Author Archives: amy leigh morgan

About amy leigh morgan

I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. (Honors) in English Literature in 1997. My mentor was Betty Sue Flowers, consulting editor for the Joseph Campbell/Bill Moyers series The Power of Myth. I've been writing short stories and reading fairy tales since I was old enough to do so. I've written and edited for publications ranging from to the Encarta Encyclopedia to indie magazines, but my first and deepest love has always been fairy tales. My influences are varied, but all share the qualities of being fantastic and visionary: Márquez, Morrison, Faulkner, McKillip, Tolkein, LeGuin, McCaffery, Gaiman. Diana Wynne Jones is a new passion. Garth Nix is also wonderful. Oh, and Phillip Pullman. And Terry Pratchett. And then we get into Carl Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz and their psychoanalytic interpretations of classic fairy tales. I could go on. But if you've made it this far, you might as well come to class and we can talk more there.

Fairy Tale Friday: The Tale of the Cats

This story is from Italo Calvino’s collection, Italian Folktales, and it’s one of my all-time favorites. When kids ask me to tell them a story, this is the one I pull out, and it’s always a big hit. It’s a little gruesome, a little surreal, and it even has a nice, solid moral (which is more than you can say for a lot of fairy tales). Unfortunately for me, I can’t find it anywhere online, so I’m going to transcribe it here just for you. (Thank dog my mom made me take typing in high school.) I hope you like it.

The Tale of the Cats

A woman had a daughter and a stepdaughter, and she treated the stepdaughter like a servant. One day she sent her out to pick chicory. The girl walked and walked, but instead of chicory, she found a cauliflower, a nice big cauliflower. She tugged and tugged, and when the plant finally came up, it left a hole the size of a well in the earth. There was a ladder, and she climbed down it.

She found a house full of cats, all very busy. One of them was doing the wash, another drawing water from a well, another sewing, another cleaning house, another baking bread. The girl took a broom from one cat and helped with the sweeping, from another she took soiled linen and helped with the washing; then she helped draw water from the well, and also helped a cat put loaves of bread into the oven.

At noon, out came a large kitty, the mamma of all the cats, and rang the bell. “Ding-a-ling! Ding-a-ling! Whoever has worked, come and eat! Whoever hasn’t worked, come and look on!”

The cats replied, “Mamma, every one of us worked, but this maiden worked more than we did.”

“Good girl!” said the cat. “Come and eat with us.” The two sat down to the table, the girl in the middle of the cats, and Mamma Cat served her meat, macaroni, and roast chicken; but she offered her children only beans. It made the maiden unhappy, however, to be the only one eating and, noticing the cats were hungry, she shared with them everything Mamma Cat gave her. When they got up, the girl cleared the table, washed the cats’ plates, swept the room, and put everything in order. Then she said to Mamma Cat, “Dear cat, I must now be on my way, or my mother will scold me.”

“One moment, my daughter,” replied the cat. “I want to give you something.” Downstairs was a large storeroom, stacked on one side with silk goods, from dresses to pumps, and on the other side with homemade things like skirts, blouses, aprons, cotton handkerchiefs, and cowhide shoes. “Pick out what you want.”

The poor girl, who was barefooted and dressed in rags, replied, “Give me a homemade dress, a pair of cowhide shoes, and a neckerchief.”

“No,” answered the cat, “you were good to my little ones, and I shall give you a nice present.” She picked out the finest silk gown, a large and delicately worked handkerchief, and a pair of satin slippers. She dressed her and said, “Now when you go out, you will see a few little holes in the wall. Push your fingers into them, and look up.”

When she went out, the girl thrust her fingers into those holes and drew them out ringed with the most beautiful rings you ever saw. She lifted her head, and a star fell on her brow. Then she went home adorned like a bride.

Her stepmother asked, “And who gave you all this finery?”

“Mamma, I met up with some little cats that I helped with their chores, and they gave me a few presents.” She told how it had all come about. Mother could hardly wait to send her own idle daughter out next day, saying to her, “Go, daughter dear, so you, too, will be blessed like your sister.”

