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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Unfair Folk (ConCarolinas 2013 Writing Panel Notes)

I'm sure you don't need to hear about  my crazy month of parties, traveling, and computer issues. (Though I narrowly avoided sending my laptop off for needless repairs when I realized that the fix had partly to do with all the accumulated cat hair. Which we will not speak of right now. Seriously.) And above all, woven through that were more revisions. Revisions that lead to hour-long conversations about the nature of my main character's magic, the flaw with middle books in some fantasy trilogies, and the plausibility of stairs on ships. Among other insanities. So I'll spare you the details, except to say that barring final feedback from my critique partner, I'm ready to get back to querying. Yay!

But I will say this: the process of doing an intense revision with a critique partner who knows how to kick butt has been *awesome*. I learned a lot in the process. I paid attention to whether or not my main character was driving the story. I remembered to factor in the advice about making sure that at least three of the senses are engaged to enhance description. And I kept an eye on the flow. What I'm saying is, I feel really good about this.

Meanwhile, please enjoy more notes (at last, as usual, sighhhhh). I feel no shame. But guilt? Um ... OH HEY LOOK AT THE PRETTY NOTES ABOUT FAERIES!

The Un-Fair Folk
Emily Leverett, Misty Massey Kalayna Price, Janine K Spendlove
Moderator: James Maxey

JM: How did we get from Oberon to Tinkerbell?

EL: It’s changed with time. In the medieval version of Orpheus’ tale, his wife gets kidnapped by faeries; Orpheus is a king who dresses as a minstrel and faeries are evil, creepy. Then a few hundred years later, we get Shakespeare with Oberon and Titania who aren’t very nice either and mess things up. Then in the Victorian era, it’s twee faerie things; then they became cute and fluffy much later on with Disney and the like.

Regardless, if you want to meet fairies: fall asleep by a river under a tree at noon.

MM: For a very long time, people believed that the faeries are really there. Some people still do. For so long we’ve believed they’re real, so in story we’ve needed to make them more friendy, less harmful. It was an attempt to make them less terrifying as the modern world came in slowly and our understanding grew.

EL: The rise of childhood as an actual thing may have contributed. Maybe the creation of children’s stories led to the sanitization of previously-darker tales.

KP: There’s lots of research on Victorian era faeries; she (KP) has researched faeries elsewhere. Often there are different names for the fae. There’s the story of humans being caught in the endless dance, and a darker story with vampire mythology that as they dance, the beautiful women slowly cut them apart and drain all their blood. There are lots of dark creatures in the older mythologies, but they by the time you get to Victorian folklore, some were bad luck but became good luck. Oral tradition has so many variations.

EL: Stories got attached to morals, and become moral tales.

JM: Neil Gaiman reclaimed faeries-as-evil: presents them as beautiful, interesting creatures in a variety of shapes and form, with an element of the uncanny and terrifying underneath, if you cross a line. Say the wrong thing, turn the wrong direction, eat the wrong food, and you’ll pay the price.

Disney and J.M. Barrie aren’t to blame. Faeries represented the ignorance of what is making nature tick. Suddenly we didn’t have to attribute strange noises in the ground, in the air, to supernatural forces. With a scientific world view , faeries stopped having the sinister aspects.

Because science has become so rational, Arthur Conan Doyle believed that two girls had taken pictures with faeries. Even today in Iceland, you have to have people familiar with the fae to survey the land and confirm it’s okay to build a road. They even build little churches for the faeries to come and be converted.

JM: So why does the belief persist?

EL: Because it makes the world more interesting. It’s a boring world without faith or belief. Some of it is desperation. One of the darker sides of faerie beliefs was the concept of changelings. They had instances of that in renaissance and medieval history. Probably it was a child with Down Syndrome. It’s okay to kill a changeling, not a child. Bad things, ugly things happen, and it was a way to cope. Even today we want a way to cope.

KP: Faeries were also used to explain things like SIDS.

MM: Ancient beliefs are very hard to let go of. It’s easier sometimes to still say, “it could be faeries and not science” – we can’t always see the science. And part of us will always go, “What if I’m wrong about not believing in this?” Often it was used as an excuse – the faeries did it.

JM: These were myths from the past that people believed. Future people might think that we actually believed in Santa because we have a lot of Santa stuff  around. And what would they think if they read our fiction?

