Fairytales, Survival’s Price

Wayfarer My week of fairytales continues!

I’ve never liked Cinderella. The idea that one must be patient and submissive even under the worst treatment and someday, someday you’ll be rewarded strikes me as damaging at best and a culturally approved way to groom people to be abuse victims at worse. I was always faintly uncomfortable with the endings of different versions–the stepsisters cutting parts of their own feet off, shoes full of blood, casks full of red-hot nails rolled down a hill with the stepmother inside. It wasn’t the violence that made me uneasy, I knew from a very early age the world is a brutal place and safety largely an illusion. It was the feeling of righteousness welling up when I read about abusers getting theirs that made me queasy. I often wondered if those feelings made me just as bad as the stepmother and sisters–or just as bad as the people who beat me.

So when I realized Ellie from Nameless needed her own story, it irked me. I didn’t have the trouble in choosing the tools to excavate it; they came easily to hand for once.

That should have been my first clue that the exorcisms weren’t over.

I wrote Wayfarer during the Great Casa to Chez situation. About halfway through, I deconstructed under the stress, and for only the second time in my life, the words refused to come. I had no emotional energy to spare and yet the urge to write tormented me with spurs under my skin. I would sit down, look at the files open on my desktop, and slide straight into a panic attack because I was too burnt out to feel my way from word to word. Having the urge and being unable to scrape together even a single syllable was a very special kind of hell.

Buying a house is not for the weak.

Anyway, that passed, and as if in payment for keeping the faith, I fell into Ellie’s story as soon as I turned on said desktop in the new house. It occurred to me, now that I’d achieved some distance from the story (not by my own will, but still) that I wasn’t really writing about someone else.

I was writing, in some ways, about myself.

The fairy godmother doesn’t show up when Cinderella is being beaten for not cleaning something properly, doesn’t show up when she sleeps in the cinders, doesn’t advocate with her when her inheritance is stolen. Instead, she arrives before a goddamn ball. Which has always seemed to me like she’s not really very invested in dear old Cindy-Rella, but has an agenda of her own. You find out when you survive a bad childhood that escaping carries a price and risks all its own. Those who offer to “help” you often have their own agendas, and your wellbeing may be only a small (or nonexistent) priority. A few harsh lessons from that quarter and the devil you grew up with starts looking like a marginally safer bet. Some kinds of help aren’t really helpful at all. In other variations of the tale, it’s the dead mother and a Giving Tree who step in to send Cinderella to the ball, and if that doesn’t make a false dichotomy between the dark and passive feminines, I don’t know what does.

Ellie understands very well she’s trapped because she’s a minor. She puts a brave face on at school and doesn’t invite her friends further into her problems than she is absolutely forced to. “Help” isn’t something she feels is possible, it isn’t something she feels she can ask for. When she is finally driven to a certain cottage, the “safety” there is just as perilous as “home.” She does well in school until she can no longer go, understanding it’s one of her few ways out. When you’re that young, and that under siege, isolation begins to feel like your only and safest bet. You cannot trust anyone else, even those who really do want to help you. You fight even the best support, because trust is a liability you can’t afford when you’re holding together your psychic integrity under assault 24-7.

Not only that, but one can often feel…corrupted. Being told over and over that you’re worthless, evil, the worst thing that ever happened to your parent, that it’s your fault they do these horrible things to you, fucks up every sense of priorities, perspective, and worth you might have. The effects go on for years, and even therapy cannot completely erase the stain or the sting.

It can take a long time to piece yourself back together. Therapy has helped me immensely, as well as medication to get the anxiety under control. (Just give me a stick!) I have found people who can be trusted, and I have allowed myself to trust. There was no fairy godmother, even though I wished for one. In the end, it’s Ellie’s own strength, and her bonds with people who are willing to give the right kind of help, that saves the day. The latter is never guaranteed, and the former isn’t either, but I’ve spent my life betting on the latter and am, incredibly, still breathing.

