A post I wrote for Enchanted Inkpot on Refueling Your Inspiration.
A post I wrote for Enchanted Inkpot on writing Fresh Fairy Tales.
Hansel and Gretel
In the light of the gibbous moon, beneath the thick boughs of ancient oaks, a girl pulled her brother from the gingerbread house, trailed by smoke that stank of burned sugar and flesh. She found the path of white pebbles, and she led her brother down its sloped curve. She kept to the middle of the path, away from the oaks, for their leaves whispered, wordless hisses. A warning, a foretelling.
The rest can be found at Solstice Literary Magazine.
Into the Vast
All of my fourteen years, we have lived in the dark because of the Dragons. The stone walls of our cave hide us from them, and also hide the light from us. I open my eyes, I close my eyes: darkness.
High above, the rounded roof of our cave is mostly solid rock, but a few pieces have cracked and fallen away. When the sky is clear, sun and moonlight shine down. I stand in their beams and look at myself anew. I am brighter. I have a sheen.
Clouds drift. They cover the gleaming, and I am dull again. I can’t tell where I end and darkness begins. For the rest, visit YA Review Network.
I meant to post this ages ago, when I taught The Tempest this fall. However, I simply couldn’t seem to find time to blog. Forging forth in the new year –
Reading The Tempest, I was struck by a line at the end, where Gonzolo relates how order is restored and everyone (almost, but I’ll get to that later) finds his or her true place “in a poor isle; and all of us ourselves / When no man was his own.” (V. i. 212-213) I had a shock of recognition: of course, this is one of the primary themes of the play. The telling articulates what’s already shown through the action of the story.
During the first event in the play, readers encounter the out-of-time, disrupted setting. The ship of the King of Naples sails into a storm and ends up ruined, its crew and passengers scattered across an island. We discover later that the tempest wasn’t due to nature, but instead was created by Ariel, an airy spirit who performs deeds for a man, Prospero. Ariel seems beholden to Prospero, but not entirely enslaved by him. Like Puck, of Midsummer Night’s Dream, he has his own logic and cares, though unlike Puck, he has grace and grandeur. So, because of Ariel, Prospero, and the storm, readers see the island is a magical place of spirits, unlike, presumably, Naples or other mundane regions. It also is large enough that the passengers and crew wander without finding each other. It is surrounded by a vast ocean, which the people can travel but not tame.
On the island, Prospero is a man “not himself” in several ways. He once was the Duke of Milan, but his brother’s people set him in a ruined boat with his then young daughter Miranda, and once he was gone, this brother usurped his position, becoming the Duke of Milan. For 12 years, Prospero has ruled the island instead of Milan, bringing up the now 15-year-old Miranda and ordering about Ariel and Caliban. He also is not-himself when he encounters Ferdinand, one of those from the wrecked ship and the son of the King of Naples. Prospero guesses that Miranda and Ferdinand won’t fall in love, unless he forbids them from seeing each other. And so he pretends to be an obstacle to their immediate mutual affection. Through this pretense he succeeds in coupling his daughter to the King’s heir.
The royals wandering the island are not themselves, because they lack control and authority. They don’t have the resources or allies they’re used to. Ferdinand, the son of the King of Naples, falls in love with Miranda, and encounters disapproval rather than encouragement from Prospero – certainly not what the heir to Naples might expect during courtship. He must work to win Miranda, a girl without, to his knowledge, claim to property or power outside of the island.
Caliban is the most troubling figure, as is his “not himself” role. Before the play’s opening, he lost his position as heir to the island, because of Prospero’s arrival. He is Prospero’s slave or servant, but unlike Ariel, he is an earthy creature without cleverness or grace. Over the course of the play, he allies himself with royal schemers, to gain revenge on Prospero. His new allies call him ‘monster’, but the alliance is his opportunity to make a choice, to wield an independent will. However, he chooses the illegitimate, and losing, side. Troublingly, he is a character who ends up saying of himself: “What a thrice-double ass / Was I to take this drunkard for a god / And worship this dull fool.” His pretense was to try to and act like a man rather than serve one, and in the end he sees his “true” self as a degraded creature, an ass.
