Guest Post

Guest Post: Alethea Kontis, 21st Century Princess

My thanks to all three of my awesome guest bloggers this week! I hope you’ve all enjoyed the posts.

It seemed appropriate to wrap up the week with a guest post by the princess herself, bestselling author Alethea Kontis. She and I share a ToC in the fairy tale anthology Happily Ever After, and she has a Snow White story coming out in John Skipp’s Demons anthology this October. Her novel Enchanted will be out in the spring of next year. Find her on LiveJournal and Twitter.

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 Confessions of a Twenty-First Century Princess
By Alethea Kontis

Once upon a time, I was born. I lived in a cottage by the forest in the green mountains of the far north—home of Big Snows and Long Winters and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. The cottage had electricity but little in the way of technology; whatever advancements we had were chiefly employed in the kitchen. My elder sister and brother’s father had fallen down a rabbit hole (as the children of wild aborigines are wont to do) long ago, but my parents were both my little sister’s and mine. In one way or another we were all related by blood, which is really all that matters.

Like many girls, I did not know I was a princess then. How silly I was, but then, princesses often are. My eldest sister was the most beautiful girl in the land and my little sister followed in her very fashionable footsteps. My brother was a hunter. I was a gypsy. I wore layers of skirts tied with sashes and ran wild in the forest under my brother’s watchful eye, climbing trees and making mudpies and playing pretend with the snake children. In the spring I picked Black-Eyed Susans. In the summer I lay in the field and counted the leaves on clover. In the fall I picked blackberries for pancakes and pies. The dark juices always stained my mouth and hands, betraying that as much had gone into my stomach as the basket.

I grew older and the winters grew harder, and finally my parents relented and moved south to the land of Wilting Summers and Strange Dialects and Sweet Tea. My sister and brother stayed behind in the mountains. I was the oldest child now, and it was up to me to seek my fortune in the world.

I did a terrible job of it.

Instead of living my own adventures, I lost myself in the worlds of others’ making. I packed away the skirts and locked myself away in the tower room and lamented the fact that there was no magic in the world. I believed in the Fairy Tale, truly believed, but as much as I believed I knew equally as much that there was nothing here for me. In some other world I Went on Grand Journeys and Traveled the World and Found True Love, but not in this life. I was despondent. Apathetic. I had nothing to live for. The sun that rose every morning mocked my existence. In rebellion, I began to write my own fairy tales.

And then a funny thing happened. Suddenly, there was magic in my life.

It wasn’t exactly the same magic that the Fairy Tales spoke about, with their flying men and talking animals. This was a subtle magic, and I had to learn how to look for it. It was a song or a smile, a rainbow or a penny found. The more I looked for it the more I found it…and the more I found it, the less subtle it became.

Even locked away in a tower, I found myself surrounded by witches and madmen. I had Great Love, followed by Greater Tragedy. I started wearing skirts again. I began to Travel the World. I met Amazing People of Different Cultures. I bought a sword. I was even crowned by a Queen.

But I was a princess long before that. I had just never admitted it.

You listen to me right now, you, person who is reading this blog wondering why some strange girl is prattling on about silly things like princesses where Jim normally posts nice sane and helpful things about writing. Are you listening? Good. Because I am about to tell you a secret: There is magic in this world. Magic. Capital M. Not kidding. If you’re not seeing it, then you’re not looking hard enough….but if you plan to look for it, then you better be prepared for what you’re about to find. Once you’ve seen the magic, it’s seen you too. There’s no turning back. And it grows. I would not be surprised by a flying man or a talking animal now, not one bit.

You plan on opening The Snow Queen’s Shadow this week and losing yourself in the magical world Jim’s created of snowflakes and mirrors and arrows and death. Just remember, in the back of your mind, that there is more to it than fiction, and Jim knows it.

