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MzChaos Messed Up Fairytales

Updated on October 18, 2012

I spent 5 glorious days playing games at GenCon. I drifted from writers workshop to readings, sandwiching in games with Fire Trolls, Star Trek, Shadow Run, and various board games. I saw beautiful elf women, and fierce warriors. I saw time travelers in full dress, reminiscent of the Golden Compass. I spoke to authors, looked at original artwork, and played with my friends. I stayed at the Hyatt for the 4 nights. Upon check out, I called my brother to come and pick me up. While I stood on the curb outside of the Hyatt, waiting, and smiling over the last few days of joy and fantasy, I heard the low rumble of a vehicle approaching from the street. Inwardly, I groaned and searched for the source. I saw my old Hyundai recently involved in a fire putt putting down the street, turn into the Hyatt and ease to a stop in front of me. Cringing, and pretending to not notice the workers from the Hyatt staring, I opened the back door of the car to screech, then opened the front door to an equally loud screech. I tossed my bag in the back seat, slammed the door shut and climbed in the front. The front hood of the car had peeling paint and was missing a couple of head lights melted from the fire. As we drove away, I couldn’t help thinking of how often my life was like the fantasies I enjoyed playing. And this was a perfect example. It’s just that usually, Cinderella climbs into the carriage when she leaves the ball. This time, she got the pumpkin.

I have wanted to write about this for awhile but I couldn’t find a way to give the story shape and form. Even now, the form it is taking leaves me second guessing…could there have been another way? The answer is always yes. Could there have been a better way? Maybe, but maybe not. At a Writers Conference over the week-end put on by the Indianapolis Public Library, I was able to listen to several writers speak about their writing life and their experiences.

S.M. Harding mentioned an old Arapaho quote that went something to the effect, “Every story seeks out the perfect person to write it.” I am paraphrasing because I went looking for the quote and I couldn’t find it, at least nothing exact. What I did find were authors who have similar sentiments.

“Storytelling wasn't about making things up. It was more like inviting the stories to come through her, let themselves be told.”
Jennifer McMahon,Don't Breathe a Word

“Authors do not choose a story to write, the story chooses us.”
Richard Denney

“I could not stop talking because now I had started my story, it wanted to be finished. We cannot choose where to start and stop. Our stories are the tellers of us. ”
Chris Cleave,Little Bee

The theme of Messed Up Fairytales has been prevalent in my life. It is as if the story is the fairy tale, but it all goes horribly wrong at some point. Or, sometimes, it’s just that a particular scene leaves the shell of the original story but nothing else is the same. A couple of years ago, at GencCon again, I found myself walking downtown with my Dungeons and Dragons buddies and suddenly realized that I was the single girl in a gaggle of 7 men. The story of Snow White and her seven dwarves rose up, and seemed appropriate due to the venue. One of my friends was having difficulty dealing with the heat and I subconsciously dubbed him Grumpy. Though, I couldn’t really point fingers since I was having trouble with the heat as well. I knew who in our group would be Dopey but I don’t want to drift to far from the story. Get it? Drift? Like Snow White?

“People take on the shapes of the songs and the stories that surround them, especially if they don't have their own song.”
Neil Gaiman,Anansi Boys

I wonder about Gaimans’ quote in that, if my life is taking on the qualities of fairytales, does that mean that I don’t have my own song? Or, is he stating that my song is somehow related to the tales of my youth. I am a firm believer that a part of myself is placed very firmly in my characters, not really by choice, but because this is who I know. I know myself fairly intimately so the resource I have is always from my internal dialogue. Patrick Rothfuss was one of the speakers at GenCon this year and his quote seemed appropriate to illustrate the point.

“It's like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”
Patrick Rothfuss,The Name of the Wind

Another theme which was mentioned frequently this week-end is that all authors are thieves. Most of the time, this was spoken in good humor, almost always it was spoken in irony. As much as we all love to believe we are the creator of grandness almost all of what we write and what we think to write about has already been written somewhere else. That doesn’t mean we stop writing. It means that the challenge becomes how to tell the same story everyone else has been telling through our own eyes, with the uniqueness of our own voice. We claim the story as our own and give it the color and flavor of our own experiences. Of the 10 authors who spoke this week-end, at least half of them mentioned stealing the best ideas, or quotes from someone close to them, or something they had read or overheard.

“I have stolen ideas from every book I have ever read.”
Philip Pullman,The Amber Spyglass

Because I like to analyze the stories of my life and how they relate to me, I often ask what the metaphors mean when the fairy tale theme seems to pop up on frequent occurrences. I was gifted a white rabbit which I had for 3 years, and Alice in Wonderland became a source of curiosity for me. Odd that sometimes when we pursue an idea, it appears to be getting further and further away, and yet when you drop it and start to move away, you suddenly find yourself there. The story has suddenly found itself in front of you. Is this one of life’s little cosmic jokes?

