Friday, September 2, 2016

Treading Familiar Ground

I received a very satisfying rejection today. They liked my prose, my pacing, my craft. What made them shake their heads was, in the end, my choice of subject. It was a fairy story. Not an innovative twist, but a toe dipped in a tried and true mythology that many have waded in before, and many will again. I could re-write and hang different flesh on the same skeleton to avoid this critique when I submit it next, but I will not, because it’s exactly what I want. I’ll just hope I find somewhere that also likes the tried, true and familiar.

I love fairy stories, and a large part of what I love is the familiar, the rules and elements that mark them as themselves, which bear repeating ad infinitum if the tune rings true. What I’m saying is, I enjoyed getting the rejection because it only came from a difference of opinion about what’s most interesting to read and publish in the genre. So, here’s a little improvisation on my opinion.

There’s a tingle I get when a story brings up the importance of carrying iron, of salt and bread, of rowan, hawthorn, alder trees. I know what’s coming; fairies, and it’s something I’ve gotten tired of receiving, no matter how many new versions I encounter. There’s a fear and excitement that comes with the unknown, but there’s also a pleasant dread that comes with knowing where all the pitfalls lie and waiting for the plot to wander into one: the danger of accepting gifts, deceptions without outright lies, the shifting forms and inhuman desires that make real fairies magical. I like the elements, the set dressing of fairy stories. It’s just something that’s always clicked for me.

I also like the structure, the relation to the past that thoughtful fairy stories have. These are narrative written with a vast weight of tradition, written in the shadow of so much expansion and extrapolation from the foundational myths that it can feel map of a shared memory, this endless catalogue of things that every enthusiast must know. Sometimes it feels like the work of writing in this shadow is less innovation than simply pulling on the thread and choosing which ones to put at the fore and which to weave behind. Fairy stories, for me, the writing and the reading, are all about remembering again these little truths and old traditions that feel true in the bones. I like to be reminded, and I don’t have to be surprised.

So, in the end, I’m happy to have gotten that rejection, because the comment I received made clear that someone read and understood my story for exactly what it was. It wasn’t right for them, but it remains precisely right for me, and that’s more than enough.

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