited to see this collection by Mitzi Szereto.

And here I am, at the end of a blog entry and I have yet to actually talk about the book. I’ll start very briefly and say that it had a preface by Tobsha Learner. Though I didn’t know who this was, Tobsha is an Australian author with several books to her credit in which a blend of magic and eroticism are the theme (and some gorgeous covers on top of that). I thought, great, there will be a scholarly bent to the fairy tale aspect and I’ll learn even more about them. This was coupled by Mitzi Szereto’s introduction and an introduction to each story.

I’ll go into the intro and some of the tales tomorrow, but up to this point, I had not yet read any of Szereto’s writing. From what I could tell of reading about her, she’s vivacious, energetic, intelligent and a good writer. I read a couple of excerpts I found of her other pieces which supported that she knows how to write, so I was looking forward to the tales.

Tomorrow, what I found out as I read.

Cleis Press: http://www.cleispress.com/gosearch.php?textfield=in+sleeping+beauty&search_type=TITLE

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Writing: The Process

The writing process is a different beast for every writer. There are those that have a set time every day and write within that time. How I envy them. Me, I abhor schedules at the best of time, which is also my bane. This blog is about as regular as I get. It’s one aspect of the “write every day” rule. The writing process can also be different for every story.

Some stories nearly write themselves in a few days. Some are long struggles. Often the ones I think are going to be easiest (such as writing a fairy tale) turn out to be the worst for getting the idea flowing. Some stories take forever for different reasons. “A Kind Hand,” which I finished last year and is fantasy, took me about eight years to write. I would work on it in fits and starts and stop again. It slowly progressed with a lot of agonizing along the way. And every time I went to work on it, I had to read it again and then try to match the voice I had started in. I also quite like the way I was writing it and didn’t want to ruin it.

In this case I knew the ending because it’s based off of a particular tale about the Germanic hearth goddess Berchta. But in between the ending and the beginning I needed a flow of events that raised the tension. Like many fairy tales, the original tale was fairly bare bones and short, jumping to the one climax. I needed to put flesh on those bones. I got closer and closer to finishing and finally last year worked out the full story. I think I sent it out once but in the meantime also had a friend read it. His comments included that there needed to be more tension so I made the character a bit scarier, upped the ante at the end and sent it to Shroud, and it sold.

My longest running story ever, from start to finish is “Awaking Pandora,” which I’m working on right now. It’s science fiction, which I don’t write as often. I started it about fifteen plus years ago, while visiting a friend in New York. I was struck by all the barges and the prison barge around Manhattan. So I started the story and began writing and writing and realized, if I wasn’t careful, it was going to become a novel. But I didn’t want a novel. I knew it was still going to be a long story.

With this story the problem was that I really didn’t have a finally resolution. I had a conflict, conflicts in fact, but I didn’t know how to solve them. So it sat as I ruminated. I’d pull it out once in a while, read the whole thing, rewrote a bit what I’d started and then let it sit. I discussed it with a friend or two, trying to find an ending. Then, a year ago, there was an anthology looking for novelettes, stories between 10-20,000 words in this case. I tried to finish it but just couldn’t get there. I did finally finish the first draft last year.

Now, again there are two anthology markets that this story could fit into but I’m running out of time on the first. I’ve spent the last month writing and rewriting, taking the comments of two friends. The story was running at 9800 words and is down to 8600 but one market has a limit of 6,000. I’ve looked at it so often, changing word, changing sentences, deleting some, moving some up, some down, expanding and changing.

I’ve changed, more refined, the ending twice and it’s not quite there. I passed it by a third friend last night who said she just couldn’t chop some out as it would take rewriting to remove some aspects and make it shorter (partly because I’ve already removed extraneous words and removing more means redoing the flow). Again, I think this is a good story and I like my characters though I already cut the extraneous ones as too many for a shortish story. I have this weekend to make the thing work as I have to mail it latest by Monday.

It’s a long process, agonizing over a word, a line, a paragraph, a character. Then the conflict; is it enough, does it need to be earlier? This story has been easy for getting description and mood in, and characterization was fairly effortless, but plot. Yikes. Well, I’m back to the writing board and the true test is whether I’ll sell it or not. One last shot at getting the plot right and trying to cut out another 2,000 words and away it will go.

