Fairytales

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"A world in which there are monsters, and ghosts, and things that want to steal your heart is a world in which there are angels, and dreams, and a world in which there is hope."  -Neil Gaiman

A group for writers of contemporary fairytales

Kate
 added a post  to  , Fairytales

Fractured Literary Submission Manager - Fractured Lit Ghost, Fable, and Fairy Tales Prize |$3000| Judged by Kevin Brockmeier (submittable.com)

New Anthology looking for submissions of fairy tales on the theme of fairy godmothers (deadline November 15th)

https://www.worldweaverpress.com/submit-anthologies.html

Kate
 added a post  to  , Fairytales

This short story anthology call has a fairytaleish vibe. I like the sound of it, but inspiration is elusive. Hopefully it will inspire someone. http://darkdragonpublishing.com/anthosub.html

Prompted by some quirk of fate, I recently wrote a retelling of a well known fairytale in poetic form.

Being neither poetess, nor 'fairytale-reteller,' this came as a surprise. 

I like that it's short enough to share in this group. Any comments welcome.

                                

THE SECRET TRUTH

(Memoirs of a Fairytale Princess)  

I was born in a Palace,
a dream come true,
for my parents and fairy godmother.
From thereon, however, things went downhill.
Mama got sick, a difficult birth,
and Papa, with his power, wealth and all that,
would have given his crown, I was told.

Couldn’t save her though.
My mother died, I was nursed
by a maid, wish I knew her name.
Then the Queen took over,
became my new mum, can’t tell exactly when.
Didn’t see her much,
and anyway, she’s all I’ve ever known.

My childhood passed in a gloomy fog,
no photos, no tales, no baby locks,
no keep sakes of my dear mother.
My earliest memory,
I may have been ten,
the forbidden room was open,
I walked in, as you do, looked in the mirror, and…

Had no idea it was magic.
What I saw that day?
I so wish I could remember!
The hunter found me in the woods,
they say, the Queen’s secret lover,
how I got there, nobody told me that bit,
but I swear by the nymphs of the forest.

He wanted to kill me.
I cried, and I begged,
till he took me back to the Palace.
Life wasn’t a fairytale after that,
the Queen jealous as hell.
She talked to the mirror from dawn to dusk,
obsessed with age, rank, and beauty.

In the end I ran away, as you know
from home to the hilly yonder
stayed with little fellows, seven of them,
cleaning caves, cooking food – not my dream.
So when that old witch came along and brought
stuff I couldn’t avoid or resist, I ignored
advice, counsel, and warnings.

Took the belt, the comb, and the apple from her
all poisoned, in hindsight it’s clear.
Got it wrong each time, I admit without shame,
failed again, again, and again.
But my prince found me anyway.
And that’s all I wanted to say:
Defeat, my friends, wasn’t my story’s end,
and the mirror – it just came back to me – knew the secret truth all along.  

Kate
 added a post  to  , Fairytales

This open call might be of interest to you fairytale lovers. Particularly the Wild Hunt theme for JPK and your Harry Ca Nab stories. http://aanpress.com/submissions.html 

Hi everyone

I'm new to the group. I have two WIPs: 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor', and (surprise, surprise) 'Richman Poorman Beggarman Thief'. All the stories are written. I will complete the final revision of the first book either this weekend or early next week. I plan to publish it independently as short stories are difficult to place.

Hello dear Fellow Fairytale Writers,

And welcome especially to all new members! Lovely to see this group grow.
I got to admit, I haven't posted much since founding this group, for many valid or silly reasons, which I won't bore you with. But now I finally have something worthwhile to share. Here we go:

I recently joined a course at WriteMentor where we post pieces of our WIP, and everyone who's signed up can give feedback to everyone else. We have different 'official' topics each month, however, we don't have to strictly stick to them.

Some examples of what we post are: 1– The concept of your story, 2 – The opening line or paragraph, 3 – A Synopsis, 4 – The first scene or chapter (preferably no more than 1000 words)

This is proving to be extremely valuable, and I feel my work is moving on in leaps and bounds as a result of this exchange.

