Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween to all! Beautiful is $1.99 until tomorrow only, so take advantage of this deal now!
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Other things that should be on your to-do list today:

  • Reading creepy books (Check out my TTT  from yesterday for some ideas)
  • Watch a scary movie (or a funny Halloween themed one)
  • Dressing up or just checking out other people’s costumes
  • Candy. Lots of candy.

Don’t let being a grown up stop you from having fun!

Research When You’re Writing Fantasy

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A few months ago I  was talking to someone about writing. He asked what genre I wrote and I said “Fantasy.” He said “That’s nice. At least you don’t have to worry about research.” Well, that would be false. All writers are different of course, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but I definitely do research as a fantasy writer.

When I first started writing Beautiful, I was just throwing my imaginings on the page, and I hadn’t really done much research or preparation. But when I realized that I was writing a variant of Beauty and the Beast, I started to do some research. Specifically, I started with Google.  I think I literally looked up “beauty and the beast story variations” found some interesting articles. Some sites I found particularly helpful were Pook Press, Jenni of Shalott and SurLaLune Fairy Tales. I read up on some animal bridegroom tales from other cultures.  I wanted to see what themes emerged in common among these stories and where they differed. I also read a lot of existing retellings. I discuss some favorites and some observations in this post. I also read a lot of contemporary discussions on the story, including popular claims that it’s about Stockholm Syndrome (here’s my rebuttal if you’re interested) and I decided that I wanted to write something in which there weren’t any real captives. I also watched a lot of film versions of the story. For about a year I lived I Beauty and the Beast themed life, and I reflected a bit about the story and why it appealed to me. I wasn’t sure how much of this would end up making it into my book, but it was interesting food for thought.

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Another layer of research came as I was revising. I wanted the book to be set in a sort of generic “past” rather than a specific time and place.  But I still needed to look up things that the characters do. For example, in one scene, Finn, a wealthy, privileged character who has always had servants to do things for him, is on his own in the wilderness.  He must build a fire. In the first draft I brushed over this, because I was more interest in getting everything down. But as I revised I had to get more specific.  As far as I’m concerned, building a fire involves striking a match, so that took research. In another scene, the heroine, Eimear, is stung by a jellyfish. Fortunately, that’s never happened to me, so I needed to do research to find out what that looks and feels like, and how it’s treated. Google was again, helpful here. I have no idea how writers did research in the pre-Google days!

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Another element of research come in as I was building my fantasy world. The courts are based on a classification system derived from Scottish folklore. But within those environments I included other classifications from William Butler Yeats and Katherine Marie Briggs. I also included creatures from different folkloric traditions. One book that I used a lot was The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures, which is a general A-Z guide to creatures from different traditions and systems of mythology. Once I found things I wanted to include I took to the internet again for more research.

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The finished product. Buy it! Read it! Review it!

My research process for my second novel has been similar-ish with one major difference. The first time around there was a lot of “how to” research involving publishing, and a lot of trial and error. I’m hoping that this time around will involve a little less error!

I’ve Been…

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  • Adding some extras to the “Books” section on my website. Right now it’s just a couple of character letters written by Eimear and Finn, the protagonists of Beautiful.  I’ve also been working on some letters for my next book. I’m hoping to have some news about that soon!
  • Trying to sell books. Figuring out the publicity and marketing angle of publishing is tricky for me because it’s not something I’m comfortable with. Part of it is the fact that I’m not an aggressive salesperson in general. Part of it is the fact that I’m still working on building confidence as a writer. I think/hope that as that happens, the sales side of things will get easier.
  • Working on book #2. It’s set in the same universe as Beautiful but it’s a stand alone. In it, I combine Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen with some Japanese mythology, as well as some of the Celtic folklore in Beautiful. I’m almost done with my first draft and I’m aiming to have it ready to publish by Summer 2019.
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  • Loving the Charity Miles App. Basically, it’s an app that logs your movement (walking, running, biking, etc) and each mile you move, helps to earn money for your chosen charity. The money comes from corporate sponsors who are repurposing their media budgets for social good. The app gives them premium advertising so they see a high return on their investment. You can choose from over forty charities that help children, veterans, animals, the environment, education, and scientific research, and you can change your charity at any time. In the past week, I’ve logged about thirty miles for She’s the First, an organization that fights gender inequality around the world through education. Next week I’ll walk/run for a different charity. Basically, it’s a chance to improve your own health as well as help others, and I encourage anyone and everyone to try it.
  • Livid and saddened by the situation in the US.  I don’t want to talk about it too much in this post, but this past week has been really overwhelming at times. I’ve been reflecting a lot on the state of the nation and how we can heal. Maybe I’ll post about that at some point soon. For now, I can only hope that this spurs everyone who has had similar feelings to vote next month.

Why is Beauty and the Beast Retold So Often?

51noohzpcsl-_ac_us218_Beauty and the Beast has always been one of my favorite fairy tales. I didn’t set out to retell it when I wrote Beautiful. I had actually just started off writing a story (a short story, mind you, not a novel) and I found myself doing inspired by the fairy tale about a quarter way through the first draft. But ever since I was a kid I loved the mysterious gothic castle and the idea that you can’t always trust your eyes. It’s odd that those are elements that I did away with in my own version. Instead, I found other aspects more interesting. I  wanted a dual redemption arc for both my Beauty and my Beast. I wanted some ambiguity regarding who qualifies as the “beauty” and who is the “beast.” I also became interested in the idea that we don’t always appreciate beauty when we first encounter it. Sometimes it’s something we need to be ready to appreciate. I’d like to say that I’m the first person to re-imagine this fairy tale, but I’d be lying if I did. A lot of great writers have done interesting fresh, diverse things with this story. These are some of my favorites that have gone before.

