Saturday, July 03, 2004

Fairy tale tales

Classical musicians took folk songs and children's ballads and turned them into classical masterpieces. Think Beethoven, Bach, Grieg, Mozart, etc. It seems modern writers have done the same thing with fairy tales. Even the writers at Tales from the Crypt, which was a copy cat version of Stephen King's Creepshow, have plumbed the fairy tale depths and Stephen King has co-opted a few of his plots from the fairy tale sources.

What brings up this particular idea? A. S. Byatt's Possession is a story about a man who is caught up in an unknown liaison between a married 19th century poet and writer and an unmarried poet who has become the darling of the women's movement because of a long torturous poem about The Fairy Melusine, which is the tale of a woman who married a knight who promised never to follow or watch her on Saturdays. He kept his word for many years until he either cut a hole in the door or watched thru the keyhole to find his wife was a serpent from the waist down. The story is a reverse retelling of Beauty and the Beast, except the beauty is the beast.

Tales from the Crypt used the fairy tale in their rendering of a coupling of a gargoyle who fell in love with an artist, and so on. Even Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid, which MGM used to such lovely purpose in Danny Kaye's portrayal of Anderson, the Danish storyteller whose statue stands in the main square in Copenhagen. Not bad for a Hungarian folk tale to have made such an impact on so many writers and storytellers. You can see vestiges of Fairy Melusine in Fairy Tell True, of which I have written before in this journal.

Sheri S. Tepper won the Locus Award for her novel, Beauty, which takes several fairy tales and weaves them into one woman's life: a sleeping beauty, Cinderella, and so forth. In fact, Sleeping Beauty has sparked many a writer's imagination and even ended up as a really marvelous Disney movie before Disney took itself so seriously into the monopoly of theme parks and all things fantasical market. Tannith Lee, mistress of all tales dark and romantic, in her White as Snow compendium of fairy tales retells several fairy tales, among them Rapunzel, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, adding her own dark twist to the tales.

Makes you think there are only a few plots and everyone keeps working them and working them. Does that make them derivative or inspired? One actor in a movie said he couldn't listen to Music of the Night from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera without the song, School Days, School Days, running thru his mind.

Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast shares more than its title with the fairy tale and even with Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac. They share the tale of Beauty falling in love with the Beast and realizing only as he dies in her arms. And it was all based on the original French fairy tale, which is obviously taken from the much older tale of Psyche and Cupid. Even C. S. Lewis found the story interesting, but he felt it lacked something so he wrote Till We Have Faces, giving Psyche's sister a part in the tale and a motivation for Psyche to undergo the trials she undertakes so she may be reunited with Cupid.

Fairy tales are not original to Europe. Cinderella's prince has found her slipper in many countries. For instance, Charles Perrault's tale of the beautiful young girl at the mercy of her evil stepmother and stepsisters, has her counterpart in Yeh-Shen who is much older than Perrault's Cinderella.

Don't have an idea for another story? Borrow a fairy tale.

Where does it all end? Hollywood is all for taking stories and ideas in the public domain to make billions and it's obvious writers and musicians have no problems with adapting folk music and fairy tales to form the frame for their original ideas. Are there really no new stories, no new plots, no new ideas or is everything built on the obviously strong bedrock of the past? I guess only time will tell if anywhere there is an original tale, an original story, and original writer, musician or filmmaker. Will it be you or me? Wanna race?

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Afternoon Delight

I need to get something to eat, go to the post office, and buy groceries, but first I have news. I sold a story.

The story is called Just a Prayer Away, but knowing there will be people who might misinterpret that the name will be changed to Just a Breath Away. The story is for an anthology of ghostly encounters. It's the first sale in a while and I'm excited, ecstatic, and excessively out of my mind with happiness and a sense of accomplishment, especially since I just wrote the story yesterday. It happened many years ago, but I never put it down and I didn't tell any family members about it, so the story will come as a big surprise . . . and possibly a shock. They don't believe in ghosts.