That gave me the idea of creating a similar forum here – just for writers of fairy tales, but not necessarily only for children.

Let me know what you think, and if you have additional suggestions for topics on which you would like peer feedback, please add them to the list.

Hazel C
 added a post  to  , Fairytales

Hey all! Thanks for letting me into the group! I have a deep love of folktale and fairytale, write my own YA Fantasy based on it and have been reading it for a loooong time. From Grimm to Holly Black, I love anything that involves the murderous fey and folkloric tradition.
I also read academic texts on it - Currently reading Katherine Brigg's 'The Fairies in Tradition and Literature' and will be moving on to Jack Zipes' 'Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion' soon. Also avid subscriber to 'Gramarye: The Journal of the Chichester Centre for Fairy Tales, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction' and have recently found that loads of Fairy Tale Review is now free to access on JSTOR.

And not to promote anywhere else when we all love Jericho, but just wondering if anyone here has signed up for Zoe Gilbert and LondonLitLab's 'Folk Tales in New Fiction' course in a few weeks' time?

Anyway, all this is to say that I would love, and do love, talking about folklore, fantasy fiction and fairy tale.:)

Hi Everyone,

I am new to the Fairytales Group and would like to introduce myself. I've been writing for a number of years and Fantasy of various types is one of my favorite genres. I currently have a short story that runs about 6,398 words and is a whimsical haunting inside a grocery store. It is a humor/horror/action-adventure blend. The pace is fast. This weird (the realistic doing the absurd) speculative story is a karmic lesson about ordinary doing the extraordinary. I've named it Friday Nights is Not a Good Time to Get Groceries. I've sent this story to a number of publications. Although about 5 of them have expressed liking it and saying they believe it is publishable, they pass on it. This is perplexing to me and tells me changes are needed, something is wrong that I need to fix, but I just can't see what that is. It would be so helpful to get feedback on what others think the problem is or are. Thank you a head of time to anyone who wants to read Friday Nights. I am willing to return the favor. With interest, I will upload the story and make it available or send it to an email. Please let me know.

---Christina

 Here is a quick overview of the story:

Beth, a single mother races to save her daughter and herself from a grocery store ghost-demon by re-purposing common pickles and eventually admits her elderly neighbor’s earlier warning had been spot-on:  FRIDAY NIGHTS ARE NOT A GOOD TIME TO GET GROCERIES.

The rumor of a ghostly old woman and who makes people disappear is thought by many to be a backfiring publicity-stunt to draw customers. At the same time, Lawrence Herkles didn’t pay any attention to rumors. What he wanted was simple:  to rob Better Foods, to shut his nagging wife up about feeding their family, and to pay the rent. Lawrence decides to take advantage of the opportunity of a commotion inside the store until he too comes face-to-face with the monster. She believes he’s the disrespectful man who had caused her demise!

Not until the end of the story is Beth’s unusual weapon critical in re-establishing the balance of good and evil inside a grocery store, and does Lawrence respect rumors.  

JPK
 added a post  to  , Fairytales

Hi All,

The prompt from a writing group I'm in was 'Heat'. After a few months travelling around a blisteringly hot Europe in the van I must admit I've not written much for a while so I have eased myself back into it with this.

By the way, does anyone know if one can format this sort of post (italic, underscore, bold etc)? Can't see anything obvious on the UI, but maybe I'm missing something. 


Harry the Nab and the heating problem

The great black doors opened, massive hinges screaming in agony beneath their weight, red light spilling through as the crack grew wider, to bathe Harry in its hot smoky glow.  He waited to be called forward.

A terrible voice emanated from the room beyond, shaking the walls, resonating in the sultry air.

“Enter, lowly one. Abase yourself before the Morning Star, the Devourer of Souls, the Dark…”

“Thank you Azazel. Harry knows the form. Shut the doors behind you.”

“Of course, Your Dark Majesty.” 

Azazel the Deceiver, obsequious and sulky, shot Harry a loathing glance as they passed each other at the threshold of the vast chamber.

“Oh, and Azazel?”

“Your Malevolence?”

