Beans and Lies just went up at Daily Science Fiction. It's very short, I promise. And it's - almost - a fairy tale. Kinda.
Romance/suspense fantasy author Mary Stewart died at the age of 97 this week.

My favorite book of hers was Touch Not the Cat: mystery, Gothic, telepathy, archaeology, identical twins - it kinda has everything. It was enough to get me to rush through the rest of her Gothic/suspense novels, of which the best is arguably Nine Coaches Waiting, although I also have a soft spot for The Moon-Spinners.

But her most influential book on me was unquestionably The Wicked Day, her retelling of the Arthurian legend from Mordred's point of view, which I picked up back in high school and was transformational. To be honest, I haven't read it for years, and it probably doesn't live up to my memories - let's go with it certainly doesn't live up to my memories - but it was the first book that got me to think about the villain's point of view, and to think about how history and stories are determined as much by viewpoint as by anything. And that, in turn, led me to relook and reconsider many of the characters from myth and fairy tale, something I continue to do today.

RIP.

Coffin

May. 15th, 2014 10:48 am
Sometimes, when I start to write a story, I know exactly where it's going.

And sometimes the story does not go at all where I thought it was going. I knew vaguely that I was writing about a coffin - even the coffin, but this story took an unexpected turn into the present day with the phrase "satellite photos" and then just kept changing from there, and by the end it had nothing to do with what I was originally thinking (a caper story) and everything to do with other things.

Enjoy!
First, Happy Pancake Day everyone! Alas, my own plans for pancakes today have taken a bit of a detour thanks to unpredictable weather, but the good thing about pancake day is that you can always celebrate it later with more pancakes.

And in non pancake news:

1. My little story, Undone just popped up over at Apex Magazine. Enjoy!

2. And over at Unlikely Story, I'm interviewed about my short story, Ink. Somehow or other clowns jumped in. That sort of thing happens.

Toads

Feb. 27th, 2014 09:29 am
For those who aren't getting Daily Science Fiction in their inboxes (and why not? It's free?), my little short story, Toads just popped up on their site today.

"Toads" is part of a series of flash fiction fairy tales that I really hope to have completed one day. I'm currently about 1/3 of the way through the planned outline, so...let's just say I have a ways to go. But at least this one is out there, hopping through the world.

No, I couldn't resist that pun. Why do you ask?

Frozen

Dec. 17th, 2013 10:30 am
And continuing in the spirit of the season -- Frozen! Which I actually saw a couple weekends back, but forgot to post about. Anyway.

I should hate Frozen. I really should. It's a blatantly commercialized Disney film with several elements carefully designed to sell toys (hi, cute trolls that otherwise have no role in the plot, hi cute snowman who was less annoying than the trailers suggested) and several other elements clearly designed to make the obviously forthcoming Broadway adaptation much easier. It features princesses, two of them, that can easily be added to the incredibly popular Disney Princess lineup. (I swear, I run into little Disney princesses at the grocery store these days, and I live around Disney employees, not Disney tourists.) It has two scenes that can be made into Disney rides.

Essentially, it is as if Disney employees sat down and said, ok, what do we need to make money and make as many cross promotional products as possible and how much of this can be thrown into the movie? Got it? Great.

Also, for some reason Disney marketing keeps insisting that Frozen is "inspired" by Hans Christian Anderson's Snow Queen.

They, er, both have snow.

And yet, despite all this –

I loved it.

Primarily because of a seriously awesome scene where one of the princesses announces that she has just HAD IT with being good and SINGS AND SINGS AND SINGS and a GIANT ICE PALACE THRUSTS UP (don't think I didn't notice, Disney) as her Oh So Innocent Costume is transformed into a slinky number that seriously but seriously shows off her legs.

Also, ice art.

You go, Disney Princess. You go.

The Gifts

Oct. 3rd, 2013 10:00 am
If for some reason you aren't subscribing to Daily Science Fiction (it's free!) and thus missed my little three part story, The Gifts, that went out to subscribers last week, all three parts are now up on the web:

The Gifts, part one

The Gifts, part two

The Gifts, part three

This was not originally intended as a three part story, or even as a story at all. I was working on a poem when something started to nag at me -- a something that turned into part one, which needed a bit more exploration, which turned into part three, and then needed something else, part two: three separate tiny stories that form a larger one.