Anyway, I feel like more good news is on the horizon. I can feel it . . . or at least I think I can.

[info]kaiberie asked me yesterday about any romance I might have lying around, but I don't read romance and I don't write it. Well, I haven't written much. Just a couple books here and there that went absolutely nowhere because I lost the urge or the something that keeps a story going. Basically, I just ran out of enthusiasm and gas. One book is finished, but it's not just romance; there's intrigue and secrets and seduction along with the romance, so I don't think you can strictly call it a romance. I need to get it edited and sent out once I can get access to the hard drive it's on.

But I was thinking last night, while I was watching Persuasion, another Jane Austen movie, that I love romantic movies: An Affair to Remember, Sleepless in Seattle (anything with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks), and so many other wonderful Jane Austen books/movies that maybe I should stop worrying about the kind of books I associate with romance and write a few of my own. I wrote one yesterday but I don't know how it will be received or if it will even be published. However, I could be missing out on something that would fulfill a need in me and be a lot easier to get published. Something to think about, especially when you realize that the biggest (and hungriest for new material) genre market is romance. And romance doesn't have to be the Harlequin cookie-cutter kind of romance, but something like An Affair to Remember or Sleepless in Seattle or Jane Austen or a thousand other really wonderful, complex, rich, and multi-faceted stories. I may have to retrench and add it to my meager repertoire. Nothing wrong with getting paid for falling in love with a story and making myself cry. Kathleen Turner did it in Romancing the Stone (not to be mistaken for Romancing the Bone.

Romance author, Joan Wilder, whose books are read all over the world and translated into a hundred different languages, goes to South America to rescue her sister and ends up in the arms of erstwhile trapper and mercenary of the heart, Jack T. Colton. But Joan Wilder is a dyed-in-the-wool writer of romantic fantasies of the Harlequin type and that's not what I want.

I want smart, funny, sexy, hot, seductive, and wonderfully romantic romance. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? You know what they say: no stone unturned means you might miss the big [insert object of wealth]. Besides, I'm a glutton for rejection punishment and I haven't had enough of that lately.

On the flip side, The Sun hasn't sent me their usual overnight delivery for rejection for the two stories I sent them. That is good news. Usually, I get a rejection back almost before the envelope leaves the post office. I sent the stories May 31st and no news is good news from that front.

Okay, it's time for me to shut up and get some things done. I have movies to watch and I want popcorn for a change. I also want ice cream, decadent Godiva chocolate raspberry truffle ice cream and a pizza with everything, including anchovies. I want to plant my big butt in the most comfortable chair in front of the television and wallow in some more Jane Austen and Philip K. Dick.

On that note, you really should check out the sound track from Blade Runner. From pulse pounding beats to wonderful jazz riffs, the music is really wonderful. As many times as I've seen the movie, this is the first time I've listened to the soundtrack and I love it. A little Eagles from Hell Freezes over and a lot of the soundtrack of Blade Runner makes a great complement to exciting days of acceptances and immediately mailed checks.

That is all. Disperse and go write your own stories.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Ghosts and Romance

When I think of ghosts and romance I think of Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and especially the last scene when she is an old woman and has died in her chair. Captain Daniel Gregg reaches down and takes Mrs. Muir's hand, telling her it's time to go. She rises up as Captain Gregg's young and beautiful Lucia, just as she had been when they first met and she rented Gull Cottage despite its reputation for being haunted.

Unfortunately, that's not the kind of ghost and romance I mean today. I have been busy.

I was waiting for a picture of my grandmother, which I received from my parents a week or so ago, so I could write the ghost story of her visit after she died. I wrote that this morning and just the memory of that special night still brings tears to my eyes because I know she's still near me and just a breath away. It's why I cry when I hear Josh Groban sing Just a Breath Away.

The story is for an anthology about ghosts and I have already been accepted and will even be paid. How cool is that?