“Some oil, please, on the hinges. That noise just sets my teeth on edge.”

The doors ground shut behind the muttering demon. Harry the Nab, leader of the Satanic hunt, stood in the Great Chamber of Hell. 

“Azazel is a sweetie, really, but he is a bit ‘old school’. Have you self flagellating if he thought he could get away with it.”

The Great Dragon, Angel of the Abyss, neatly clad in a tweed skirt and a pink woollen pullover, smiled at Harry as she held open a small door in the side of the huge chamber.

“Let’s pop through to the sanctum.”

The room that they now entered was far more manageable in scale. The walls, for example, in the Great Chamber, were more or less an article of faith. Harry knew that they must be there because of the way that the screams of souls in torment echoed off them but in three hundred years as the Devil’s huntsman he had never actually seen them.

Here the walls were clearly visible, or at least they would have been had it not been for the eclectic collection of artworks with which they were covered. 

Harry was no connoisseur, but on his various visits to his employer’s office she had pointed out a few of her favourites to him. Hogarth’s scenes of gin and debauchery, the crows that troubled the wheat fields in the mind of poor Van Gogh and even, from the very darkest period of human artistic endeavour, a number of canvasses that presented cigar smoking dogs playing poker and pool. He happened to know that Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, the perpetrator of this particular atrocity, shared the tenth circle of hell with a number of other artists, playwrights and authors of romantic fiction who, whilst they  may not in life have burned very brightly, would certainly now burn for a very long time.

Today, however, the artwork passed without comment. Today was all business. Satan, giving an ostentatious little shiver, took a cardigan, pink to match her pullover, from the back of the chair behind her desk and put it on. She sat, gesturing to Harry to do the same.

“So, Harry, how’s the soul gathering? Nothing burns quite so hot as the souls of wicked men, eh?”

Harry shifted uncomfortably, he had the feeling that this was a leading question.

“Numbers are good, we’ve had quite a few dictators, some property developers and I have a president coming due very soon. We are a little down on Bishops since the new Pope took office.”

The Dark Lady nodded, rubbing her hands together briskly.

“Does it feel a little chilly in here to you? Not quite as comfortable as usual?”

Since his death Harry had become acclimatised to the excessive warmth of hell. So long as he dressed appropriately he could cope with temperatures into the hundreds, though he preferred to be out in the cooler world of men hunting for beasts to feed the hungry mouths of the demonic hordes and souls with which to fuel the fires. 

As a contractual employee of the Devil, rather than one of the damned, he had never been in any of the actual torment areas for more than a brief visit during his induction period, a fact for which he was eternally grateful. 

“I’m not the best judge, Ma’am.”

His Dark Mistress eyed him coolly, at least as coolly as possible for one whose eyes smoulder with the fires of eternal perdition.

“It’s not the judges who are the problem, Harry, it’s the lawyers. You seem to have been bringing them in in their droves.”

“Well they are very wicked, Ma’am.”

“That’s true,” said the Mistress of all Lies, “but they’ve started lodging appeals, citing due process. Limbo is getting full to overflowing, the holding cells can’t cope. One of them has raised a petition to have Aleister Crowley beatified.”

Harry swallowed, his throat dry from the apparently inadequate heat of the room. It was true that he was not fond of the legal profession and had, of late, taken some degree of pleasure in hunting down their sin stained souls. This was a consequence that he had not foreseen.

“So cut back on the lawyers?”

Satan nodded.

“Cut back on the lawyers, they block the refuelling pipeline. We have always had a sort of loose arrangement with the opposition. Lawyers go straight into the seven circles of purgatory. They think that they’re on the way up but even if they make it through pride they can never get past avarice.”

“Understood, Ma’am. Perhaps I can bring the numbers up with a few football managers? They burn very hot, I‘m led to believe.”

“Excellent notion, Harry. The world of professional sport has some rich pickings for us. Let’s get onto that one quickly.”

She smiled at him, her teeth dazzling white and only slightly pointed.

“After all, nobody wants anything to freeze over.”



Of all the writing habits I have, one of the worst – the worst from good financial sense point of view – is that I like writing LONG books.