“I don’t want to,” she replied, ill-mannered girl that she was. “I don’t feel like walking. It’s cold, and I’m going to stay by the fire.”

But her mother took a stick and drove her out. A good way away the lazy creature found the cauliflower, pulled it up, and went down to the cats’ dwelling. The first one she saw got its tail pulled, the second one its ears, the third one had its whiskers snatched out, the one sewing had its needle unthreaded, the one drawing water had its bucket overturned. In short, she worried the life out of them all morning, and how they did meow!

At noon, out came Mamma Cat with the bell. “Ding-a-ling! Ding-a-ling! Whoever has worked, come and eat! Whoever hasn’t worked, come and look on!”

“Mamma,” said the cats, “we wanted to work, but this girl pulled us by the tail and tormented the life out of us, so we got nothing done!”

“All right,” replied Mamma Cat, “let’s move up to the table.” She offered the girl a barley cake soaked in vinegar, and her little ones macaroni and meat. But throughout the meal the girl filched food from the cats. When they got up from the table, heedless of clearing away the dishes or cleaning up, she said to Mamma Cat, “Give me the stuff you gave my sister.”

So Mamma Cat showed her into the storeroom and asked her what she wanted. “That dress there, the nicest! Those pumps with the highest heels!”

“All right,” replied the cat, “undress and put on these greasy woolen togs and these hobnailed shoes worn down completely at the heels.” She tied a ragged neckerchief around her and dismissed her, saying, “Off with you, and when you go out, stick your fingers in the holes and look up.”

The girl went out, thrust her fingers into the holes, and countless worms wrapped around them. The harder she tried to free her fingers, the tighter the worms gripped them. She looked up, and a blood sausage fell on her face and hung over her mouth, and she had to nibble it constantly so it would get no longer. When she arrived home in that attire, uglier than a witch, her mother was so angry she died. And from eating blood sausage day in and day out, the girl died, too. But the good and industrious stepsister married a handsome youth.

A pair so handsome and happy
We are ever happy to see;
Listen, and more will I tell to thee. 

The Art of Malcolm Bucknall: I didn’t know bears had such nice boobs

You’d probably imagine that a kid coming of age in a small, Texas, swamp town in the ’80s would have no choice but to listen to country music and muck about in the bayous trying not to get eaten by alligators. But strangely enough, a different path opened to me, just as wide and easy and obvious as if it were the only one: punk f-ing rock. For whatever reason, Port Arthur, Texas, had a thriving punk rock culture in the ’80s, and I ate it up with youthful abandon. My friends and I skateboarded around the oil refineries, we went to Houston to see bands whose names were dorky acronyms (SNFU, DRI, MDC – I am not even kidding), and we drove around in our crappy, old cars blasting the most offensive music we could find as loud as we could.

And of all the offensive music we could find, the music of the Jesus Lizard [link N(entirely)SFW] was up there at the top of the list. Raw, atonal, screeching, profoundly obnoxious – the Jesus Lizard was dazzlingly rude. But secretly that was not my favorite thing about them. What really caught my attention was their album cover art. It was…exquisite. Disturbing. Masterful as a Renaissance oil painting, and almost as profound. What the fuck was a nasty band like the Jesus Lizard doing with album art like that?

I mean, right?

So punk.

Well, it turns out that the band was friends with a guy whose dad happened to be a world-class oil painter who was weird as hell and an incredibly good sport: Malcolm Bucknall. (Later I found out that Mr. Bucknall was my best friend’s uncle. They had me over to dinner one night in their grand, Victorian house in Austin, TX, and I nearly died of hero worship.)

Beautiful Beast

What do you think, deer?

Malcolm Bucknall’s paintings are massive studies in sensual, uncomfortable surrealism. He uses the painstaking techniques of traditional oil painters to graft animal heads onto the bodies of Elizabethan lords and ladies, like fairy tale characters lost in the twilight lands between worlds.

