Retellings Can Also Be Original

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Billy Porter (photo: Broadwayworld.com)

I read earlier that actor Billy Porter will be playing a genderless fairy god-person in a new film version of Cinderella. My response to the news was mild curiosity. It’s an interesting idea, that has the potential to be done well. Whether or not it is done well depends on a lot  of factors. But then I read several comments bemoaning yet another film adaptation of Cinderella. People were asking why we can’t have fewer reboots and more original stories.  For the record, I think that fewer film reboots is a great idea. But I don’t consider retelling a fairy tale to be an unoriginal remake, unless the filmmakers don’t think outside the box. There are a lot of original unique ideas that stem from fairy tales.

 

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Disney’s 2015 film adaptation of Cinderella, based on their 1950 animated film (photo: vanityfair.com)

I suppose that because my own creative  work is based on fairy tales this is an issue that’s close to my heart. But truly believe that fairy tales make rich artistic source material because they’re both flexible and powerful.  Various critics have attempted to identify precisely why fairy tales endure. In Why Fairy Tales Stick(2006) Jack Zipes says:  “we respond to these classical stories almost as if we were born with them, and yet we know full well that they have been socially produced and induced and continue to be generated this way through different forms of the mass media.” While that’s true certain images call to mind a fairy tale in ways that transcend media. Show someone pictures of a fancy shoe, a clock and a pumpkin and it’ll call to mind Cinderella. The images may have nothing to do with the story itself but they’ll call the story to mind because these stories are so much a part of us. Some may say that’s because we’ve been bombarded with the fairy tale nonstop. And there may be an element of truth to that.

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The Glass Slipper (1955) (Photo: moirareviews.com)

But fairy tales have never been simple stories. Many people associate fairy tales with their Disney adaptions. If they’re aware that the Disney films are, in fact, adaptions, they’ll often refer to “the original story.” As if such a thing exists. But most fairy tales have diverse sources. Often Disney will draw from predominantly one version  over another, but that’s not to say that’s the “original.” Most of these stories are drawn from oral tradition and mythologies.

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The Slipper and the Rose (1976)  (photo: thehunchblog.com)

Because they come from diverse sources, fairy tales can be told for many reasons. In an essay called Wearing Tiaras: On Fairy Tales, Community and Happiness, Ruth Daniell argues that:

If fairy tales can grab our attention more quickly than other forms of storytelling—and certainly they grab our attention soonest, as they make up so much of what children first encounter—then don’t we need them, as much or more as other media, to tell us that violence is wrong, that everyone should be able to be happy?…Sometimes it’s easier to deal with trauma in less direct ways. Sometimes it’s easier to imagine a happy ending for a princess than for yourself. Sometimes it’s easier to become the princess than waiting for the world to right itself.

She goes on to say that:

 Children of all genders—not just girls—can and should, if they want to, enjoy fairy tales. We can aspire to a variety of ideals and receive reassurance from a wide range of characters. Yes, a patriarchal society chose its canon of fairy tales, but many of them are—despite their problems—wonderful stories, and, too, there exists beyond the (popularly) known canon even more stories, some of them wilder, stranger. Some have deeply feminist themes. I believe there are responsible ways to share fairy tales—by sharing a diverse range of them, by talking critically about the ways in which gender, class, violence, love, et cetera is depicted in them—and I think it’s worth doing that work to do so. The stories make us, but we make the stories. We can make the stories. We can reclaim the old stories. We can make new ones. We can disrupt the gender roles, we can normalize new kinds of love stories, we can imagine new kinds of ways of being happy.

In other words, if fairy tales are stories that can be enjoyed and shared among a diverse audience for many reasons, then isn’t there room for many tellings?

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Cinderfella (1960) (photo: alchetron.com)

Since I started this by talking about Cinderella, I’ll continue discussing that. There have been many films based on Cinderella made for many reasons. I’m going to highlight a few:

The Glass Slipper (1955) was made as a vehicle for star Leslie Caron who had a background as a ballerina. It features a score from Bronislaw Kaper and three ballets choreographed by Roland Petit.

Cinderfella (1960) retold a gender reversed Cinderella for the purpose of highlighting the comedy of star Jerry Lewis.

The Slipper and the Rose (1976) was a high profile musical adaption of Cinderella starring Richard Chamberlin and featuring the songs of the Sherman Brothers.

Ever After (1998) is often seen as a modernist, post-feminist reinterpretation of the story with the magical elements removed. It’s set in Renaissance-era France.