My first novel was a spine-breaking 180,000 words. Not one of my novels has ever been less than 110,000 words. The first “short story” I wrote was 8,000 words, which is to say miles too long to be an actual short story. Heck, even this email is likely to be far longer than any other email you get in your inbox today.

Ah well. There are some things you can’t fight, and my addiction to length is one of them.

But that also means that when it comes to short-form copy, I’m at a loss.

I’m not especially good at book blurbs, which want to be about 100-120 words (depending a bit on layouts and where you’re expecting them to appear.) Since titles need to be short and punchy, I’m not especially good at those either.

In a word: I’m pretty damn rubbish when it comes to coming up with titles … and this email is going to tell you how to write them.

Which means if you want to ignore the entire contents of what follows, on the basis that I obviously, obviously, obviously don’t know what I’m talking about, then I have to say that the evidence is very much in your favour.

That said, I think it’s clear enough what a title needs to do. It wants to:

  1. Be highly consistent with your genre
  2. Offer some intrigue – for example, launch a question in the mind of the reader
  3. Ideally, it’ll encapsulate “the promise of the premise” in a few very short words, distilling the essence of your idea down to its very purest form.

The genre-consistency is the most essential, and the easiest to achieve. It matters a lot now that so many books are being bought on Amazon, because book covers – at the title selection stage – are no more than thumbnails. A bit bigger than a phone icon, but really not much. So yes, the cover has to work hard and successfully in thumbnail form, but the title has more work to do now than it did before.

Genre consistency is therefore key. Your title has to say to your target readers, “this is the sort of book that readers like you like”. It has to invite the click through to your book page itself. That’s its task.

The intrigue is harder to do, but also kinda obvious. “Gone Girl” works because of the Go Girl / Gone Girl pun, and those double Gs, and the brevity. But it also works because it launches a question in the mind of the reader: Who is this girl and why has she gone? By contrast, “The Girl on the Train” feels a little flat to me. There are lots of women on lots of trains. There’s nothing particularly evocative or intriguing in the image. I don’t as it happens think that book was much good, but I don’t think the title stood out either. (I think the book sold well because of some pale resemblances between the excellent Gone Girl and its lacklustre sister. The trade, desperate for a follow-up hit to Gone Girl, pounced on whatever it had.)

The third element in a successful title – the “promise of the premise” one – is really hard to do. I’ve not often managed it, and I’ve probably had a slightly less successful career as a result.

So what works? Well, here are some examples of titles that do absolutely nail it:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Brilliant! That title didn’t translate the rather dour and serious Swedish original (Man Som Hatar Kvinnor / Men Who Hate Women). Rather it took the brilliance of the central character and captured her in six words. She was a girl (vulnerable), and she had a tattoo (tough and subversive), and the tattoo was of a dragon (exotic and dangerous). That mixture of terms put the promise of the book’s premise right onto the front cover and propelled the book’s explosive success.

Incidentally, you’ll notice that the title also completely excludes mention of Mikael Blomkvist, who is as central to that first book as Salander is. But no one bought the book for Blomkvist and no one remembers the book for Blomkvist either. So the title cut him out, and did the right thing in doing so.

The Da Vinci Code

Brilliant. Dan Brown is fairly limited as a writer, but it was a stroke of genius to glue together the idea of ancient cultural artefacts with some kind of secret code. Stir those two things up with a bit of Holy Grail myth-making and the result (for his audience) was commercial dynamite.

And – boom! – that dynamite was right there in the title too. The Da Vinci part namechecks the world’s most famous artist. The Code part promises that there are secret codes to be unravelled.

Four words delivering the promise of the premise in full.

I let You Go

This was Clare Mackintosh’s breakout hit, about a mother whose young son was killed in a hit-and-run car accident. The promise of the premise is right there in four very short words … and given a first person twist, which just adds a extra bite to the hook in question. A brilliant bit of title-making.

___

So that’s what a title wants to do. A few last comments to finish off.

One, I think it’s fair to say that it’s quite rare a title alone does much to propel sale success.