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Writing Update March

I’m way behind this year on submissions. Normally I do a blitz in January. But this year I was working on a large editing project for a client. I just seemed to busy to hunker down. Right now I’m trying to get a story rewritten for one anthology and write a new story for another anthology, as well as work on my novel. And I’ve been trying to get my taxes done. So I don’t think I’ve submitted anything new yet this year.

I’ve received some rejections for stories sent out from last fall, but yesterday saw some reward. I arrived home to find a letter from Barton College saying my poem “Finding Dionysus” was awarded second prize and will be published in Crucible. As well, there was an email from Shroud magazine saying they had accepted my story “A Kind Hand” for publication in issue #6.

Yesterday I said that perseverance is a large part of writing and becoming published. I’ve also talked about revisionist poems. Although “Finding Dionysus” is from Persephone’s point of view it’s not as revisionist as some of my others but is part of a series I’ve done on Greek gods. The poem was written about six years ago but as is often the case with submissions, an editor’s preference can be for a particular type or style of writing. As well, magazines may have themes or just published a piece with a similar theme. I was once told by one magazine that they had just published a torso story and they couldn’t take another or they would be seen as a fetish magazine.

“A Kind Hand” is a tale of perseverance in the writing. I started the story probably ten years ago, wrote a bit and let it sit. I liked the idea but for a while wasn’t sure where to go with it. I was basing it off of a Germanic folktale about Berchta (a hearth goddess) so I had the plot but I wanted to give it a more human aspect. Some stories flow out easily and all at once. Others come out in fits and spurts and seem to be a jumble. “A Kind Hand” was somewhere in between and when I wrote on it, it came out fairly smoothly. However, taking so many years to write the story meant that I had to keep rereading it to figure out where I was going. Also, one’s style can change from story to story and year to year. I had to try and continue in the style in which I had started, which I really liked.

Once it was done I sent it out but also sent it to a friend to read. He made some good comments so I brought out the threat aspect a bit more and once it was rejected, sent the story out again. I think I had only submitted this one a few times before Shroud.

Looking at start to finish on the poem was probably seven years. The story was ten or more years in the process. I have ideas like this, that I start because I had an image in my mind, but perhaps no plot, or no ending. They sit and sometimes I do finish them. There are those stories that I complete but am not satisfied with so I maybe send them out once and then they wait for a rewrite so that I can figure out how to make them better. Rarely does a story or poem flow out quickly, all in one piece, with minimal rewriting. And rarely does it go from creation to publication quickly. My quickest was probably “The Fishwife,” which flowed out in no more than three days, needed a minimal rewrite and sold to the first or second place I sent it. Still, with the time taken for submitting and the selection process of the magazine, it was about a year.

This doesn’t even include the time from acceptance to publication. The tardiest rejection I ever received was seven years. Some pieces that have been accepted may be  a year (or more) from acceptance to actually being published.

And last, as fantasy editor of Aberrant Dreams, I have released all stories but one back to the authors. The magazine is going through some structural changes and it was becoming far too long in holding stories. I hate giving up good stories but it wasn’t fair to hang on indefinitely. I have two letters to send out, releasing one more and letting one author choose if he wants his accepted story to sit in the to be published pile or if he’d like to withdraw it. Then we wait for the restructure.

Time is not linear in the world of writing and submitting, nor on the publishing end of a magazine. Patience and perseverance really help.

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Writing: Revisionist Poems & Stories

A discussion of revisionist writing came about on another list when I mentioned that I had sold my poem “The First Taste” to Dreams & Nightmares. It is a revisionist poem about Persephone. I was asked what I meant by revisioning. A good question because the term is probably most often used in terms of history and politics. But on the other side are the revisionist myths or fairy tales. Some will come tagged with feminist revisionism but it goes beyond that.

I ran into revisioning somewhere way back, maybe first to do with the retold fairy tales, especially the ones that were in the Datlow/Windling anthologies. But I was also doing a course on children’s literature where we examined fairy tales right back to Perrault and the Grimm brothers. Angela Carter’s tales came up as some early revisionist fairy tales. I’ve also run into it in poetry but don’t remember when anymore. It could have been in the creative writing courses at UBC or in the world of speculative poetry.

I guess the basis for any revisioning poem is that instead of a third person or narrative tale of a hero’s or god’s deeds, the tale is now told in first person, though third person is also used. It might also be in the voice of the lesser being/mortal/bad guy who traditionally was fairly two-dimensional. This is not always the case with stories, which may also be in third person, but all tend to delve into the psyche of the person and how they feel.

