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On Death – On Enchanted Conversation!

Happy Friday the 13th!

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The first story in which I remember reading about a personified Death, and one I still love, is The Appointment in Samarra (or Samarkand). It’s a very old tale, said to be from Mesopotamia, and is included in the Talmud and collections of Sufi wisdom, and is sometimes also called When Death Came to Baghdad. In it, a man sends his servant on a long journey to avoid Death, only to find that Death had expected him there, in that other place, all along. I remember feeling that there was a certain injustice in that – if only the man had stayed home! How unfair that the man’s fear of dying drove him to flee straight to the place of his death. Yet, how foolish to try to run away, only to spend his final days on a long journey to a distant land, far from all that he knew and loved. That is where Death brings us in the end anyway.

In many old stories, Death is portrayed as a neutral, or even benevolent figure. Not frightening or evil, but someone who is just doing a job. These stories represent a way for us to make peace with mortality. Not to say that we shouldn’t cling to the beauty and joy and connection presented by a life well lived, or mourn the finality of separation from our loved ones. Rather Death represents everything that is unknown, and our complete inability to return to what was before – that is to say, death, (with a little ‘d’) in a very literal sense, or any process of change or transition. Not bad, and maybe not good, but inevitable just the same.

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Ever-Changing Fairy Tales – in Enchanted Conversation!

My latest article on Enchanted Conversation!

Do fairy tales always remain the same or do they change to suit each generation?

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Some people have been very upset recently about the results of a survey that found that parents are changing fairy tales in order to make them more gentle tales for their children. Changing these classic tales, many an argument goes, is nothing but political correctness run rampant.

Yet fairy tales have always been retold, embellished, and otherwise changed to suit the mores and preferences of the current generation. Our current standards of child-rearing, begun with and passed down from the Victorians, is that children should be coddled and protected. What should we expect but that it should include the stories we tuck little ones into bed with? And why not? They’re small and it’s definitely better than the workhouses of yore! However, very few children, even among those parents and grandparents now bemoaning the loss of the “good old days,” ever actually heard the original versions of fairy tales while being put down to bed as tots to begin with.

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Writing

Someone Else’s Story

My latest short story appears in Enchanted Conversation this week!

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Sometimes she woke and didn’t know where she was, stuck in that strange space between dreaming and the rest of her life. The man beside her, wrapped in the rumpled sheets, would seem a stranger, and she would try to piece together just how she had ended up here and who he was. She would either fall back asleep, or struggle to wakefulness, and the familiar would settle over her again.

Day to day passed with little change, but she found she was more or less content. Her home was modest, but clean and orderly. The garden plot was neat, and the animals well cared for. She had a good life. In the distance, on a clear day, she could sometimes see the parapets of the castle, the colored flags unfurled in the wind on their narrow stilts. Sometimes, unaccountably, the sight of them would leave her feeling melancholy, and she would sit inside at her spinning wheel, instead of outside enjoying the good weather.

Strange sensations, like memory, would sometimes come over her when she sat spinning. A room, empty, but for a wheel, and piles of flax. A door barred, walls bare, and only a narrow window, high up, so she could see nothing through it but a sliver of blue sky. The skin of her hands was dry from working the fibrous material. And she despaired of escape.

The man, her husband, knew about nature and humors and the elements that made the world. It was a point of pride for him, but she only felt disgust at the work. Confused, she called it piety. There were some things that it was not for man to know, that were not to be meddled with, she reasoned. It brought in coin, though. They were not wealthy, but they had enough. He reminded her of this, to know her place, that she was no grander than he, and that his work had saved her life.

Yes, that. She did not remember that. Or rather she did, but it was more like a story she had been told than something she truly recalled. Pricking her finger, the infection that followed, a delirious fever, the herbal remedies that cured her. It was all so long ago now. The skin opened up, there must have been blood, and she imagined the long, narrow spindle, stretching up like a stilt overhead as she collapsed to the floor, her dress rumpled beneath her. Yes, that must be what happened. Who had found her? Her father? No, he was long gone. Her mother? Her mother had sent her away… Something nagged at her. Her mother had sent her away. She felt anger at this, mingled with despair.

 

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Blog · Writing

Ghost Stories and their place in Fairy Tales

My latest article in Enchanted Conversation explores ghost stories as a part of the genre!

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I was in a car with my family in Thailand, and to pass the time, asked my sister in law if she knew any Thai fairy tales or folk tales. No, she said, there aren’t any Thai fairy tales. My brother in law chimed in, “Thailand could use some nice happy stories with fairies and happy endings.”

No folk tales? Of course I didn’t believe them.

“We have a lot of ghost stories,” my sister in law said, and I asked her to tell us one.

I spend so much time in these stories and thinking about the shape and content of traditional tales and the stories of the marvelous that we tend to refer to as a body of folklore, or fairy tales, that I forget and am surprised when people still think of them as Disneyfied children’s stories, where the girls are always beautiful and the princes are always charming. Of course, much has already been said to turn this notion on its head, and any cursory perusal of “original” fairy tales will quickly correct that perspective.

Ghosts have always played their role in fairy tales, from the unloved child who returns as a bird to claim justice for their murder, to Cinderella and Vasylissa’s mothers, who guide and protect their orphaned daughters, as godmother, tree, or doll. Dead mothers, a frequent fact of medieval life, are a common thread through fairy tales, and it isn’t a far stretch to imagine their influence in the magical assistance given to their children in other stories as well, even when it isn’t spelled out as such. The selkie, for example, is known to return, secretly and unseen, to take care of her children after she regains her skin and returns to the sea.

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Writing

Travelers’ Sickness

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Susannah wasn’t herself anymore. She wanted blood, and the blood soup and the raw meat dishes she’d been satisfied with until recently would no longer sustain her. She had come to this place for a change. She needed a break, to get away. She thought she would reconnect with the rituals of her childhood, and make a sort of pilgrimage to the many temples in the area.

On her journey through the country to visit temples, old and new, she encountered others who were not on any pilgrimage. They were loud and self-involved, and disrespectful of the places and traditions, and they left things a mess. She took an extra breath and a moment to extend compassion toward them, but still she was angry.

A week in, her stomach ached. The pharmacist told her it was traveler’s sickness, and gave her some tablets to take. She didn’t improve though, and it seemed to spread from her stomach to the rest of her insides. Everything felt tight and confined, and sharp stabbing pains prickled down her sides. Then her neck began to hurt. The pain was sharp and went down either side of her spine, between her shoulder blades into the very root of her neck. She took her tablets and lay in her room, unable to turn her head without pain. Traveler’s sickness, the stress of everything was just catching up to her. She would take her tablets and rest.

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Blog · Reading

Happy Short Story Month!

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Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash

May is Short Story Month!

I remember the first time I discovered Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber in the stacks of my university library while I was supposed to be studying or researching for some paper. I found it both compelling and disturbing, and so much more valuable as a narrative than the sanitized childhood versions I was familiar with. I think it was about that same time that I discovered Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples, the chilling turn of which still stays with me.

I recently read Norse Mythology, also by Gaiman, which is a sort of short story collection, and am now working my way through Beyond the Woods, edited by Paula Guran.

Short stories are like finding yourself in a chocolatier with a tray of samples laid out. You can try all the varieties and find your favorites, without it costing anything! Done well, short stories captivate and delight, and linger, even changing the way you think about things, without demanding too much in return. Five, fifteen, maybe twenty minutes, and a world of wonder can open out in front of you, a break in routine, a respite from work stresses or unfinished housework.

Some of my favorite recent reads are:

Memories of Monsters – Mari Ness

Red as Blood and White as Bone – Theodora Goss

Them Boys – Nora Anthony

And of course you can find so many wonderful new stories on Enchanted Conversation!

Not long ago – maybe a year or three now – I found a mysterious tale about a young slave who escaped, and was captured again, and then turned over by her merciless master to a temple that he determined would do worse to her than he could. So she lived there, fearful at first, but then came to understand her fellow nuns who offered the sacrifice of their pain to their god, in physical injuries that could never heal. Eventually, she moves from acolyte to devotee, each pain bringing her clarity and insight, as each of life’s challenges and traumas may do for any of us.

I thought it was a beautiful story, well written and compelling, and I favorited the link. But somehow it was lost. So now I am searching for that story again. If you know it, please send it to me!

Happy reading!

 

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Writing

The Woodcutter’s Daughter

This has been one of my most popular stories this year, so I thought I’d reshare it! I wrote this while I was in Thailand this winter for Enchanted Conversation! Watch for more in EC soon!

 

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There was an old woodcutter and his wife who, more than anything, wanted a child to call their own, to love and raise, to care for them in their old age, which was fast approaching, and to carry their name and line into the next generation. One day while he was in the forest, the woodcutter heard a high, small mewling and he followed the sound to the hollowed out trunk of a tree he had felled the year before. Inside he found a tiny baby girl – left to exposure, he and his wife would assume, no doubt because she was a girl – yet they had for so long wanted a child that the woodcutter brought her home. That is the account he gave his wife when he passed the child into her arms. The woman put the child to her barren breast to soothe her, and in the morning sent her husband to buy a goat. And though she fed the child on milk and porridge, still she pressed the small girl to her breast, though whether for the child’s comfort or her own became less clear.

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Blog · Writing

Photo-reflections from Thailand

This week, Enchanted Conversation Magazine would like to thank, Kiyomi Appleton Gaines, for sharing her photos and thoughts from her recent trip to Thailand. We hope Kiyomi’s art and words can serve as story-inspiration for our readers.The old city is in ruins, falling down, overgrown with trees and plants. The forest is taking it back. Yet still…

via Story Inspiration – Photo Reflections from Thailand by Kiyomi Appleton Gaines — Enchanted Conversation Magazine: Folklore, Fairy Tales & Myths

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Blog · book club · Reading

Happy Women’s Day!

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Photo: Daria Głodowska

March is Women’s History Month, and today is International Women’s Day. This month we will #readmorewomen!

Right now, I’m alternating between Julie Dao’s darkly sparkling fairy tale Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, and Martha Hall Kelly’s The Lilac Girls, inspired by true stories of the horrors of Ravensbruck. Both are tales of strong women learning and navigating that strength, and finding their way in a world that seeks to overpower them.

If you’re looking for a shorter read, these are some of my favorite short stories that I’ve discovered in the last few months, all by women!
You can find more great reads at Enchanted Conversation!
Happy reading!
Kiyomi
I have a newsletter now! If you enjoy my stories, if you want to support my writing, please sign up. If you subscribe to my Tiny Letter, you’ll stay with me, wherever I end up writing in the future, and I’ll send you previews of what’s coming up here.
Reading · Writing

Happy Tell a Fairy Tale Day!

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Happy Tell a Fairy Tale Day? While the origins of this holiday are not very clear, any reason to reconnect with our favorite stories and share them with others, is good in my book!

Today is also my birthday! In honor of both, I’m asking you to share one of my stories with one other person.

Find a complete list of my published stories on the blog here. But if you’re not sure where to begin, I’ve got some suggestions for you!

Like the tale of The Pied Piper? Read Hamelintown.

Here’s Snow Fell, my version of Snow White.

In more of an Anderson than a Grimm mood?

Check out my tale inspired by The Steadfast Tin Soldier and Frankenstein, John Soldier; or if you’re more in a listening than reading mood, you can play the audio version here.

Or my take on The Emperor’s New Clothes, Re-covered.

For stories from the perspective of the princess try:

How He Found a Wife, which tells the story of Godfather Death,

Or Moon Rising, a new story of Aladdin.

For a thoroughly American tale, read my take on The Prince and the Pauper, The Complications of Rule.

The Tale of Anchin comes from Japanese fairy tales, and Like a Preyer was inspired by the Mr. Fox story.

Check here for other ways to celebrate!

And be sure to check out Enchanted Conversation for many more stories, interesting articles, and to watch for my forthcoming tale, Travelers’ Sickness, inspired by the Thai myth of the krasue.

Thanks for reading!

Kiyomi

 

I have a newsletter now! If you enjoy my stories, if you want to support my writing, please sign up. If you subscribe to my Tiny Letter, you’ll stay with me, wherever I end up writing in the future, and I’ll send you previews of what’s coming up here.