The Most Beautiful Day

This baby grew up to be a health care lawyer.


It’s easy to imagine the subjects of Bucknall’s paintings making deals for one another’s souls, or being tricked into giving up three wishes to eager heroes and heroines. His recent work has moved away from oils and into watercolor washes and line drawings, but it’s no less masterful and weird.

There there, Bare Bear

Check out the rack on that bear!


If you like Malcolm Bucknall’s work, you can peruse a rich, satisfying archive at his gallery site. He’s represented exclusively by D Berman in Austin, Texas, and there’s a decent interview with him on the site.

What Kind of Fool Am I?
HRH Willie Nelson

Did I mention the Willie Nelson portrait?



Advice for Writers: From Philip Pullman

Are you one of the intrepid souls riding the rapids of NaNoWriMo this year? If so, I commend you! It’s hard work to show up to the page day after day, slogging through a morass of your own making. You’re like a god shoving settings and personalities and destinies around, like a heroic, metaphysical terraformer. “No, no,” you say, “this chasm is in the wrong place! Jerry, I’ll need about 10,000 tons of fill dirt over here. No, I don’t know where you’re supposed to get it, just get it.”

You’re at the quarter-mile mark today, so hopefully you’re still feeling somewhat fresh and motivated. But just in case, I thought it would be nice to pull up a pep talk from the NaNoWriMo pep talk archives to give you a little lift. You remember Philip Pullman, don’t you? He wrote a little series called His Dark Materials that a few people sort of enjoyed a while back. Anyway, he’s excited that you’re writing a novel this month, and he wanted to let you know. Here’s an excerpt from his letter to you:

You know which page of a novel is the most difficult to write? It’s page 70. The first page is easy: it’s exciting, it’s new, a whole world lies in front of you. The last page is easy: you’ve got there at last, you know what’s going to happen, all you have to do is find a resonant closing sentence. But page 70 is where the misery strikes. All the initial excitement has drained away; you’ve begun to see all the hideous problems you’ve set yourself; you are horribly aware of the minute size of your own talent compared to the colossal proportions of the task you’ve undertaken; that’s when you really want to give up. When I hit page 70 with my very first novel, I thought: I’m never going to finish this. I’ll never make it. But then stubbornness set in…

Check out the rest of it.

One of his miserable experiments turned into this:

So you keep going, too. You never know what might happen.

Psst! If you’d like more creative inspiration, you might enjoy strolling through the FTF archives.

Fairy Tale Friday: King Kojata

Illustration by Henry Justice Ford

"Let go of my beard, you jerk!"

Today’s fairy tale features yet another bad bargain, in which a tricksy villain blackmails an unknown reward from a desperate king. (Remember: If someone offers to save you from peril in exchange for the first thing that greets you when you get home? DON’T DO IT.) It also features 30 beautiful, shape-shifting maidens, amnesia, betrayal, wild flight, and a green-eyed monster.

Taken from Andrew Lang’s Green Fairy Book, this Russian tale is like a mash-up of many of my favorite motifs. See how many other fairy tales you can remember that use at least one of the same tropes.

King Kojata

There was once upon a time a king called Kojata, whose beard was so long that it reached below his knees. Three years had passed since his marriage, and he lived very happily with his wife, but Heaven granted him no heir, which grieved the King greatly. One day he set forth from his capital, in order to make a journey through his kingdom. He travelled for nearly a year through the different parts of his territory, and then, having seen all there was to be seen, he set forth on his homeward way. As the day was very hot and sultry he commanded his servants to pitch tents in the open field, and there await the cool of the evening. Suddenly a frightful thirst seized the King, and as he saw no water near, he mounted his horse, and rode through the neighbourhood looking for a spring. Before long he came to a well filled to the brim with water clear as crystal, and on the bosom of which a golden jug was floating. King Kojata at once tried to seize the vessel, but though he endeavoured to grasp it with his right hand, and then with his left, the wretched thing always eluded his efforts and refused to let itself be caught. First with one hand, and then with two, did the King try to seize it, but like a fish the goblet always slipped through his fingers and bobbed to the ground only to reappear at some other place, and mock the King.

