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 MSN.com 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.
Here are Johnny Keats’ piss-a-bed poetry, and three novels by God knows whom… No more Keats, I entreat: flay him alive; if some of you don’t I must skin him myself: there is no bearing the drivelling idiotism of the Mankin.
Vladimir Nabokov on Ernest Hemingway
As to Hemingway, I read him for the first time in the early ‘forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it.
W. H. Auden on Robert Browning
I don’t think Robert Browning was very good in bed. His wife probably didn’t care for him very much. He snored and had fantasies about twelve-year-old girls.
So, if you’re not familiar with SurLaLune, you should be. It’s a deep, delicious site with enough intellectual horsepower to satisfy the most academic among us, and enough wonder and delight to keep all those smarts from getting too heavy. They’ve started publishing collections of fairy tales with various themes (maidens in towers, etc.), and the latest one is a collection of mermaid stories.
To celebrate and help promote this worthwhile endeavor, let us take a moment to revisit the most famous mermaid story of all: The Little Mermaid. When’s the last time you actually read that story? It may not be as sweet and frothy as you remember…
“FAR out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower, and as clear as crystal, it is very, very deep; so deep, indeed, that no cable could fathom it: many church steeples, piled one upon another, would not reach from the ground beneath to the surface of the water above. There dwell the Sea King and his subjects. We must not imagine that there is nothing at the bottom of the sea but bare yellow sand. No, indeed; the most singular flowers and plants grow there; the leaves and stems of which are so pliant, that the slightest agitation of the water causes them to stir as if they had life. Fishes, both large and small, glide between the branches, as birds fly among the trees here upon land. In the deepest spot of all, stands the castle of the Sea King. Its walls are built of coral, and the long, gothic windows are of the clearest amber. The roof is formed of shells, that open and close as the water flows over them. Their appearance is very beautiful, for in each lies a glittering pearl, which would be fit for the diadem of a queen.”
I’m so excited I’m about to bust – I’m finally offering weekend workshops!
People have been asking for weekend workshops since I started the Fairy Tale Factory, but I couldn’t figure out how to deliver a satisfying workshop experience in such a short period of time…UNTIL NOW.
The first weekend workshop focuses mainly on the personal transformation aspects of the Fairy Tale Factory (as opposed to the hardcore writing aspects). I’m calling it Happily Ever After, and participants will spend a fun and engaging weekend using the magic of fairy tales to reclaim their personal power and change their lives for the better. We’ll learn to cast our real-life problems in metaphorical terms (fairy tale terms!), then use the narrative structure and conventions of fairy tales to solve those problems in effective, creative ways.
Last month I got an e-mail from Elizabeth Lynn Shipe announcing the debut of her photo series: Reconstructing Grimm. Liz has taken on the challenge of illustrating her favorite fairy tales and kids’ stories with photographs. If you have ever tried to take a decent staged photograph of anything, you will probably appreciate what a heroic undertaking this is. You have to cast people as the characters, find and/or build the right sets, find the right costumes, and figure out just the right scenes to act out. It’s basically as complicated as a movie shoot, and often almost as expensive.
Here’s a nice one from her “Alice in Wonderland” shoot:
She’s also made a series of cute behind-the-scenes videos about her process:
If you’d like to see more fun photos and learn more about the lovely and talented Liz Shipe, hop on over to her blog and say, “Hi!”
MJ: One thing you’re known for is being incredibly prolific; All Eternals Deck will be your eighth album in as many years. How do you maintain that pace? And do you have any advice for would-be writers?
JD: I think it’s mostly that I am a person of high energy. [Laughs.] That, and I sit down and I write when I get an idea—I put other things aside. Most of All Hail West Texas was written during orientation at a new job I had. I had basically worked this job before, I knew this stuff, so I was writing lyrics in the margins of all the Xeroxed material. I would go home at 3 o’clock, and my wife was out of town up at hockey camp in Vance, and I would sit down and bang out a song and then make dinner. Part of it is recognizing that while writing is a mystical process, it’s also work. If you show up to work five days in a row, nobody’s going to pat you on the back—everyone does that. Well, do that with your writing. Just show up. Be there for it. When you get an idea, write it down somewhere and then be a steward of that idea.
When I was kid, they always used to tell me to keep notebooks. I look at my shelves now and it’s just nothing but notebooks. And if I haven’t gotten an idea but I have time to work, I’ll pull one out and I bet there will be five or six sentences that will kick me off. This whole album, all the titles came from that—I just started writing down phrases I’d hear with three words because they looked so orderly on a page. And then I would look at them after six months and be like, oh, Outer Scorpion Squadron, wow, what is that? What’s that mean? What does that conjure up? At some point of distance it becomes like you’re taking inspiration from elsewhere, which is a nice feeling: Instead of making the demand on yourself that you be inspired right now, you have this phrase that’s a little distant from you.
This cunning pop-up book by Benjamin Lacombe takes the reader on a 3-D tour through some beloved fairy tales. And it’s got an animated trailer, so even if you never see the book, you can still enjoy the movie of the book.
Ahoy! The April class wrapped up (delightful stories, lovely students) and life kicked into high gear for me, including intense family drama, and other unexpected diversions. Exhausted by my ever-crazy schedule, I am taking a summer vacation. I’ll post here on the blog when I find truly wonderful things to share, but the next class won’t run until October. I need some time to write my own stories, and to finally make serious headway on this publishing thing I’ve been trying to do for the past year.
To celebrate this shifting of gears, I offer you an unexpected and entirely tender gem (courtesy of Coilhouse):
The Laughing Heart
your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight