Pulling Back the Curtain

This past Saturday, I was finally able to marry the man I’ve been with through eight years and (some not insignificant legal) change. It’s been a long time coming, and it was a lot of wonderful things. My husband (!) designed a crazy-spectacular steampunk wedding with what shouldn’t have been nearly a large enough budget, and melted my heart in all the right ways. He knows that, and if he doesn’t, then I’ve got work to do, but that’s marriage, right?

Wonderful, too, were all the people who worked their effing butts off driving U-hauls or carting set pieces or tying strings for lanterns or, honestly, showing up and being there. Every little bit helped and mattered and there aren’t enough letters on the keyboard to express my thanks.

I’m not going to spend more time gushing about the awesome, though, because let’s be honest: that just winds up sounding like bragging, anyway. I’m not here to make everyone who wasn’t there jealous that they couldn’t be. Quite the opposite.

For several personal reasons that I’m not going into (this post may be a lot more open about my personal life than others, but I’m still a private person), when the legal window opened in Florida, we wound up with a short timetable for planning and pulling off a wedding. If we had any hope of getting anyone at all there, we had to invite quite quickly. But because of the same restrictions that meant we were rushing out invites, our guest list had to be painfully short.

There are a lot of people in the world we love, and whom we know love us. Extended family members and friends whom we knew would be ecstatic for us, the sight of whom would make us ecstatic. And we couldn’t have them all.

Back when I taught, we used to talk about how a heavily-edited paper was “bleeding” from the red pen. Our invitation list felt a lot less metaphorical in its bleeding. You can’t see it, but every name we crossed off to make it possible to have our wedding at all was like slicing off our fingertips. Some people understood and some people didn’t. I think more of the former than the latter, but I’m not a telepath, so I suppose I’m just guessing.

Whether it’s people you couldn’t invite or people who couldn’t attend for schedule or financial reasons or — because we’re human — people who couldn’t be there because they’ve passed, no matter how long you can make your guest list, there will always be someone missing.

We had oh so many of all those folks. That they weren’t lined up in chairs back further than the horizon ached just below our chests and stung the corner of our eyes.

But we saw and felt at least a bit of them in loaned props and set pieces, in original creations crafted with amazing talent and skill, in vendors we only found from recommended phone numbers and names they let us drop. They were there from the remnants of their strong hugs when we ran into each other out in the world. They lingered in every verbal or virtual “congratulations.”

That wedding wasn’t just three months in the offing. Or even eight years.

You helped make it happen if we ever met you. From every small or large interaction, good or bad, that eventually steered the two of us together, kept the two of us together. If you think this is about you, it is. You’re why and how this happened.

And we can’t thank you enough.

Twice Hyped Tales

With bouncing and whatnot for future publications, I don’t want to forget the stuff that’s out there. The Bearded Scribe Press, publisher of Twice Upon A Time: Fairytale, Folklore, & Myth. Reimagined & Remastered. (which includes my story, “Tall”) has been putting together more material to let people know about the authors behind so many of these stories. Rather than turn this little corner into All Twice Upon All The Time, I’m condensing them here. Click one name, click all, click as your little heart desires. And if your little heart decides after reading that you want yourself a copy of this not-so-little anthology, click the link I put on the title of it above, or on the sidebar. Look at all these fun options the world gives.

Rose Blackthorn (“Before the First Day of Winter”)
I […] have a passion for post-apocalyptic fiction, and I was curious to explore what might happen to a diminishing population of selkies after human beings have poisoned the world in some great final war.

Court Ellyn (“The Bone Harp”)
I wasn’t supposed to read fantasy, because it led to irresponsible, even dangerous, lifestyles. So I had to buy the book behind my mother’s back. I love you, Mother.

Steven Anthony George (“Patient Griselda”)
It was not in fiction writers, but playwrights that I found inspiration. I found the language of Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams both strange and poetic and I wanted to write in a similar style.

Dale W. Glaser (“My Name is Melise”)
[T]he concept of the anthology, not only re-telling fairy tales but mashing them up with other genres, was an inspiration itself, as I decided to take things in a dark science-fiction direction in order to create a rational explanation for the fantastic elements of the original.

This Makes It a Series, Right?

I’m bouncing a little bit, because I can officially say I have another story sold and on the horizon.

Betwixt will be publishing one of my stories in their April issue. If you liked “Detritus,” this story is set in the same world. If you didn’t like “Detritus,” this is a whole different POV character, so give it a try anyway. If you didn’t read “Detritus,” then super double plus check it out, because it’ll be free to read online, so you’re working with a zero risk proposition.

More info as I have it, and links when the story goes live.

Possess the Original

Spoilers for The Originals are likely to follow. Warning done.

In general, I’ve tended to find The Vampire Diaries spin-off show The Originals more interesting than its parent. I think the pull of the latter comes in part with the way the writers seem to play with moral ambiguity in more interesting ways. A fair amount of that is the fact the titular original vampires are often and repeatedly painted as Not Good People. And unlike in TVD, they generally aren’t seeking redemption. The Mikaelson clan are callow and selfish and back-stabby. That last quite literally, though they’re often as happy to stab you in the front if it’s more convenient.

The original vampires are, then, protagonists rather than heroes. The nature of series television, of course, means that casting them in that central position required some level of softening from the soulless lot they first appeared as in TVD. Largely, this takes place in the extended familial interactions: sibling rivalry and the burdens of unplanned parenthood and long lost relatives with which they have … unpleasant pasts.

A significant frustration is that, though set in New Orleans, the show’s first season wasn’t what I’d call especially diverse. The Mikaelsons are all white. Most of the added supporting cast, as well. The first arc’s adversary (Charles Michael Davis’s Marcel) was one of the few POC in the cast. I can’t say he reformed, because I’m not sure anyone does that on The Originals, but he has moved his way onto the protagonist side of the equation, insofar as anyone can really be certain of an allegiance in a show built around betrayal by those you most trust.

Another adversary was a body jumping witch, who was — both in her first life and in the body she inhabited in the 21st century — a woman of color. There’s an argument to be made that it’s also problematic the percentage of POC characters who fall on the antagonist side of the equation. I go back and forth about it, because the show makes it pretty clear that most of the people who want to hurt the Mikaelsons have entirely valid reasons for doing so. The originals are horrible people who’ve earned a fair share of the ire directed toward tehm. Which is likely to happen when you’re centuries-old bloodsucking murderers.

And given how often the Mikaelsons are plotting against each other, it’s often difficult to decide who the hell’s in the right. Usually no one. I mean, the number of times the siblings have imprisoned, tortured, or tried to murder one another, and then justified it with speeches about loyalty and betrayal that don’t really makes sense but obviously feel right to them … yeah.

Still, even if they’re all Not Good People, season one had a woeful dearth of color given the setting.

The second season has made a little progress to fixing that, though the storyline behind that is as murky in how it makes me feel as the title characters themselves. You see, while there are more black actors working on the show, they’re almost all playing white characters.

Bear with me. I’ll explain

This season, Esther Mikaelson, the mother of the original vampires, returns from the dead, and brings back deceased Mikaelson siblings Kol and Finn with her. The returned Esther’s originally played by white Natalie Dreyfuss, Finn by black actor Yusuf Gatewood. After a few episodes, Esther’s spirit slips into that of a different witch, and she’s thereafter played by black actress Sonja Sohn.

Esther, it seems, has a plan to remove the taint of vampirism from her children. She wants them to stop being the murderous animals they have been, to move all of their souls into new, human bodies and thus grant them a chance to live honest, human lives. She even takes steps to try to give them recognizable vessels, preparing human ally Cami (Leah Pipes) to receive the soul of daughter Rebekah.

It’s at this point that the narrative finally pauses long enough to point out what’s been obvious for some time: Esther’s magic hasn’t fashioned new bodily shells for herself and her children; they’re possessing bodies which belong to living souls. Though she doesn’t wind up in Cami, Rebakah does — through the twisting nature of plots and traps and double-crosses the show so enjoys — wind up in a new body. That of black actress Maisie Richardson-Sellers.

Surely by now you’re sensing the pattern.

I find the potential of this pattern incredibly intriguing. I mean, for all that Esther keeps saying she’s trying to save her family, for all that she denounces the evil of her children’s monstrous existence, she’s effectively trying to rescue them from being predators by making them into parasites. She’s giving them a second chance by taking away several others’ first one.

And nearly all the folks whose lives are being stolen by these white Europeans are black.

It’s just downright fraught with prickly, twisty dynamics. Especially when you consider that Marcel explicitly comes from a background as a slave. He lived his early life possessed by a person, though not in the mystical sense. Even after he was ostensibly freed by Klaus (Joseph Morgan), he wound up a recurring pawn, fought over by the vampire family, each of whom has variously wanted him for him or herself, as a sibling or child or lover or whatever, but almost never as an equal. Marcel has been bandied about as “belonging” to one or more Mikaelson for a significant portion of his life and later undeath.

There is, too, the choice to have Yusuf Gatewood continue to play Finn when, in a recent episode, the minds / souls of the Mikaelsons are all gathered in a magical holding area outside of their bodies. That Kol is played in that sequence by Daniel Sharman (the current “host body” for Kol and not the character’s original actor) suggests this is probably only a logistical expedient, but I couldn’t help myself wondering if it might suggest that long-term possession impacts the sense of self, and then wondering in what ways.

The frustration of it all is, however, that other than that brief period wherein white Cami is at risk, no one seems to be commenting on what all this possession means to the possessed. Indeed, in the most recent episode, the only person anyone’s morning as one of the possessing Mikaelsons dies is that of the possessing soul, and not the young man whose life was co-opted by him. Even more noteworthy: though there’s been much hand-wringing about how to get Rebekah back into her original body, the same scenes of a dying brother lead to Rebekah’s promise to stay in her (black) witch body until she can manage the magic to bring Kol back.

As I said in the beginning, this isn’t an especially new turn of events for these characters. They’ve perpetually only cared about their own well being, and marginally the well-being of those mortals with whom they happen to be fond at the moment. That the Mikaelsons don’t think twice about what their choices mean to the humans they force themselves on is a pretty consistent narrative of the show.

But it’s not just them. No one is commenting. Not Davina (Danielle Campbell), who still wants Klaus dead for his callus treatment of her loved ones. Not Marcel, whose previously-mentioned background might suggest he notice this kind of thing. Not even Cami, who is not only known for pointing out just how completely messed up all these supernatural characters’ moral compasses are, but who was actually in danger of being possessed. If anyone might sympathize with the suppressed person in these bodies, it should be her.

I suppose I can take this as indication that the Mikaelsons’ philosophy is seeping into all those with whom they associate. It wouldn’t be the first time. Stay around these people long enough, and you seem to develop a taste for blood whether you’re a vampire or not. I have a hard time believing that’s not the intention, though. And it’s just frustrating to see what feels like such an intriguing subplot languish un-commented on.

A Tale of “Tall”

I did threaten to go on at greater length about my story in the Twice Upon A Time: Fairytale, Folklore, & Myth. Reimagined & Remastered anthology. I do like to carry through on threats:

As is probably obvious from its title, “Tall” sprang from my interest in American tall tales. In the beginning, that’s all I knew I wanted to work with. I thought there was something intriguing about these wildly fantastic stories told in a very colloquial voice. It gave the miraculous an everyday quality, which in turn had me wondering just what it might be like if the hyperbolic reality of tall tales really was everyday.

Since I had no further notions than that, at first I just started collecting. I wanted to see what kinds of patterns emerged. It didn’t take long to start noticing them. There were, for example, a lot of larger than life stories about people who were literally larger than life. Not only Paul Bunyan, but Joe Magarac, Old Stormalong, even John Henry in some versions of that story, were giants: men larger, stronger, and tougher than their fellows.

Speaking of John Henry, though, what I didn’t notice a lot of were women or people of color. And when I did find them, they didn’t tend to fare nearly as well as their Caucasian counterparts. John Henry, after all, dies on the heels of his own success. The only Native American character showing up in these sorts of stories, Sam Hide, was literally only noteworthy to the storytellers for being a drunk and a liar.

I knew at that point I wanted to foreground both women and POC in the story itself. That they were largely invisible in these tales — and poorly treated by them when they did show up — was exactly why I thought I should be telling this story from their point of view.

One of the abuses I found most outrageous was the tale of Pecos Bill’s true love, Slue Foot Sue. A miraculously-talented wrangler in her own right, Sue winds up bouncing non-stop from her overgrown hoop skirts after having the audacity to think she (who managed to wrangle a giant catfish, let’s remember) might ride Bill’s horse. There are vaguely sanitized versions where Sue lives but gives up on all this cowboy stuff after Bill finally rescues her, but the version that lodged in my mind and wouldn’t let go involves Bill having to kill his love for her own good.

We’ll let that one sink in a minute. Seriously, Pecos Bill, to end the suffering of that foolish woman he decided to marry, put her down like a lame horse.

I absolutely had to take that story on directly.

Elsie seemed like the perfect point of view character to face the inherent problems with the source material. She’s a Native American girl who was culturally “overwritten” by these over the top, Caucasian narratives. In a world where giants trample along, and men pretty literally bend the world to their will, hers is the story of the ways in which someone might try to survive such a world and, maybe, re-write that overblown primary narrative. There’s power to be found in those places where the men aren’t looking. Between the trenches dug by sad giants and the deserts born of men’s pride and hubris, were other options, other people, who had powerful stories to tell.