‘Plague on you!’ said King Kojata. ‘I can quench my thirst without you,’ and bending over the well he lapped up the water so greedily that he plunged his face, beard and all, right into the crystal mirror. But when he had satisfied his thirst, and wished to raise himself up, he couldn’t lift his head, because someone held his beard fast in the water. ‘Who’s there? let me go!’ cried King Kojata, but there was no answer; only an awful face looked up from the bottom of the well with two great green eyes, glowing like emeralds, and a wide mouth reaching from ear to ear showing two rows of gleaming white teeth, and the King’s beard was held, not by mortal hands, but by two claws. At last a hoarse voice sounded from the depths. ‘Your trouble is all in vain, King Kojata; I will only let you go on condition that you give me something you know nothing about, and which you will find on your return home.’

The King didn’t pause to ponder long, ‘for what,’ thought he, ‘could be in my palace without my knowing about it–the thing is absurd;’ so he answered quickly:

‘Yes, I promise that you shall have it.’

The voice replied, ‘Very well; but it will go ill with you if you fail to keep your promise.’ Then the claws relaxed their hold, and the face disappeared in the depths. The King drew his chin out of the water, and shook himself like a dog; then he mounted his horse and rode thoughtfully home with his retinue. When they approached the capital, all the people came out to meet them with great joy and acclamation, and when the King reached his palace the Queen met him on the threshold; beside her stood the Prime Minister, holding a little cradle in his hands, in which lay a new-born child as beautiful as the day. Then the whole thing dawned on the King, and groaning deeply he muttered to himself ‘So this is what I did not know about,’ and the tears rolled down his cheeks. All the courtiers standing round were much amazed at the King’s grief, but no one dared to ask him the cause of it. He took the child in his arms and kissed it tenderly; then laying it in its cradle, he determined to control his emotion and began to reign again as before.

The secret of the King remained a secret, though his grave, careworn expression escaped no one’s notice. In the constant dread that his child would be taken from him, poor Kojata knew no rest night or day. However, time went on and nothing happened. Days and months and years passed, and the Prince grew up into a beautiful youth, and at last the King himself forgot all about the incident that had happened so long ago.


Find out what happens when the green-eyed monster comes to claim his prize.


Get to Know Sveta Dorosheva

She's leading the next wave of illustrators

Have you already heard of Sveta Dorosheva? I must confess that I knew nothing about her until today when I stumbled across this interview with her in the ever-engaging Coilhouse magazine. But now that she’s on my radar, I’ll be watching her like a hawk!

With the mastery of shape, line, and audacity of Aubrey Beardsley, plus a narrative passion that (if properly nurtured) may one day approach Arthur Rackham’s, Dorosheva’s work satisfies my hunger for beautiful, seductive images in a way that few modern illustrators do. (Ray Caesar may be the only other who pushes the same buttons.)

From the Coilhouse interview:

I guess Russian fairy tales are the strongest influence from childhood, but I don’t mean that in the ‘sarafan&kokoshnik’ sense:) I mean they were full of wonderful and scary things, events and creatures, and that influenced my picture of the world for life. I remember that when a kid I took all of it for granted – evil stepmothers that wanted to eat their stepsons’ hearts and brains because he who eats them, would become king and spit golden coins…talking wolves and fire birds, immortal skeletons, frogs and birds throwing their skins and feathers off and turning into beautiful ladies, dead water that puts the pieces of a hero chopped by treacherous brothers together, and live water that then makes this frankenstein body come to life, witches with poison pins that turn people to stones… none of them were ‘terrible’ or ‘wonderful’ – they were just part of a fascinating plot. I guess childish perception is different from adult – it does not divide things into monstrous and beautiful. It just absorbs it all without labels, taking it all for granted.