The romance is for another contest. I wonder if I should just quit sending my writing in to contests and get back to writing for whoever will buy my words, but in a way it's a training ground, a chance for me to exercise my literary skills (or lack thereof) and get into the habit of writing more and more often. I am pretty proud of the story about a couple of teenagers who once lived across the street from each other and found out eight years later that they had always been in love. There's one little scene where they're walking down the beach one evening at Daytona and he kisses her. He gave her her first kiss when she was ten years old in a tunnel of love at an amusement park and both of them remembered the kiss but never said anything. The story's about summer and broken hearts that need the right moment and the right words to mend.

So, two stories down today in addition to the seven I wrote over the weekend. I do need to get back to the book, but I'm not quite ready to dive back into that deep pool. Not yet anyway.

I finished Rushdie's Fury and it took a surprising turn a little over halfway thru when Professor Malik Solanka falls in love and writes a fairy tale that launches another successful line of dolls and fuels a revolution in Lilliput-Blefuscu where his lover is from. But the ending, surprising as it is, turns out to be a joyful, silly, and wonderful moment when he realizes what is really important to him. It's a little more romantic than I expected Salman Rushdie to be, but it's my first foray into his world. Instead of jumping into another Rushdie world, I decided to try A. S. Byatt's Possession instead. I read a synopsis of the movie with Gwyneth Paltrow and decided to check out the book first. It's a big one, but so far it's intriguing. The first few pages involve theft of history and a professional war between two scholars intent on the same poet. Could be good, but I'll reserve my judgment until later.

I did pick up the other Rushdie book I ordered, which was finally at the library, and checked the mail. I had nothing new to review until today when I picked up the mail. There was a box of five books, nonfiction and fiction, awaiting me and I haven't had a chance to get thru the library books yet. I can see I will be spending a lot of time reading for quite a while, especially since AuthorLink got their problems straightened out and are sending me another horror novel to read and review. Feast or famine, but at least there is a little money in the offing and that never hurts. Don't you feel sorry for me facing a mountain of books I have to read and review? *grins* Or is that jealousy I see in your virtual eyes?

I think I also upset an LJ user when I noticed one of the quotes he posted was from one of my favorite books, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. He considers her a pain in the head that just won't go away. However, I upset him when I said that his favorite, Hemingway, was without substance. Hemingway was a great reporter, but as a novelist his work is a skeleton without the muscle, flesh, and skin. I loved The Old Man and the Sea, but his books were more like movie scripts than novels. The characters are wraiths moving thru a ghostly panorama, but that's just my take. Not everyone likes the same authors, or even dislikes the same authors, for the same reasons. If we did, there would be no reason to have more than one or two writers or poets in any generation. Just pick the one everyone likes and forget about the rest. That's what is so wonderful about writing; there are so many different styles, viewpoints, characters, and worlds to visit. Some you like and some you don't, but than the gods there are lots to choose from. It's like trying a new food. You never know if you're going to like it or not until you taste it.

Just like I didn't realize until I got my father's letter today that I didn't know that much about his childhood. The log cabin he showed me when I was a child is where he was happiest and that was before his mother died. There is a whole history of my family and my father's life I know nothing about. I wrote back and told him I would like to know more about his life and about my grandparents. Hopefully, he'll share that with me and with my siblings. It's strange to realize you don't know much about your parents or what they were like, what they loved and dreamed and hated, and what made them into the people who were the center of your universe as a child.

Well, that's enough prattle for one day. I'll shut up now.


Tuesday, June 29, 2004


Many of you are either writers or like to write or you wouldn't spend so much time commenting, reading, and writing in your blogs. Some of you may even aspire to publication some day, but you're afraid your words and your stories aren't good enough. Granted, there are some who yield metaphor and words like a Samurai and others who fumble and stumble across the keyboard or paper, but that does not mean your words aren't worth reading. The main fear is whether or not anyone will read or care about what you write or, worse yet, that someone will have something bad to say about your writing. Don't worry. You won't be disappointed.

