As A Writer: History of Fantasy & Writing Fairy Tales

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Musings on Memory

Memory_and_Dream

read Charles De Lint’s novel, Memory & Dream sometime between age 14 and 17. I honestly couldn’t tell you when I read it. I know it was in Canada, in part because he’s a Canadian author although he’s pretty popular in the US as well. But at the time, the book was out of print, I borrowed it from my local library. It was the first book of his I ever read.

I started reading fairy tale novels in late Junior High/High School. I was an avid reader, and I read the Lord of the Rings before the movies, and long before the books regained popularity. In fact, I was shunned at school for reading them. This was long before nerdom’s renaissance.

My parents read me a lot of books, but I really got into reading in 2nd grade because of my best friend Nicole—who introduced me to Babysitters Club’s Little Sisters series—which are easy reader books, but they’re all about the friendships between girls who are in elementary & middle school. So they were definitely geared toward my age group.

After I had read all the Sweet Valley, Boxcar Children, & Nancy Drew series available at the library, I got into reading Star Trek—this one was due to my father’s influence as he began purchasing Star Trek novels for me when he had business trips. When I had read all the available Star Trek novels, I began to search around the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the library since I already knew I liked Star Trek I was looking for something in that vein.

I don’t know what my first discovery of Fairy Tale novels was, but I do know that I began a passionate love affair that continues to this day.

Shortly into this relationship is when I discovered Charles De Lint. He is the first and only celebrity that I have ever sent a fan letter to, and he was kind enough to respond and give me his autograph. Approximately a decade later I had written my own collection of fairy tales, At Times I Almost Dream, and I contacted him to tell him how much he had inspired me to become a writer and to become a writer of faerie. As De Lint likes to remind his readers, Jane Yolen once said, “Touch magic, pass it on.”

Though I have reread many of De Lint’s short stories, I never went back to Memory & Dream. In part because we moved away from the city with the library that held all his works of fiction—and like I said, for a long time it was out of print. But I suppose it also didn’t really occur to me. I was so busy devouring new titles, I didn’t really take the time to go backward.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were discussing novel writing together. He has a novel that he’s been working on for several years, and I mentioned to him that I did as well. I gave him a short synopsis, and he said it sounded amazing and that I should work on it again. In fact, I should start on it right then, while we were talking.

I didn’t start it right then, but I did open it up and I reread all the chapters I had written. I suddenly recollected just how much I had loved Memory & Dream, and how I had wanted so desperately to follow in De Lint’s footsteps.
An aspect of Charles De Lint’s work that I love the best, is how he has formed a world inside the fictional city of Newford, but more than that, he created a community of artists who all bring beauty and magic into the world together. De Lint is both beautifully meta as well as a bit sentimental. But that’s what I like about him.

It was really fascinating for me being both older and more mature in my craft, to go back to this narrative that inspired me so heartfully. There was a great deal about the way I’ve come to view fantasy narrative, that I definitely have inherited from him. It was also somewhat moving, to come to understand that his prose was no more unearthly than any other writer. Of course, I adore him greatly, and of course I think that he is brilliant and talented. But I was able now to see flaws, where before I could only worship. Coming back to De Lint as an adult, humanized him for me. Which is a gift in and of itself. To no longer feel completely cowed by an idol’s talent. To realize that I have grown. And that I myself am talented. Equal to those whom I respect.

Thank you Mr. De Lint, for all that you have done for me.

On Writing

Back in February I wrote a piece for Writer’s Digest, which was pretty cool. Now that I’ve opened up my own writer’s blog, I thought I would share it here. Enjoy.

I loved fairy tales from a very young age. It never really mattered whether it was a book, movie, or someone telling me a story before bed. I loved the adventure, mystery, and fun of them. I devoured them so quickly, I remember going through all the shelves in the children’s section of the library and my mother speaking directly to the librarian for advice.