EM/KP: [Amusing, too-fast-to-log discussion about Santa being raised by elves]

JM: What’s difference between elf, faerie, brownie?

KP: From a writer’s standpoint, anything

MM: Brownies are tiny; fae, human sized, elves are not necessarily fae

EL: Elves were popularized by Tolkien. Lots of his stuff about elves comes from Norse Myth.

KP: And lots of fiction based on elves has modeled them after Tolkien.

JM: From a purely fantasy perspective: One of the common aspects of faerie myths is that they were the original inhabitants of land that went into hiding when mankind took over. How much of this is scientific memory of more advanced cultures coming in and taking over from the tribes, the aboriginal inhabitants? We’re now advanced enough to recognize they’re people, but what if we once saw aboriginals in body paint and thought they were supernatural beings? Made them into myths? It’s a way to explain it. The same thing is true with the tree folk. Did we impose powers and abilities on them?

JM: Ancient ruins: There’s still something haunting about lost worlds, something out of place, the separation of time but being in the same space. Often true of the faerie world: time shifts.

EL: The Ruin (poem) about a roman bath, a former civilization – the poem talks as if those people had magic, and what is lost is a true loss.

Audience question: How much of the beliefs about the Fae came from the old myths of Baccus, Odin, etc?

KP: very good chance, especially since myths were revived in the renaissance. Most of these stories came from the oral tradition, which is hard to track.

EL: The environment affects the mythology – e.g. Japan has lots of water ghosts, not desert ghosts

JM: This panel is about elves and faeries in lit – what reading would you recommend?

JS:  Loved C.S. Lewis’ dryads, naiads, etc. in the Chronicles of Narnia. Gateway in childhood.

KP: Katharine Mary Briggs wriote several good books on specific stories and an encyclopedia on this subject – presents different types of fae; also recommends reading Child’s ballads – stuff he collected. Also: for classic tales – Thomas Knightley’s study of romance in the Victorian era

MM: Very impressed by the YA: Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr. Her faeries are terrifying critters. (also gorgeous cover art). Also, Lady Cottingly’s pressed fairy book. (a parody)

JM: Gaiman’s Sandman dips into faerie realms, astonishing stuff; also, the movie Pan’s Labrynth (horrificly violent, about the brutality of war).

EL: Hellboy 2 plays with faeries, too. Faerie magic appears very  differently in medieval and renaissance lit. Seconds gaiman. (esp the midsummer night’s dream story). LKH’s faeries are fun (though very non traditional). Medieval Arthurian legends deal with magic, and so does Chaucer – lots of medieval romance (quest narratives). Beowulf: Grendel, Cain, and Fae. Also, critical book: The Faeries at the Bottom of the Garden.

Aud: With the Victorian stuff, Andrew Lang’s colour fairie books?

MM: Current fairie books are drawing from older literature, but making it their own, too.

JS: Yes, whatever works for the story.

Audience: What about Spencer’s Faerie Queene?

EL: Stay away from that. He’s awesome but the story is about flattering Queen Elizabeth 1 and it’s a Christian allegory.

Audience: Teen section of library – the Faerie Path series. Talks about faeries good and bad clashing.

MM: In some mythologies, the summer court and winter court do clash a lot.

KP: Also Seely versus unseely. Different types depending on where you go in the world and what decade you’re in. Oral traditions change faster.

Aud: More writers are using more original tradition – is that a backlash against Disney?

JS: No, but it is a realization growing up that not all faeries are Tinkerbell (not that she was very nice if you read the book) – more of a discovery of everything else that faeries could be. We're leaning more about faerie lore, people are rediscovering it, and we want to play in that world.

MM: Writers want to do something different, too. There's nothing really new out there, so we take what we have and reinterpret in our own way to *make* it new and fresh.

JM: Once you go back and start researching, you find that almost everything has a very dark origin.

KP: John Harntess’ Black Knight Chronicles – deals with Faeries in Book 2.

EL: Yes, some of it is a bit backlash, but also, in urban fantasy especially, things have generally gotten darker. The economy has crashed, 9/11, and other stuff. We were headed that way darker, artistically, as a way of dealing. Hartness' book is comic. We may be back on the swing towards more lighthearted soon, as times change once more.

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