Happily Ever After

One of my stories is being reprinted.

It’s the first story of mine that was ever published, and it’s been reprinted a number of times. I’m pleased that it’s coming out again, and it’s in a particularly wonderful book: Happily Ever After, edited by John Klima. You can order it directly from Night Shade Books, or from Amazon.

Here are the gorgeous cover and incredible table of contents:

Bill Willingham, Introduction
Gregory Maguire, “The Seven Stage a Comeback”
Genevieve Valentine, “And In Their Glad Rags”
Howard Waldrop, “The Sawing Boys”
Michael Cadnum, “Bear It Away”
Susanna Clarke, “Mr. Simonelli or the Fairy Widower”
Karen Joy Fowler, “The Black Fairy’s Curse”
Charles de Lint, “My Life As A Bird”
Holly Black, “The Night Market”
Theodora Goss, “The Rose in Twelve Petals”
Jim C. Hines, “The Red Path”
Alethea Kontis, “Blood and Water”
Garth Nix, “Hansel’s Eyes”
Wil McCarthy, “He Died That Day, In Thirty Years”
Jane Yolen, “Snow In Summer”
Michelle West, “The Rose Garden”
Bruce Sterling, “The Little Magic Shop”
K. Tempest Bradford, “Black Feather”
Alan Rodgers, “Fifi’s Tail”
Kelly Link, “The Faery Handbag”
Peter Straub, “Ashputtle”
Leslie What, “The Emperor’s New (And Improved) Clothes”
Robert J. Howe, “Pinocchio’s Diary”
Wendy Wheeler, “Little Red”
Neil Gaiman, “The Troll Bridge”
Patricia Briggs, “The Price”
Paul Di Filippo, “Ailoura”
Jeff VanderMeer, “The Farmer’s Cat”
Gregory Frost, “The Root of The Matter”
Susan Wade, “Like a Red, Red Rose”
Josh Rountree, “Chasing America”
Nancy Kress, “Stalking Beans”
Esther Friesner, “Big Hair”
Robert Coover, “The Return of the Dark Children”

I’ve been so fortunate lately to have stories of mine reprinted in anthologies with some of my favorite authors. Susanna Clarke! I love Susanna Clarke.

But since “The Rose in Twelve Petals” was my first published story, I thought you might like to know how it was written. This is for all the writers out there who are at the same place I was at the time. Here’s how it happened.

In the summer of 2000, I went to the Odyssey Writing Workshop (where, by the way, I will be teaching this summer). Before going to Odyssey, I had never published anything, for the good and sufficient reason that nothing I wrote was publishable. At Odyssey, I learned how to write publishable stories. Several months later, I started writing “Rose.” I started writing it because I started thinking, what about all the other characters in the story? Don’t they have stories of their own? That’s something I’ve thought about quite a lot in general, and many of my stories are about that – what sorts of stories the other characters, the ones who are not main characters, have. I think their stories are just as interesting, in some ways more so.

“Rose,” as you’ll immediately realize if you read it, is a retelling of “Sleeping Beauty.” It’s told from the point of view of a number of characters, including the tower in which the princess is sleeping and the spinning wheel who does not want to kill her.

At first, I thought that was all I was going to do with the story. But as I wrote it, I started rewriting the history of Britain. I believe I rewrote it so that Bonny Prince Charlie won. I worried at the time about complicating the story like that, but I remembered something I had heard at Odyssey: that I should not be afraid to complicate. That complication was good. So I went with that idea, and I think it made the story stronger. At the time, I was not a particularly experienced writer, and it was difficult for me to handle a subtext. I revised the story quite a lot, getting that subtext in. Now when I write, I find that I write text and subtext at the same time. I weave it in automatically.

That’s one thing that changes as you get better. You learn to write on different levels at once. I can write dialog that also reveals character and advances the plot, in the first draft. I used to have to put that other stuff in later.

