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O Sweet Angels

I’ve been listening much more to Spotify lately. What’s most fun for me is making playlists, which reminds me of burning mix CDs when I was in college. Here’s one I made of songs that felt longing or wistful, including a lot of old favorites and others that just came up on shuffle.

I’ve been submitting a lot of stories lately, which slowed down progress on my novel but was a lot of fun. For some reason there’s a big market currently for short stories about evil mermaids, so I’ve written three in the last few months. One of them, “In the Nevergo,” was recently published in Dangerous Waters: Deadly Women of the Sea, an entire anthology of evil mermaid tales I was delighted to take part in. The others were a bit different in subject matter, and I hope to tell you more about them later.

I’ve also been dipping my toe back into poetry in the last year or so, with mixed results. I used to write poems quite a lot in high school, but they were very strange and I never shared them with anyone. Lately I wrote sets of poems for two different calls for submissions. None of them were accepted, but I’ll keep practicing.

Here are some very strange ones I’d forgotten I wrote last year. The project was called “The Unquiet Nursery,” with the idea being that each poem would be structurally based on a famous nursery rhyme but have much darker subject matter. About half of them were terrible, but I kind of liked these. I wonder if you can guess which nursery rhymes they’re based on.

1 I am not going to sleep.
The lines have gone too deep.
There’s whispering sin
Upon my skin
And something is starting to weep.

2 My little love
Is up above,
Pretending she is an angel.
But in her wings,
Unholy things
Are burning like a candle.

3 My little dumpling
Really is something,
Sunning herself to sleep.
She cannot be killed
She cannot be held
She only can rattle and weep.

4 Go to school,
Little fool.
See what they do
Before they come for you.
They’ll take your home and they’ll take your lands,
They’ll crush your heart and they’ll cut off your hands.
The strongest house is the one that stands,
So go to school.

5 Something in the atmosphere
Has made me very cold.
The sun is full of cinders
And the stars have all been sold.
I cannot look away from it.
I cannot break the spell
That echoes in the twilight
Like the tolling of a bell.

6 Into the dark!
Into the night!
Sing with the nightingales!
Drink delight!

Out of the dark.
Back from the night.
Gone are the nightingales.
All is quiet.

7 Mary Artless,
Vain and heartless,
How did you sink so low?
The sons you should have cared about
Are running like wolves in the snow.

8 First comes the matter of the monster,
Next comes the matter of the nun,
Then comes the matter of the long walk
Into the valley of the sun,
And last is the matter of the silver star
And how the world was won.

9 Pretty little Mabel,
Sitting at the table,
Softly tells me,
“Life is like a fable.
But I don’t know the lesson
I was meant to learn
When I left my homeland,
Never to return.”

I guess they’re basically doggerel. But so are the originals they’re based on. Anyway, it was fun writing them.

One more thing to tell you about: I have an upcoming publication in a friend’s anthology! My friend Sonya Lano has been working tirelessly on Slightly Sweetly, Slightly Creepy, an anthology of gothic romance, and the book will be out on April 29. My story, “The Wind Chimes,” is probably more “romantic gothic” than “gothic romance,” but I had a lot of fun writing it. The book is available for preorder here, and I’d love it if you checked it out.

Lots of love to all of you. I hope you’re doing well.


books, fairy tales, fantasy, fiction, long stories, reading, Uncategorized, writing

Upcoming publication: “Serpents”: A romantic fairy tale retelling

When I was little, I spent a lot of time reading the books my mother had kept from her childhood. One of them was an abridged version of Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book illustrated by Grace Dallas Clarke.

The book was illustrated in a colorful 1950s style (I don’t have a copy now, but you can see some illustrations here.) I read the book multiple times, but my favorite stories in it were “Felicia and the Pot of Pinks,” “The Princess on the Glass Hill,” and “Diamonds and Toads.”