Choose Format
Amazon|Kindle
Amazon|Paperback

Blurb:

Fairytales don’t always happen once upon a time. Fables don’t always have a happy ending. Sometimes the stories we love are too dark for nightmares. What if waking Sleeping Beauty was the worse thing the Prince could have done? What if Rapunzel wasn’t in that tower for her own protection—but for everyone else’s?

Assembled by The Bearded Scribe Press, Twice Upon A Time combines classics and modern lore in peculiar and spectacular ways. From Rapunzel to Rumpelstiltskin, this unique collection showcases childhood favorites unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Both traditionally-published and independent authors will take you on a whirlwind ride through fairytale and folklore, myth and majick. Cherished stories are revisited and remastered into newly-treasured tales of hope and heartache, of adversity and adventure.

This collection features 43 short stories ranging in length from 2K-12K words from the following cast of talented writers:

Bo Balder, AJ Bauers, Carina Bissett, Rose Blackthorn, S.M. Blooding, Rick Chiantaretto, Richard Chizmar, Liz DeJesus, Court Ellyn, S.Q. Eries, Steven Anthony George, Dale W. Glaser, Jax Goss, K.R. Green, Kelly Hale, Tonia Marie Harris, Brian T. Hodges, Tarran Jones, Jason Kimble, Shari L. Klase, Alethea Kontis, Hannah Lesniak, Wayne Ligon, RS McCoy, Joshua Allen Mercier, Robert D. Moores, Diana Murdock, Nick Nafpliotis, Elizabeth J. Norton, Bobbie Palmer, William Petersen, Rebekah Phillips, Asa Powers, Joe Powers, Brian Rathbone, Julianne Snow, Tracy Arthur Soldan, C.L. Stegall, Brian W. Taylor, Kenechi Udogu, Onser von Fullon, Deborah Walker, Angela Wallace, and Cynthia Ward.

Edited by Joshua Allen Mercier. Cover art by Luke Spooner.


 

Excerpt from Fire & Ash by Joshua Allen Mercier, a dark fantasy retelling of Little Red Riding Hood:

THE cold, autumn gusts ripped across Salem’s port, stirring the angry waters, stirring the angry spectators gathered before the gallows—gallows which had not, until this day, been used since the Trials several years back. Men, women, children—all bore hateful eyes and twisted faces. All bore a deep-seeded fear of the woman before them; they watched and seethed, anger building like fire fed by the winds, waiting for answers, for closure, for justice—for the devil’s death.

Constance Archer stared at the sea of faces; she despised all of them, save two—two faces that weren’t supposed to be there. Her daughters, Rhiannon and Rowan, hid in the small grove of trees, but she could still see their watery, green eyes piercing through the shadows, their stares stabbing their fear and pain and confusion into her. They weren’t supposed to see her like this. With the gag still tightly secured about her mouth, however, her muffled pleas for them to leave went unheard.

Where was their grandmother?

Constance’s fiery locks were drenched with tears. Her heart ached. For them, for herself, for her husband, Jacob. She shouldn’t have let the rage overtake her; she knew that now, now that it was too late.

“For the crimes of witchcraft, how do you plea?”

Even though the thick rope around her neck made it difficult to escape it—to forget—the reverend’s voice jolted her back to reality.

“Not guilty,” Constance replied through the gag, unsure if her plea was understood.

“Executioner, please remove the gag from the accused.”

The reverend’s statement was cold. They had known each other since they were children, but he was but a stranger now as he stood before her. He was once so compassionate, so caring—what had changed?

The executioner approached Constance with apprehension; she soon understood why. Despite the black hood covering his face, his scent—sweet, woody, musky, like freshly-sawn wood mixed with perfume and sweat—immediately revealed his identity: William Black. He removed the gag with haste and stepped across the gallows with a speed she hadn’t witnessed him have in years.

How fitting that the town adulterer would be the one to hang her. She wondered who the woman had been, the one whose scent lingered on his clothing and skin. Surely it wasn’t his wife, Catherine.

It couldn’t be.

She had killed her, in a way, the memory of the act flooding back to her nearly causing her to faint. Seems Catherine and her husband didn’t understand the meaning of marriage; then again, neither did Jacob (apparently). Catching him with Catherine was the most heart-breaking of all.