In my teens I was a budding storyteller myself, and I heard the advice over and over that you should write what you know. The first time I heard this advice was actually in Little Women. Jo March, a writer, sells mad fantastical stories of murder and mayhem. But her mentor Professor Bhaer is disgusted. He tells her these tall tales are nothing but trash. That she has the potential to write something great, and she’s wasting her time. She then put together a book that’s autobiographical, and he has it published.

Being a lover of fantasy, a nerd who read Lord of the Rings at twelve and had a rather large collection of Star Trek books, I was heartbroken. I looked for advice in books, but all of a sudden a book was telling me something that seemed wrong. I didn’t really understand. To further complicate things, teachers began to say similar things. Did that mean I couldn’t be a writer? Did I have to wait until I was old so I had something interesting to write about? At this point, I stopped. Nothing seemed good enough. I kept reading, I kept watching movies, but I put my pen and notebook away.

In college I fell in love again, but this time with fandom: The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire. Everything was exciting; suddenly there were other people who understood my adoration of story. And I found something else. Fanfiction.

It felt more than vaguely illicit. Even now, many fanfiction writers don’t like to admit it. You’re not being original. You’re stealing from a real writer. Shipping, Crack!fics, Alternate Universes. No one cares what you do, and there’s no limit to your imagination. There’s no pressure write something great. So I just wrote. I wrote a story every weekend.

I came to the realization that writing was something that I really loved to do. And that there were at least certain aspects that I was good at. No, great at. I had audience feedback telling me that my story about Lois & Superman had made them cry. I wasn’t Lois, and there’s no such thing as Superman. Did that mean that the advice I had been hearing all my life was wrong? Had I become a writer without even realizing it?

I went to graduate school for creative writing and put together a book of my own ten fairy tales. Did I write what I know? I guess it depends on your definition. Even while writing my collection I had professors tell me that my writing was just as good without all that “magic stuff.” That I didn’t need genre to be interesting. Of course, no one does. I don’t think that’s the point. Sometimes magic has been metaphor, and sometimes it’s merely garnish.

My Tips

1. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about what you enjoy writing

2. If what you love is genre, learn more. Study the origins, read criticism, read books about it

3. Take the pressure off, and just practice. You don’t always have to be original

I don’t say that I write what I know, but I do say that I write what I feel, I write what I think is beautiful, and I write what I enjoy. And so should you.

100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women

100 Great Science Fiction Stories by Women

Did you know that science fiction was invented by a female writer? I didn’t when I first started out. Somehow, the women of scifi were sidelined. It happened pretty early on. And even know, we see the fake geek girl meme going around the internet, claiming that girls only like scifi in order to sleep with a geeky dude. This just isn’t true.

It is also a fact that Publishers, in tune with this societal norm,  that this genre fiction is so male, that female authors are told to take male pen names, or use only their initials. In order to hide from the general populace. And especially from men. Because women don’t read science fiction, you know. And men won’t read books by lady authors:

The 19th century saw an major acceleration of these trends and features, most clearly seen in the groundbreaking publication of Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein in 1818. The short novel features the archetypal “mad scientist” experimenting with advanced technology.[31] In his book Billion Year SpreeBrian Aldiss claims Frankenstein represents “the first seminal work to which the label SF can be logically attached”. It is also the first of the “mad scientist” subgenre. Although normally associated with the gothic horror genre, the novel introduces science fiction themes such as the use of technology for achievements beyond the scope of science at the time, and the alien as antagonist, furnishing a view of the human condition from an outside perspective. Aldiss argues that science fiction in general derives its conventions from the gothic novel. Mary Shelley’s short story “Roger Dodsworth: The Reanimated Englishman” (1826) sees a man frozen in ice revived in the present day, incorporating the now common science fiction theme of cryonics whilst also exemplifying Shelley’s use of science as a conceit to drive her stories. Another futuristic Shelley novel, The Last Man, is also often cited as the first true science fiction novel. (Wikipedia)

So please, in remembrance of Mary Shelley, let us all read as many of these works as possible, and remember that this genre belongs to everyone.