So then, the next summer, I went to the Clarion Writing Workshop, which at that time was in Michigan. At Clarion, I learned to how to write the sorts of stories that pose a challenge to the genre. That’s what Clarion, at least my year of Clarion, encouraged. I brought “Rose” with me, because I had just finished it and it still needed to be workshopped. Kelly Link workshopped it, and told me both what was working and what was not. I actually didn’t need to make many changes at that point, and I was happy about that. The guest editor for that summer was Shawna McCarthy, and her first day there, she told us that she had already seen a story in the pile that she wanted to buy. Later that day, she told me it was mine. I was stunned, of course. To have my story bought like that! And published in Realms of Fantasy!

I’ve written many stories since then, some better than others. But I learn from each one. And I think that “Rose” is still one of my best. I’m very proud that it keeps being reprinted.

That was ten years ago, and all day today I’ve been working on a story, thinking about how far I’ve come since then. Is it far? I don’t know, I still feel as though I’m just starting out, even though at this point I’ve published almost enough stories for two collections, plus essays and poems. And soon, I’m planning on starting a novel. I still struggle with writing problems, although they tend to be different problems now. But I don’t think I’ll ever feel as though I know what I’m doing, not fully. And I suppose that’s a good thing. After all, if this were easy, it wouldn’t be writing, would it?

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7 Responses to Happily Ever After

  1. Grey Walker says:

    Thank you for telling us this story. It’s heartening.

    Do you know who did the cover art for the anthology? I love how the hero at the top has a big, bony schnoz. He looks like a real person.

  2. Cymru says:

    The girl on the cover of the book looks oddly like Drew Barrymore to me. . .hmmm. Yes, it is a great cover.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Theodora! It’s great that your first story is getting re-published. I’m going to have to buy that book. It looks very interesting, and it’s wonderful to see what good company you’re in.

    I’ve never been to a writing workshop. I took creative writing in college, but never got that much out of it. I don’t think many of us were all that inspired to really create, to put our hearts into it, because the structure of the courses was counter intuitive at best. But I did learn a few scraps of actual knowledge that helped me later on. It sounds like Clarion and Odyssey are really where to go if you want to become a better writer.

  3. I don’t know anything about the cover art, sorry. But I like how classic it looks. It looks like one of those books of classic fairy tale retellings that I used to find in libraries, which I think is essentially what it’s going to become. I bet the library sales are going to be terrific.

    I got absolutely nothing out of my college creative writing classes! In fact, they stopped me from writing poetry for years. The problem was, they weren’t really classes. We all sat around saying what we thought of each other’s poetry. There was no craft to it, no actual teaching, at all. Odyssey and Clarion were both great. That’s certainly where I would go if I wanted to write stories and books that would actually sell, at least in fantasy and SF.

  4. Cymru says:

    You are so right, Theodora! My poetry classes were more like therapy sessions in which almost everyone was taking up the time recounting their troubled pasts, and no one was actually learning about poetry. As for my prose classes, an inordinate amount of students came over from pharmacy courses and hardly anyone of them seemed to really want to be there. All we did was talk about each other’s assignments (and that’s all they were–assignments), and hardly anyone gave any constructive criticism. The teachers spent most of their time giving us grammar lessons, as though we were all in elementary school! I quit taking creative writing courses before they killed my desire to write. I never thought of going to Clarion or Odyssey because of those college courses. Thank you for your advice. It’s helped me to change my mind about them.

  5. Alan Yee says:

    Honestly, my favorite of the 12 viewpoints in “Rose” is the hound, but that’s probably because I love dogs.

    “I believe I rewrote it so that Bonny Prince Charlie won.”

    So that’s what was going on! The story was obviously set in an alternate Britain, but it also mentioned the Tudors, so I wasn’t sure at which point everything changed. Now I know!

  6. Lovely post, thank you.

    I especially enjoyed the parts about process – about complicating things, and also the text / subtext elements of writing.

  7. Jeff P. says:

    Re your last paragraph, lately I’ve read a few interviews w/ writers where they mention each new novel they write feels like they’re starting over again. I don’t know how true that is of short stories, but I can understand how one novel would not necessarily prepare you for writing the next, different novel. Unless you were doing a series, I guess.

    As always, thanks for sharing. You continue to inspire just by voicing your doubts, along with your beliefs and experiences.

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