I have already slipped between those covers and reacquainted myself with Snow and her adventures (bwahahaha). What you might see is a gorgeous, rich world you wish you could live in. What I have seen are friends I haven’t spoken to in far too long who still love me enough to remind me that I am a legendary princess of the kick-ass variety. Once a princess, always a princess. I have looked into the mirror, and the mirror has looked into me.

There is no turning back.

Guest Post: Seanan McGuire on Writers with Day Jobs

My second guest blogger of awesomeness is the award-winning author Seanan McGuire (also known as Mira Grant). Her pseudonyms’ newest novels are Late Eclipses and Deadline, respectively. If you enjoy her guest blog post, I’d encourage you to check out her LiveJournal or go say hello on Twitter.

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…zero hour, five a.m.

When I was a kid, I used to read about the lives of working writers. They seemed to live mostly in one-room apartments, where they hunched over their typewriters and pounded out a living one word at a time. They weren’t, for the most part, rich, but they kept the lights on with sonnets and movie reviews and the occasional filler column for the men’s magazines (and as a little girl, I assumed they were all writing for wrestling magazines and car catalogs, because there were some ways in which I was very, very sheltered). Edgar Allen Poe didn’t flip burgers. Lord Byron…well, he was a lord, which often comes with some financial assistance, but he never asked anybody if they wanted fries with that. Life as a writer was hard, but it was something you could do. All you had to do was write. Like Ewan MacGregor’s character in Moulin Rouge!

Times have changed. Thanks to inflation and a mutating market, it’s a little harder now to make do and keep the lights on with a few short story sales and some ghost-written letters to Penthouse every month (“Dear Penthouse; I never believed it would happen to me…”). It doesn’t help that we have more “vital expenses” than ever before. My grandmother used to talk about thinking of shoes as the sort of thing you only had to buy once every two years. I would go nuts if you took away my internet connection, cellular phone, and cable TV–and yes, I am one of those writers who still watches TV. Sometimes as much as ten hours of TV a week. I watch the shows, they do not watch me.

Regardless, even without children, I have more expenses than my predecessors, and the cost of living isn’t going down. Add on the sad necessity of private medical insurance (assuming I don’t feel like melting any time soon), and it becomes clear why I have joined the ranks of the many, the not so very proud, the utterly exhausted.

Writers with day jobs.

My clade is a strange one, neither fish nor foul, the synapsidian inhabitants of our fantastic ecosystem. Each day, we lumber from our caves, dressed in the colors of the regions, and shuffle into our places in the great working jungle. Maybe we press keys. Maybe we assemble small machines. Maybe we make your coffee. Regardless, we are synapsids in disguise, pretending to be one thing when we’re secretly another. At the end of the day, we shuffle back home, shedding a little more of the illusion with every step, until we fling ourselves at our keyboards, maybe pausing to shovel something into our mouths, and begin our real jobs. The ones we wouldn’t be doing if we didn’t really love them, because damn.

Being a working writer means constantly fighting a battle against our twin arch-enemies, Procrastination and Social Life. Procrastination says “Hey, there’s a big shiny internet right there. Maybe you could learn something cool. Become a better writer. Get even more awesome. Finally get that big break and quit your day job. Or just play Farmville for eight hours. Don’t you wonder which it would be?” Meanwhile, Social Life says, “It’s not like you’re doing anything, you’re just sitting there, we’re all starting to think you don’t like us anymore, you need to come outside, it’s not healthy, it’s not right, and hey, wasn’t that Farmville I just saw?” Sure, we have team-ups from time to time–even Magneto occasionally joins the X-Men–but at the end of the day, Procrastination and Social Life will do their best to make sure nothing ever actually gets done.

Zero hour. Five p.m.

Balancing work and life is hard in our modern world. Balancing work-that-pays-bills, work-that-soul-demands, and life can seem borderline impossible sometimes. Being a writer is exhausting, time consuming, and yes, incredibly rewarding…but it’s reward that comes after hundreds of hours of work that is borderline invisible to the people around us. It’s secret work. It’s work that only the other synapsids really see happening. And it’s work that, unless we have co-authors in our closets, we have to do alone. All this science, we don’t understand, you see. It’s just our job. Eight days a week.