“Think of every fairy-tale villainess you've ever heard of. Think of the wicked witches, the evil queens, the mad enchantresses. Think of the alluring sirens, the hungry ogresses, the savage she-beasts. Think of them and remember that somewhere, sometime, they've all been real.

Mab gave themlessons .”
Jim Butcher,Small Favor

Jim Butcher with his Harry Dresden series, is by far one of my favorite writers. I read his Codex Alera series as well which he said was a combination of Pokemon and the lost Roman army, which he accepted based on a dare through a writing group he was involved in. The debate was originally over whether a great story idea could carry the entire weight of the telling or if craft must be involved in order to make it work. His stance was that you could have really crappy story elements but create a great story if your craft was strong. Spoken like a true wizard! And, his craft is strong. He manages several books in the Alera series and I was enthralled in each of them. But, am I meant to be the main character of my life? It always feels as if I am watching from the outside looking in.

“The idea of my life as a fairy tale is itself a fairy tale.”
Grace Kelly

I feel like I could steal Grace Kelly’s quote, except my twist would be different. I feel like she is saying that looks are deceiving and my life is definitely not a fairytale; Whereas, I would be looking at it as if the quote states the obvious. It looks like a rose, smells like a rose, it must be a rose. I am gifted with an interesting outlook on everything that touches my life, and there has been much weirdness in that touching. All of it becomes fodder for the story. As Auden proclaims, throw yourself into the story.

“The way to read a fairy tale is to throw yourself in.”
―W.H. Auden

As I stated near the beginning, part of my problem with this topic was how do I get the gist of what I wanted to say, out in a way that makes sense. It has been circling around in my head for so long, and for me it means the idea clutters my mental space. I cannot move on and out into more creative ideas when a few circle my head like hornets.

“There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.”
Maya Angelou

I find I sometimes am telling bits and pieces of the same story in several different places. It is as if I cannot get the story elements down. It would be similar to telling a dream where the vagueness of the dream is so elusive it is like trying to define God but not being able to use words to do so.

“You know what a storyteller is, don't you? It's a person that has a good memory who hopes other people don't.”
―Sandra Dallas

Which reminds me of another element of my life, I dream. Does the Sleeping Beauty theme come into play there? She slept for a hundred years, it never mentions that she dreams but one assumes she does. Sometimes my dreams are the most obvious place to steal from. In my life, I have encounters with reality that have people stopping and asking, now is this real or is this a dream. Once I was sitting at Starbucks and a motorcycle went by with two beautiful people on it, scarves trailing out behind them, all dressed in red. The motorcycle was pulling a trailer. On the trailer was a big white furry dog, in a scarf and a pair of goggles. My jaw dropped and I wrote it down. It is like a scene from a book or a movie. It is so vivid and real, and I would tell this story and my friends would stop me with, this is a dream right?

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
Albert Einstein

I think sometimes Einstein must have been my energetic father, since he wasn’t my biological father. He has many times contemplated reality in a way that I find myself, looking at physics, imagining how some other way might be found, questioning his own inability to see a perfectly whole picture. I take inspiration from people like him because it helps me know that I am not alone. I question it all as well. I want to know more. I don’t want to cut it open to see how it works, I would prefer to imagine how I think it works because there is so much more possibility in the imagining of it. When asked why he writes, Stephen King said:

"Because I have the heart of a small boy... and I keep it in a jar on my desk.”
Stephen King

I think he meant that as a metaphor and not that he literally had the heart of a boy on his desk; although, with Stephen King you can never be too sure. He once said when he was telling a story, it was like he was looking through a window and the story would just unfold in front of him. I used to joke that we might be looking through the same window. He has some far out premises, but I get them. I dream them. I see them. I understand where he is coming from with much of his philosophy.

Taking my stories off world, allow me to go places with character and story that I might not otherwise be able to go. One of the basic tenets of writing is that the story needs to be credible. If I were to write my fairytales of my life in a whole, the story would be unbelievable. My audience would simply disbelieve that I have seen the worlds that I have all in my mind, or that my dreams introduce me to so many concepts I could not otherwise imagine. It creates a real world for me in the living that would seem incredulous to the average person. It becomes necessary for me to meld the real with the unreal in order for me to make the story appealing. And, Mary Higgins Clark has a great tool for doing this which I think I will use in my next story.

“When someone is mean to me, I just make them a victim in my next book.”
Mary Higgins Clark

Since this narrative became so much longer than I originally intended, I will end it with the profound. Listen to the wisdom of those who have come before you, and when the end of story is in sight, leave it with a big scene. My life is in progress, as is the story and the inspiration from which it is born, and then everything burst into flames.

“Whatever story you're telling, it will be more interesting if, at the end you add, "and then everything burst into flames.”
Brian P. Cleary,You Oughta Know By Now


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