In The Tempest, the action shows the players finding themselves while they’re lost. Without the action, the lines – “in a poor isle; and all of us ourselves / When no man was his own” – are simply a writer “telling” an abstract idea. With the action, with the “showing” writers so often discuss, the words are more than “telling”, they’re revelation.Reading– The Tempest could be paired with Swift’s “A Modern Proposal” to inspire a discussion on conquest and colonization. Reading both with Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian or a variety of stories from The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven could lead to discussions about the historical and cultural results of colonialism. Discussions of Alexie’s work, in conjunction with The Tempest, also could inspire examinations of ways leaving your community and becoming “not yourself” might lead simultaneously to loss and gain of true self.
Writing – A number of books on craft discuss showing and telling. For high school students, try “Indirect Narration, or What Tells” in Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft. Adult and advanced students could try Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream. Both titles offer writing exercises.
Writing Prompt – When have you become more yourself – who you really are – by temporarily becoming somebody or something other than yourself?
It is dusk. The sun is setting. The cars speed away from you. Ahead, windows are alight, but none of those lit up rooms belong to you.
Where are you going?
I cringe every time I pass the sink during the day. Bowls sit in a stack, scraps of soggy cereal clinging to the sides. The glasses are sticky with rings of congealing milk. Tealeaves, from morning tea, partially clog the drain’s strainer. Last night’s baking dish sits half-full of oily water, barbeque sauce softening. Clean dishes rest around the sink, tipped upside down and dry, ready to be placed back in cupboards.
However, if I suffer a sudden heart attack, I am almost certain my dying thought won’t be: I neglected to do the dishes one last time.
So, I ignore them and write.
“None of them have shoes,” said a friend one night. She was speaking of children in an overseas orphanage from which she will be adopting a child. “We’re seeing if some area business can donate shoes. And we’re sending over toys.”
The rest of us around the table were silent, and I wondered if I was the only one thinking how absurd my earlier comments had been, about trying to sort out college applications. About whether each of my girls has enough art classes in her high school schedule to keep her happy.
It was one of those take-a-look-in-the-mirror moments. The reflection was startling, and not, I might add, all that appealing.
Good fiction can create the same effect, a moment of shock and epiphany. The last time I felt it, I was reading Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker. At the story’s start, the world is disconcerting, futuristic and gritty. In America’s Gulf Coast region, kids scavenge old oil tankers for any reusable parts. The reader learns how Nailer, the main character, and his companions, risk their lives for just enough money to get by. They scrounge and fight. They struggle to survive the elements, as men bully and exploit them. They are hungry, ragged, tough kids.
I was drawn in by Bacigalupi’s details. These offer the characters’ circumstances: Moon Girl, “her ears and lips and nose decorated with scavenged steel wire”; Pima who is “too big, and had the scabs and scars on her spine and elbows and knees to prove it. Light crew needed small bodies”; and Nailer himself “wondered what it would feel like to never wake in the middle of the night with his teeth chewing on his lips fooling himself into thinking that he was about to eat meat”. The kids are desperate, always close to harm and death.
After a storm that occurs 60-70 pages into the tale, I was led into another corner of Bacigalupi’s world. Nailer finds a damaged clipper ship, a ship unlike any he’s ever seen up close. A swank ship. He discovers “brass on the walls…all silk and carpeted corridors and brass and copper and little glass lanterns…carved furniture, sitting rooms, lounges, a bar with shattered liquor bottles.” Farther along, he gathers china and glassware, forks and ladles. He walks into a room, and he sees a hurt girl who wears rings and a golden pendant around her neck. To Nailer, this treasure trove could mean he doesn’t have to scramble the rest of his life.
To me, however, to many readers, this encounter is shocking, for the girl wears what many teens wear while walking down any American street. The riches Nailer plans to steal are clothing, silverware, and glasses found in many American homes. The reader, in this case myself, might have been identifying with Nailer and his companions for 70 pages, but suddenly she finds her own true reflection – Not the oppressed underdog, but instead the privileged swank.
This isn’t an entirely appealing reflection, yet its truth is compelling.
Also, the stories have a lot of nooks and crannies to explore. In the selkie tales – what would it feel like to swim the ocean as a seal? What would it feel like to have a second skin, one you could remove? What would it feel like to emerge from the ocean and begin to live on land?
Those are the tangible questions, but one might raise other questions. Does the guy love the girl he’s captured? If so, why does he hide her skin, an actual piece of her that she’ll surely miss? If the skin is the thing that captivated him to begin with, does he still love her once she no longer has it? And does she love him? If not, why does it take her so long to locate that skin? Yet once she finds it, she leaves him.
For me, answering difficult questions is a great reason to write a story.