This is sort of what happened to SF when it evolved past the embryonic stage of BEMs (bug-eyed monsters) and started to become more realistic; or magic realism, set in today’s world with just a small twist of otherness. (Is this the bastard child of canlit and spec fic?)

Like all genre labels, revisioning is just another fancy word for categorizing what we write. 🙂 In my revisioning poems (which really is just a classic tale, whether fairy tale or heroic myth, from another point of view) I’ve written on Dionysus, Kore/Persephone, Athena, Leda, Psyche, Demeter, Aphrodite (though the last really doesn’t fit the same way as the others). I’ve also written one story on the oracle on Pythos before it/she became the Delphic oracle.

In stories, I’ve taken various fairy tales and rewrote them as well, from the Princess and the Pea, to Snow White, to Dorothy after Oz.I’m sure there are other takes on revisioning but this is pretty much how I see and understand it. One well-known child’s story done in a revisionist mode is the about the three little pigs but from the wolf’s point of view, pointing out how he was framed.

Classical fairy tales are fairly thin and two-dimensional, offering very little depth into the whys and wherefores. Many fairy tales were cautionary tales, and others were, what academics now presume, tales to show/train young women for their eventual separation from their parents, and subsequent marriages. It is the purview of fantasy and speculative fiction to take the regular world and twist the what-if. If we’re looking at old, tried and true  tales, then it’s turning the story on its edge and presenting a new view.

Whether called revisionist, speculative or just plain fantasy, taking the classics and showing a new perspective is part of the evolutionary process. Fairy tales, myths, fables were once passed down, word of mouth from person to person. The oral tradition actually kept the story current to the times as the teller would adapt or change aspects to suit the understanding of the listeners. The constant evolution means many stories have passed over the lips of humanity to be lost in the trails of time. With the newer tradition of taking those now codified tales, whether Sleeping Beauty or the tale of Eros and Psyche and telling a new story, the process continues to bring evolution to the myths and fairy tales of our ancestors.

Here is a lesson plan on revisionist fairy tales for anyone who teaches about writing and reading: http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=992

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Bits & Pieces: Aliens, Writing & PST

It’s nice to know that in all those beliefs we have about aliens from other planets and how they must be highly advanced technologically (otherwise they couldn’t fly all those light years), that they also seem to have some driving mishaps from time to time. I just wonder if it was drunk driving and what an alien might find as hooch, methane perhaps? Imagine, the crop circles are aliens setting down in a farmer’s field and sucking the methane from the cow patties, having a UFO tailgate party and putting something on the barbee. Or maybe they drink corn syrup. Who knows?

Some people might argue that if they have technology to fly light years, that they would not run into a wind turbine. But let’s say that aliens might look at us and say, they have techology to drive so they’d never run into a telephone pole. There is one factor in both of these: human (or alien error). People make mistakes so maybe there was just a bad driver at the ship’s controls. But then maybe this accident in Lincolnshire had to do with low visibility (the video shows an awful lot of haze) or maybe they were sightseeing and got distracted. “Hey, Mabel, lookit that weird critter with black and white spots and the giant udder!” The witness in the first article looks an awaful lot like an alien to me and really, there is nothing more alien than humans. I also like that tentacles are mentioned by one witness in the second article. A UFO with tentacles! A giant squid! Could be ball lightning. Nah, it was the flying spaghetti monster whose spaghetti like tentacles wrapped around the blade and stole it. Yes, that’s it. All hail the spaghetti monster.

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/ufos/article2108149.ece

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601102&sid=a6W14d7tFWdI&refer=uk

Proof of the flying spaghetti monster:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vL7FcvEydqg

In writing news, I have just sold “A Taste for Treasure” to Alison’s Wonderland, an erotic fairy tale anthology by Harlequin, edited by Alison Tyler. Good money, even if they do ask for all rights until they’re finished with it. I also received my copies of The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica by Running Press, edited by Maxim Jakubowski. I do love getting those checks in British pounds. It’s almost double the money and more for the reprint than I was paid for the original story.

I’ve also sold a poem “Collecting” to Sotto Voce but I asked them a question on the contract and haven’t heard back from them so hopefully they’ll respond. I really really hope to get back to writing my novel next week. I’ve farted around long enough now.

