Daydreaming “In Calabria”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeter S. Beagle published “The Last Unicorn” in 1968.  He was twenty-nine.  I was born the same year, so that book was not immediately on my reading list.

In fact, I did not discover the story until the 1982 animated film.  It would not be an exaggeration to say it helped shape my life.  It was one of many films and books that molded my view of the world, including my fascination and love for animation, movies, storytelling, myths, and fairy tales.  I never grew out of those first loves, and over time I learned that was a fine thing.  I still dream of the Red Bull, waves of unicorns coming in on the tide, human folly, and a unicorn’s regret.

I was in my twenties before I got a hold of a copy of the book he had written.  It was sublime.  I found more of Mr. Beagle’s books in my thirties and forties, but not all, to my current embarrassment.  The books I read were all very fine things.  He’s not a rock-star author, nor a household name, but I adore his command of language.  His prose weaves a subtle spell created from ethereal mists and hard labor.

I was shocked to find his latest work, “In Calabria,” in my local library’s new arrivals, but in a pleasant way.  I honestly didn’t realize he was still writing at 78.  This is a new goal for me, to be still publishable at that age, even if it’s too late to match being published in my twenties.

So, I’m currently in book-dream-land.  It’s a timely vacation, since I am at a point in my life where I need help believing in the intangible magics, like love, justice, and hope.  Writer whining, unhelpful suggestions, and ridiculous posturing will be lacking this week, and maybe, that is a fine thing, too.

Happy writing, and please support your local library!

Strange Tales Case No. 748: Second Update

To the offices of Strange Tales Magazine for case no. 748: The Mayfly Bride: Second Update

Another item has been found, along with some additional information.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHonestly, I’m not sure what to think of the latest find.  On the advice of a former housekeeper, we searched an unused series of storage rooms deep in the recesses of the attic.  There we found what seems to be a hat box belonging to the daughter, Elisabeth Fair Darling.  That is where we found the shadow box of items.

I cleaned the glass to make it easier to photograph the items, since I can’t remove it without disassembling the box.  Pinned in place is another doll and some paper insects, much like a entomological display.  We are assuming that Elisabeth is the maker of the series of dolls at this point.  We are debating whether to pull the pieces out to inspect them more closely, or to leave it untouched in respect, as this is obviously an artifact of Memento Mori.  (Remember Death.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is no new poem.  It is unfortunate, but not surprising, since the previous duo seem to be from the point-of-view of her father.  I know it is every Englishman’s duty to secretly write bad poetry, but what madness causes a man to create such fiction about his dead wife?

This object is by far the most disturbing of the three, in my opinion.  However, the Lady of the house and the housekeeper disagree.  They think the nesting pair are worse.  I wonder what our readers would think if polled.

What kind of father tells such tales to his daughter about her mother?  What child pins an effigy of their mother in a shadow box of insects?  What sort of man writes such poetry about a short marriage?

Mentioned in one of Elisabeth’s letters is her father’s secret hiding place for papers behind a false panel of the library.  We are trying to ascertain where it is before randomly destroying the woodwork.  I hope they are found, and not already lost to accident or madness.  Was he simply trying to ease a child from the reality of death by filling her head with fairy tales, or was he deluding himself as well?

In the trunk was also some correspondence from a Mary Darling, the elder sister of Edward.  This gives us another source of information, once she can be tracked down.  I will send updates as I can.

 

For more information, see;
Case no. 748: The Mayfly Bride (first part)
Case no. 748: The Mayfly Bride: Update

Strange Tales Case No. 748: Update

To the offices of Strange Tales Magazine regarding case no. 748: The Mayfly Bride: Update.

A second toy has been found, along with another poem, in the trunk of a Lord Earnest William Darling of the Denbighshire Darlings from the late 1800’s.  Lord Darling is on record with a brief, one year marriage, to a Lumia Fair, resulting in a daughter, named Elisabeth Fair Darling.  The church records also indicate the mother’s burial soon after the birth.  The daughter’s marriage, at nineteen, is recorded in the family bible.  The groom is a Kieran Mac Dhuibh.

