You might not be able to see it, but the crack between the concrete and the dirt behind the sign holds the entrance to a beehive. On warm mornings they are busily flying in and out, pollinating, gathering, doing their bee business. The people who live there put the sign up a couple weeks ago, and I think they absolutely mean to leave the bees alone long-term since they’re not harming anyone. Which makes me feel good; every time I pass plenty of the little fellows come to say hello and play tag with Miss B.
When I’ve felt like humanity is a shitshow not worth saving this week, I’ve thought of this–people quietly leaving the bees alone, merely putting up a sign to protect both the hive and passers-by. And somehow, it makes the rest of us worth fighting for.
We don’t have to be awful. And really, most people aren’t.
For some reason, these bushes and Summer from Gallow & Ragged are inextricably tangled in my head. It might be because Summer’s truename is linked to thorns; she was a handmaiden who loved them, once.
These fellows mean business. Just look at them; I wouldn’t want to fall into their clutches. They’re a defense; these shrubs are common around apartment buildings and homes in this area. Sometimes important things need guarding. I won’t deny I’m feeling a little tender lately, and could use a hedge or two.
Have a good weekend, everyone. Be gentle with yourselves each other. But also, don’t hesitate to use a wall of thorns if you need to protect yourself. We’re all feeling rather bruised right now.
I listened to a lot of Foster the People while writing what I call the Human Tales, which the publisher insisted on tagging Tales of Beauty and Madness. (But the covers were beautiful; it’s a shame the books didn’t sell very well. Teen readers liked them, adults did some pearl-clutching, you know the drill.)
Foster the People is very much the music Ruby likes while driving like a bat out of hell, even though her beloved Tommy Triton is more like a mix between them and Daft Punk’s Instant Crush. One particular song, though–Helena Beat–was very much Cami’s. I took a sip of something poison but I’ll be all right…
Working with fairytales was… troubling. The stories are deep and they are bloody; one had best be prepared to face one’s own demons when invoking them. Behind the driving beat of many songs I loved when I was young lies a great deal of loneliness and uncertainty, too. HelenaBeat came too late for that, but I could recapture some of the feeling while listening, especially when Cami visits the club with Tor, or when Ellie finds just a moment of peace in her busy day while the music is turned up, or while Ruby is driving fast to escape her own fears.
When you’re new, and terrified, and your heart is in your mouth because pure youth is telling you you’re immortal but you can’t imagine living forever with the pain of what adults are doing to you every day, the beat that picks you up and shakes you out of yourself is a blessing. It gives you some small space to breathe, and sometimes that space is the difference between being broken and surviving with at least some psychological integrity.
A lot of my books are, deep down, about how to survive. A lot of the music I love is about finding a fraction of joy if one’s forced to live under a terrible regime. When I was very young, enduring the indignity of living required any joy I could lay my hands on, in books, in music, anywhere. It was a necessary inoculation against the despair of trying to survive an inhospitable environment (to put it lightly).
Turn it up, feel the beat, shake the world. Remember feeling young, both immortal and vulnerable?
It’s time for another Soundtrack Monday! It’s Labor Day, so I’m only working a half day, but I’ve been wanting to share this one with you.
Graves in Strange Angels had his genesis in several boys I knew in high school. His musical tastes were eclectic, to say the least, but I could always reliably get him to come out and start talking if I played a little Chris Isaak. (Or Metallica, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Eventually, even the first few bars of Let Me Down Easy would give me a window into how he was feeling. The series is told from Dru’s point of view, but you can’t know just one character’s motivations and expect to have a whole story. You need to know what everyone in the room wants, even if it’s something so simple as a glass of water. (Thank you, Vonnegut.)
And poor Graves wanted, above all, to be worth his glass of water. It may be what every child with a highly suboptimal home life wants. I did plan to go back to that world with a Maharaj girl sent to train Dru in her heritage, but the publisher didn’t want it and finally took the Human Tales instead.
Anyway, enjoy the tune, and when I come back tomorrow I’ll tell you more about that turkey.
The first scene I ever had of the Gallow & Ragged books was the pike-vs.-knight fight in the beginning of Trailer Park Fae. As with any endeavour involving the Good Folk, music was a necessity, and Robin in particular needed just the right songs.
There wasn’t much music for Gallow at first–most of the light and rhythm went out of him when Daisy died. But slowly, he started to open up to me, and all of a sudden young Jeremy had a ballad, Iron & Wine’s Boy With a Coin. (The video’s pretty stunning, too.) That was also when I knew exactly what had happened between him and Alastair, and how it affected both of them.
There is no enemy like he who was once a trusted friend.
I knew exactly how the trilogy would end the moment I wrote the first words. It was a long, strange ride to get there, almost as wild as Unwinter’s Hunt itself. And every time I grew discouraged, a bright feather would cross my path, or an echo of unearthly song, and I’d know I was committed until that end.
Sometimes a story possesses one, in the old pagan sense of having a genius or daimon. It’s always best to continue such things to their natural end, for unfinished they tend to turn on their creators. Still… when it’s over, one can’t help but feel a sweet piercing pain, and all the songs that coalesced into the book soundtrack express that longing in one form or another.
That song in particular was for Nico, who is not quite a Prince Charming. For one thing, Nico’s a Family boy, and Family is forever. For another, Nico also has some rage issues, and an important part of the book was the protagonist deciding that Prince Charming could do his own fucking emotional labor, she wasn’t going to anymore. (I almost felt like cheering when that scene arrived in its final form.)
Nameless was the first of what I call my Human Tales–retold fairytales, basically, where I aim for the heart of whatever story has its claws in me. It’s also important that in the books, Cami, Ruby, and Ellie save each other in turn. It’s not up to a man (or boy) to do so; the saving grace lies in the friendship of three girls on the cusp of adulthood. That’s one thing I had to fight for–my first editor got it, though, so I felt comfortable sticking to my guns all the way down the line (through several orphanings, I might add) when the Powers That Be, Marketing Or Otherwise, wondered if I couldn’t bring the romance just a teensy bit forward.
I could have told them to save their breath. Men don’t save teenage girls; teen girls save themselves.
Anyway, listening to this track will give you Nico’s anger and the rhythm of a pool hall, violence just under the surface of an ordered game. Enjoy!
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.