And in BC we are charged a provincial tax besides the federal GST. PST is not charged on food, but I’ve discovered the Pharmasave on Columbia St. in New Westminister has been. When I asked them, I was told that chips and chocolates aren’t food. I said, yes it is, you ingest it and the gov’t website says it’s exempt. “But it’s a confection. It’s not like a granola bar.” Errr, yes, but that is still food. Sure, it may not be nutritional (and many granola bars are suspect because of their high sugar content and the chocolate chips in them too) but it’s still food.

Yeesh. Well, since I had already written to the Pharmasave head office in November and received no reply, and they were still charging PST, I filed a complaint with the Ministry of Business and Revenue, and then I emailed the CEO. That has got results but still, Pharmasave has been raking in money, whether they’re turning it over to the government or not, but taking it illegally. I hate paying taxes and hate it more when it’s taken for items it shouldn’t be.

Should you want to check that your Pharmasave (supposedly they’re independently owned) is charging you correctly, here is the brochure from the provincial government that focuses on drug and grocery stores specifically. http://www.rev.gov.bc.ca/documents_library/bulletins/SST_026.pdf

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World Fantasy 2008: Part II

A big part of these conventions are the parties. Because World Fantasy is a professional con there are few but advertised parties and launches. SF Canada put on a party on Friday night, which I oversaw and I’m pleased to say that we never ran out of alcohol and that I had to actually return some. I could have ordered more of some things and less of others. We’ll know for the next one but it was definitely a success with over two hundred people passing through the suite.

Other parties included book launches for authors by RedJack press, Tor books, Borderlands, and others that I can’t recall. Because we weren’t leaving until Monday we attended the dead dog Sunday party which had a fair number of people and drinks. The parties were good, noisy and lasted until the room closed around 2 am.

The other place to meet people was in the bar, as always. I met Jetse De Vries, former editor with Interzone, a noticeable man for his long wavy hair, tallness and great rolling, Dutch accent. He was talking about the Netherlands for World Fantasy in 2016 as it would be the 500th birthday of Hieronymus Bosch. It’s a ways off so who knows. I also met Jenny Blackford from Australia, one of the awards judges for next year, and we discussed Greek mythos.

I met Mark Kelly of Locus, recognizing his name before I linked it with his reviews, Bob Brown, an antiquarian bookseller in Seattle, writers Mark Rich and Liz Bourke, and artist Mike Dringenberg. I met many SF Canada members in person including Leslie Carmichael, Claire Earmer, Lorna Toolis, Richard Bartrop, Dom Benoit, Den Valdron, Carolyn Clink, Celu Amberstone, Candas Jane Dorsey, Marcelle Dube, Dave Duncan, Matt Hughes, Alison Sinclair, Cath Jackal, Marie Jakober, Ed Willett.

Publishers that I met in the flesh included Virginia O’Dine and Dominic Macquire of Bundoran Press (Prince George), Gwen Gades of Dragon Moon, Karl and Stephanie Johanson of Neo-Opsis, Jacob Wiseman of Tachyon Press, Diane Walton of OnSpec, Champagne Books, Flash Me Online. I said hello again to Patrick Swenson of Talebones, Brian Hades of Edge, Peter Halasz sponsoring the Sunburst Awards auction, Brit Graham Joyce, Karen Abrahamson, Chris Lotts, Janine Cross, Rhea Rose, Linda DeMeulemeester, Eileen and Pat Kernaghan, Derryl Murphy, Nina Munteanu, Rob Sawyer, Darrell Schweitzer, John Douglas, David Hartwell, Bruce Taylor, Nancy Kilpatrick, Leslie Howle (of Clarion administration) and a few others. There were so many people and conversations that I don’t remember everyone but it’s a good place to meet people and talk about art and writing.

World Fantasy special guests included David Morrell, dark fiction and thriller writer and creator of Rambo, Patricia McKillip, who sold her first novel at the age of 23, Todd Lockwood with a lovely body of artwork, Barbara Hambly with an impressive number of books, Tom Doherty, publisher of Tor and other ventures and Tad Williams as emcee. During the presentation of the World Fantasy awards he gave a very funny speech about the beginning of fantasy writing, with such things as it all starting in the US and William Shakingspear made an indent. He claimed that Canadian writers were really just geographically confused Canadians and that no one knows if Charles de Lint is real but that his footprints have been found deep in the forests.