Inquiries are continuing of all named persons, in both the church and community records, but this takes some time.  The lady of the house has become personally involved, and is now searching the household papers.

There is no doubt that the second set of dolls was made by the same hand.  We are wondering if they could be made by the child, Elisabeth, which is a disturbing thought.  I have photographed the toys in the bird’s nest it was found in, all wrapped in cloth.  (Possibly a swaddling cloth.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe color of the green fabric is much brighter than the previous nursery toy, possibly due to the protection of the trunk.  There is little staining, despite the organic nature of the nest.  The less said of the adult doll, the better.  It took some effort to lay it flat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe poem found curled up under the dolls is brief, disturbing, and offers no additional insights.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My Mayfly Bride
Curled-up and Dried

Having a name and an era should help our inquiries.  There is also a lead on a former housekeeper that may provide us a better direction for our search.  I will send updates as I can.

 

 

For additional information, see:
Case no. 748: The Mayfly Bride (part one)
Case no. 748: The Mayfly Bride: Second Update (6/25/17)

Strange Tales Case No. 748

To the offices of Strange Tales Magazine regarding case no. 748:

I have arrived and spent three weeks interviewing the residents and staff of Riverbend Manor on the subject of The Mayfly Bride fairy tale.  It seems to have originated from here, so I am on the right track.  The tale also seems to be a genuine family story, and not a fabrication in response to our call for new, unheard stories of the Fae Folk in the last issue.

The most complete version, compiled from the interviews, is as follows:

There once was a man, vain, foolish, and careless of those he hurt, who was tricked by the Fae.  He was be-spelled at a party to wed a Fairy, a most mesmerizing creature of air and light.  The entire courtship was a few hours of dancing, eating, and laughing.  He took her home from the party, to his house and bed, and they slept in each others arms.  When the man woke in the morning to an unfamiliar sound, he found his bride, a Mayfly Fairy, was no more than a dried husk, as if she had died from great age, and there was a babe nestled between them.

The moral of the story seems to change depending on the speaker.  Some say his punishment of raising a half Fae child–alone–was because of his careless life.  Others maintain that loosing his true love was the punishment, and the child a love token from a regretful bride.  I, personally, think raising a child that could have a vastly different lifespan than my own would be the true punishment, but then I remind myself that it is just a fairy tale.

Here are photographs of the original toy and poem that prompted the family to contact us.  I have arraigned it artfully with other items of the manor nursery, mostly of indeterminate age and origin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe composition of the doll is cotton fabric over sticks, with no padding.  The construction gives it an oddly empty, disjointed feel in the hand.  The dress and details are of silks, cottons and a few pearls.  The wings are inked designs on hot pressed paper.  There is some damage and staining due to handling, probably by small children, but not as much as you would expect.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere are pictures and a typed version of the poem.  The penmanship is remarkable.  It seems the English tradition of bad poetry written in secret is well upheld.

My Mayfly Bride

We danced
A ball became a wedding
Petite-fours our cake
Fairy lights lit our way to my door
Why did I not question the spell?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have searched the first of the manor storage rooms for any more physical evidence for the Mayfly Bride stories, but have found nothing.  The housekeeper has been helpful, but she is too new to know where anything is, or how the family organizes things.

I will send an update when we find something of note.

 

For more information, see;
Case no. 748: The Mayfly Bride: Update (6/24/17)
Case no. 748: The Mayfly Bride: Second Update (6/25/17)

Writer’s Crack!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWriter’s crack is real!  No, this isn’t about the pants-sliding-down-while-you-type crack, like the plumber’s crack of comedy gold.  We’re talking about things that put you into a frenzy to write a newly inspired story.  Every writer has triggers, and if you’re lucky you can find them and use them to get out of a slump.

