Story Time: The Beauty of Things Unseen

Today’s Story Time is “The Beauty of Things Unseen,” originally published in 1999 in Quantum SF, edited by Kurt Roth. As I mentioned previously in my post on Katherine Briggs, this was one of the early stories I got from the notion of the “fairy funeral.” Of course, that’s not exactly what the story is about–you can work that out for yourself–but I do come up with at least one suitable theory along the way.

 

 

 

As always with these things, “The Beauty of Things Unseen” will remain up until next Wednesday, December 6th. Until then, I hope, enjoy.

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Story Time: Brillig

This week’s Story Time, with apologies to Lewis Carroll, is “Brillig.”

I’ve always loved the poem “Jabberwocky,” partly because it never made a lot of sense, mostly for the wordplay. Reciting it aloud, which at one time I could do, always struck me as asking for trouble, however. Why? Darned if I know. But I thought it worth thinking about, which is one way a story will manifest–just thinking about something and writing it down. About the same time, Sean Wallace at Prime Books (later publisher of the Yamada series) was putting together a short run of weird fiction chapbooks called, wait for it, Jabberwocky. This one appeared in Jabberwocky #2.

In Praise of: Katherine Briggs

Yes, I’m late. Between a doctor’s appointment and errands on Monday, I didn’t get started on a blog post until late yesterday…where I promptly fell asleep at the keyboard. If I was putting myself to sleep I can only imagine what I would be doing to anyone else. So today is a fresh day, fresh start, and I am here, not to do a book review as such, but rather  to sing the praises of  Katherine Briggs, D. Litt from Oxford.  Specifically, her work An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. (the first edition title was a little easier to handle: A Dictionary of Fairies) I have the later 1978 edition, long out of print but still available here and there. Probably $35+ minimum, and well worth it to the right people to track down.

The reason in my case is pretty simple. One of my favorite things to write has always been new riffs on old folklore, taking a basic theme or seed, if you will, from older stories and running with it. Doing the old “what if” and Asking the Next Question, as Theodore Sturgeon used to say. Or Looking at it “slantwise,” to paraphrase Mark Twain. Regardless, they were both talking about process, but everything has to start somewhere. An image, a character, a situation, whatever triggers the process, and that varies from day to day and story to story. Everyone uses references of one sort or another because everything you know, love, or follow is a reference, and which ones are going to vary depending on the person’s own interests and resonating themes. I’ve spoken about the references I used for the Yamada series here before, and more than once. This time I’m concentrating on what led to some of my favorite short stories, and this book by a past president of the British Folklore Society has to be near the top of the list. It’s not alone, surely, and there are others: A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits by Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack is a jewel, as is A Field Guide to the Little People by Nancy Arrowsmith and George Moorse. Or In Search of the Supernatural by Kenneth DeWoskin and J.I. Crump, Jr. (translation of the Sou-Shen Chi, also known as The Account of Seeking Spirits, 4th C CE by Kan Pao). Yet it is the Briggs I keep coming back to time and again.

For instance, as appropriate to something that started life as a dictionary of sorts, all entries are in alphabetical order. One day I was browsing and came across the entry for Fairy Funerals, an event said to be witnessed by mortals on more than one occasion. Which had me thinking. “Given that fairies are immortal, why would they need funerals?” One theory was that they were doing it to imitate or mock mortal customs, but that didn’t  satisfy me. So what could the real reason be? Out of that came “The Beauty of Things Unseen,” first published in Quantum SF and later collected in The Ogre’s Wife: Fairy Tales for Grownups .

Then there was “My Lord Teaser,” triggered by an article on teaser stallions plus accounts of the Wild Hunt found in Briggs. The two notions combined to make another favorite. Or “Death, the Devil, and the Lady in White” (White Ladies and no, not that kind) or “Conversation in the Tomb of an Unknown King” (Tomb Wights).

Then there was…well, you get the idea. The book has paid for itself many times over, and is currently helping me on a new novel project. Every time I’ve moved house, this book has come with me. When I’m gone, it’ll likely still be here. Maybe someone with sense will be at the estate sale to grab it.