Because there are a lot of books out there, and because everyone’s trying to do the same thing, there’s not much chance to be genuinely distinctive. My fifth Fiona Griffiths novel was called The Dead House, but there are at least three other books on Amazon with that title, or something very like it. That didn’t make my title bad, in fact – it did the promise of the premise thing just fine – but I certainly couldn’t say my title was so distinctive it did anything much for sales.

Two, if you’re going for trad publishing, it’s worth remembering that absolutely any title you have in mind at the moment is effectively provisional. If your publishers don’t like it, they’ll ask you to change it. And if they don’t like your title #2, they’ll ask you to come up with some others. In short, if, like me, you’re bad at titles, you just don’t need to worry too much (if you’re going the trad publishing route, that is.) There’s be plenty of opportunity to hone your choice well prior to publication.

Three, you don’t want to think about title in isolation. There should, ideally, be a kind of reverberation between your title and the cover. That reverberation should be oblique rather than direct. Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go had for its cover image a butterfly trapped against a window – a metaphorical reference to the anguish of the book’s premise. If instead it had shown a mother obviously distraught as a car struck her son, the cover – and title – would have seemed painfully clunky and ridiculous.

If you get a great cover image that doesn’t work with your chosen title, then change the title. If you have a superb title and your cover designer’s image is too directly an illustration of it, then change the image. That title/cover pairing is crucial to your sales success, so you can afford no half-measures in getting it right.

That’s all from me.

My kids are making elderflower cordial and singing as they do so. They are also wearing helmets for no reason that I can possibly understand.

Till soon

Harry

PS: Want to know what I think of your title? Then I’ll tell you. Just pop your title (plus short description of your book) in the comments below. I’ll tell you what I think.

Usually, on Thursday afternoon or so, I start pondering what I’m going to write about on Friday.

This week: no pondering. There’s only one thing I could possibly write about.

The biggest book-related newsflash this week – or this year – is that Barnes and Noble is changing ownership. The ins and outs are a little complex (and everything is not quite settled), but if all goes according to plan:

  • An investment firm, Elliott Advisers, is to buy Barnes and Noble, in a deal which values that business (including its debts) at about $700 million.
  • That sounds like a lot of money, but given that B&N’s sales are $3.6 billion, the pricing actually feels pretty cheap – reflecting the dismal state of B&N.
  • Elliott is also the 100% owner of Waterstones, the British equivalent of B&N. Both those chains are proper bookshops, appealing to proper book lovers. In that sense, the chains are distinct from the supermarkets, who just sell a lot of books but don’t care about them, or the British High Street & travel operator, WH Smith, which is as much a stationer and a newsagent as an actual book store.
  • Waterstones was rescued from impending financial disaster by CEO James Daunt. It was Daunt who negotiated the sale of the firm to Elliott.
  • Daunt will now act as CEO to both firms – B&N and Waterstones – and will divide his time between London and New York.

As it happens, Daunt also owns and runs his own mini-chain of high-end London bookstores. It was his experience at those stores which won him the position at Waterstones.

So, assuming that all goes according to plan, James Daunt will be the book world’s second most powerful human, after Jeff Bezos.

So what does that mean – for readers? For writers? For publishers? For anyone?

Well.

It’s a big and important move. James Daunt has a huge reputation in the UK and it’s probably deserved. His secret sauce for success? Quite simply this:

There is no secret sauce.

In the UK, Daunt simply took everything back to basics.

He turned bookselling into a proper career. (Albeit, inevitably, a badly paid one.) He retained staff who cared passionately about books and waved good-bye to the rest, perhaps a third of them. He cut costs. He made his stores prettier.

And, in a move so radical that it shook British publishing to its core, he let each store manager select their own inventory. So, yes of course, every store was expected to stock major bestsellers of the moment. But beyond that, what stores sold was guided by local passion and local knowledge. From a reader’s point of view, stores got better. There was more energy, more passion, more commitment.