A couple of years ago, while browsing through a used book store, I found a book about English fairy tales and–of course–purchased it.  (That’s it, up on the need-to-read shelf.  The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by W. Y. Evens-Wentz.)  The subject has always fascinated me; it was not my first, and certainly not my last such book.  Some weeks later, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, I had a moment to crack it open.  The introduction (Yes, I read introductions, prologues, glossaries, appendices, and maps.) was both pleasantly surprising and completely cringe-worthy, in the way of dusty, old, and almost forgotten books.  Apparently, I had in my hand a recent reissue of a book that JRR Tolkien had referenced for his world building.  Even more pleased with my lucky find, and hopefully under the influence of a little mystical foresight, I happily delved into the first chapter…

AND FIRMLY SHUT IT, bookmarked on chapter two.  The after images in my head, while my body lay snugly anchored on my couch with the book clasped in unmoving hands, spun like leaves heralding the start of a stormy spring.  The stories!  Characters!  Battles!  Lighting, tempests, swords, grief, love, fear, and loss that is an ache that pierces to the soul’s depth.

I held completely still.  The overfull brain must not be disturbed.  A new/old world sloshed against the sides of it.  For a dry and dated tome, first published in 1911, it held a surprising lushness.

I was aware of movement deep in my psyche.  There was something lurking in my mind.  Lurking like an elder god and getting called to the surface.  The Leviathan rises, or worse…

Unfortunately, I already had three multi-book story arcs that had been clawing at the insides of my skull, rudely pushing each other out of line and snarling to be first.  I closed that wonderful book HARD–like the doors of Tartarus–just to preserve my soul from the punishments I likely deserved.  It contained the breath of Titans snoring, and (as anyone who has lived with a chronic snorer learns) I heard the sound of something nearing an awakening.

It sits on my shelf, unobtrusively, but whispering to me I quiet moments.  I know that like Pandora, I am doomed to open it…

Eventually.  For now, it sits.  It’s writer’s crack, or something like.

Hopefully, a story is really in there, but I think I may need to be a more experienced writer to do it justice.  It’s not the only story I have saved for later in my career.  For now, I have my other stories that I am currently passionate about, and willing to learn on.

This past weekend I added three more of The Lost Library book series to my shelf, risking collusion among them.  Myths are my weakness, and my wellspring.  I–apparently–like to live dangerously.

And that, folks, is about as close as I get to a written book review.  Not an Amazon review (I’ll do those anytime for books I like, especially for independent authors), but an actual blog review.  It’s not my thing, and lots of other people do a really good job of them.  And despite the heavy-handed use of metaphor in this post, it really doesn’t begin to describe what was happening to my brain.

But, I am curious if this has ever happened to any of you?

“What if?” Genre and the Storyteller

“What if?”

“What if dragons existed?”  If you are a writer, you have probably written Fantasy.  “What if we could genetically engineer dragons?” Now you’re edging to Sci-Fi.  “What if someone was secretly making dragons?” Sounds like a Mystery.  “What if they killed to protect that secret?” Ok, a Murder Mystery. “What if that dragon was also part human?”  Paranormal.  “What if the chip implanted in the dragon’s brain controlled the change?” Cyberpunk.  “What if it was funny how it was always the worst timing?”  Humor.  “What if I fell in love with that dragon-human?”  Romance.  “What if the sex was…”  Ok, now were looking at Erotica.  (Somehow, I always end up there.)

“What if?”  The great question every writer has the urge to answer.  I think most people have that question on their mind at times, but it is the storyteller who picks at it, explores it, turns it inside out and upside down. The medium may change; keyboard, paintbrush, instrument, or something completely different.  My current medium is words, and I am still learning the feel of them.  What words will help the reader understand the questions I am asking.

“What if?” is the question.  The only question.  Genre is just the flavoring; an easy handle to sort it, and to quickly find potential readers.  Genre is slippery, and constantly changing, from moment to moment, and person to person.  The words to describe stories have changed their meaning.  You can look them up in the Dictionary (and I have), but the battle to define genres is hot and messy and confusing.  Sub-genres have bread more sub-genres, like bacteria dividing. (How does that song go?)