Have you hugged your member of order synapsidia today?

Guest Post: Marie Brennan on Fairy Tales

For the second year in a row, I’ll be up north — likely with spotty internet access — when my book comes out. D’oh! So I invited Marie Brennan, author of the forthcoming book With Fate Conspire [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], to do a guest post.

Please welcome Marie, and if you enjoy her post as much as I did, go check out her LiveJournal. Or take a peek at some of her books over on her web page.

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Jim has unwisely loaned me his podium for a day while he’s out of town, and since this is the week that The Snow Queen’s Shadow [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] launches, I figure I should talk about fairy tales.

I actually have a degree in the subject — nearly had two, before I left graduate school to write full-time. (Yes, they give degrees in folklore.) We studied lots of things, not just fairy tales, but they were always one of my particular interests. So I speak as a semi-expert on the subject when I tell you:

I have no idea what the hell these people were thinking.

You know how you can tell that “The Snow Queen” is a literary fairy tale, rather than a part of the oral tradition? It makes sense. Evil mirror, shard in the eye, everything looks unpleasant; sure, I follow. But what about these opening lines, to a lesser-known Grimm tale? “There was once a little mouse, a little bird, and a sausage, who formed a partnership. They had set up housekeeping, and had lived for a long time in great harmony together.”

Whut?

I’m sure Bruno Bettelheim could explain how this story expresses and resolves the oedipal conflicts of children — but that’s because Bettelheim liked to make up data to support his pet theory. Me, I can’t tell you what the heck that’s supposed to mean. If you think fairy tales make sense, that’s because you’re mostly familiar with the ones that have spent two hundred years going through the rock tumbler of the literary tradition, having their nonsensical edges worn off. We heard things in my folklore classes that simply defied all sense. My professor told us one folktale (non-European, but at this late remove I can’t remember where it came from; maybe Swahili, as that was my professor’s specialty) where the heroine spent most of the tale being chased by the demonic severed head of her grandmother, and then when she finally found a way to destroy it, she got cosmically punished for being a bad grand-daughter. (Moral of the story: you owe filial piety even to demonic severed heads?) If “The Snow Queen” had been an oral tale instead of a literary one, Kay’s mind would have been corrupted by a bit of shell under his fingernail or something.

Sometimes I think the entire thriving sub-genre of fairy-tale retellings is our collective attempt to wrestle the things into making actual sense. Not just the retellings, either; the Grimms’ Kinder- und Hausmärchen went through seven editions in forty-five years (not counting ten editions of the “children’s version”), and while some of that involved adding and removing tales, there was a heck of a lot of editing going on, too. (Despite Jacob urging collectors to record things “without any cosmetic touch-up or addition.”) They mashed tales together, expanded plots, added Christian elements and tried to scrub out French ones; the 1810 manuscript of “Hansel and Gretel” has the children’s mother sending the kids out to die, before it got changed to a step-mother. Can’t have the story reflecting badly on the flower of German motherhood!

It isn’t that there’s no logic to them; folklorists have spent plenty of time analyzing what makes fairy tales go. It’s just that their logic is not our Earth logic. Vladimir Propp laid out a very clear grammar governing the order of events in Russian folktales, and Max Lüthi did an excellent job of describing their aesthetic laws. None of it is much like modern fiction — not even fantasy. Characters in folktales (European ones, at least) don’t bat an eyelash at a talking lion or a mountain made of glass, and if they have to cut off a finger to make a key to open a door, they do it without even saying “ow.” Modern fantasy more often bears a resemblance to the folkloric category of “legend” . . . but that’s a topic for another post.

The thing about fairy tales is, they’re like Rorschach ink-blots. What you see in them depends on who’s looking. And that, I think, is why we go on retelling them: we keep seeing with new eyes, finding new things to amplify or argue with. Their very simplicity and persistent weirdness makes them nigh-infinitely flexible — and at the same time, the shared familiarity of the most common tales means your audience is already part of the conversation you want to have. No wonder we keep coming back to them.

