Tales of Woe and Wonder collects nine of my fantasy stories that were previously published in print anthologies or online publications. You'll find a mix of fairy-tale wonder and tragic woe. I’ve heard from publishers and agents that it’s difficult to market short fiction collections because it’s impossible to come up with a punchy sentence or two that sums up the work. They’re right. However, some new readers might enjoy these stories and I hate to have all these tales scattered across the web in various magazine archives, languishing in obscurity. So, Tales of Woe and Wonder was born.
"A Gift from over the Sea" tells the story of a young boy’s first brush with the consequences of war. He has waited all summer for his father to return from raiding with a gift. What he receives is not what he expects. "The Princess and the Vampire," a darkly comic tale, imagines a spoiled princess who decides to take a handsome vampire as her lover. As a precaution she has him defanged. "The Fletcher's Daughter" is a quirky reworking of Cinderella. "The Hand with the Knife" expands on the Brothers Grimm story of the same title. The original is only a few paragraphs in length and tells of an elf who provides a magical knife to aid a young girl’s labors but then suffers treachery from the girl’s brothers. "Why the Squonk Weeps" reveals that sometimes magic can turn around and bite you in the backside. "A Mother's Gift" tells the story of Queen Thestral who assumes all the pain of her son and the tragic consequences of meddling with nature. "Under the Bridge" is about looking for a troll and finding a troll or something else? "The Master and the Miller's Daughter" reimagines parts of the Easter story in a fantasy setting, focusing on a young girl’s attempts to cross an enchanted river. In "Esme's Amulet," Esme acquires an amulet that causes vegetables to grow to enormous size, but the seller of the amulet turns out to be an insidious witch with her own agenda for Esme.
2) Why write fairy tales?
With a fairy tale, you can make the abstract literal and work out the consequences. “A Mother’s Gift” is a perfect example of that technique. I adopted a couple children with cleft lip and palate. They had to undergo some painful surgeries. As a parent, you don’t like to see your child in pain and there were times I wished I could endure the pain for them. However, pain is a natural part of life and has some purpose to it. What would happen, I wondered, if a parent really did take on all their child’s pain. That’s what happens in “A Mother’s Gift.” With the aid of some magic, Queen Thestral assumes all her son’s pain from birth. He achieves great success as a leader and warrior but is reckless and intolerant of others whom he considers weak. Thestral becomes a bedridden invalid. Ultimately, the characters suffer tragic consequences.
3) What do you fear most as a writer?
The most frightening and powerful movie about artistic creation that I’ve ever seen is Amadeus. I’m not talking screams and goose bumps, but a deep fear and dread in the heart of your soul. The movie pits Salieri against Mozart. Mozart is immensely talented but reckless with his life and gifts. Music seems to flow effortlessly from Mozart. By contrast, Salieri works very hard. Every success in composition comes only after much struggle, but he alone among his contemporaries recognizes Mozart’s genius. The terror is whether you’re more of a Mozart, who is producing lasting work, or a Salieri, who is only able to recognize great work but not create it himself.
4) What’s the SpecFic Author Collective?
I and three other writers (Milo James Fowler, Simon Kewin, and Lyndon Perry) are teaming up to do some group promotions of our books on Kindle. We’re launching on November 25th. Each of us will be offering one of our new titles for free at the same time. We plan to have an event each month. For November, I’m offering The Crooked House of Coins, a haunted house story that I published last year in an anthology. I rewrote and expanded the story before releasing it as a Kindle short. You can check out our blog, SpecFic Authors Collective, to see what we’re up to.
5) Where do your ideas come from?
In some cases I’ll read about something that sparks my imagination. “Why the Squonk Weeps,” for instance, came from a blog post that another writer wrote about a mythical animal called a squonk. Squonks are extremely ugly and weep much of the time, precisely the kind of tragedy that works well for a fairy tale. “The Princess and the Vampire” derived from my interest in classic vampire stories. I’m talking about the old ones in which the vampires are evil. The trend in some books to portray vampires as loveable is an effort to defang something inherently evil. I started with a scene in which someone literally tries to defang a vampire and built the story out from there. In other cases I use the barebones of another story’s plot as the structure for my own story or the point of expansion. For "A Gift from over the Sea," I drew on Charles Causley's poem "Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience" to create a fantasy story about a young boy’s first brush with war. “The Fletcher’s Daughter” is a variation on Cinderella. “The Hand with the Knife” expands on the Grimm's tale of the same title and adds what I consider a much more satisfying conclusion. For “The Crooked House of Coins,” I started with Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and structured my story using some major elements from Poe’s plot. Like Poe’s story, “The Crooked House of Coins” centers on two male characters in a house full of mysteries and secrets that ultimately meets with destruction during a storm.
6) What do you like to read?
I read a lot of fantasy, both classic and new, both stories aimed at the adult and YA markets. I prefer fantasy stories with self-contained worlds like Tolkien’s Middle Earth as opposed to stories in which characters jump between one world and another like Lewis’s Narnia. I also enjoy ghost stories. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of steampunk stories as genre research for my novel project.
7) What are your future writing plans?
I plan to focus on longer works: novels, novellas, and serial stories that share a number of characters. Feedback from reviewers of my short story collection suggests that readers want more instead of less. My focus at this time is a steampunk novel and a series of stories for the Avenir Eclectia project. I love short stories though and I have lots of ideas, so I won’t be giving up on them entirely.