I remember my three-year-old son seeing a dead bird in the street once in December. He insisted that we go and see its metamorphoses every day. I felt rather ill at ease, but he was INTERESTED, because he did not KNOW it was ‘disgusting’… To him bird-turning-to-a-skeleton or frog-turning-to-a-prince is the same type of natural metamorphosis that makes the world tick and such an interesting place to observe, there’s no good or bad, there’s just infinite variety and wonder. And that’s the thing about fairy tales. They booster imagination through metaphor when one is still open-minded, with no moral or social blinkers on (very useful, very reasonable blinkers, but still limiting).

From her 'Book illustrations' portfolio, via Coilhouse

And, lucky for us, she has a book coming out!

From the author:

It’s a book about people and human world, as seen through the eyes of fairy-tale creatures. They don’t generally believe in people, but some have travelled to our world in various mysterious ways. Such travelers collected evidence and observations about people in this book. It’s an assortment of drawings, letters, stories, diaries and other stuff about people, written and drawn by fairies, elves, gnomes and other fairy personalities. These observations may be perplexing, funny and sometimes absurd, but they all present a surprised look at the things that we, people, take for granted.

From her online portfolio

I strongly encourage you to head over to her portfolio and wallow in page after page of her exquisite work.

Many thanks to Coilhouse for consistently showcasing such top-notch talent.

NaNoWriMo: Advice for Writers from Incredible Authors

Ready, set, WRITE!

When it comes to creative expression, one of your worst enemies can be your inner editor, that judge-y, mean-spirited, hyper-critical jerk who starts harshing on you as soon as you sit down to create. You know the one. It’s a toxic blend of lofty expectations and distorted perceptions, and left unchecked it can perpetuate creative infanticide on all your baby ideas.

That’s why NaNoWriMo is such a great event. If you don’t know about it, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 1,000 words a day, every day, for 30 days. At the end, you’ll have a 30,000-word novel! How amazing is that? And there’s a tremendous community around your effort. Libraries invite you in to write. Independent bookstores do, too. You can meet other sweaty scribblers just like yourself in forums and support groups all over the world.

And, as if that’s not enough, amazing writers will write you pep talks! People like Jonathan Lethem and Audrey Niffenegger have already signed up to tell you how great you are for doing this, and how much everyone appreciates the fact that you’re showing up and putting in the effort.

You can even roam through the pep talk archives when you’re feeling frustrated and in need of inspiration. People like Lynda Barry (LYNDA BARRY!) and Lemony Snicket (one of my favorite bits about writing, ever, for all time) and Neil Gaiman and Dave Eggers and Peter Fucking Carey – all these people, these talented, accomplished people, will be cheering you on.

So what are you waiting for? Inspiration? Bah. The right time? Double bah! For the swelling to go down? BAH! The swelling may never go down. You may never have the right idea. And you will certainly never have the time. So why not just start?

As my sainted father always says, “There ain’t nothing to it but to do it.”

It starts in eight hours. Ready, set, WRITE!

Fairy Tale Friday: The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear

That boy's not scared of anything!

Happy Halloween weekend, everyone! To celebrate this, the spookiest time of the year, I suggest we all read the classic Grimm tale, “The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear.” (It’s sometimes called, “The Boy Who Learned How to Shudder.”)

In this terrifying tale, our hero is so dumb that he’s not afraid of anything. But he wants to be! So he sets out to find something that will make him shudder with fear: Ghosts! Gigantic black cats that play poker! A flying bed! And women!

Marie-Louise von Franz gives a lovely interpretation of this story that somehow makes it all about teh sexx, which made me like this story even more than I originally did.

(This is not that book, but it is still a good one of hers and it is all on Scribd for you to enjoy for free.)

So settle into your chairs and get ready to explore the very soul of fear…

The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear

A father had two sons. The oldest one was clever and intelligent, and knew how to manage everything, but the youngest one was stupid and could neither understand nor learn anything. When people saw him, they said, “He will be a burden on his father!”