Having said that, I'm not sure how well the story worked spread out over three days, so I decided to wait until all three parts were up on the web before adding the links here, to give everyone the option of reading the story in one large clump instead of three bits.

In any case, "The Gifts" is loosely based on the fairy tale "The Girl Without Hands," one of the more brutal tales collected by the Grimm brothers, even after they softened it a trifle. I've always wondered about a few things in the story, which helped lead to this.

If you enjoyed it, or even if you didn't enjoy this one, but liked previous DSF stories of mine, I'll just note that another one is coming up in a few months - and that one has a dragon in it. (Because, dragons.) Keep an eye out.
1. I missed this yesterday what with various Other Things, but my little flash story Seaweed is up on the web.

2. Over at Tor.com, the Lloyd Alexander reread finally gets going with Time Cat Warning: a certain black and white cat had Issues With the Book, which I faithfully added to the post.

3. I love rain. Love it. I do not love it when a heavy, dark cloud bursting with rain continues to hover just north, shutting off light and making it all dark and gloomy, raining up there, but not here. Which it's been doing for the past couple of hours or so, leaving it dark and humid without a drop. I'm waiting, heavy rains. I'm waiting.
1. My flash fiction piece, "Seaweed," the next in the series of fairy tale vignettes, was sent out to Daily Science Fiction subscribers today. I'll have more on this next week when it goes up on the web.

2. Meanwhile, over at Tor.com, the Heyer reread continues with April Lady. Not a favorite...but Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, is coming up next.

3. And over at McSweeney's: What to Expect When You're Expecting Cthulhu. This could not be more unlike the "Seaweed" piece: you've been warned.
One of the more interesting reactions to the last episode of Game of Thrones, "The Rains of Castamere," has been the often stated, "This isn't a fairy tale!"

I say interesting, because of what is meant/implied by this statement: that fairy tales are happy, safe places where no one is hurt and no one dies.

Even in the Disney versions, often criticized for softening the original tales (which I don't think is entirely true or fair; the animated Snow White retains much of the horror of the original, even with the cute little animals and the merry dancing and singing), people get hurt. Good people get hurt. Snow White is poisoned and ends up in a coma. Cinderella is imprisoned by her own stepmother and forced into household drudgery. Rapunzel is imprisoned (and in the original, her prince is blinded and they go through a lot before finding each other.)

Outside of the Disney versions, fairy tales contain terror: Bluebeard killing his wives. Sleeping Beauty trapped behind climbing roses that have ripped out the eyes and torn the skin of those trying to rescue her, only to emerge in a new unknown world (Perrault has a little, aching detail about how the fashions had changed and the prince has to keep himself from telling Sleeping Beauty that she is dressed like his grandmother). Another prince has spent years – how many, we are never told – shivering at the bottom of a well, separated from everyone he knows, disguised as a frog; when he is finally, finally so close to transforming back, to becoming human again, he is flung against a wall. A girl weeps as her father strikes off her hands to save her from the devil. Wolves track little girls in the woods, caught by their bright red cloaks. Parents watch hopelessly as their children follow the Piper into an unknown world.

And many of the tales have unhappy endings, or contain death, sometimes quite literally – the Grimm Brothers collected many stories about Grandfather Death, and Death also appears in many Italian fairy tales, as someone to be bargained with or tricked or greeted as a friend.

I am hardly the first to note this, but it seems so often forgotten, perhaps because what we want to remember is Cinderella dancing with the prince, Aladdin gaining his heart's desire just from rubbing a lamp, a sister regaining her brothers. Yes, the familiar tales have happy endings, and some of the tales are more lighthearted more others – Puss in Boots is not especially traumatic. But these endings have to be earned, through cleverness or virtue or trauma or pain or sorrow or agony. I have no idea how Game of Thrones will end. But I can say that some of its trauma is not so far removed from fairy tales.
As I've previously noted, Donkey-Skin is not exactly high on the list of anyone's favorite fairy-tales. Part of the problem is that it repeats elements of other fairy tales -- notably East o'the Sun, West o'the Moon -- but also Goose Girl and Cinderella. The larger problem is its initial subject matter: incest, an element that got the story kicked out of fairy tale books for young and old alike.