One thing you can guarantee is that someone will hate what you write and decry it from the cyber heights as the worst piece of drivel ever penned by an illiterate ape. That's a given. It is inevitable. But that person who denounces you as a talentless hack with pretensions to intelligence read what you wrote and read it all the way thru or s/he would not have commented about how your ending lacked force or insight and how you failed to tie up all the loose ends or even provide a reason for the story Think about it.

Ever since man climb down out of the trees and stood erect, clutched a fire-charred stick and drew a picture for his tribe, wo/man has been a perverse and erratic creature. Even in biblical history, Adam and Eve knowingly did what they were told not to do -- eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Like they needed help with the evil part. It is part of wo/men's nature, that perversity of spirit that makes them go where they are told not to go and do what they are told not to do. It's a fact of life. We like what we have been forbidden to touch or have or even envision. Without that perversity of nature we would still be a half-step above the animals.

In this day of blurb envy and acquisition, writers pray for someone with a recognizable name who will read their words and give them a literary pat on the back with a quick little sentence or, hope beyond hope, paragraph they can use to promote their book. All that back patting and those kindly words are effective as praise goes, but what about a book that touts its own mediocrity or mishandling of the intricacies of language and societal mores and morays? Wouldn't you be more likely to see what the fuss was all about? Wouldn't you be more likely to pick up a book that screamed in bold three-dimensional letters that the book is garbage and the writer should be banned from any form of writing? Think about the sign that says the paint is wet or the dark basement where strange and ominous sounds scream, "Don't go down there." What are you more likely to do?

Wo/man is perverse so it is time for writers to become equally perverse. Write what you want and pray for critics the way a stand-up comic prays for hecklers so that the spark will start a literary blaze that will rush across the plains and excite everyone to weigh in and give their opinion. The more people who dislike your book means there are more people reading your words and they took the time to buy your book. Whether they keep it or not is immaterial, but I'd be willing to bet they will tell their friends they have to read the junk between the covers just so they won't be called a liar or delusional. A sale is a sale and a reader is a reader.

Every time you think you lack talent, think of the nasty person waiting in the wings to snap up your book just so they can loudly shout from the cyber heights, in print, and maybe even on the air waves and microwaves that your book is the worst piece of insanity to ever see print. Being a hack is not necessarily a bad thing. Look at Stephen King and Dean Koontz and so many others. Even Clinton's book deserves to be read and quietly shut in a cellar, but at least get it from the library and spend your money for some really putrid tripe so you can feel confident that you are no less a writer than they.

Conceit is a good thing. Get some. Borrow it, steal it, or beg for it, but develop it and pray for long, detailed, and lousy reviews. It's your right.

What would it take?

I received my e-newsletter for the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop this morning and read an article about a woman who was invited to send a demo for the possibility of being the host of a new reality TV show. She writes about the unlikely chance and how having her own website made it all possible, that and remembering to add the link in her info when she attended the workshop back in February. She goes on to say she has had more luck with placing her writing since she put up her website in October 2002 than when she was doing the send a copy and SASE for File 13. Makes sense, especially since the Internet is the most effective and quickest way to research a lot of people in a very short time.

Stop the presses! (I always wanted to say that.) Publishers are actually looking for talent on the net in blogs. I guess they get tired of reading and giving obscene advances to celebrity autobiographers after all. Sites like Book Slut and Arts and Letters Daily started out as personal blogs and ended as some of the most visited sites taken seriously. Iraqi wo/men are blogging and telling the story of their lives and the realities with which they live every single day. They are the real correspondents behind the lines and in the thick of battle. Of course, the Iraqi parliament has been threatening to shut down or limit Internet access for a while, but I doubt that will happen, even though they were handed the reins of power yesterday (two days ahead of schedule), while the coalition forces are still there. They still want to appear to be forming a democratic government despite the fact that historically they have been either a monarchy or a despot-controlled government. Just because democracy works for us doesn't mean it will work for their centuries' old traditions. They have been around a lot longer than we have been.

