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.

Things Not To Send An Author

snobgooseI need a new tag for the “I get mail…” stories. Here, have this little gem:

Date: April 6, 2015 at 6:18:59 PM PDT
Subject: Rose and Thunder can be a Bestseller.
From: *redacted*
To: [email protected]

Hi Lilith,

I must say that’s an outstanding book you got out there. It has readers appeal, but you need to push it a bit.

You can check out *redacted*, they will direct up to 50 of their avid readers to purchase your book on Amazon and these reviewers will then post good reviews on your Amazon book page.

I once posted reviews for them in exchange for gift cards before i started my M.Ed program. Imagine having 50 readers post great reviews on your book page, that’ll definitely land you on the bestsellers list. I believe the many positive reviews from *redacted* will greatly help your book.

Thanks for putting out such an enjoyable book, but please promote it.

Regards,

*redacted*

Let’s just count the things wrong with this. First, you sent it on release day, so what are the chances that you’ve actually read the book? Close to zero, I fancy. Second, it’s a huge insult to think I’d purchase reviews, positive, negative, or otherwise. Third, for someone who claims to be in a Master’s of Education program, you should have at least enough common sense to know how insulting the mere suggestion is, and how ethically repugnant it would be for me to even consider. Fourth, your closing needs a little work–“Thanks…but please promote it,” is incredibly insulting as well. Deigning to tell me about a pay-for-reviews scheme and implying that I’m less than intelligent for not “promoting” my book to your exacting specifications is even worse. (It’s like a skeezy PUA attempting to neg me, for God’s sake. GROW UP.) Personally, I much prefer to do my promotion in less ignoble ways, thank you very much.

So, readers, here’s a way to be amazingly rude to an author, and if you’re a new author, taking this sort of email up on its offer is sketchy at best, a waste of money and a nasty skeleton to have in your career closet at worst.

There. A teachable moment, courtesy of someone who should have known better. I think it’s time for some tea now.

ROSE & THUNDER release!

R&T_draft4 I am sunk in the gutting and rewriting of Blood Call, so much so that I almost missed the most auspicious (and terrifying) of things for a writer: release day! Rose & Thunder is now live in all formats!

Beauty…

Isabella Harpe, last in a long line of witches, drifts with the wind. Her tarot cards always ready to bring in enough to live on, and her instincts keep her mostly out of trouble. Unfortunately, bad boyfriends and even worse luck strand her near the most dangerous place for a witch to land-beside a cursed town, and an even more cursed man.

The roses…

Jeremy Tremont’s family built their house over an ancient place of power, turning it into an uneasy, rose-choked sanctuary for the weird and the dangerous alike. Scarred, quiet, and difficult, he’s not Isabella’s idea of a prospective employer, no matter how badly she needs the money. He’s paying well, and there’s only one catch: she has to be home by dusk. Because in Tremont City, bad things happen after nightfall.

And the curse.

Secrets hide in every corner, an ancient curse cloaks itself in silence, and Isabella’s arrival has begun a deadly countdown. Despite that, she may have found a home-all she has to do is figure out how to break the curse.

Oh, and survive in the dark…

My faithful and beloved assistant Skyla swears that her real boyfriend in this book is the Tremont house, which owes a great deal to Robin McKinley’s Beauty, holding pride of place on my favorites shelf for a reason.

I love both Jeremy and Isabella; this book is set in the Watchers/Valentine universe and was just a ton of fun to write. Beauty and the Beast is my favorite fairytale; I will probably revisit it again at some point. I hope my dear Readers enjoy it as well.

Now available direct or at Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and All Romance Ebooks.

Rose & Thunder Cover Reveal!

Rose&Thunder-lg Your eyes do not deceive you, dear Reader. Ebooks of Rose & Thunder, my very own retelling of Beauty & the Beast, are now available for preorder at Smashwords, Amazon, and All Romance Ebooks! (Please note, this is only the ebook edition!)

I’m pretty thrilled; this is my favorite fairytale, and my own telling of it owes a great deal to Robin McKinley’s Beauty, as well as to a lovely Persian version that still gives me chills. Nods are given to Tanith Lee’s Estel, and the Brothers Grimm, of course.

Beauty…

Isabella Harpe, last in a long line of witches, drifts with the wind. Her tarot cards always ready to bring in enough to live on, and her instincts keep her mostly out of trouble. Unfortunately, bad boyfriends and even worse luck strand her near the most dangerous place for a witch to land—beside a cursed town, and an even more cursed man.

