Philosophy and Fairy Tales

As you can see on my What I’ve Written page, Philosophy and Fairy Tales is my short-story collection, available from Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Sony and other sites. While I’ve written individual blog posts on each of the stories and how they came to be, I thought a dedicated page couldn’t hurt sales, so here’s a look at the stories in the book. The cover is by Lisa Wildman.

Jack Be Nimble
“‘Stupid, worthless, miserable boy!’ The belt lashed Jack’s back, emphasizing every word. ‘How could you trade our precious magic beans for a useless cow?’”
That was the opening line that came to me, I don’t remember from where. I immediately set about writing a story to go with it. Though immediately is perhaps too strong a word. I wrote and rewrote, and then rewrote some more, but nothing seemed to work.
My concept was that Jack was a boy born without a destiny—the guy who isn’t going to get the princess or the golden egg or the magic McGuffin no matter how hard he tries. Despite which he sets out on the road to adventure, but it doesn’t go well. Then he meets a princess who does have a Destiny, but of course it’s of the “sit in a magic tower until someone rescues you” so she’s rebelling against it.
The trouble was, I couldn’t see where to go from there. Or how Jack was going to win without a destiny. So I wrote, and rewrote, and rewrote some more …
And then by chance I was browsing an old volume of the Datlow/Windling Year’s Best Fantasy and came across a story setting the Snow Queen fantasy in the present day (I don’t remember who wrote it). I figured that as nothing was working, I’d try that with Jack; even if it didn’t work, perhaps the shift in perspective would lead to a break-through.
It worked.
Suddenly Jack was no longer a boy wishing for a destiny. He’s a young man who more than anything doesn’t want adventures, he wants to set up a safe, sensible, mundane business. It’s his mother who’s determined he become a fairy-tale hero, which is why she’s so upset he traded the magic beans for a mere cow.
Enter a mysterious venture capitalist who offers Jack the financing he needs. Only of course, there’s some fine print Jack wasn’t aware of ….
I think this one sold fairly quickly, with fewer rejections than most, and came out in Challenging Destiny in 2004. Rereading it nine years later, I still feel pleased with it. If you choose to download a copy from Smashwords (not that I’m hinting or anything) I hope you will too.
Learning Curve
The second story began with an image in my head: A science teacher trying to explain spontaneous generation (where maggots arise asexually from rotting meat) in biology class.
The idea of science teaching in a world where science was different tickled my fantasy. As I worked it through, I began to think it would be less about the science than the teaching. Lauren, my protagonist, deals with the stuff regular teachers do in our world: Apathetic students, officious bureaucrats, tedious regulations and the religious right (this world has its own version of the Intelligent Design movement).
It was that goal to present everyday (sort-of) teaching that made me write it as a setting story. It’s one week in a new teacher’s life, Monday to Friday. A look at her world. No lessons learned, no problems solved, just life. I think it came out more interesting than that sounds (sure hope so!)
A breakthrough came when I read the excellent book Spice, by Jack Turner. In detailing the history of our discovery of and use of spices, Turner describes how, back in the day when our personalities were shaped by the four humors (phlegmatic, choleric, etc.) it was assumed spices and other foods worked like mood altering drugs. Ginger sexes you up; hot pepper makes your temper hotter; buttermilk calms you down. So I threw that into the mix.
I began to see my world as one where experimental science had never really won out over the purely logical approach of the ancient Greeks. Reason and “natural philosophy” are exalted fields; hands-on science is blue-collar, only marginally better than shop class.
I didn’t have much luck sending the story around until Byzarium (now defunct) picked it up. Rereading it for my anthology, I must admit I can see why. One of the things my writing group constantly has to point out is that I skip a few more speech tags than I should and yeah, it was really easy to get lost in who was saying what to who. There were also a couple of expository speeches that really didn’t need to be there. And now they’re not.
All things considered, the finished version is much closer to my original concept than most of mine end up.
Original Synergy
I’ve always been fascinated by conspiracy theory. Some years back, I started a novel that included the idea all the secret conspiracies (Illuminati, Freemasons, Elders of Zion, Trilateral Commission, Men in Black, Opus Dei) exist. Somewhere between that old and never-finished story (it’s so old I remember one female character’s distinguishing physical feature was that she wore a tattoo, because that was so unusual) and the start of Original Synergy, it became a comedy.
The premise: The Knights Templar are hosting Synergy-21, a grand conference where all the different groups get together and try to sort out their agendas so that if they’re not on the same page, they’re not at least stepping on each others’ feet.
The protagonist: Serena Dean, Northwest Florida meeting planner (I set this one in my former home turf. I later switched it to the Carolinas, but this er, definitive version puts it back on the Emerald Coast).
The challenge: She has two weeks at the height of tourist season to book rooms, book a conference center and pull the whole thing off. Of course, she has some advantages most planners don’t (“A quick call to the Peoria Templars and the manufacturer who booked the meeting rooms just declared bankruptcy.”), but still …
The earlier version of this tale bounced around multiple markets before selling to Applied Chaos a few years back. When I started work on my Smashwords collection, I read it to the writing group for some feedback. Their verdict: I lost my way. It starts out with Serena under tremendous pressure, then forgets about that for political satire and her romance with an Illuminati (originally an Elder of Zion but given that conspiracy theory really was used to stigmatize and justify discrimination against Jews, I reduced them to a quick cameo).
So back to the drawing board I went to keep her struggle to pull off Synergy-21 running all the way through the conference. They’re right, it works much better. I also threw in a few more conspiracies such as Skull and Bones (I will admit to fudging one conspiracy: The Jesuits were the classic Bogeyman for Protestant anti-Catholicism, but I figured Opus Dei, courtesy of Dan Brown’s writing, would make a more name-value threat these days).
Red Moon Rising
I honestly don’t remember where I read the comic-strip that kicked this one off, or who drew or wrote it (this was at least six or seven years back). What I do remember was that in passing, the writer mentioned how in every Red Riding Hood story, it’s always a male wolf who wants to eat her.
The thought immediately hit me that she was right—so what if the wolf was a she-wolf?
As Catherine Orenstein’s Red Riding Hood Uncloaked shows, the male/female dynamic in the story had sexual overtones as far back as when Perrault first wrote his version. That continues into the present day, in versions such as Tex Avery’s 1943 cartoon Red Hot Riding Hood, in which Red’s a nightclub singer and the Wolf is, well, a wolf (slang of the day for a womanizer).
Turn the he-wolf into a she and the dynamic changes. And so I had my core concept: a flirtatious, restless Red, convinced she can tame any beast she meets … and mortally embarrassed when she actually meets the wolf.
Only what happens then?
Here credit goes to my friend Dori Koogler, who made the suggestion that shaped the rest of the story (but if I say what it was, I give too much away).
Then, however, came the task of selling it. And that proved a challenge, probably because there are a lot of Red Riding Hood fantasies around (nothing new: One of the jokes in Red Hot Riding Hood is that Red and the Wolf have been “done” so many times in cartoons, they’re bored silly).
Happily, Drollerie Press was soliciting stories for an anthology of Red stories, Straying From the Path, so I submitted. They liked it, and it came out in 2009. Unfortunately, the company closed almost immediately after that, so I think my total royalties were around .01 cents. And now, of course, it was published, so I couldn’t send it to markets that wanted new stuff. Philosophy and Fairytales gives me a chance to give new exposure to the story of a hot-headed teenage girl in a world where the sun is a myth and the moon stays frozen in the sky.

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