Now when something had to be done, it was always the oldest son who had to do it. However, if the father asked him fetch anything when it was late, or even worse, at night, and if the way led through the churchyard or some other spooky place, he would always answer, “Oh, no, father, I won’t go there. It makes me shudder!” For he was afraid.

In the evening by the fire when stories were told that made one’s flesh creep, the listeners sometimes said, “Oh, that makes me shudder!” The youngest son would sit in a corner and listen with the others, but he could not imagine what they meant.

“They are always saying, ‘It makes me shudder! It makes me shudder!’ It does not make me shudder. That too must be a skill that I do not understand.”

Now it happened that one day his father said to him, “Listen, you there in the corner. You are getting big and strong. You too will have to learn something by which you can earn your bread. See how your brother puts himself out, but there seems to be no hope for you.”

“Well, father,” he answered, “I do want to learn something. Indeed, if possible I would like to learn how to shudder. I don’t understand that at all yet.”

The oldest son laughed when he heard that, and thought to himself, “Dear God, what a dimwit that brother of mine is. Nothing will come of him as long as he lives. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”

The father sighed, and answered him, “You may well learn to shudder, but you will not earn your bread by shuddering.”

Soon afterward the sexton came to the house on a visit, and the father complained to him about his troubles, telling him how his younger son was so stupid in everything, that he knew nothing and was learning nothing. “Just think,” he said, “when I asked him how he was going to earn his bread, he actually asked to learn to shudder.”

“If there is nothing more than that,” replied the sexton, “he can learn that with me. Just send him to me. I will plane off his rough edges.”

The father agreed to do this, for he thought, “It will do the boy well.”

So the sexton took him home with him, and he was to ring the church bell. A few days later the sexton awoke him at midnight and told him to get up, climb the church tower, and ring the bell.

“You will soon learn what it is to shudder,” he thought. He secretly went there ahead of him. After the boy had reached the top of the tower, had turned around and was about to take hold of the bell rope, he saw a white figure standing on the steps opposite the sound hole.

“Who is there?” he shouted, but the figure gave no answer, neither moving nor stirring. “Answer me,” shouted the boy, “or get out of here. You have no business here at night.”

Do you dare find out what happens next?

Fairy tale commercials

Today’s visual art Wednesday post isn’t about a single artist. It’s a collection of fairy tale commercials! I love advertising (I know, I’m a pervert), so it pleases me triple when people make clever ads in my favorite genre. Enjoy as the characters you know and love take a spin through the marketing machine.

Little Red Riding Hood:



Princess and the Pea:

Sleeping Beauty:

And my favorite: Fairy tale in a vending machine:

Tips for Self-Editing, From a Pro Who Knows

It's hard work!

There are lots of hard things about writing, but one of the hardest is editing your own work. Editing brain is an entirely different animal from writing brain, and flaws that seem obvious in someone else’s work often go unnoticed in our own. So what’s a poor writer to do?

Fortunately for us, Carol Saller, senior manuscript editor at the University of Chicago press and an editor at the Chicago Manual of Style, has compiled a list of errors she sees in manuscripts over and over again. For instance:

* Throat-clearing. When writer Richard Peck finishes a novel, he claims, he throws out the first chapter without reading it and writes it anew. He reasons that when we begin a work, we’re rarely certain of where it will end. Revisiting the beginning after the end has emerged makes sense. This time it will be easier to eliminate all the bush-beating.

* Personal tics. Most writers have a few pet words or phrases: decidedly, or by no means, or incredibly, or most important. Ditto for favorite sentence constructions: “Not only X but Y” is always popular. Once you identify your own foibles, they become more difficult to ignore.

* Repetition. Word-processing encourages this to the same degree that old-fashioned typewriting discouraged it: why say something once when you can say it three times? A common keyboard error is to copy and paste when you mean to cut and paste, so that whole passages are accidentally repeated verbatim.

Read the whole list.

And hook yourself up with an incredible blog about language and writing, while you’re at it.