Wyatt Thatcher cleared his throat. “Mrs. Archer—your plea, now that we can hear you.”

Constance stared at her old friend, pain and tears welling in her eyes. “Not guilty.”

“If not for witchcraft, how do account for the brutal way you murdered Catherine Black? Surely, you were possessed,” countered Reverend Thatcher.

“I didn’t murder Catherine Black. As I told you all before, she was attacked by a beast.” She wasn’t lying, but she wasn’t telling the whole truth. The truth wouldn’t save her, and she couldn’t have her daughters hearing it. They weren’t supposed to be here, but calling attention to them now would only make matters worse.

“You’re the beast!” a woman’s voice sounded from the throng.

“Witch!” said another, followed by her husband’s jibe, “You’re Satan’s whore!”

Reverend Thatcher held his hand to the crowd; without a word, they fell silent. It wasn’t their first execution; it probably wouldn’t be their last. His attention turned to the defendant, but his eyes remained downcast, staring at the rough wood of the gallows as if it were the most interesting sight he had ever beheld.

Constance knew why Wyatt Thatcher wouldn’t look at her, knew he couldn’t show a hint of weakness or compassion for her lest he be hanged, too, for sympathizing with the Devil. Satan was in Salem Village that day—no doubt about that. But it wasn’t Constance or Reverend Thatcher. The Devil stood in the crowd, reflected in the eyes of every spectator. His hunger bellowed in their calls, their taunts, their glares, and it wouldn’t be satisfied until her limp, lifeless body waved in the autumn winds like a banner for their tainted justice, a flag of their blood-stained victory over evil.

Wyatt’s hardness broke, even if for just a second, Constance the only witness to the silent tear soaking its fleshy path across his regretful face. “And please explain to us why you were covered in her blood.”

“I’ve told you all this before, Wyatt…” Using the reverend’s first name stirred a wave of gasps from the crowd, forcing her to pause. “I carried Catherine into my house to try to stop her bleeding, to prevent her death.”

That was a lie; it was what she wanted everyone to believe, but it had been all for naught. It had only sealed her fate.

“And what of your husband’s disappearance?” An icy gust of wind blew through Constance’s locks of red hair; with it, Thatcher’s own coldness returned. “Did you use witchcraft to dispose of his body?”

“My husband was attacked, too, his body dragged into the orchard by the beast.”

That was a lie, too. She couldn’t tell them the truth—that she had, in a fit of rage after seeing Jacob and Catherine naked in the orchard, cursed her husband’s appetite for flesh. The curse had gone horribly wrong…

 

 

Praise:

“Brilliant change-up on the new flood of “Fairy Tale Twists”. If you’re looking for something that can suck you in right away, this book is definitely it. The collection of short stories makes sure you never get bored with the story or writing style.”   ~Jett Murdock / Amazon review

 

About the Publisher:

The Bearded Scribe Press, LLC is an independent publisher of quality Speculative Fiction. They aim to become a platform for emerging writers to get discovered by the mainstream and inversely, through becoming a staple in the literary community, becoming the source for readers to discover emerging talent in the Speculative Fiction realm.

facebook twitter youtube pinterest googleplus goodreads

 

Watch the [Extended] Book Trailer:

Not So Long Ago…

Cover art by Luke Spooner

I suppose it’s appropriate for a folklore anthology to stumble through its own relatively twisty path to completion. But complete it finally is.

Twice Upon A Time: Fairytale, Folklore, & Myth. Reimagined & Remastered is a mouthful of a title, though given the number of books that come up when you type “Twice Upon a Time” into Amazon, I figured giving you the whole title here was a good idea.

Near the last week of last year, the anthology was up in e-book only on the Kindle store. Then it vanished like a fairie light. Whispers among the townfolk spoke of ogres and demons and arcane scrolls called “contracts.” Only the archmage Joshua knows for certain.

Now, however, it’s finally back, and in dead tree format, too. My story, “Tall,” is part of the anthology. I have a more substantial post about that which should go up over the weekend or early next week, but the short version is, it involves a quest to claim Annie Oakley’s gun in order to save a town from becoming yet more collateral damage in the feud between Paul Bunyan’s giants and Pecos Bill’s tornado wranglers. This is complicated in no small part due to personal history between Bill and the gun’s current owner. Also, there is at least one monster, because there always is, right?

I’m proud of “Tall,” and excited that it’s out there for folks to read. And just in case, there’s also a metric ton of other folks having their own demented turns at various stories you thought you knew, so there ought to be something in a flavor you enjoy.