Cinderella(2015) is a live action adaptation of Disney’s 1950 animated film.

The target audiences for these films were largely different: fans of Jerry Lewis’ comedy might not also like Leslie Caron’s dance heavy adaptation or the Sherman Brother’s tunes in The Slipper and the Rose. Similarly, fans of Ever After might not take to the magic in the 2015 Disney film.  All of these films purposed the story for their own target audience.

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Ever After (1998) (Photo: bustle.com)

In literature, Cinderella has been retold or recalled in worlds that range from Gregory Maguire’s Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister to Carolyn Turgeon’s  Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story to Stephen King’s Carrie (I explain a bit about this here)! All of these books have different tones, aim to do different things and use the conventions of different genres. Marissa Meyer’s Cinder uses sci-fi tropes and conventions and makes her Cinder a futuristic cyborg. In Bound, Donna Jo Napoli roots her retelling in historical fiction and Chinese Cinderella tales. In Ash, Melinda Lo writes a LGBT friendly retelling. Yes all off these authors retell the Cinderella story we all know. But more than that, they use the story to highlight different ideas. They bring originality to it, in turning it around and looking at it from different angles.

I consider fairy tales to be powerful narratives precisely because they are open to so many interpretations. So maybe, when one is announced, we can be welcoming rather than roll our eyes. What matters is the execution, not the source material.

Things That Make Me Happy

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The first two months of 2020 have been stressful for me, for a number of reasons. Today I was scrolling through twitter and I saw someone asking their followers about things that make them happy. Of course this made me reflect on what makes me happy. What are they? Well aside from raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens:

  • Chocolate
  • Romantic Comedies (good ones, if they’re really bad they can end up making me depressed!)
  • Hot beverages on a cold day
  • Old movies
  • Sitcom reruns (great for writing to, and great for anxiety: who wouldn’t want to live in a world where problems are solved in 30 minutes?)
  • Binge watching
  • Binge reading
  • When I find just the right book to suit my mood
  • Writing, when things just flow
  • Having written, seeing the finished product and presenting it to the world
  • The way a book feels different physically once I’ve read it
  • Ordering take out and eating it while watching TV
  • Musicals (even the sad ones make me happy) preferably live but recordings are good too
  • Fantasy and fairy tales
  • Yoga
  • When someone says something nice about Beautiful and/or leaves a positive review
  • Costume dramas
  • When my favorite books are adapted well for film or television

I realized that focusing on the little things that make you happy, like I did for this post, can improve your mood a bit. So for the sake of your mood and mine, what are some things that make you happy?

Why Self Publishing Is Harder Than People Think

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Since Beautiful was published I’ve had several conversations with people who seem to think that self publishing is easier than traditional publishing. Having never published a novel traditionally,  I can’t say with any authority which is more difficult. However, I can say that self publishing is way more difficult than many people assume.

You need to do a lot of research.

  • Unless you happen to be a writer who can also format for print and ebook, design a book cover, self-edit, proofread, market and promote a release, you’re going to need other people, and resources.
  • Need an editor? What kind of edit do you need? Developmental? Line edit? Copy edit? You need to do research to understand the differences, and evaluate potential editors.
  • You need to know your genre. What do readers expect? Yes, sometimes pushing the limits and playing with expectations can be welcome. But sometimes it can make readers feel betrayed: like they paid for something and you didn’t deliver. That leads to bad feelings and bad reviews.
  • What do book covers in your genre look like? If your book cover doesn’t have certain elements it may not find its intended audiences.
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You need other eyes on your manuscript. With traditional publishing this is something that the publishing company will provide. With self publishing, you are once again on your own.

  • Beta readers- When I write a manuscript it goes through several rounds of betas. I write a draft, self-edit and revise, send it off to betas and get feedback. Then I revise again and repeat the process a few times. By the time I send it to an editor it’s been through a lot of beta reading. With Beautiful, I sent it to several Betas just before publication as well.
  • Sensitivity readers- Depending on the subject matter of your book this might be a very good idea. More info on that here.
  • Editors- Yes, you need them. You can and should self edit, taking some time and getting some distance can help, but you can’t see your own work objectively. Sometimes great editors are also writers, but not always. Also, depending on the kind of edit you need, you might seek out different people.
  • Formatting- The last thing that you need is write a beautiful book, take time to edit it and get it into great shape and then have an ebook that malfunctions, or a print copy with repeating pages. Yes, you can learn to do this yourself. I found it very complicated and since it’s not my forte, I had someone else do it.

