First 5 Stories Up on “A Grimm Project”

September 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

My newest procrastination tool, “A Grimm Project,” is off to a good start! I’ve used 5 out of 242 of Grimms’ fairy tales as inspiration for short fictional freewrites (I try to time myself to 10 minutes, more or less), and those 5 freewrites are up on the blog for your enjoyment. I’m going in order, from “001. The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich” to “242. The Robber and His Sons” according to Jack Zipes’ The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, and posting both a short analysis and a freewrite for each tale.

But I’d love some more voices in this conversation – please take a look, and contribute a freewrite of your own in the comments section. Each month I’d like to publish a “Readers Responses” post with your freewrites. Share a snippet inspired by a tale already featured on the blog to be included in the next “Readers Responses” post, or of an upcoming tale, to be included in a post close to the time when that tale will be featured on the blog (I’m going in order, after all).

So please click over to “A Grimm Project” to check out my progress, and join in. Thanks!05-weisgerber-grimm_900

Yellowcake Review in June Issue of Bookslut

June 5, 2013 § 2 Comments

9780375869204_p0_v1_s260x420I loved reading Margo Lanagan’s haunting and elegant collection of short stories, Yellowcake, and you can now read why over at Bookslut. My review (which was originally posted here on the Train) has been published in the June Issue, where it’s in wonderful company! There’s also a feature article about Angela Carter’s complicated relationship with the US by Madeline Monson-Rosen, a review of Austin Grossman’s You, and more.

Here’s an excerpt:

Reading Lanagan’s work has always felt, for me, like reading something so familiar it surprises you; it’s the opposite of that writerly advice to “make the familiar strange.” Lanagan is already writing the strange, and that’s what we expect to find. What we don’t expect, then, is the familiarity, the hearth and home, the worry and the relief. In the world of these stories, a simple rose can have its essence magnified into something unbearably surreal, and yet it’s so imbued with real experience and memory, that what is left after the magnification recedes is something human and realistically nuanced, such as the wonder and fear of a small boy, or the love between a man and a wife who have grown old and tired together.

Thanks for reading!

Fairy Tales Behind the Curtain: A Conversation with Kate Wolford and Megan Engelhardt

May 9, 2013 § 6 Comments

Kate Wolford is a teacher, scholar, and author/editor of Beyond the Glass Slipper: Ten Neglected Fairy Tales to Fall in Love With, now out from World Weaver Press. She also edits the online magazine Enchanted Conversation. Megan Engelhardt is the co-author of Wolves and Witches, a collection of prose and poetry fairy tale adaptations by herself and her sister, Amanda C. Davis. Wolves and Witches is also available from World Weaver Press.

btgs-cover-ebook-300-dpiBoth Kate and Megan agreed to chat with me about fairy tales and their complicated relationship with gender, and what draws writers and scholars to them still. Enjoy!

crfricke: Both the act of collecting little known fairy tales and re-writing fairy tales are akin to drawing back a curtain on something—would you say that that was part of your mission in writing these books? If so, how would you define what is being revealed?

Kate Wolford: Yes, is my answer to the first question. Of the ten tales in Beyond the Glass Slipper, only “The Nixy” and “King Pig” are even moderately well known—especially when it comes to US readers. The massive domination of Disney fairy tale culture in the Americas means that even sophisticated fans of fairy tales might have a fairly narrow view of what a fairy tale is “supposed” to be. For example, people really believe that fairy tales always end in “happily ever after.” They very often don’t. What the book is meant to reveal is a wider idea of what a fairy tale can be, and that the world of fairy tales is richer and more diverse than most of us ever imagine. I also want readers to realize that fairy tale heroes and heroines often are people of questionable character. Look at the soldier in one of the stories, “The Blue Light.” That he will be as bad a king as the man he vanquishes is pretty clear. But, then again, in Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” the protagonist is a stalker, but people so seldom notice.

wolves-and-witches-coverMegan Engelhardt: For the first question, in our case, a lot of the tales we use are fairly well known. I think for Amanda and me, the fun comes in asking the reader to look at the familiar from a different angle. I’m not sure that it’s fair to call it a mission, really, but it is definitely an interest that directed a lot of the work in Wolves and Witches. We all know what happens from the main character’s point of view, but what’s the villain thinking? What’s going on over here to the side of the main action? What happens after the curtain closes? Those are the questions that fired our imaginations, and those are the stories we tried to reveal to the reader. « Read the rest of this entry »

The Grammar of Happiness: An Interview with Kate Bernheimer

March 29, 2013 § 3 Comments

Kate Bernheimer, editor of Fairy Tale Review and author of a trilogy of novels, The Complete Tales of Merry Gold, The Complete Tales of Lucy Gold, and The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold, loves to talk fairy tales, even with a grueling schedule of panels and readings at the 2013 AWP Conference. Which is how I found myself lucky enough to be sitting next to her at a flyer-littered table in the AWP Bookfair as she graciously answered my questions about fairy tales, her past work, and her upcoming projects. Just that morning she was among the speakers at a unbelievably packed panel on fairy tale retellings (the other panelists were Jane Yolen, Kelly Link, Anjali Sachdeva and John Crowley), and so fairy tales and their prolific influence on all kinds of literature were on both our minds. In our conversation, we talked about the undefinable nature of fairy tales, writerly childhood nostalgia, the brutality of myths, and the power of the perfect final word.

bernheimerphoto2012-ks1Kate is the author of the children’s books The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum, The Lonely Book, and the forthcoming The Girl Who Wouldn’t Brush Her Hair (Random House Children’s Books/Schwartz & Wade Books, illustrated by Jake Parker) as well as the short story collection Horse, Flower, Bird (Coffee House Press, illustrated by Rikki Ducornet). Her second story collection, How a Mother Weaned Her Girl from Fairy Tales, is forthcoming in 2014 (also from Coffee House Press). She is the editor of the award-winning anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me (Penguin Non-Classics), as well as of Fairy Tale Review, which is now accepting submissions for The Emerald Issue, which will be inspired by The Wizard of Oz. She teaches at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she lives with her husband, the writer Brent Hendricks (A Long Day at The End of the World) and their daughter.

CF: So when I was coming up with questions for you, I came upon a theme, and that is how fairy tales overlap and blur the lines of genre. Mostly because my 1st question is about the Oz issue, and it occurred to me that, like Alice in Wonderland or Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, it’s not technically, by traditional definition, a fairy tale. It’s a novel with an author that we can point to and say, that’s where it comes from. And yet there are all of these examples in children’s lit that become, in the popular consciousness, fairy tales, and so it still seems to fit.

KB: To speak first to the “traditional definition” of fairy tales, it’s important to point out that many do have authors; authored works are not excluded from the  body of work known as “fairy tales.”  Pinocchio is a fairy tale. Even the Grimms are author/editors. The stories collected in their editions were painstakingly gathered, and edited by them in literary versions, that is “written.” Of course the stories don’t belong to the Grimms; fairy tales don’t belong to anyone.  So that question of authorship and the question of the purity of the author and the individuality of the author comes into play in diverse ways in the fairy-tale tradition.  My operating sensibility is to read through fairy-tale techniques and a fairy-tale affect.  Reading this way, the entire Oz series is inarguably a fairy tale. Some scholars consider The Wizard of Oz series to be “the first American fairy tale”—I don’t think along those lines – looking for originating definitive versions; that’s a gesture that weirdly obliterates a more expansive sense of history. « Read the rest of this entry »

Six-Gun Snow White: A Victim’s Trickster Tale

February 27, 2013 § 6 Comments

It’s a real shame that neither of Hollywood’s big-budget Snow White adaptations could boast Catherynne M. Valente on their writing staff.

Too often, in the ouvre of fairy tale adaptations, we’re told that we’re going to see something new—the tale like it’s never been told!—and what we end up with instead is the same shlock, with better CGI. The art of the creative, thoughtful, and powerful fairy tale retelling is a quiet one that thrives less in Hollywood studios than it does in literary magazines, YA publishing houses, and small presses like Subterranean. If you, like me, gagged on your popcorn when Mirror, Mirror’s Snow White was told by the prince that she tastes “like strawberries,” then get thee to Subterranean Press’s site, and don’t balk at the $40 price tag of Valente’s limited edition of Six-Gun Snow White, because in its pages you’ll find all the beauty and sorrow that got left on the cutting room floor of last year’s feature films. Infused with Native American trickster tales and Spaghetti Western dudes, this retelling is less of a stretch than you might think—in fact, it’s an adaptation that transcends its patchworked nature, strips the archetypal characters to their raw human bones, and reveals the true beating heart of the fairy tale.

sixgun-snowwhite

Cover illustration by Charles Vess

In Six-Gun Snow White, Snow White is the cruel nickname given to the daughter of a silver baron and his first wife by his second, the proverbial stepmother. Snow White’s tragic mother was a Crow Indian woman who was forced into marriage with Mr. H, and who, after a failed suicide attempt, dies giving birth to the half-breed Snow White. Snow is kept a secret from Mr. H’s second wife, a pale and beautiful white woman who, once she finally meets Snow, makes it her terrible mission to teach Snow about beauty, womanliness, and whiteness. Snow White’s brown skin is the marker that makes her different from her stepmother, and it becomes her curse when she takes off from home in her father’s clothes with her pistol, Rose Red, by her side. « Read the rest of this entry »

The Favorite.

November 8, 2012 § 31 Comments

It should be almost as blasphemous to pinpoint a favorite book as it is to single out a favorite child, especially if you’re a Reader with a Capital R. What will the others think? Will the Grimms become bitter? Will Peter Pan, knowing that he’s loved but not (gasp!) my favorite, develop some deeply-seated childish drive for attention? That is, more than he already has? It’s a risky move, both because someone on the shelf might get offended , and because there’s always the chance–some say–that you might change your mind.

But I won’t change my mind, even if my favorite book has lots of competition.

In my apartment there’s a special shelf, where my Grimms live, all of my Sendak, Barrie, and Trina Schart Hyman. Also, most of the criticism of the aforementioned hang out there as well. It’s the place of honor, away from the YA paperbacks and college poetry textbooks, where my 1st edition of Barrie’s The Little White Bird sits next to Lore Segal and Randall Jarrell’s The Juniper Tree, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, which was given to me by a good friend in a time of book-need. All of Maria Tatar’s Annotated series (Hans Christian Andersen, The Grimms, Peter Pan) are here, along with a copy of War of the Worlds, as illustrated by Edward Gorey, and A Child’s Christmas in Wales, as illustrated by the late, beautiful, Trina Schart Hyman. Audrey Niffennegger’s The Three Incestuous Sisters, next to both volumes of Tony Kushner’s study of the work of Maurice Sendak.

All of this is not to brag, but to say that it might surprise some of you readers, who’ll have already been exposed to my rants and exultations about many of these titles, that none of these (not even Peter and Wendy, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman!) is my favorite book of all time. In fact, the author of this book is someone whose name has never appeared on this blog before. It’s a book I grew up with without attaching any significance to the name, the way I now do with my hoarded information about authors of books that I love. I love this book not because there’s any thrilling backstory or deep personal turmoil in the making of it. It’s simple, beautiful, and, sadly, out of print.

This, dears, is my favorite book of all time:

« Read the rest of this entry »

Halloween, the Hollow Queen, Princess of Doing What You Please, and Night’s Best Girl

October 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

…Or so September’s shadow has become, in The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, since being cruelly sliced from September’s side and taken down to Fairyland Below in the first book of the series, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

Now September has returned to Fairyland to find that her shadow, Halloween, has caused a panic in Fairyland-Above by stealing everyone’s shadows (the source of their magic) to join her in her nightly revels in Fairyland-Below, with the help of the mysterious Alleyman. September must stand up to her impish and impulsive shadow, resist the temptations of constant, unbridled magic-making, and find a way to restore balance to Fairyland.

In Fell Beneath Fairyland, September is a slightly older, and more emotionally muddled, heroine—now a budding teenager, September’s heart is a bit more aching, and her instincts are a bit more honed. Her shadow is still the spitting image of the September who saved Fairyland in the last book, missing shoe and all—a couple of years younger, and so much more impulsive. Halloween is very much September’s Id, the child-self that growing September is leaving behind, and it’s this contrast that Fell Beneath Fairyland seeks to explore: what happens to a child heroine once she’s no longer such a child? Does a one-time savior of Fairyland get to enjoy the magical fruits of her labor and let untapped wishes loose, or is a heroine’s work dependent on balance? « Read the rest of this entry »

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