I’ve been a fan of both Enchanted Conversation and World Weaver Press for years. So when I saw the announcement that Kate Wolford would be heading up a joint anthology of original or lesser-known fairy tales set in winter, I decided I would write towards her prompt. I never actually expected that she would like it, though I did try to hit both her theme and word count goals as a sort of experiment for myself.
What follows is a spoiler-free behind-the-scenes glimpse into the story, why it turned out the way it did, for those who like to read such things.
When I sat down to write the story in April (2015), my grandmother, for whom I’d been the primary caretaker the first six months or so of her brain cancer, had just recently passed away. My own health, since I had my own chronic illness to contend with, had been thoroughly shot to pieces, but as part of my recovery I’d decided to return to writing again little by little.
I also had no workable computer at the time and so the idea was that I’d trial out writing a couple short stories on my 7″ tablet paired with a new bluetooth keyboard before delving into anything longer. This set-up created the interesting effect of only being able to see a few lines of story at a time.
If the tale is packed full of details, it’s because if I didn’t write them, they would not exist. Whatever ended up “on paper” became the story in my head, not the other way around.
In the bleak midwinter…
The opening line of the Frozen Fairy Tales prompt also happened to be the title of one of my favorite carols. I’ve included the version that has meant the most to me over the years, trekking with me through the snowfalls and dark nights of my time living in Armenia, and soothing my grandmother’s anxiety as we sat together in her living room in our last month together. I tried to capture the essence of the song in my story, both consciously and unconsciously.
“And a woman as had her wits about her.”
The Secret of Roan Inish is perhaps my favorite folktale movie of all time. I watched it religiously when I was younger, to my sister’s bemusement. If I was going to write a own folktale retelling, I had to pay homage to it in some way, if only in a turn of phrase. Everyone with Netflix should check it out.
‘Not old like me. I mean old. Old like darkness and stars,’ she said to the flames.
Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time has been my “bedtime story” audiobook of choice in recent years. It never fails to sooth my own anxiety and help me conquer my insomnia (a frequent, pesky demon since my chronic illness struck). One of my favorite scenes is when Nanny Ogg tells Susan, granddaughter of Death, her own hearth-tale about the lady Time giving birth to a mostly-mortal boy. In honor of Terry Pratchett’s passing and in thanks for all the comfort and relief, I paid tribute to this scene by giving my favorite line a cameo.
The original Alsatian folktale I based my retelling on starts off with a newly-wed young woman setting off on her first, midnight trip from Rosheim to sell goods at the market in Strasbourg. Making the switch to Strasbourg’s world-famous, centuries-old Christmas Market seemed like a perfect change to make, given the winter theme.
The concept of a child born on Sunday being able to see into and participate in the world of spirits and faeries I borrowed from a different Alsatian folktale, which I translated from an oral telling under the title “The Faerie’s Gift of Tears.”
My own family lore…
I grew up with stories about my ancestors, including how one Swedish ancestor of mine (a young woman) would regularly walk for long hours of the night to “commute” between where she worked and where her family lived. And there was this one time where she thought she saw something frightening in the dark…. I won’t tell you what it was or what it turned out to be, but the imagery has stayed with me. My grandmother also told me a couple tales of her family members encountering friendly ghosts. So, there’s that.