51pwjyt4e0l-_ac_us218_Beauty by Robin McKinley– This is probably most similar to the classic fairy tale that most of us know. For that reason, I found it a bit dull but I know a lot of retelling fans love it. And it’s well done. It just doesn’t do much that feels original or new. But it was written in 1978, so there’s a good chance that at the time, it did feel fresh!

 

 

51ck4irm2cl-_ac_us218_Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley– McKinley had more than just one Beauty and the Beast story in her! Unpopular opinion time: I actually prefer this one. McKinley moves outside of the box and puts her own spin on things. She even throws in a bit of a twist ending.

 

 

41oyve54sgl-_ac_us218_Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier–  Marilier is one of my favorite authors in this genre and she doesn’t disappoint with this offering. The conventions or fairy tales are mixed with gothic romance and it’s all set in 12th century Ireland. When Caitrin takes refuge in Anluan’s garden she is hired as a scribe to sort through family documents. Anluan’s family is under a curse that Caitrin must unravel if she, Anluan or anyone in the household is to find happiness.

51spwrt1xrl-_ac_us218_The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey– This is one of those books you shouldn’t judge by its cover. It’s part of Lackey’s Elemental Masters series but since each book in the series is very much standalone that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s set in San Francisco in the early 1900s. Rosalind is a medieval scholar who is hired as a governess, but when she arrives at her employer’s house she discovers that he has no children. Indeed she isn’t even able to meet him face to face. Her job is to read to him from ancient manuscripts through a speaking tube. She assumes that his interest in medieval spells and sorcery is just an eccentric trait. But she discovers that his interest isn’t academic at all. On the contrary, he has a very practical reason for this.

51j2bc8fhbjl-_sl160_The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth– Forsyth bases this novel on the Grimm’s version of the Beauty and the Beast story called The Singing Springing Lark. But it’s set in Nazi Germany.  Ava loathes the Nazis and everything they stand for and she joins a resistance group to try to fight them. But in order to save her father’s life, she has to marry Leo, a Nazi Officer. Leo seems kind and intelligent, but Ava can’t overlook the people with whom he associates. But appearances can be deceiving. Leo hates the Nazis as much as Ava does. He uses his position within the party to give German military secrets to the allied forces, sabotage Geman plans and save as many lives as he can. But his activities might put at risk the lives of all that Ava holds dear.

61l1afcvhtl-_ac_us218_The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter- Maybe this is cheating because it’s actually a collection of short stories but Angela Carter includes several that have Beauty and the Beast elements. These are most obvious are “The Courtship of Mr. Lyon” and “The Tiger’s Bride,” but you can find traces of the fairy tale’s influence running all through the tales in this brilliant collection.

 

51uytfmeel-_ac_us218_The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson– Again I might be stretching it a bit here, as I don’t think this was intentionally written with Beauty and the Beast in mind. But there are a lot of parallels. I feel like it definitely influenced the author, whether or not he was aware of it. Just a warning- the first chapter includes a very graphic description of the main character’s injuries in a car accident and the treatment of those injuries. If you can, try to push past it. It’s not that graphic throughout. The driver of the car is in a hospital burn unit when Marianne Engel finds him. She tells him that they were lovers in a previous life. She tells the elaborate story of their past lives together so vividly that the burned man is no longer able to dismiss her.

The Beauty and the Beast story as we know it probably has its roots in the Cupid and Psyche story, and the Norwegian fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon. All of these are part of a broader tradition of women taking men disguised as beasts as their husbands. There is also a tradition of animal bride stories in which the female is in some way “other.” Think about swan maidens, selkies, and even The Little Mermaid.

Different cultures have used these stories in different ways. For example, the original French tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and later adapted by  Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, was used as a way to reassure wealthy girls going into arranged marriages that just because their intended might not seem promising at first glance, don’t give up hope. It’s also been used to convey the “true beauty lies within” message.  But ultimately I think that they’re about how people respond to differences. How do we respond to what’s considered “monstrous”? What a society considers “other” will vary.  Likewise, the response to others varies depending on the individual. Those variations allow for writers to use their imaginations. They take the classic story and change some of the variables. What happens is sometimes surprising.

I’ve Been…

  • pexels-photo-260485.jpegBeginning a week off from work. Yes!
  • Getting a cold just in time for vacation and the holidays (not so much fun!) and spending the past 3 days indoors resting.
  • Watching Christmas movies from the great (The Shop Around the Corner, Christmas in Connecticut) to the not so great but fun anyway (A Christmas Prince, Window Wonderland) and breaking it up with Christmas episodes of TV shows.
  • Reading pretty much nonstop since I got off work on Friday. Finished The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth, which was a beautiful (and sometimes very ugly) retelling of the Singing Springing Lark (The Grimm’s Brother’s version of the Beauty and the Beast story) set in WWII, and Seldom Come By, which earned great reviews but turned out to be just OK in my opinion. I felt like certain things were brushed over very quickly, which made it feel unrealistic. I wasn’t able to really believe in the characters, so I didn’t care about them all that much. I just started Precious Bane.
  • Entering my short story Impossible in FairyTalez’s Best Villains competition. It’s only eligible to win if it gets at least 5 likes, so go for it!
  • Wishing a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, and the best of the season to all. 2018 is just around the corner, and hopefully, it’ll be a great one!