But publishers, for a while, didn’t know what to do. In the past, publishing worked like this:

  1. Publishers paid Waterstones a big chunk of cash to get into a 3-for-2 front-of-store promotion. So Waterstones was actually retailing its shelf-space. It wasn’t really curating its own retail offering.
  2. Some of those 3-for-2s did really well, and became huge bestsellers.
  3. Others didn’t, and the volume of returns was enormous (often 20% of total stock.)
  4. Publishers pulped those returns, ditched those authors and just made money from their mega-successes

That was check-book publishing and check-book retail.

Daunt killed that, and terrified publishers. How could they market books if the key step wasn’t just throwing bundles of money at retailers? [and if you want a reminder of the different publishing options, you can get that here.]

Well, they solved that problem … kinda. But all they really did was turn their attentions (even more than before) to the supermarkets and other mass retailers. Waterstones’ local stores are great and feel like real bookshops … but they can’t build a bestseller as they did in the old days, because each store chooses its stock according to its own tastes.

Daunt’s path in the US is likely to follow the exact same route.

He’s commented that one of the issues he feels on entering a typical B&N store is quite simply “too many books.” Too much stock. Too little curation and guidance. Not enough knowledge from the booksellers. An atmosphere so flat, you could swap it for cigarette paper.

He’ll cut stock. Reduce staff, but retain the best and most passionate members. Eliminate central promotions. Get better terms from publishers. Sharply reduce stock returns.

Do the basics, but do them right.

The impacts, positive and negative?

The positive:

Elliott’s cash plus Daunt’s knowhow should save specialist physical book retail in the US. That’s massive. It’s the difference between a US publishing industry that operates much as it does now and one that would be almost wholly slave to Amazon. That also means that trad publishing is likely to survive in roughly its current shape and size, rather than being sidelined by the growth of digital-first publishers (notably self-pubbers and Amazon itself.)

The negative:

US publishers will have to learn the lessons already absorbed by the Brits. If B&N no longer operates national promotion systems as in the past, publishers can’t make a bestseller just by buying space. Yes, they’ll go on seeing what they can do on social media and all that stuff. But, as in the UK, they’ll be even more dependent on supermarkets. The make-or-break of a book will be not “Is this wonderful writing?” but “did we get enough retail space in enough supermarkets at a sufficiently attractive price?”

I know any number of authors where Book A did incredibly well, Book B did poorly … and Book B was better than Book A. The difference, in every case, was that the supermarkets backed A and not B, and there’s damn all a trad publisher can do once the supermarkets have said no.

Oh yes, and supermarkets don’t really give a damn about the quality of writing. They don’t know about the quality of the writing. They just buy on the basis of past sales (if you’re John Grisham) or a pretty cover (if you’re a debut.)

Of course, they’d say their selection is a damn sight more careful than that, and it probably is. But that’s still “careful by the standards of people who mostly sell tinned beans and dog food for a living.” That’s not the same thing as actually being careful.

That sounds like a fairly downbeat conclusion, but the Elliott-saves-B&N news is still a real big plus for anyone who loves traditional stores, print books and traditional publishing. It’s the single biggest win I can remember over the past few years.

What that win won’t do, however, is weaken the hold of supermarkets and Amazon over book retail. Those two forces are still huge. They’re still central.

And of course, talking about print books has its slightly quaint side. Me, I prefer print. I hardly ever read ebooks. I just spend enough time on screens as it is.

But print books constitute less than 30% of all adult fiction sales, and online print sales accounts for a big chunk of that 30%.

In other words, all those B&N stores up and down the US are still only attacking 23% or so of the total adult fiction market. However well Daunt does, that 23% figure isn’t about to change radically. (Or not in the direction he wants, anyway.)

But, just for now, to hell with realism. Let’s remember the magic of a beautiful bookstore.

Daunt does. Here are some comments of his from 2017:

“[there is a sense that] a book bought from a bookshop is a better book.... When a book comes through a letter box or when a book is bought in a supermarket, it's not vested with the authority and the excitement that comes from buying it in a bookshop. …Price is irrelevant if the customer likes the shop. The book is never an expensive item, [particularly for the many customers who] we know are quite happy to go into a café and spend dramatically more on a cup of coffee."

Quite right, buddy. Now go sell some books. The readers need you.

Till soon

Harry