“Your first-born child.” This time its voice was like a rainstorm, heavy and deceptively soothing.
With great effort and a fire in my throat, I mustered another weak chuckle, to show it that I was not afraid, even now, and what an unprofitable bargain it was proposing. The weak laugh earned me a blinding, choking pressure against my windpipe, and the manacles at my wrist began to steam and sizzle. I smelled my own flesh burning as white hot streaks of pain shot through my arms, my fingertips.
Without enough air for speech and my throat almost completely blocked, I forced out the words that would taunt me and howl in my ears eternally. “She’s all yours.”
– Excerpt from my short story, “Spun of Gold and Pain.”
In theory, fairy tales are my favorite place to start. This is theoretical because both of my full manuscripts have no fairy tale origins. But whenever I’m ready to start somewhere new, these old stories are the first place I look for inspiration. Sometimes they take form as a short story, sometimes as a valiant start that wasn’t valiant enough to find its stride. But they always succeed in firing up my imagination, because the possibilities feel infinite.
I’ll never forget the day I decided that maybe it wouldn’t be ridiculous to try writing fiction again, as an adult. Sitting in my little apartment, entranced by Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl, I decided I wanted to try something like it. I wrote a now-lost beginning and a flagging, but intrigue-packed, plot outline to a re-telling of “Rapunzel.” I had an awful lot to figure out about writing fiction, much more than I realized at the time, but I got a taste of just how exciting it could become for me.
We all had different pictures in our head when we first read or heard the various fairy tales we grew up with, but for me, those images aren’t immutable. They are growing, changing opportunities for richer, fresher versions of beloved stories. I love to tell my kids stories like “Jack and the Beanstalk” or “Little Red Riding Hood” over and over, but add a new, different detail each time I tell it. One of my very favorite fairy-tale re-tellings is Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. It takes the ageless story and asks “what if?” to enormously successful effect.
In my short story “Spun of Gold and Pain,” I asked the same question while contemplating one of my favorites,”Rumplestiltskin,” and the result was a strange little story that I became quite fond of. I won’t be posting the whole story here, at least not yet, but here’s another bit of it:
I named her in a haste that irked the king. I called out her name in a strong voice in the moment of her birth, and then it was done. The power of a naming was solemnly regarded and could not be undone, not even if the child’s father is a king. My daughter would not be like me, a nameless, unwanted wretch of a child. She would not be vulnerable to the malicious whims of a fey. She would be safe.