Tag Archives: fairy tales

The Muse: When a Story Sings

As recently appointed, senior fantasy editor for Aberrant Dreams http://www.hd-image.com/fiction.htm I have the privilege to accept a few stories and the job of rejecting many. In truth, I have several slush pile readers who sift through the stories first. As well, I haven’t been senior editor long. This was in part to move the backlog along. The editor-in-chief, Joe Dickerson, also began publishing some novels. Between that and running the website and making final decisions, well, the webzine was grinding to a halt.

It’s still in the jerky throes of getting up to speed and I certainly can’t speak for the horror or SF editors but we’re now answering within the 5-month limit indicated at www.ralan.com  I haven’t yet seen my first picks go up and it could be a while to get through the accepted backlog, but hopefully we’ll see a bit more new work. Before that, I was a reader for about a year. I took on the job for several reasons. I have, in recent years, wanted to edit a magazine or anthology. If you don’t have your own wad of cash, then it’s working for another mag and the positions are few and far between.

I saw the ad for more editors and applied. My other reason was that by reading what other people are writing I might get a better idea of what the trends are, as well as why some of my own stories don’t sell. Becoming senior editor meant that I also would now choose which fantasy stories would be published.

With every story I’ve rejected I’ve tried to tell the writer why. It helps me concretize what is a good story, both for them and me. I also know that as a writer any constructive comment in a rejection is rare and writers really appreciate having an idea of what didn’t work besides the ubiquitous “it’s not right for us,” which can mean so many things. There have been a few stories I’ve had to reject because I have a quota. Those were the hardest and if several were of a similar theme (magical mystery, ghost, heroic, etc.) then I would narrow within that theme.

A story that I’m most likely to accept is one that sings. It’s how I describe it and what it means isn’t exactly exact. But to sing means it stands out above the rest, is somehow noteworthy and memorable so that I might be thinking of the story or characters weeks later. Some of those singing qualities can be a world/scenario so unique that no one has written on it before (either created completely by the author or a very new POV). It can be a voice (the style of the writing) so catching that you’re carried along by language and description. It can also be flow and conflict; a story so touching, terrifying, thought-provoking that you sit up and pay attention.

It’s a delicate mixutre and some people have a natural knack for it. Most of us mortals have to work at it and sometimes the story, the description, the language, the world, all come together to form the perfect piece. And then the story sings. I’ve learned a few things so far in editing for a magazine. Perhaps it will translate into one of my own stories and the muse will visit more often.

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Bookworms 2: Worlds of What-if

Although my family was fairly middle class, my siblings (as well as me) were avid readers. My older brother liked to read about the Napoleonic wars, Roman civilization and who knows what else. He later became a politician in Alberta. He also read science fiction and when he moved out I discovered various SF novels lying around, such as Frank Herbert’s Green Brain. There were other Herbert and Heinlein books and I devoured what I could.

But prior to those pure SF authors, I had fed on fairy tales and Norse myths at a younger age. I remember reading The Water Babies, and one book that illusrated the myths in vivid illustrations. I don’t have that book but I found one by the same author/artists (?–I will fill in the name later) a few years ago in the US and bought it. It was on Greek myths so I added it to my collection: another recovery of the magic from my childhood.

I also read many Nancy Drew mysteries, left by my older sister. My mother bought me new ones and I spent enough nights with the flashlight under the cover reading. There were a few Hardy Boys lying about and I read all of those too, plus some historical and/or romantic fiction that my mother had read.

The true transitional time from fairy tales and Aesop’s Fables to SF and fantasy was when I was about twelve. I had read some Edgar Allan Poe and then went on to Ray Bradbury, and from there straight on to SF & fantasy. I remember having to make a newspaper in grade 7 with other classmates. Our group’s had a decidedly speculative element and I wrote articles or drew pictures of aliens.

Today, my siblings still read voraciously. My older brother still reads about politics and SF, when he has time. My younger brother reads more fantasy. My sister reads true crime and mystery novels. I read SF, fantasy, mystery, historical and literary, from time to time. My mother reads mostly on politics when she reads. She falls asleep more now. I’m not sure what else they read but maybe I’ll poll them.

I guess my fascination with the worlds of what-if began at an early age.

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As a child, I was shy. I also came from a middle class family with blue collar parents. I don’t recall my mother reading to me but now I begin to recall the Brer Bear, Brer Rabbit books and I think she might have read those to me and my younger brother.

We had this lovely set of hardcover books, which began in shades of green and moved through to deep blue. Twelve books, one to coincide with each year’s growth, and learning to read more complex stories. The first book(s) were filled with nursery rhymes and children’s poetry. They progressed through the most common fairytales; Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Cinderella, to Snow White and Rose Red, Paul Bunyan, various Arthurian tales, etc.

Each large book had a lovely picture on the cover of the book. These didn’t have slipcovers but a weave to the texture of the cover, and a picture applied in a frame, in colour. The inside of the book had beautiful line drawings in black and white. A pale orange or blue were the only colours that enhanced these pictures.

The were titled My Book House, with subtitles for each volume. I don’t remember reading all of these books but I do remember the early ones, before I discovered science fiction and fantasy novels. I loved them. In a home that was often filled with strife, these books represented beauty and imagination, and worlds with happy endings unlike the world I lived in. If any book made a significant impact on my early education, it was this collection. I never forgot them.

Years passed and I moved out. My older sister had a child and my mother gave the books to her. I’m not sure if she ever read them to my nephew but at one point it seems there was a house fire of some sort and the books were gone. I mourned those books, as I would mourn losing a limb.

One day I happened into a used bookstore and found four of the early volumes. Edited by Olive Beaupre-Miller in the 20s, she maintained standards of what a child could handle/read at that time. I don’t have the volumes in front of me at the moment but I have four of the first six. I still look through them because they have some of the earliest images I remember in a book. As well, since I still write fantasy, it’s nice to read them for ideas, discover a fairy tale I don’t remember reading, and read a version that hasn’t been Disneyfied.

My Book House still gives me joy and a warmth of wonder that was hard to always hang onto in my childhood.


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