Even the Chinese have figured out that baby steps get you where you want to go a lot faster and safer than begging to be shot in Tiananmen square. Young Chinese have decided that quiet revolution is best and focus on worming their way thru the apple instead of taking a big bite and finding a bullet or a razor blade in their mouths. One such Chinese changeling is Mian Mian of Shanghai whose first book, Candy, was banned. She wrote about sex and debauchery, which came from her own experiences, at the end of the 20th century but has switched to promoting music, writing a newspaper column about relationships, depression, and her views on life, embracing the media she once turned her back on. Mian Mian also writes about fashion and is quite the clothes horse. Her parents, who spent their lives under Mao and his successors, are proud of their daughter and her revolutionary ways even though it seems they really don't understand her. Mian Mian is just one of the new revolutionaries taking their country back by millimeters and changing the world by being the change.

I also read an article by another Erma Bombeck conference attendee who styles herself a life coach who works mainly by phone. Lynn Colwell says she helps her clients see they can have the writing dream, if it is really their dream, something for which they would sacrifice everything, if they want it. She says most of her clients would be happy being able to write one hour a day. I don't agree. I do agree that it is something for which you must be willing to sacrifice yourself and some of your normal every day choices, but I don't agree that it can be satisfied by one hour a day . . . at least not for me. I write more than that in my journals every day. I do agree that you must make some sacrifices, but it can be done by nibbles instead of in gulps. If you really want to write and you want it more than anything else, give up 30 minutes of television a night. Just 30 minutes. Shut yourself away, tell your spouse/partner and children (if you have them) they are not to disturb you for that 30 minutes for anything less than the house burning down around their ears and only if it is headed in your direction. Take that 30 minutes, put on music that fits your mood or the tone of what you're writing or just something you enjoy but that does not interfere with your thinking or your writing, and write. It doesn't matter if at first all you end up with is gibberish. What matters is that you are building a habit, one that will take you where you want to go if you are really read to travel the writing path. Free write -- write whatever comes into your head. Loosen those mental and physical writing muscles and keep going no matter what. Use a timer if you like, but keep writing and don't stop for anything. Make sure to go to the bathroom before your trip and have everything you need at hand so you don't have an excuse to get up and look for something. Prepare for the writing journey the way you prepare your bag for that all important labor and delivery trip to the hospital. Don't be caught with your pencils unsharpened, not enough paper, or games on your computer. Set a timer if you must, but apply your butt to the seat and keep it there for 30 minutes.

After that 30 minutes, resist the urge to immediately critique your work. Leave it for the next morning or during your lunch break when you want something to read. During those 30 nightly minutes do nothing but write. In a way it's like a clandestine date with your muse and if you treat it that way it will be easy to build the writing habit.

It takes six weeks to form a habit and three months to make it permanent. So what are you waiting for? Choose 30 minutes of television you can do without. Don't worry about the laundry or the dishes or anything else. Just write. You'll be surprised how much you can get done in 30 minutes and how good you will feel about your choice and yourself. If you decide writing isn't for you, you'll find out soon enough, but give it a chance. Live your dream and see where it takes you.

In the meantime, I have a ghost story to write for an anthology and some romance to dig up or invent for [info]kaiberie.

I'll shut up now.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Generosity personified

Having trouble writing that first sentence of your story or novel? Tobias Seamon has the answer with his free first sentences to kick start your writing.

You no longer have to worry and pull out your hair over that all important sentence, the one that grabs the editor by the throat and never lets go. Talk about generosity.

I wonder

Sometimes I wonder if high brow literature is beyond my grasp. I have Virginia Woolf and sometimes she seems incomprehensible or long winded. The sentences sometimes take up half a page and I end up going back. Then other times she is as clear as crystal. Could be my mind failing me, but I prefer to think she's a bit incomprehensible at times.