I'm not fond of it myself. So, naturally, I did what I do with so many other fairy tales: I did a little something with it. "The Princess and Her Tale" was sent out to Daily Science Fiction subscribers last week and is now up on the web. Enjoy!

(And consider subscribing -- they'll be offering another little tale from me in the indefinite future.)
Of all the things I could be blogging about, this is hands down the least important, but it's bugging me and I need to get to sleep, so...

Major spoiler for the most recent episode of Once Upon a Time, the Pinocchio episode. )
I guess it's about time for an incomplete mid TV season round-up, hmm? Let's see.

The greatest disappointment of the season, so far, has been Revenge. This was my unexpected favorite show of last year, but, alas, this year the show has seriously slid off – more plunged off – the rails, mostly because not enough wealthy people have been thrown off buildings, shot, or boarded exploding planes. Focus, show, focus. Also the show has brought on some new villains called "The Initiative" who are just not using enough Botox or wearing enough designer clothing to have the same sizzle. Admittedly someone fell off a balcony which was nicely dramatic and added more people with English accents which is always a good thing, but, not enough. It's a classic example of the importance of sticking with your original concept.

To counter this, last year's greatest disappointment, Once Upon a Time, has improved somewhat this year, largely because it's given up on its original concept, which was "tell what really happened in fairy tales and story books," which thanks to Network Interference became "tell what really happened in Disney movies," and rarely managed to give new twists on either, despite a generally strong cast. (Lena Parilla in particular has had a lot of fun playing the Evil Queen, mostly, I suspect, because of the fabulous Evil Outfits.) Paired with this was a "real world" storyline that made no sense the more you thought about it (if nobody can come in and out of Storybook, how exactly are they getting gas to drive their cars? That sort of thing) and overall just never hit the potential of the cool concept. I couldn't exactly blame the guy playing the genie for fleeing the show, even if he ended up fleeing to the train wreck that is Revolution.

Anyway, this year the show has more or less said, to hell with the retelling fairy tales concept, and instead just gone with a hodgepodge of various characters from various books who wander around an Enchanted Forest (Motto: With our Enchanted Geography, You, Too, Can Reach the Enchanted Pond and the Enchanted Beanstalk and the Enchanted Towers and the Enchanted Poppies and Anywhere the Plot Needs You To Be Within Hours!) interacting with each other, which is a lot more fun and oddly ends up making more sense – I mean, we've all been waiting to see the Queen of Hearts and Captain Hook join forces. So that's all good. It helps that Captain Hook is really rocking the Sexy Bad Boy vibe. It's probably not a good sign that of the many, many men the show keeps throwing at its main protagonist, Emma, this is the first pairing I've liked. I mean, he's Captain Hook. (That said most of the men thrown at Emma have not exactly been the upstanding hero types.)

Which is not to say that this season hasn't had its bumps. Kudos to the show for finally introducing an Asian character (who in her last scene rather hinted that she's more than willing to, shall we say in a family friendly sort of way, go both ways), minus several hundred points for casting an actress who can so far be most kindly called "wooden" (up until the seriously gay scene, that is). Minus still more points for completely underusing the talented Sarah Bolger and inexplicably forcing her to use an American accent. (The accents are all over the place in this show and make no sense anyway, so why anyone isn't using native accents I can't tell you.) And since people still can't get in and out of Storybook (with the exception of maybe three or four people) I'm still wondering how they are getting gas for their cars. Does the town have an oil refinery we haven't seen? Anyway.

The other fairy tale show, Grimm (aka "the successor to X-Files and Fringe, except instead of aliens and whatever Fringe thinks it's doing this week we're going with shapechangers very loosely based on various fairy tales, frequently not the ones collected and retold by the Grimms"), stuck with "exactly what are we supposed to do with the generally useless girlfriend on this show," went with "love triangle with a suspiciously convenient amnesia angle!" which at least gave the actress something to do, and allowed the show to explore its mythology further. I'm still not loving it, but it's a considerably better thought out show than Once Upon a Time; less ambitious, but usually more satisfying, and not a bad replacement for X-Files and Fringe.
Without trying to, I happened to watch this in a theatre one quarter filled with a generally appreciative and polite audience of employees of Universal Studios and excited Twilight fans whose in and post film comments perhaps colored my snark here. (Spoiler: the Twilight fans all felt, without exception, that Twilight is a much, much better movie, a verdict that I shall not comment on further.)