You need a professional cover. Again this isn’t optional. Readers judge books by the cover. We’re told not to and we do it anyway. Fortunately there are a lot of cover designers out there, so depending on budget you have options.

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You need money. Everything I’ve just mentioned comes with a price tag. A traditional publisher won’t charge you for editing (if they do it’s a red flag, you need to do more research to make sure this is legit!) or cover design, but as a self publisher, you need to hire freelancers to do it. Each one will tell you that that’s the most important thing to spend money on. You need to figure out what you budget is for this project and how to allocate it. Then you can figure out ways to cut costs. Instead if a custom designed cover, you can use a premade cover. Some editors will allow you to pay over time, or figure out a way to trade services (ie: if you help me set up my new website, I’ll give you a free developmental edit.) Many people find free beta readers on goodreads or facebook. But budgeting comes down to figuring out what you need and prioritizing, which takes even more research.  It may also mean some degree of labor, if you work out trades.

You need to market your book, promote it, and sell it. All of this just covers what goes into making a book a book. I haven’t even gone into a discussion of promoting and marketing a book once it’s released! That’s yet another task that falls to self-published author.

I think a lot of people hear the words “self publish” and assume that you’re uploading a word doc with your manuscript to kindle. Which, is what some people do, I’m sure. But many self published authors put a lot of effort into making a product that is high quality and professional. Most of those authors don’t come from a publishing background. They learn on the job and with limited resources.  Just because they’ve bypassed the traditional publishing system (there are many reasons for doing this!) doesn’t mean that they’re taking the easy way, by any stretch of the imagination. Self-published authors deserve a lot of respect for the investment (in terms of money, time, energy, and emotion) they put into each book. So next time someone tells you that they’ve self published, give them the respect that they deserve!

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What Does It Mean To Be A Successful Author?

The other day, I was watching a movie and a character referred to himself as a “failed author.” In the context of the film, it was clear that he meant that his book hadn’t sold well. But it got me thinking about what “success” means as an author. After all, my book isn’t exactly topping the best seller lists. Does that make me a “failed author”? Considering the fact that when I published Beautiful, I expected to sell about three copies total, I’d say no. I don’t know what the character in the movie was expecting or hoping when he published his book: it was never made clear. But when I decided to publish Beautiful I was very clear about what “success” would mean to me with this book: if people (any number of people) read the book and got some enjoyment out of it, I would consider it successful. I’ve gotten some really nice feedback on the book. More than I expected! It’s encouraged me to move forward with publishing a follow up and building a career. So in that sense, I absolutely consider myself a successful author.

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But let’s rewind a moment: before I published Beautiful, I had seen writers in books and films say similar things about their books quite frequently. Even then I would roll my eyes a bit at it. These people had not only had the stamina and dedication to sit down and write a book (and  presumably edit and revise and rewrite it) but they had the confidence and perseverance to publish it. That in itself is a win! A lot of people say they want to write. Of those very few make it through the first draft. At each stage a lot of people give up. I would say that people who have the perseverance to write a book, and the courage and confidence to publish it, are successful regardless of whether it sells a single copy!

In fact, book sales are a fairly arbitrary indicator of success. Yes, having money is nice, I certainly don’t deny that! But how many brilliant writers throughout history sold very few copies of their work during their lifetime? Even my own criteria for success don’t hold up under that lens: many great authors were mocked and derided initially by readers and critics and only appreciated by posterity.

Given the fact that popularity and monetary rewards aren’t always indicative of success as a writer, the only way that a writer can be assured of a chance of greatness some day is to finish that book, and publish it so that people can read it. Maybe it’ll sell a million copies when if first comes out, be made into a forgettable movie and make the writer financially comfortable for the rest of his or her life. That’s certainly a kind of success. Maybe it’ll sell a few copies but be loved by readers and inspire future work. That’s a  kind of success too. Maybe it’ll be enjoyed by those who read it and then forgotten as they move on with life. I’d argue that’s success too. It might be helping those people as they struggle with something. It may take them away from their trouble for a few hours. To me, that’s success regardless of whether or not its remembered later.

I would argue that the only way to fail as an author is to not write and to not let people read what you’ve written. That’s the only way that it has no chance to make an impact. But if you write, and you share your writing, then you’re successful, whether or not you recognize it.

On Relaxation

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Newsflash: Life is stressful.