Because of one of my favorite movies, Bridget Jones's Diary, I have decided to check out Salman Rushdie at last. I got his Satanic Verses, but decided to start with Fury and it was a good choice. Fury is about a professor of philosophy who turns his back on the university's politics and dead ends to make dolls. One of his dolls, Little Brain, time travels and converses with the great philosophers. But she grows out of his control and becomes an international industry, to which he kept a financial interest, that has made him wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. He isn't happy. He is furious and begins to drink and walk until he finds himself over his sleeping wife and son with a carving knife in his hand. He stops himself and leaves the next morning to lose himself in America, that bastion of capitalism without the weight of a past or heritage, and into the midst of three murders by the Cement Murderer of three beautiful, talented, intelligent and obscenely wealthy young women. The cast of characters who provide the path of discovery to the roots of his fury and his salvation are an intricate and realistic group with agendas of their own.

The prose is rich and textured and the impotent fury that boils and seethes is as omnipresent as the national debt. I can hardly wait to finish this and go on to more of Rushdie's writing. If this book is any indication, I am definitely falling in love. This is the kind of writing that weaves history, language, ethnicity, and wisdom into a masterfully layered treat for mind and soul. Quite simply, Rushdie blows me away and makes me want to write better, richer, and a lot more.

It's strange that a man who looks like the embodiment of evil could write with such beauty and darkness and make it sublime.

But I have lots of writing of my own to do and I cannot spend another day and night dozing and reading like I did yesterday.

Despite being so tired and worn out from the 24-hour writing challenge (and I'm going to do another at the end of July -- I'm such a glutton for punishment), I didn't sleep much. I dozed and slept for a couple of hours and then laid awake, which gave me the perfect opportunity to read with a really good reason to lolligag in bed. I read To Kill a Mockingbird again. I love the simple straightforward prose and the unvarnished and uncompromising look at a small southern town before civil rights when cotton had been deposed as king and whites still ruled in all their naked contempt and loathing for men, women and children who were so much better than they. Harper Lee illustrates the clash of prejudice and decency and the traditions and old habits that maintained the fiction of who was better than whom with the simplicity of a child's vision.

I am surprised Harper Lee never wrote anything else but, as she said in an interview once, she never needed to write another book. She said all there was to be said. Harper Lee was cousin to Truman Capote who mourned the fact that he had written so much and had so much less acclaim, especially when his first novel was such a startling horrific tale. In Cold Blood was the first of book of its kind, a book that splashed blood on middle America, but like most shock, its value was devalued quickly into a sideshow freak. Truman was a competent writer, but he refused to dig too deeply into his heart or his past, except in short stories about his strange upbringing and Breakfast at Tiffany's. Truman Capote should have stuck to what he did best and forget the envy that stalked him in Harper Lee's literary wake.

I read both books in high school and still, even though there are bits and pieces of In Cold Blood I remember, it is To Kill a Mockingbird I return over and over, savoring the story as if reading it for the first time. I remember nearly all of Mockingbird because it continues to resonate in spite of how much time has passed between when it happened and now. I still see Atticus Finch pushing his wire rimmed glasses up on his head to sight the rifle with his one good eye and bring down a mad dog in the street in front of Boo Radley's worn and shadowed house. Everything from the book is etched forever in my mind the way some books do. There are few books I revisit so often or with such relish and I know there will be others. I am sure I will revisit Rushdie's Fury again, finding new and different nuances in the banquet of his prose.

Okay, enough of that. I need to forget about other writers and polish up a little Paradise Hell and move on to the next story. I could rhapsodize for hours about books and writers I have known and enjoyed, and even writers I hate and whose work is merely tripe, but I need to get to my own writing, to texture and shape my own prose. I am not conceited enough to believe what I write is great, but it is mine and I have stories to tell. One such story began nibbling at my mind yesterday when I woke up the first time and is now gnawing vigorously on my resolve to finish other tasks. But then I have always been fascinated by the difference between waking and dreaming realities.

Just curious, but have you ever awakened from a dream disoriented and unsure of where you were, not because you were tired but because your dreams were so real, so immediate and tactile you weren't sure which was more real? I still wonder which world I woke up into and which is real. I could still be dreaming, but somehow I know this is reality because my dreams are somehow more real, more solid, more.