Savor the Moments

Good morning!  I’m not actually online today.  This week I’m writing these blog posts from the past!

Except for today, because I didn’t actually write this one.  Today’s post was written (also in the past!) by Jon Gibbs, author of the novel Fur-Face, and founder of Find A Writing Group.

Jon also maintains an interesting and useful writing blog, one I’ve been following for a while now.  My thanks to Jon for helping to fill in this week while I’m away.

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I’ve been a fan of Jim’s writing and blogging skills for a long time, so you can imagine how thrilled I am to be posting an entry here on his blog.  I hope I can justify his confidence in me.

Savor the Moments

A career in writing is not for the faint of heart.  Writers go through a huge amount of negative before they ever get published, and (I suspect) even more of it afterwards. 

Before he/she ever makes that first short story sale, a writer can expect to receive rejection after rejection from editors and slush readers, most of whom offer little or no feedback or encouragement.  Critiques from fellow writers, however well-meaning, tend to focus on what doesn’t work, and though that’s to be expected (it’s the point of them, after all), they too can be a bit of a downer. 

Then there’s a writer’s family and friends.  I’m fortunate in that the people who matter in my life are incredibly patient and supportive about my fiction habit, but many folks aren’t so lucky.  Spend some time around other writers and you’ll hear plenty of stories about family and so-called friends either belittling, or even mocking their efforts.

“If there’s so much negative, why bother?” I hear you ask, as if we could ever stop making up stories.

In truth, many folks do give up.  You may well know some of them.  They got to a point where they couldn’t take the negative anymore, so they told themselves whatever they needed to hear to justify giving up on their dream, and settled for something less.

How can we avoid that same fate?  I can think of three ways, which I’ll offer in reverse order:

#3  Never refer to yourself as ‘unpublished.’
Whether you’ve just started writing, or you’ve been submitting stories and novels for thirty years without a single publishing credit to your name, you’re not ‘unpublished’ you’re a ‘not yet published’ writer, and don’t let anyone tell you different.

#2  Spend time with other writers.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a critique group, a workshop, a conference, or even hanging out with like-minded scribblers online.  So long as those folks aren’t having a pity party, spending time with them will do your confidence the world of good. 

#1  Learn to savor the moments.
“Moments?” you say.  “What moments?  I’ve never even been published.   I’ve never had a moment.”  Oh, you have them all right, but do you stop to enjoy them?  Remember that feeling you get when a new story idea comes to you, or you come up the first few lines of a new project, or print out a finished first draft?  Most other folks could never do those things (though a surprising number seem to believe they could if they only had the time).  Take a few seconds to appreciate that.

Every time you submit a story, take a ‘moment’ to feel proud of yourself.  Heading out to a writing group or some other writerly-type meeting?  When you pull up in the car lot, sit back awhile and savor the feeling of a dream pursued.  

When you get a rejection with a ‘not this time, but please try again,’ make sure you appreciate what that means.  That editor’s telling you he/she liked your writing.  Your story didn’t suck, it just wasn’t right for that publication at that particular time.  Every now and then you’ll get a hand-written note of advice/encouragement (or the email equivalent), sure, it’s still a rejection, but someone thought enough of what they saw to offer you some encouragement.  Set some time aside to enjoy that feeling.

Non-writer might question why any of the above is worth celebrating.  Ignore them.  Taking pleasure in your minor achievements helps you stay positive and fortifies your dream.  That’s always a good thing.

How about you?

What moments will you savor in the coming weeks?

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Born in England, Jon Gibbs now lives in the USA, where he’s the founder and proud member of The New Jersey Authors’ Network and FindAWritingGroup.com.  His debut novel, Fur-Face (Echelon Press) is available from Amazon.com (Kindle) and in other e-formats at OmniLit.com.

When he’s not chasing around after his three children, Jon can usually be found sitting in front of the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.

Jim C. Hines