How did “Seven Smiles and Seven Frowns” arise for you?
First the tale and then the variations showed up as parts of a longer work. But I thought that with a twist or two, the evolving folk/fairy tale could stand on its own.
Any story has an agenda, a point of view. And a folk tale/fairy tale has a very strong one, molded over centuries. After Perrault made the fairy tale into a literary form, writers used stories in this genre to advance what they saw as good manners and a proper way of life. The stories become quite elegant even when compared to the Grimms’ tales, which were cleaned up for 19th century consumption.
Stories changed with time and as they travelled. Cinderella is a far different story in its ancient Asian origins than it is in late 17th century France.
In “Seven Smiles and Seven Frowns” the agenda has become intentional. The first take is the ruling power’s vision of itself—powerful but not without deep feeling and love. The final variation is a call for dissent against the ruling class.
It seems that you’ve inverted the traditional apprentice/mentor relationship; it’s not a stretch to say that the apprentice chooses to be apprenticed. What prompted this choice?
In my story, I saw the young witches in training as having found a vocation, something that held their interest. I’d put it more in line with a spiritual calling. This was another side of apprenticeship—some children wanted to learn the trade being taught, some got to learn a trade they chose and their parents didn’t intend for them. Musicians, performers, artists of all kinds were apprenticed
The apprentice tradition has almost totally disappeared. But up to the 1800s, most trades and even most professions, from the Army and Navy to Medicine, had some form of apprenticeship. In the late 19th century, medical students like Conan Doyle and Somerset Maugham still learned most of what they were going to learn by following doctors around hospitals and observing what they did.
I think we’re used to the tale of the unhappy kid, apprenticed to a cruel master and taught to do something he/she doesn’t like doing in conditions of extreme servitude. Its presence in so many narratives, from folk/fairy tales to memoirs, shows us it was all too common a story. Life was short and brutal and there was no middle ground—what we call adolescence. Except for the highest reaches of ancient societies, one was either a child and unable to take care of oneself or, starting somewhere around the age of 11/12, one was an adult and expected to be productive. I believe Western European folk/fairy tales brought attention to this and other maltreatment of children and what we would call young adults.
Writing well consistently means making nearly minute changes to a story to bring about different effect—and you wrote a story highlighting this. Can you tell us more about how you see writing and your process?
Much of my writing process is a mystery to me and that’s probably just as well. In “Seven Smiles,” I wrote about intentional changes to a tale—changes that made the tale closer to each teller’s views and beliefs. When I wrote the first version I had no idea that this would be anything more than background, a way of showing a reader how the Fey instructed their children. By the second variation I had some idea of subversion. By the third I actually had some idea of what I was doing.
It seems when they captured the Prince, the kingdom fell out of a golden age, but this can’t be true, as Alaric was captured to see the plight of his people. Can you elaborate on this?
The first version is a self-created idealized portrait of the ruling class. The Alaric depicted is benign, generous and loving.
In the second version he’s a lot less charming and his behavior is far more likely—he’s not benign, just unprepared. The third version is the plight of the conquered people from their POV. Alaric may have learned his lessons, but he’s still potentially enormously dangerous.
What’s next for you?
I write stories—sometimes I weave them into novels. My novel Dust Devil on a Quiet Street will be published in 2013 by Lethe Press. Lethe will also reprint my Lambda winning novel Minions of the Moon in late 2012.
Current and upcoming are stories in the anthologies: After, Wilde Stories 2012, Bloody Fabulous, Ghosts: Recent Hauntings, Handsome Devil, Hauntings, and Where thy Dark Eye Glances.