For some reason I have a strong memory of reading this book on an airplane, though I would have been young and I’m not sure where we would have been going. Anyway, I had lots of time to pore over the illustrations. “Diamonds and Toads” particularly stuck with me. I can see the glitter of the falling diamonds from one sister’s mouth, the other sister’s sassy expression, her hands on her hips. Later, cursed for her rudeness, she looks bewildered and ashamed, turning away defensively as snakes and toads fall from her mouth.

“Diamonds and Toads” is a “good sister/bad sister” story, a motif so common in world literature that you could fill a decent-sized book just with versions of Cinderella. Lately I’m starting to think more about the bad sisters in these stories than the good ones. Some of them are cruel, but their cardinal sins are usually greed, laziness, rudeness, and pride. In return, they’re often maimed or killed. Cinderellas’ stepsisters lose their eyes in some versions of the story, and “The Two Caskets” ends with the stepsister (along with her mother) being burned alive. Sure, she was rude and lazy, but isn’t that a bit harsh?

“Diamonds and Toads” is a classic example of this story. There are two sisters–one pretty and good, one ugly and bad–and their mother, who is also ugly and bad and thus favors the girl who resembles her. She and her daughter are cruel to the pretty sister, making her do all the work and fetch the water every day at the well. (I made the sister a little more sympathetic in my story, but I hope I still captured the spirit of the original.) At the well, the good girl meets and is nice to a fairy, and is rewarded with a shower of diamonds and flowers falling from her mouth whenever she speaks. The bad sister is rude to the fairy, so she’s punished: for the rest of her life, toads and snakes will fall from her mouth whenever she speaks. Eventually “even the widow was sickened by her older daughter, and drove her out, and she died alone and miserable in the woods.”

Image source

When my friend Sonya Lano told me that Fiction-Atlas Press was calling for submissions for an anthology about fairy-tale villains getting their own happily-ever-after, my mind immediately went to “Diamonds and Toads.” I can get a bit gloomy, but I’m not a dark fantasy writer: I wasn’t sure I could write a romance about a child-murdering witch or any other serious villain. But everyone’s said something they regretted, and something about this story has always spoken to me. Plus, snakes are cool. So I decided to try it out.

Next, I needed to find a romance for my protagonist. My first idea was to have her meet up with the girl from “The Two Caskets”–terribly scarred from the fire, but still alive–and have them hit it off. But that seemed a bit too complicated for a short story or novelette, so I needed something simpler. Fortunately, Sonya suggested another possibility that was right up my alley, and I got really interested in the project. But in order for this fairy tale to work, I’d need to get my heroine on a more equal footing with her love interest, and that’s what this story is about.

“Serpents” is a novelette of about 10,700 words that follows Fan’s adventures after she’s kicked out of her family home. (The original character’s name is Fanchon, short for Francoise, so Fanny would be a more natural translation, but for obvious reasons I decided not to go with that. Frannie is my partner’s name, which would have been weird, and Fancy and Frances didn’t seem quite the vibe, so Fan it was.) Once I had the idea straight in my mind, the writing process was pretty straightforward because I was happy with the story and how it played out. I’m still happy with it, and I had a lot of fun with it, so I hope you’ll feel the same

Once Upon a Wicked Heart is a collaborative anthology from Fiction-Atlas Press. There are twelve total stories in the book, most quite a bit darker than mine from what I’ve heard but a few with happy endings. Sonya has a story there, too–a dark (less dark? haha) retelling of “The Juniper Tree”–and all the others look really interesting. There’s a universal buy page here where you can check it out, or you can look us up on Goodreads. We’re doing a pre-release sale price of 99 cents (the full price will be $2.99), so it’s a good idea to preorder if you’re interested. You can also visit us online at the anthology release party on November 19 (that’s this Saturday) on the group’s Facebook page. Sonya and I will be posting from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. EST that day, so drop by and see us.

There are lots of other fairy tales I’d like to explore in more depth, so I hope to do more projects like this later. Is there any story that really stuck with you?