I found out I was stronger than I ever suspected. Ellie’s survival is in part mine too; this is part of why fairytales stick around. Even under the trappings I care very little for–the prince, the ball, the dresses pulled from a nutshell or bibbity-bobbity-booed into existence–there is a hard kernel of truth that can ignite the bonfire I burn all the pain and rage and helplessness in. I don’t sleep in those ashes anymore, I have difference sources of warmth.

But when I go into battle, I paint my face with them, because I’ve survived. That was the story I needed to write, and I think–I hope–I did.

Fairytales, Twos and Threes

nameless One does not simply walk into fairytales. Not without an axe and a pocketful of breadcrumbs, anyway. And when you are inside, you must look carefully at every face, because it carries an echo of its opposite.

Nameless started with a single image: an injured little girl in the snow in front of a gleaming-black limousine. I was about sixteen when the image came to me, and it occurred periodically for years afterward. I didn’t write the book that went with that image for almost two decades. I wasn’t ready, and I knew I wasn’t ready. Still…the story stayed inside me, closed up on itself.

When I was ready to begin excavating, I chose a shovel. It broke, and I had to choose another. (As one does.) Over and over, every tool I wanted to use kept breaking, it took about six before I found the one that would work and settled into a rhythm. About a third of the way through–thankfully, the pickaxe was still holding up–I realized I’ve absorbed, by dint of sheer cultural saturation, the fairytale laws of twos and threes.

Snow White and the Queen are two sides of a coin, the Prince and the Huntsman (Nico and Tor) likewise reflect each other. Once I realized that, the structure of the book almost built itself. The difficulty was stepping into each character. Camille’s terror, and the abuse that robbed her of easy speech, was heartbreaking, but it was something I was familiar with. The White Queen’s fear of old age and death, and her selfishness, was arduous in different ways. It’s a lot harder to feel empathy towards a nasty, self-centered villain.

Actually, I take that back. The empathy is easy. The hard part is suspecting there’s some part of oneself that reflects the villain’s awfulness. We are large, we contain multitudes, and every archetype casts a shadow. To tell stories is to delve into those dark patches.

A character can function as a double more than once. For example, Papa Vultusino (the widowed king) and the White Queen express different conditions of authority. And the old Vultusino and the new (Papa and Nico) are in creative tension with each other, just as Cami’s own shadow-side is reflected in her acceptance, through most of the book, in her persistent feeling of being nameless.

When I was younger, the variations of Snow White filled me with a sort of antagonistic loathing. I hated that she was passive, that she bit the damn apple, that someone else had to save her. Then I went through a period of considering the entire story an allegory, with each character a part of the psyche. There was a time I thought it was about “found family” and how you could be helped by people you could trust when your own flesh and blood betrayed you.

Writing Nameless, though, became about something even more personal. I went into a jungle full of mirrors and shards of other things I’d thought the story meant, in order to answer a deep, almost-unarticulated question from my own childhood–how can a mother injure her own child? I didn’t understand it then, and as a mother myself I don’t really understand it now. It’s utterly foreign to me, but at least writing the story, with each character refracted through its double or split into threes, helped me achieve some sort of tenuous peace.

I have come to believe that retelling a fairytale is similar to performing an exorcism. If one isn’t prepared, it can go badly. The accumulated charge of these stories, told and retold, repeated in threes and sevens, is great to plug into but dangerous as well. Under each variation is a core of something halfway between emotion and truth, taking the strength of both and reflecting. Two mirrors facing each other, and a candle between them to light up the labyrinth. The glare can blind you if you don’t have a ball of thread, or pebbles to drop in each intersection, or…you get the idea.

Over and out.

On Steelflower, Redux

steelflower I get mail. Recently it was a scolding message sent to me through Patreon. This particular patron was only interested in Steelflower 2, and since that book is dead on the vine they wanted to cancel their pledge. Fair enough, except I can’t alter a patron’s pledges. That’s kind of the whole point of Patreon, but a second and a half spent with Google turned up some helpful information. (WHO KNEW?)