Tad’s history of fantasy began in the times of cave men and came forward to present day. I do hope this speech will be printed somewhere as it was extremely well done and had people laughing. The awards presentation happened on Sunday. My friend Kij Johnson was up again for a short story but she did not win. Ellen Datlow, who did win, has nine World Fantasy awards. A bunch of us joked about her forming her own Easter Island. Following is the list of winners at the convention:

Life Achievement: Leo and Diane Dillon; Patricia McKillip

Novel: “Ysabel” by Guy Gavriel Kay (Viking Canada/Penguin Roc).
Novella: “Illyria” by Elizabeth Hand (PS Publishing).
Short Story: “Singing of Mount Abora” by Theodora Goss (Logorrhea, Bantam Spectra).
Anthology: “Inferno: New Tales of Terror and the Supernatural” edited by Ellen Datlow, Editor (Tor).
Collection: “Tiny Deaths” by Robert Shearman (Comma Press).

Artist: Edward Miller
Special Award—Professional: Peter Crowther for PS Publishing
Special Award—Non-professional: Midori Snyder and Terri Windling for Endicott Studios Website

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Worlds of What If: Story Ideas & Oz

I recently wrote a story about Dorothy, ten years after Oz, where she still lives in Kansas. It involves the shoes showing up suddenly in her closet. It’s barely fantastical, might be called literary.

I sent it to a speculative fiction magazine where it was rejected. The comment was that the protagnonist didn’t do enough and, what about the other 15 Oz books and what they covered that people knew so well. I can live with criticism and comments on what doesn’t work but I didn’t find the comment about the Oz books helpful nor true to the whole genre of speculative writing.

Worlds of what-if includes looking at something and saying, what if it did this instead of this? What if Snow White had actually enslaved the dwarfs to work for her and they were brainwashed? What if the Germans had won WWII? What if magic did exist and it caused a worldwide class system? There are a thousand examples of where someone takes a pre-existing concept or event and changes it.

Fairy tales have long been in the realm of public domain and many have been rewritten and retold in varying ways. The most popular example would be anything that Disney has touched, to the extent that some people think that the Disney version is the one and only. But fairy tales have a long tradition of orginally being oral tales that were eventually written down by the Grimm brothers and others. Once they hit print, they didn’t change and adapt with the times as much, but they did still change. Writers still took those ideas and played with them.

L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz was written in 1900 and published in 1901. It’s been around long enough that it is now in our memories. When I decided to write the story I actually had to go read the book, because like many people, I was more familiar with the movie. I didn’t read the other 13 books (not 15). Though they were popular it was that original adventure that caught so many people’s imaginations.

Asking, what if this happened to Dorothy is a valid question. But perhaps I’m just an angry rejected author. Well, I have given examples of other what-ifs, but let’s look at two that I just found this week. Yesterday, I was listening to CBC Radio’s Wiretap http://www.cbc.ca/wiretap/index.html There were two stories: What if the Penguin and Mary Poppins met on a blind date? And what if Barney accidentally killed Dino in Bedrock? Hmm, if I was the editor that rejected my story because I didn’t consider the other 13 books, then I could also say but Mary Poppins never met the Penguin. What about all those other Batman comics. Or, but Dino never died and what about all those other Flintstones cartoons?

Okay, well, those are closer to the point I’m making but not about Oz. Then I came across the following article this weekend in the Dec. 2007 issue of Wired.

Tin Man–SciFi Chanel’s three-part reimagining of The Wizard of Oz, premiering Dec. 2, blends steampunk and Buffy. Heroine DG (Zooey Deschanel) battles the evil Sorceress (Kathleen Robertson) to free the oppressed residents of The O.Z. The Tin Man (Neal McDonough) is a more-dreamy-than-tinny ex-cop resistance fighter, and the Scarecrow (Alan Cumming) is a victim of grand theft brain. Cheesy? Absolutely. But it’s also clever and wonderfully geeky.

Steampunk and Buffy? The Tin Man is an ex-cop? Oh my goodness! But…but…. I think my point is made that it’s valid to take a character, a time, a place and ask what if? It’s valid to not slavishly follow what has been written but to take some elements and fly off into the worlds of imagination. As to my story, well, I’ll continue to send it out and see what the editors think.

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