“What if?” is the catalyst.  The Hero never leaves home without it.  It is the constant companion.  It is the writer’s companion, too.  The part of the mind that can’t resist banging things together to see what happens.  Did you make a hole, a mess, an ending?  Or did you make something new: an idea, an element, or start a brand new person?  “What if it was both?”  The results can be unexpected.  Proceed at your own risk.

“What if?” I could express my worldview in my writing?  It’s joys and sorrows, pain and pleasure, hope and despair.

“What if?”

Sexism Reflected in the Writer’s Mirror

I read an article/blog two weeks ago about Sexism in Fantasy stories that has really bothered me. I left it pinned to the top of my Facebook feed, so I could re-read it a couple of times, while trying to figure out what was bothering me. You can read it there, or I’ll try to post a link…

http://mythcreants.com/blog/five-signs-your-story-is-sexist/?platform=hootsuite    Yes?  No?  Whatever, just go check it out on my Facebook page, I’ll sort it out later.

What bothers me is not just this individual article/blog, but the way so many people are pointing fingers at books, blaming them for perpetuating the ills of modern society.  Even the students of higher learning–the place you go to expand and challenge yourself–have started protesting the books assigned for the course by the teacher. It made them uncomfortable.

The above article/blog continued the finger pointing, and because it hit on one of my favorite genres it caught my attention.  I have read the books it was accusing of sexism, and I had opinions. Opinions somewhat similar to the blogger in some ways, but widely dissimilar in others.  If you really tried to follow this blogger’s suggestions, you would have to not include females in your story at all, for fear of making them too trope-y.  But that would be sexist, so maybe you could make all of your characters females.  But, wait, isn’t that sexist, too?

I guess I don’t like being told to play it safe.  It made me uncomfortable.

Also, allowances weren’t made for the age of some of the books, and it’s unfair to expect writers of past generations to have the same sensitivities as a modern writer.  We are going through a very painful stage of growth as a society, trying to understand the deep hooks of misogyny, and how to pull them out without doing more damage than they are causing.

I admit it, I have hot buttons, too.  (Skinny-shaming is a big one for me.)  A trip through ‘multi-media land’ makes me unhappy on a daily basis, with advertising, memes and all forms of entertainment subtly–and not so subtly–trying to maintain the status quo.  I think the point of no return-to-the-kitchen has been passed, and we must all work together to redefine ourselves as humans, not a specific gender of human.

Meanwhile, let’s explore what makes us uncomfortable.  Discomfort is where you find your internal boundaries.  What direction does your moral compass point?  Is it a fair direction, for EVERYBODY?  Do your boundaries allow humans to be free, or force them to conform to your personal view of the world?  Has a book or other story made you feel uncomfortable?  How did that make you feel about the writer?  Were you angry someone wrote such trash?

Banning books has always been a questionable behavior for me.  You are giving free publicity to something you seem to hate, somehow unaware that you’re working against your actual wants; for people to not read THAT book.

You know… THAT book.  The one with sex, or magic, or rape, or swords, or homosexuality, or dragons, or bondage, or aliens, or death, or drugs, or war, or slavery, or racism, or sexism, or classism, or icky-ism, or something-ism, or we-don’t-talk-about-that-ism.

Often, the words beginning the protest are, “I haven’t read the book, but…”  Please, stop. With those words, you have lost all credibility, and I really don’t care what your uninformed opinion is. Writing and reading are subtle arts, and reading a line or two does not convey the place of those lines IN a story.  If this concept is too advanced for you, maybe you shouldn’t be the one trying to decide what other people can read.

The writer’s mirror reflects our society.  That is its job.  To show you the past, the now, and the future.  What we were, who we are, and what we could be. Some writers show the positive side of society, some the negative, but most seem to show a mix of both. Setting, character, plot, and technique all are tools of the writer trying to tell a story.  I believe every story is telling us something important, and needs to be told.  We need to listen.  We need to be made uncomfortable.  I hope I will make my readers uncomfortable.

For now, I will polish the mirror.