While you’re all reeling from that stop the presses bulletin,  I’ll add that sometimes we make relaxation stressful.

Over the holiday season I saw a number of well intentioned posts on social media, urging me to take time for self-care, to cut people who cause stress out of my life, and be aware of the larger world. Depending on my mood when I read those posts, my reaction varied between nodding at the wisdom of the words, shaking my head at their cluelessness, and wanting to shout swears and hurl my device across the room.

Because on a busy day self-care is yet another thing that I have to “make time for.” Because the people who cause me stress are also the people who I love, who I care about, who support me. Because my awareness of the larger world is often what’s got me stressed out to begin with.

My point is that life is complicated. Getting overwhelmed is complicated. Decompressing is complicated. Often it can’t be reduced to the space of a tweet.

Lately, I’ve been stressed, and struggling to relax. My ways of relaxing vary but they often involve losing myself: in a TV show, in a book, in whatever I’m doing. Working out sometimes helps. Yoga can be helpful. But I often struggle between my urge to lose myself and forget about what’s stressing my out, and my need to feel productive. While a Netflix binge might take my mind off my stress, it’s limited in terms of what it accomplishes long term. I’m very aware of that, and it can make it that  much harder to lose myself, which in turn makes me more stressed.

I don’t have any great words of wisdom for this blog. I wish I did. I just wanted to say that we should try not to let well intentioned advice stress us out more than we already are. But I am curious as to how my readers relax. What helps you take the pressure off?

 

 

2020 New Year’s Resolutions

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Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

It’s time for my annual New Year’s Resolutions post! Take a look back here to see how I did with last year’s resolutions.

  • Publish Frozen Heart. I plan/hope to publish it in late 2020 due to a wintery theme.  Also publish a few other pieces.
  • Volunteer to support Democratic candidate for president. I try to keep politics off my blog when I can, but I feel very strongly about this. While I like some of the current contenders more than others, I would rest easily if any one of them were president as opposed to what we have right now. I don’t know what will happen with the next election. But regardless of the outcome, at this time next year I want to feel like I did everything that I could to bring about something better.
  • Continue to be vocal about issues of importance, and call my reps regularly.
  • Be more social. Make more friends, and continue to make an effort to speak/see friends.

 

What are your new year’s resolutions?

Regardless of your goals, I hope that 2020 brings joy and good fortune to all my readers.

Evaluating Last Year’s Resolutions

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Every year I write down my New Year’s Resolutions to stay accountable. I find I’m more likely to keep them that way. In the week before the new year, I look at them and reflect on how I did, and what I’d like to change in the new year. So how did 2019 go?

  • Finish writing, and publish Frozen Heart. Also publish 1-2 other pieces during the year. Keep getting my work out there.

Well I finished writing it, and it’s in the editing process. I plan to publish it in 2020. There was a point in 2019 when I realized that I could rush the publishing process for Frozen Heart and get it out before the end of the year, or I could take it slower and and take care and pride in my work. It went into some thought about the kind of author I want to be. Do I want to compromise quality for quantity? At this point the answer is no.

I did publish an essay about self publishing in Unread Magazine and a short story called Snow Sister in Enchanted Conversation.

So overall, I’ll give myself a check mark on this one and I’ll put the publication ofFrozen Heart on my 2020 list.

  • Continue to be vocal about things that I feel are important. This means calling representatives, writing letters, protesting, donating to causes I think make a difference and anything else I can do.

I think that I’ve continued to do this in 2019. I call my representatives regularly and try to share resources so that others can do that too. I’ve attended protests, though they often frustrate me because I feel like they’re more a way for people to feel like they’re doing something and less about actually getting things done. I still don’t have a lot of money to donate but I use Charity Miles to contribute to causes that I feel are important and I try to educate others who may be in a similar position about ways they might want to contribute.

  • Try to spread happiness and positivity when possible. I feel like so much of what we’re faced with on a daily basis is bleak and hopeless. But I also think “seek and you shall find.” So I’m going to seek things that make me (and others) happy. I think just exposure to more positive things can break down the hopeless feeling that we can get.

Again, this is a work in progress. When I encounter something that others may enjoy I try to share it, so they know about it, but I also think that pushing positivity can be just as toxic as negativity if it’s done in the wrong spirit. So it’s something I’m figuring out.

  • Figure out my career path. It’s in flux at the moment and is fairly confusing!

Another work in progress. But I’ve made some strides here. I have a better sense of what I want and I’ve gotten some more experience in 2019. So hopefully that’ll lead me somewhere good in 2020!