ANYWAY, the “scolding” bit was that I was “punishing” my readers for the “actions of one asshole.” I think I should post my entire reply here.

Dear *redacted*,

I received your message and wrote you one in return yesterday. Since it seems that didn’t go through, let’s try again!

I do not have the ability to alter my patrons’ pledges in any way, shape, or form. A quick Google, however, found this:

Link to Patreon FAQ on deleting pledges

One of the things I remember from your message yesterday was that you felt I was “punishing” readers for the actions of one person. I do not see it quite that way. In face, I would contend that, having suffered the loss of a significant amount of paid working time to write the 70K words I did get done on the sequel, and then feeling utterly violated when that one person (yes, I know who it was) uploaded Patreon bits to a torrent site, is a punishment far greater than any my readers may suffer. The subsequent financial “hit” and the fact that I cannot even open up the Steelflower 2 file on my word processor without feeling violently ill definitely qualify as punishments. It seems to me that however much readers may miss the exploits of Kaia and her crew, I miss them more. They are parts of me that have been completely, well, violated. I keep using that word because it is the one that applies.

Fortunately, readers who pledged through Patreon saw considerable chunks of that book, and they were the only people in the world (other than the e-pirates) who saw them. Even my agent didn’t get to read those.

Thank you very much for your communication. I hope this clarifies my stance on the entire sad matter.

Best,

Lilith Saintcrow

There is yet another twist to the Steelflower story–Samhain Publishing, the press that was kind enough to take a chance on the first book, had contracted for the second. Unfortunately, they are in they process of shutting their doors and have released me from the Steelflower 2 contract. So I am back where I was before I thought I could write the last two books of Kaia’s series–no publisher, and people taking time out of their busy lives to yell at me over things I have no control over. Only this time, there’s a significant financial hit from the loss of paid working time and BONUS e-piracy!

In short, I am right about here:

give_a_damn_icon

It will take a while for the rights to the first Kaia book to revert to me. When they do, I am having longing thoughts of just letting the book go quietly out of print. At least then, when people yell at me over the whole thing, I can just tip the e-mails into the “Entitled Prats” bin in my inbox and let them vanish forever into the screaming electronic wastes.

I’m done.

Over and out.

Full Weekend

We had OMG a houseful this weekend. Five teenagers (including mine) on Saturday night, and that was just for starters. As a result, I’m wandering around like a ragged survivor, surveying the decorations that survived and mumbling things like got to get the dishwasher going, so many plates…wash the sheets, wash the sheeeeeeets… It was fun, and Those What Have March Birthdays Chez Nous were petted, filled with cake, and made much of.

Everything went well, for which I credit my sisters, who worked overtime with party prep and cleanup. Things get so much easier when everyone has worked together for years, and is capable of seeing something that needs to be done and just doing it without fuss. I’m going to have to find a couple of thank-you gifts. How exactly does one say “DEAR GOD YOU SAVED ME FROM HAIR LOSS AND SCREAMING” with a present?

Now, of course, the kids are off to school and the house is throbbing-empty. I keep going from room to room, wondering why it’s so quiet and realizing, oh yeah, it’s Monday, everyone went home. Time to catch up with both writing projects, see if I can get the copyedits turned around in the time required or if I need an extension, transcription work, and…

Christ. As usual, I need a couple days to recover from the weekend. I’d weep and gnash my teeth, but I don’t have time. First order of business is to get out the door for a run, and the second is figuring out how the smartmouth genie and his unwitting sidekick get out of the current imbroglio. Then I get to kill a few characters in the other book.

As plans go, it’s not a bad one.

Excelsior, and all that.

Coupon time!

Selene

You can now buy some of my books directly through Payhip! It’s super easy.

Also, if you buy before March 1, 2016, and use the code “SHOELESS”, you can get 15% off. Sweet, huh?

Enjoy!