Anyway. This, as the Twilight fans agreed, is a Film With Problems. Not visual problems – it looks great throughout and I think I speak for everyone when I say that we were all just as glad not to have this in 3D. But script problems. Acting problems. (Particularly with Kristen Stewart, where the kindest word I can use is "miscast.") Turning Ray Winstone – yes, that Ray Winstone – into a dwarf problems. Unexpected Bambi and stealing from Japanese anime problems. Accent problems. Christianity problems. (Seriously, film. What?) Snow White not being particularly likeable problems. Me spending the film cheering on the Evil Queen problems.*

As such, it needs snark. A lot of snark.

So, let us not delay. As always, major spoilers below. )

Nettles

May. 30th, 2012 08:30 am
Yes, yes, I've been absent from Lj for a few days for various not very good reasons. Breaking my silence to note that my flash fiction piece, Nettles, has gone up at Scheherezade's Bequest/Cabinet des Fees today.

"Nettles" is part of a longer series of very short fairy tale pieces; previous ones have included Glass Dancing and Remembering Fur. It's been three years since the last one appeared, and I'm very glad to get back to them.

But this also serves as a nice reminder that I have not exactly been good at the finishing of short stories and other things so far this year. In part this is because of work on longer pieces (also unfinished), in part thanks to other matters, but we are close to the halfway point of the year now, so I need to re-embrace the concept of finishing things.

And if anyone reading this is looking for a bit of inspiration -- Demeter's Spicebox is still looking for stories for its third issue. Please let me know what happened to the teapot I created in this tale.
A couple people suggested I pull out this paragraph from yesterday's long, long Bluebeard post:
I write fairy tales because they can be dangerous, because they can allow us to explore truths and deceptions we would often prefer to ignore. That even in a place of seeming safely, you can find yourself trapped in a crystal coffin. That you can lose your eyesight thanks to forces beyond your control. That you may leave bloodstains as you walk before you reach the end of your quest. That sometimes, love may be tangled with the secrets of the past; that opening doors can be dangerous, or can bring you freedom. The original tale of Bluebeard is all about this. I don't argue that you should believe in all parts of fairy tales. But I do believe you should listen. It's less dangerous that way.
So there you go.
I'm alternatively compelled and repelled by the story of Bluebeard, that cheerful little tale about a serial killer, his young wife, and her completely useless freaking sister Anne. So when Catherine Breillat's Bluebeard film popped up on Amazon, I figured I'd give it a try.

And now I'm half regretting that decision.

Because the original tale is extremely short, Bluebeard the film tells and intertwines two stories: the fairy tale, set in some vague Renaissancy time period, and that of two 20th century sisters telling the tale. It is dull and disturbing and distracting all at once, but I was mostly enjoying it until the end.

The film, and why we write and read fairy tales. Cut for spoilers about the modern part of the film. I think we all know how the fairy tale ends. Right? )
I've been doing some research into Beauty and the Beast, which meant picking up Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve's long version, The Story of Beauty and the Beast (1740), which unlike the more familiar tale, does not end with the transformation of the beast into a human, but instead goes on and on and on, and then on and on and on, and then, just to not change, goes on and on for a bit more, as nearly every character explains, at length, just how they got there and how everything happened and why fairies sometimes need to turn into serpents and so on.

It's not all bad – Andrew Lang, for one, used details from Villeneuve's version to supplement Jean-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's better known version, largely because so many of those details both fill the tale with magic and root it in reality. For instance, Beauty has a little room with windows that can show her different parts of the world, allowing her to watch entertaining fairs, operas, and – in an unexpected touch – palace revolutions in Istanbul. Unexpected because this is about the only real-life political event she does view, in a story filled with political events—wars, marriages in powerful kingdoms, questionable laws and so on.