The roses…

Jeremy Tremont’s family built their house over an ancient place of power, turning it into an uneasy, rose-choked sanctuary for the weird and the dangerous alike. Scarred, quiet, and difficult, Tremont’s not Isabella’s idea of a prospective employer, no matter how badly she needs the money. He’s paying well, and there’s only one catch: she has to be home by dusk. Because in Tremont City, bad things happen after nightfall.

And the curse.

Secrets hide in every corner, an ancient curse cloaks itself in silence, and Isabella’s arrival has begun a deadly countdown. Despite that, she may have found a home—all she has to do is figure out how to break the curse.

Oh, and survive in the dark…

The paper edition is scheduled for a March 20 release, but in the meantime you can preorder the ebook, if that’s your thing. Thanks are due to Skyla Dawn Cameron, my own personal saint of layout, formatting, and cover design.

Strangely Restful

Gulag I finished Anne Applebaum’s GULAG: A History last night. Right before it I read Kolyma Tales, which means my head is full of history right now, and not very nice history at that. It’s chilling to see how well repression and the simple expedient of giving some slaves slightly better conditions in return for their help in suppression of the others works.

Next up is a translation of Anabasis, and a slightly different slice of Russian history–Russia Against Napoleon. I’ve often thought of reading Caulaincourt‘s account of the Grand Armee’s retreat–it was much referenced during the Eastern Front in the Second World War.

Other than that, there was a great deal of hither-and-yon this weekend, the kids visiting their friends and errands needing to be run. I did manage to get some hostas in the ground, some radishes planted, and also enough piano practice that the polonaise is coming along. I suppose I should practice the left hand with a metronome, but I’m not that ambitious yet. I have begun doing junior Hanon exercises instead of just plain scales to warm up. I might even devote one day of practice a week to just-Hanon. It’s strangely restful.

As for work, I finished the revisions on Rose & Thunder last week, and this week is for long, loooooooong days of producing new wordcount on Cal & Trinity as well as revising Blood Call. There’s the upcoming launch of Kin, the third in my fairytale series, my particular retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. I’m going to be highlighting the Kin launch in the next few weeks, so buckle your seatbelts for that.

And now it’s time to get started on the ten-hour workday. I’ve reference books set handily, tea brewing, and the dogs under my desk.

Over and out.

That Lovely Sound

swac Good morning, chickadees. I hope your Thanksgiving was low-stress and full of good food. For those who were on the barricades and protesting on that day (all through the weekend in some places, I’m told), I hope all went well and someone at least organized coffee.

News! I have news. Issue 18 of Fireside, with chapter three of my ongoing cyborg-Western-vampire serial She Wolf and Cub, is now live! If the serial ends up being a success, there might even be a book of the collected chapters, so if you’re wanting to read a monthly chapter of something from me while you’re waiting for, say, Trailer Park Fae or Kin, that’s an option.

There are upcoming details about Rose & Thunder, one of my retellings of Beauty & the Beast–still my favorite fairytale–and there is movement on the Steelflower 2 front, though I can’t announce anything just yet. (Publishing: moves at the speed of glaciers during the Ice Age!)

And in still more news, NaNoWriMo is done. I finished both Rattlesnake Wind and the second Gallow & Robin book, which was my collective goal for November. In honor of finishing NaNo, some editing services are back in stock! First come, first serve, and all regular disclaimers apply. Please read the FAQs and Guidelines before you decide to purchase editing services, though. Some packages require a down payment.

It’s hovering at freezing here. Yesterday’s run took me past several crystallised puddles, and I could tell the ones kids had seen by the shattered ice. It made me wonder at what age my first instinct became to admire and leave well enough alone instead of breaking a solid sheet of ice just to see it fracture and hear that lovely sound. I never was a fan of breaking things the way some kids seem to be, but I did do my share of splashing in puddles when I reasonably sure I wouldn’t get caught and beaten for getting dirty. Sometimes the thrill of transgression is worth it.

I think it’s simply that now I could step through the ice if I wanted to, it’s up to me. When given a choice, I lose the desire to break. It makes me wonder how much breaking and burning is done by those who have no alternative. That’s as close to a comment on current events as I’ll get today.

And now, back to work on sample chapters, and revising Agent Zero