Today, Adulting

Escribano An incredibly productive day yesterday means I’m probably going to fail at adulting today, but them’s the breaks. If I manage to get to dinner without my head exploding, I’ll count it as a win. Especially for a Tuesday.

I’m liking transcription work. It exercises a different part of my brain, and doesn’t use up the emotional energy I need for writing. It’s a good palate-cleanser, and the best thing is, it’s really cheap dialogue training. Listening tot he rhythm of how people talk is great for one’s stories.

I’ve shelved the amulet-maker story, and am concentrating on the smartmouth genie and the rationalist insurance adjustor. (At least, I think she’s an insurance adjustor. She doesn’t want to talk about work right now, having many other things on her mind.) This story is fun, I’m mostly writing it for my writing partner. It’s also taking a pattern different than other books. Normally I write somewhat sequentially, but this book wants the arc for the two main characters mostly done before I go back and take a whack at the villains. (Who kind of aren’t villains at all, just selfish assholes who want shortcuts.) It’s very rarely that a book does this, demanding to be told somewhat out-of-order even though I know pretty much what happens in each scene.

The bulk of my effort, though, is reserved for the Rifters story, which is now titled Cormorant Run. My homage to Tarkovsky and the Strugatskys is growing into its own peculiar beast inside my head, and invading my dreams as well. I love this book, weird and brutal as it is, with the fierce love of a thousand fiery suns. It’s wanting to be written sequentially, unlike the genie book, and more excavated than written. Each day I brush away a little more dirt and debris and find the shape of a room underneath, a room needing to be emptied with a shovel or a spoon, depending. I love the books that are a whole organic thing under the surface of your brain, but the labor to excavate them is sometimes backbreaking.

I’ve written almost sixty full novels now, and each time, it’s different. Each damn book wants to be written in its own special little way, and will balk unless coaxed correctly. There are some commonalities, like the long slog in the middle with the BOOK THAT WILL NOT DIE NO MATTER HOW YOU STAB IT, but each novel teaches you how to write just-it, it alone, and nothing but it. A certain amount of submission to and trust in the process is necessary, as well as the discipline to sit down every goddamn day and get the writing done[1].

Right now my fingers are a bit chilled, so it’s time to stretch, get a cuppa–I’m trying turmeric tea right now, and with the addition of more ginger it’s actually quite palatable–and get back to the grindstone before the doldrums hit. I may fail at adulting later today, especially when t’s time for errands, but for now I have some shiny new willpower, and am going to use it.

*cracks knuckles* Tuesday? I’ll see you now…

[1] Yes, I know there are professional writers who don’t write every day. But you’re here on my blog, and I’m going to tell you the best way I know. ‘Nuff said.

Sugar and Toads

split infinitive The kids are home from school today, and this is the Monday I start the new habit of filing for ten minutes three times a week. Just filing paperwork, that’s all, from the gigantic stacks in my office. Because I am so very fond of putting things on a pile and thinking, yes, this is a good place for this to stay for A YEAR OR SO, sure!

I would like to say it’s the messiness of creativity, but it’s gone somewhat past that. When I’ve caught up with the filing there will be shredding to perform. I might even move my TBR pile–currently right behind my office chair–to a couple cleared shelves if I get really, truly ambitious. (No, I’m not holding my breath either.)

The sudden urge to clean and organize means I’ve hit a particular point in all three projects I’m working on. It’s past the “oooh, shiny!” but not quite in the “slog slog slog stabbity this book WILL NOT DIE” yet. I suspect the slog will be bearable this time, if only because of my time-honored habit of hitting a wall with one book and immediately shifting to another one to make the first jealous. (It works, I swear.)

So it is a rainy Monday on which I have to swallow a toad. I doubt I’ll do that first, though. Sweetening the amphibian with a bit of writing about a smartmouth genie and the spreadsheet-loving rationalist who just happens to own his “lamp” sounds like a much better deal. Plus there’s an entry into the Rift to write, and a werewolf attack in the third project. No shortage of sugar–or toads–this morning.

Over and out.