And other details: The way all of the wealthy, noble characters sip chocolate, not coffee or tea, for breakfast and sometimes at night. (Needless to say, I approve.) The way that the arrogant, "My son can't POSSIBLY marry a merchant's daughter! He's TOO NOBLE! But I'll foist her off on one of my nobles to show my gratitude!" queen, absolutely obsessed with rank, is also a warrior queen, successfully leading armies in the field. And that near obsession with rank – Beauty and her prince only get her happy ending because as it turns out (in this version) Beauty is not really a merchant's daughter, but the daughter of a fairy and a king, a stunt that can only be pulled off because the merchant's family decided to wet-nurse their real child, and didn't know that child well enough to recognize when she had been replaced. Absolutely no one blinks at this tale – or the really horrible moment when the fairy tells the merchant that Beauty isn't his daughter and therefore he has no right to treat her so – or caress her. (This is non-incestuous caressing, although some of the other caresses mentioned are slightly more questionable.) They don't blink because that part of the story sounds all too plausible.

Several other themes weave in and out of the work. This is very much the story of working women – every woman except Beauty and her evil not-really-her-sisters sisters works, despite their upper and noble class status, and even Beauty and the unsisters are forced to do some farm chores, before Beauty sits down at her harpsichord (this is unintentionally hilarious, and no, I have no idea why, after the family of 12 children has supposedly lost everything, they chose to lug various expensive musical instruments out to what is called "the saddest abode in the world" where everyone, gasp, has to do chores. It's very sad, but you'd think that if they could save the harpsichord they could save a scullery maid or two.)

But Villeneuve is not really interested in the difficulties of the peasant life. (She also appears to have no idea of what peasants actually do, but that's ok.) What she is interested in is the tug between work and motherhood. Her women are faced with horrific choices: do your job and abandon your child, or, stay with the child – and risk losing your life, freedom and job.

The human queen chooses her job – running her kingdom and leading armies. As a result, her son is transformed into the Beast. The fairy queen chooses her child. As a result, she is imprisoned, forced to change back and forth into a serpent (I'll skip over the reasons for this) and thus loses the child – becoming so depressed her sister is terrified that she will commit fairy suicide or go completely insane.

When Beauty and the Beast hear these stories (at, as I mentioned, GREAT LENGTH), they not surprisingly decide that they'd rather avoid both work and children and instead focus on just being happy in their enchanted castle. The fairies are not in favor of this, forcing them to come out and rule from time to time. They remain happy only by taking several vacations.

Far too often we hear the claim that the struggle between work and motherhood is some sort of new thing, a consequence of women entering the workforce. It isn't, as Villeneuve graphically shows. Even in 18th century fairy tales.
My short story Copper, Iron, Blood and Love just popped up at Apex Magazine, along with fiction by Richard Bowes and (yay!) Jay Lake and (yay yay) an article by Julia Rios (better known around these parts as [personal profile] skogkatt on QUILTBAG speculative fiction. This isn't the first time I've had the pleasure of sharing a TOC with Julia, but it is the first time I've appeared with Jay Lake, so, allow me to squee a bit for a moment.

There, that's better.

Copper, Iron, Blood and Love originally started out as part of my series of flash fiction pieces exploring fairy tales, which I'd returned to after too long an absence. (On a related note, you should be seeing a couple more of those popping up later this year.) About three sentences in I realized that I had a bit more to explore here.

In dark stories of this type I often find myself following Shakespeare's example and throwing in little in jokes to lighten my mood. I pulled most of them out, but a couple still remain in this one, including one that became one of my favorite bits of everything I wrote last year. It's one of the main reasons I'm quite -- well, more than quite -- fond of this particular little tale, even if it didn't quite fulfill the purpose I had in mind when I started typing.

Edit: I am reminded that those of you with ereaders might want to pop over to Amazon, Barnes and Noble (Nook) or Weightless Books to pick up this issue for only $2.99 -- helps support Apex and gives you a little copy to carry around. That said I just checked and Barnes and Noble hasn't put the March issue up quite yet....but soon.
Some of you might remember that last year I published a little tale, Sister and Bones, in Demeter's Spicebox. It was one of my favorite stories from last year.

Today, Joshua Gage tells us just a little more about the teapot from my tale, and oh, what he has written is heartbreakingly lovely. Go and read, preferably with a cup of tea in hand. And once you're done, click over to The Salt of Aksum, where Mae Empson takes the sandals from Shveta Thakrar's Lavanya and Deepika to tell us just a little more about the power and magic of salt.

I can't wait to see where this project -- and the teapot -- go next.

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