Let it Snow

We’re having our first snow of the season as I write this. Technically we got a “dusting” about three days ago, but I’m not counting that. It was more of a seasonal equipment check than an actual snow. Today, it’s snowing. I will grant you, it is a tentative, gentle sort of snow. Falling straight down, steady but not aggressive, starting to fill up the hillside behind our house but politely melting off the driveways and road so as not to be too much of a bother.

This will not last.

I mean, the snowfall itself may or may not stick around for long, but this attitude? Very transient. Winter will soon be feeling its oats and this “tentative, gentle sort of snow” will be gone, replaced by the sort more typical of the winters here. It will fall hard and heavy. It will pile up. It will swirl and rise into drifts, millions of snowflakes gathered in one place to talk smack about me and my wimpy shovel. In collusion with the wind, it will snow sideways just to show us it can. It will not melt of its own free will unless certain very specific conditions are met. I will have to shovel down to bare asphalt to give the sun a chance to work, on the days when there is sun. You’ll see it occasionally, but most of the time? Out of here. On vacation. Not my season bub, you’re on your own.

Which is perfectly all right. I’ve come to appreciate winters here in a way I never did when I was down South. Down there, they were simply the pause between heats. Here, winters are decidedly their own thing. Here, I remember that spring and summer and fall exist, too, and have their own stories to tell. Until then, winter and I understand each other—think snow tires—and will get along just fine.

In other news, I’ve joined a local writer’s group, or at least we’re trying each other out for now. They specialize in flash fiction, which is new to me, or rather not new in that I’ve done it before, but new in the sense of concentrating on it within group. Frankly, I’d always regarded flash fiction as something between a sonnet and a parlor trick. Here’s it’s everything from thinly-veiled personal experience to vast sagas told in 500 word scenes. I’m going to stick to my own understanding for now, which means I have to tell a complete story in 500 words. Which makes it more like a sonnet and a good parlor trick—both rather hard to pull off successfully. We’ll see how it goes.

 

Quick Story Time Reminder: “Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl” goes away on Wednesday. I haven’t yet decided what replaces it.

It’s Always the First Time

It’s windy and blustery, raining off and on and looks a lot like November came just a tad early. Probably perfect for the horror movie crew doing location shots downtown for the next couple of days. It’s good writing weather, even if there are outside tasks waiting. In these conditions? They can keep waiting. Possibly until spring.

So what has a weather report to do with anything? Well, as I said, it’s good writing weather, so when I get done with this blog I get back on the third story in the adventures of Jing, Pan Bao, and Mei Li. Sometimes writing is easy, like pulling the bung on a full barrel and the words just gush out. Other times it’s more like trying to squeeze the last few drops from a sponge. Usually you can’t tell which is which when it comes time for the end result to be examined. Unless we haven’t done our job well, and then you can. Our bad, not yours.

Writing, it seems, can be “like” one thing or another, but what it cannot be is any particular thing more than once. Or, to fall back on the old Zen adage, “It’s always the first time.”

One wouldn’t think so. After all, I’ve written two other stories about these characters. Surely I have a handle on their world and these specific characters by now? Doesn’t feel that way, and that’s a fact. I’m still discovering facets of Mei Li’s doubts and insecurities even as they do not turn her from her ultimate goal of becoming human just so she can die as one and move on to the next karmic step. I’m only beginning to understand how the loss of her mother forced Jing into adulthood before she was ready. Even Pan Bao, that grumpy, mercenary yet pious Daoist priest, has facets to his character only now starting to be revealed. In short, I know how to write the last two stories because I’ve already done them. That doesn’t tell me how to write this one, only getting it done, working it out, will do that. And leave me totally unprepared for the next one, whatever that turns out to be.

I’ve heard variations on the novelist’s complaint before: “I don’t know how to write the next novel. I only know how to write the last one.” As someone who does both novels and shorter fiction, I can personally attest that this applies equally to both. Or as a predecessor once phrased it: “Writing is one of the few avocations which, if diligently practiced, becomes harder the more you do it.”

Doesn’t matter how many books/stories you’ve written. It’s always the first time.