I would bristle, when people said I “lived” in Scotland. I didn’t want to live in Scotland, and being here while Tech Boy was in school, it felt wrong to claim that decidedly exotic address. (Decidedly exotic for me – my first trip to the UK was to move here! I don’t get out much.) I didn’t want the envious looks or the critically raised brows, when people discovered how far from my family I had gone. I didn’t want anyone straining their ears to hear an accent when I spoke (and you do have to strain – for blending-in purposes, I’ve picked up word usage in four years, sure. But not a brogue. That’s just not going to happen; I think you must be born into it). I don’t live here – I’m just … visiting. A student. On a visa.
We never intended to stay here. The UK – US – and most world governments are increasingly hostile toward “furriners” who wash up on their shores. We knew we weren’t particularly wanted – especially as Visa rules grew more strict and university rates zoomed up – but it didn’t matter. We weren’t staying anyway.
Except, we’ve been asked to, for awhile longer.
It works out, since Tech Boy is required to do oral exams sometime in September (oh, hideous and scary British tradition), and a presentation for the department before his degree is conferred. He’s turned in the Paper of Hugely Monstrous Length, aka, the British thesis or the American dissertation (why couldn’t they settle on one name?!), and has found work with lovely people starting a company, which will keep us housed and fed between the present Now and the eventual Then when we will leave this place. So, as of September… and for however long after we will stay here, we will live in Scotland.
It’s a great spot for an American children’s lit writer to be, isn’t it? All the way over here.
Really, that’s what freaked me out. I sometimes worry – especially when I have a book coming out – and maybe moreso, when I don’t? – that my agent and my editor are going to KILL ME if I don’t go home. That I’ll turn out to be invisible, that my nephews will forget me, and no one will recognize my name, or know my work, if I’m not somehow smack-dab in the Midwest or living with all the other cool kids in New York. These are the 3 a.m. sorts of thoughts which don’t make any real sense. Technology has made possible what would have been difficult and uncomfortable years ago. I can easily show up at a couple of big conferences a year – my introverted soul wouldn’t have borne any more than that even if I WERE in the States. Obviously, I didn’t live in New York — or in the Midwest, or in Austin, or in Vermont, or in whatever other children’s lit enclave has sprung up — to begin with. I didn’t live in my sister’s womb with my nephews. I lived in my little corner of the world, and had to write from there.
Which I will continue to do. Until such time as I get on a plane and come and see what you people are doing in your little corner of the world.
Meanwhile, an update on my writing life! (Aka: how randomly this writer’s mind works.)
It occurred to me the other day that I have been working, non-stop, on some project or another for a long while, and that at the conclusion of my last project – off to my freelance editor, the famous Sheila Ruth, Empress of YA Fantasy and Science Fiction (No, seriously. Empress. Bow. Thank you.) – I needed to stop and assess. My agent used to put out quarterly assessment notes about what was going on in the children’s lit field – what had sold here or there, and what the trends were, etc. etc. – so I thought I should call.
We had a good little chat where we whinged about the heat (him) and the thunderstorms (me) and then I got down to the business of pitching ideas. After we dismissed the idea of me ever writing dystopia or angel fiction, and said, “Eeek!” with appropriate distaste (I love dystopia, but the angel thing bugs the heck out of me. A parochial education will do that for you), I started thinking of doing a folk tale retooling – which within minutes seemed like way too much work. Fables and folk tales just never make sense to me, regardless of what culture they’re from. Making them make sense PLUS dragging them into the twenty-first century: no. And then I started thinking about the fairytale I started an age ago, and set down…
“Oh, those are still selling,” my agent told me, and I am glad. I thought quickly about the retellings I could come up with from the top of my head — Sarah Beth Durst’s ICE from three years ago a – “West of the Sun, East of the Moon” retelling, SISTERS RED by Jackson Pearce, which is “Little Red Riding Hood” does werewolf hunting; ASH, by Malinda Lo, of course, and Melissa Meyers’ four book series The Lunar Chronicles, the first of which is out this fall, is inspired by four popular fairy tales: Cinderella (CINDER, releases January 2012), Little Red Riding Hood (SCARLET), Rapunzel (CRESS), and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (WINTER) — those were all well received. I even just ran across a fairytale retelling from BC publishers McKellar & Martin called FRACTURED, by Joanna Karaplis, which is four fairytales in one. Fairytales! They’re hot!
Unfortunately, Disney likes them, too.
I couldn’t think of a fairytale to retell that hasn’t been done to death, but I pondered what I love about them – how they’re wonderfully full of setting details that are outside of our everyday lives, how they’re the Hero/ine’s Journey all over again, how there are tropes and themes and warnings within them each, for girls (and occasionally boys) to be chaste and brave and wise and quiet and obedient. The good were rewarded with rings and promised happily ever afters, and the bad came away with no prince, no kingdom, and sometimes the odd mutilation or, um, death. These were tales told by fearful parents, sending a message…
There are a lot of different things to fear now. And a lot of different warnings to give. Childhood lasts both a shorter time, and much longer, and our rewards are not limited to being shackled to a prince/ss in a sugar-frosted forever. What would a fairytale written in the now – not retold – but created this minute – what would that look like? The things I love about old fairytales – the long-ago type setting (but wrenching it away from the Eurocentric countryside – enough with that), the details and danger, the mystery and romance, — I want to keep all of that, and still figure out how to get to Happily Ever After. I want to write a fairytale I would want to read…
So, I dared myself to try…