  • Be more social. Don’t just fall into the staying inside and reading/writing/watching trap. Stay in communication more with people.

I’ve done this but it’s something I’d like to continue to work on in 2020.  I love my friends, but I’d also like to get to know more people in the next year. That way if someone isn’t available to do something I can have other options.

  • Don’t feel guilty for reading/writing/watching and staying in sometimes. In fact, don’t feel guilty about what I like/enjoy. Don’t apologize for liking, wanting, or consuming things that make me happy.

I think that I’m doing better with this. I don’t feel guilty if the things I like aren’t highbrow. Life is too short to worry about that! But I do sometimes feel guilty if I’m enjoying something silly when there are important/serious things happening in the world. I know there’s a balance to be found between enjoyment and engagement. I just don’t know if I’ve found it yet.

Stay tuned for my 2020 resolutions post!

 

 

 

Making Introductions

*Warning: Spoilers possible for the books I discuss*

I’ve come to believe that there are two kinds of readers: those who read the introduction (if there is one) before the book and those who wait until after. I read it before. My logic is that if it were intended to be read after the text, it would be included as an afterward, not an introduction. Also, I find it can be helpful in getting my mind ready for what I’m about to read.

a1x0awyh35l._ac_uy218_ml3_But there’s an inherent danger in reading the introduction first: will the writer give away spoilers? If so, will they be major. Years ago, I read Anya Seton’s novel Avalon. I enjoyed it, which surprised me, because Philippa Gregory’s introduction gave me the impression that it wasn’t a very good book. She warned that Seton stuck too closely to the facts in this historical novel, and didn’t provide a resolution where she should have, because there’s no historical evidence of such a resolution taking place. As a result, I didn’t expect a resolution when reading, and I wasn’t disappointed by its absence. I was able to take the text as it was, and not judge it based on what wasn’t there. Should Seton have taken some artistic licence and resolved the story line even if it wasn’t historically accurate? That’s open for debate. But because I wasn’t expecting it, I wasn’t disappointed in that element. In that sense, even though the introduction included spoilers, it helped me to enjoy my reading experience more.

51mw0x9so4l-_ac_us218_More recently I read Gwen Bristow’s Celia Garth, which had an introduction by Sara Donati. In her introduction Donati says that the novel, which was published in 1959, and is set during the American Revolution, has a problematic depiction of slavery. All the slave characters in the novel are depicted as happy, well treated, and loyal to their master’s side in the conflict. The title character never questions the morality of the institution, nor does she ever wonder how the slave characters might be feeling. Since I’m sure there were people like the title character, I can’t fault the author’s depiction of her. After reading that introduction, I mentally prepared myself to read a book with some significant flaws and blind spots, with a character who I may not like. Again I’m OK with that. I don’t have to like a character to find him/her interesting. Unfortunately, when reading the book, I felt like Donati downplayed the character’s unlikeability in the introduction, and that the book expected me to like her and depended on that. For me, the problem was that Celia wasn’t just blind to the evils of slavery, she was complicit. I don’t hold Donati responsible for that. Her introduction warned that this aspect of the plot and character was problematic. How problematic it is might vary from one reader to the next. That’s why we read the book and not just the introduction!

81lrqhg4fgl._ac_ul320_ml3_I just recently finished Angel by Elizabeth Taylor, with an introduction by Hilary Mantel. In her introduction, Mantel tells us about the character of Angelica “Angel” Deverell, writer of trashy, turn of the century, romance novels. Mantel tells us that the character comes from humble beginnings and fantasizes about Paradise House, where her aunt works as a maid. She also tells us that Angel will later purchase this house once she’s made her fortune, and remodel it. But, Mantel warns us, in doing so, Angel is building her own prison. World events, changing literary tastes, and her own ego mean that Angel’s books don’t sell as well as they once did. Angel and her few companions eventually become recluses, financially trapped in a rotting Paradise House. In this case I felt like Mantel gave away too much in her introduction. She should certainly introduce the character and explain that the book is a rags to riches character study. She might also hint at the fact that Angel will ultimately be the architect of her own destruction. But to tell use how it happens, and how it ties into Angel’s childhood fantasies robs the reader of a sense of pleasure (albeit a somewhat sadistic pleasure) in discovery.

So where do you stand on introductions? Do you read them first? Do you think that an introduction has the responsibility of warning the reader of potentially troubling plot points? If so, are spoilers a concern?