Several years ago, when one of my older sisters was still a freshman in college studying art, she decided – for what heinous reason it was, I can’t remember – to draw a pretty eerie image which she’d titled “Madonna and Child”. It was an illustration of a woman in black carrying a baby, and she stood in the middle of an abandoned road in the dead of night, staring at the viewer with an icy kind of malevolence.
Let’s just say that image was seared in my brain forever.
About a year or so ago, it came back to me during an idle moment, and I decided to do something about it (i.e., distract myself from being so creeped out in the middle of the day). So I wrote what I believed then to be the first chapter of a new gothic novel, but I ended up setting it aside when things didn’t quite pan out beyond the first chapter.
When I wrote the first version of The Weeping Willow, the story simply focused on Crispian and the weeping willow, it was shorter, and I wasn’t happy with the way it turned out. After quite a bit of back-and-forthing with my publisher, I was given the green light to withdraw my story, rework it, and then resubmit it.
The weeping willow’s story, I felt, was incomplete. He, as well as Crispian, needed some kind of foundation on which their fairy tale could stand, and after going through my folder of unfinished stuff, I came across that abandoned first chapter and decided to weave it into the current story. That first chapter became Chapter Two in The Weeping Willow, and from there I needed to backtrack some more in order to give the ghost her own story and so wrote Chapter One.
The novella’s original incarnation was whimsical and light, and with the addition of Aeldra and Helena’s stories, the tone changed dramatically into something much more atmospheric and gothic. Suddenly the significance of a boy’s name turned into a matter of life and death for Aeldra and her servant, Halfrith, and the rest of the story branched out from that idea.
What started out as a light fairy tale inspired by superstitions surrounding weeping willows was now a lot more complex. I really fancied the idea of names somehow harboring people’s essences so that the unnamed would live in some kind of limbo, and otherworldly entities would need a name in order to lay claim on a person’s soul. For mortals, who’ll always be at a disadvantage against forces beyond their comprehension, a name becomes their only protection against the danger of being whisked away to the supernatural realm.
[Writerly digression] Never let it be said that writing’s a linear process. In my experience, ever since I started writing gay YA novels in 2007 for publishing in 2008, it’s always been five steps forward and three steps back, but in the end, the headache and at times confusing bungee jumps from a future chapter to an earlier one prove to be well worth the creative whiplash. [End writerly digression]
As with my previous attempts at short stories, I prefer writing fairy tales that are more like “peasant tales” for lack of a better term. Princes and kings and so on are fun to read and write about, but fairy tales centering on the poor and the everyman are much more liberating insofar as inspiration goes. The main reason is the fact that, unlike nobility, the working-class and the poor are far easier to relate to, their daily struggles transcending time even if specific social/political issues change. It’s more fulfilling transposing current issues to a setting that’s clearly in another time and place altogether. And fairy tales fall under the more generalized heading of folklore, whose roots are in the traditions and/or relgion(s) of a culture. So there’s a great deal of material there to mine, and if I could work modern issues, value systems, etc., into a more traditional narrative form, the better it is for me to convey specific lessons aimed at contemporary gay kids. My bias in genre fiction is that giving distinctively modern concerns the veneer of history works in creating a sense of timelessness in the story.
My main love is historical fantasy, which is my fancy-schmancy way of saying fairy tales. With every new story in this genre that I attempt, my hope is to create an original folktale echoing the narrative form of the more familiar ones from, say, the Brothers Grimm and shape it into one gay kids can claim for their own. The Weeping Willow is a story celebrating individuality and autonomy, a common theme in my fairy tales and an issue that’s always been very important to me. It’s a theme that I strongly feel is significant to gay kids as they struggle through the murkier waters of adolescence and the immense pressure for conformity they must feel from all sides, day in and day out.
It’s my hope, anyway, that any young person who stumbles across my work would draw something from it. The Weeping Willow is just one of several, and there’s certainly a lot more where that came from.
THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED