Observations on the Good Neighbors

Anyone with an interest in either the literal or the more general “fairy tales,” specifically writing them, needs references. For one thing, a good reference is chock a block full of story ideas waiting to be discovered. For another, and just as important, they help you avoid the Dunning-Kruger Effect of thinking you know more about a subject than you actually do. So with that in mind, I’m going to list my own top five references for information about fairyland (in the very broadest sense) and legends.

Number 1, as should be obvious, is An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogles, and Other Supernatural Creatures by Katharine Briggs, Pantheon Books, 1976.

As far as I’m concerned, this the Bible on the subject. I’ve lost count of the story notions I’ve gleaned from it, and if there’s a supernatural denizen of the British Isles and Ireland that’s not gotten its due somewhere inside, I’ve missed it. It not only described what is believed known about such creatures, but includes at least some stories/foklore surrounding them to place them in proper context. It’s not going to say much about, say, kitsune, but what it covers it covers very well.

Number 2: A Field Guide to the Little People, By Nancy Arrowswmith w/George Moorse, Hill and Wang, NY, 1977.

This book goes a little further afield, with stories from Britain, Ireland, Russia, Scandinavia, Italy, Germany, etc. Like Briggs’ book, Arrowsmith includes illustrative stories about each creature, and divides the book into sections concerning Light, Dark, and Dusky folk, depending on their temperament. It is not as comprehensive as Briggs, but far wider reaching and a great complement. If I want to get information on a folletti or rusalka, this is where I go.

Number 3: The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves, and Other Little People, Thomas Keightly, Crown Publishers, 1978, reprint of 1878 edition.

A bit more archaic in style but covers well what it does cover, mostly Persia, Scandinavia, Germany, Ireland and Britain. Again, illustrates the folklore of the individual creatures rather than giving a simple description. A good book to get lost in.

Number 4: A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Creatures, Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack, Henry Holt, 1998

Don’t let the title fool you. “Demons” in this context mostly refers to ancient spirits and gods which were demoted when later religions moved into the area. Sometimes fairies suffered the same fate, but the book does try to distinguish between the two. Not as exhaustive as the earlier books, but covers an even broader swath of the supernatural, including creatures from the Middle East, Asia, Australia, South America, etc. If what you’re looking for isn’t in any of the previous references, this is the place to go.

Number 5: The Children’s Hour, Vol 8: Myths and Legends, Marjorie Barrows, Ed., Spencer Press, 1953 edition.

I’m including this because it’s a sentimental favorite of mine, is still a useful reference, and is exactly what the title describes. It’s a compendium of folklore and stories from around the world, including the New World. There’s Paul Bunyan and John Henry, tales from Africa, tales from Greek Legend, Robin Hood, The Apples of Iduna from Norse legend, King Arthur, Cuchulain, The Song of Roland…you get the idea. This is one of the books that gave me my early love of reading and, well, you see where that led.

I regret nothing.

Word Again

I have my disagreements with MS Word, and I’ve mentioned them here a time or two. This was the first time I’d ever seen Word arguing with itself.

I was working on a manuscript with editing suggestions turned on. I know that throws some people off when they’re composing but I find it helpful…usually. Sometimes I’m not entirely sure if a comma is in the right place or whatnot and getting flagged in the Review Pane and having the quick check helps me keep the errors down.

Annoying, sure, but sometimes useful. That was, until today, when I caught Word arguing with itself.

That was a new one.

Word flagged a parenthetical statement and claimed that it did not need a comma. I took the comma out. Then Word flagged the new sentence, and I swear now it complained that a comma was absolutely needed. I put it back in.

I see you’re way ahead of me here.

Yep, now it told me to take the comma out. I told Word to take a hike and kept going. The flag is still there, looking all error-ly, but it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Part of writing anything is knowing when to take advice and when…well, not. Especially from a low-level AI that can’t make up its damn mind.

Deck Chairs on the Titanic

Older picture, but how the hillside looked this morning. We’ve just had our first snow of the season, but a long way from the last. We may be over a month from the Solstice, but it’s pretty much Winter now.

I’ve made some changes to the web site, one of which was to remove the really ugly top page menu with the higglety-pigglety (not a word I use lightly) arrangement of book titles. I’m going to do a proper separate book page instead which I’m working on now. This is a long way from finished, but take a look and tell me what you think. Things that should definitely be there, things that shouldn’t? I’m making this up as I go.

Doc, It Hurts When I Do This….

WRITING 02Yeah, I know. Old joke, but then old jokes come to mind when I find myself repeating old mistakes. Stale humor goes with stale habits.

Some time ago a friend asked me to comment on another story in a magazine I was also in, and I did. Regretted it immediately, and belatedly remembered why I stopped doing that. I see it as no win, at least from my own perspective. Whether I honestly like a story or not, and especially when I have a “stake” in the issue I can’t see it as anything other than 1) sucking up to my peers or 2) dissing the competition. You see the problem — I don’t trust my motives. I consider this wise, because anything I write about the issue will involve my own writerly ego, which is an extremely unreliable narrator. The ego is important and extremely useful, but move it out of its proper sphere (getting the work done, dealing with either the hostility or (worse) indifference that usually follows) and it becomes a liability. By extension and in hindsight this is why I stopped reviewing, period (though of course I never reviewed a magazine issue I was in). Now, reviewing was a useful phase and I’m glad I did it when I did. It helped me analyze my own work when I had to figure out what was wrong (or right) with a story I was reviewing. I think I was a very decent reviewer while it lasted, never pulled a punch or skimped on praise when appropriate. But then it was time to stop, and wanting more time for my own work was only part of the reason. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I was never comfortable with it and was never going to be. I will do it now and again, but only when I can’t help myself. The infrequency of reviews posted here should attest.

Oddly enough, in the context of a writer’s group I have no problem at all giving very harsh criticsm when I think it’s required. That, of course, is when the story can still be saved. Sometimes, it comes down to telling a proud parent that their baby is really, really, ugly. I have a problem with this. Other writers don’t.


In Which I Am a Sadistic Rat

The Devil Has His Due-ebook coverI really don’t like thinking that I’m a sadistic rat, mind you. I mean, I know I’m a long way from being a good person–keeping in mind that I have rather high standards in that regard–I’m far too aware of my own shortcomings, and all the times I knew what the right thing to do was…and didn’t do it. So no, I don’t consider myself a particularly good person in the sense of being a credit to my species, but a “sadistic rat”? Isn’t that a little harsh?

No, not really. See, I’ve been working on a writing project in plot resolution mode for a bit. It’s slowing down the actual word count, but it’s a necessary step. And the question “What’s at stake for my hero in this?” quickly morphs into “What is the absolute worst thing I can do to him?” And I thought of something diabolical. Nasty. Heart-breaking. I know what you’re thinking, but that’s not the “sadistic rat” part. That came out when I realized that the absolute worst thing wasn’t actually the absolute worst thing, because I had already done the absolute worst thing to him that I could do in a previous adventure…which wasn’t the absolute worst thing either, because it occurred to me that the absolute worst thing was something I’d done to him even before the reader ever met the guy, something that continues to haunt him until the present situation and will beyond it, assuming he survives.

So, not the “absolute worst thing” I could do to him, because I’d already done it. Twice over. But pretty damn bad. And, yes, I’m going to do it. The story needs it, and the story always comes first.

I am a sadistic rat, no question. It goes with the job description.