Monday, June 24, 2013

Enchanted Conversations with Kate Wolford on Goodreads: Highlights

Last week we were privileged to have two days (June 19 & 20) of real-time "enchanted conversation" during a Goodreads author-chat with Kate Wolford, editor and writer of Beyond the Glass Slipper and creator of Enchanted Conversation, A Fairy Tale Magazine, the online and free-to-read resource that's fostering some truly wonderful fairy tale writing.

I (by some miracle) managed to join in from time to time and was so encouraged to see great dialogue on fairy tales and writing and in members of the fairy tale community coming together! (And I also had the wonderful surprise of my very own copy of Beyond the Glass Slipper arrive during that time! I can't wait to get into it.)

There were eight topics being discussed simultaneously, not always in real time but they were all active during the whole two days. I grabbed a screencap for you:
Look at all the goodies! And all with a focus on writing new fairy tales and retellings. Don't you wish you had joined in now? (Bad news: we have no idea when Kate will be available to chat with us again. Good news: you can still read everything that was said.)

The experience reminded me of the SurLaLune fairy tale and folklore discussion forums which, although no longer as active as it once was*, is still (wonderfully!) available for reading, research and discussion (THANK YOU Heidi). I miss those conversations! Kate's Goodreads discussion brought all that excitement back. I will be the first to admit that though I was (literally) running in and out the door to appointments during the whole two days, I would pause if I possibly could for a few seconds as I rushed by the computer, refresh the Goodreads page while still standing, and do my best to speed read (and sometimes speed-write!) through the comments (and my apologies for glaring syntax and typos that occurred to participants... *red-face*)

Enough gushing - let me show you some of the highlights:

On "Indispensable books and resources?" the discussion opened was opened by S.g. with:
I've been serializing some fantasy work based off fairytales for a while. One of the things that I felt a little uncomfortable about is that when it comes to fairy tales there tends to be one or two predominant versions that everyone seems to stick to... part of my own research prior to jumping into a new one is trying to make sure I've read a lot of the different versions so I have a sense of what might be essential facets of a specific tales before I decide what "core things" to retain in a fantasy reenvisioning.
While I have to say I really am glad to have the SurLaLune BLog ( to consult, 
What are some good academic papers, journals, or books that I can consult? 
Among the many suggestions, Kate added this gem:
You know, my library of fairy tale books has grown almost entirely from looking at the bibliographies of the backs of books.
It's like secret book treasure.  
Yes! I agree completely. :)

On "The "Popular" Tales", discussion opened with a topic that is directly addressed by Kate Wolford's book, Beyond the Glass Slipper. Siareen commented:
I think if anyone saw a game, a book or a movie that integrated a number of tales "Into the Woods" style, it wouldn't be difficult to come up with most the tales without actually looking.
For instance most the princesses would be there, such as "Snow White", "Cinderella", "Rapunzel", "The Little Mermaid", "Beauty and the Beast" and "Sleeping Beauty", there might also be some "Little Red Riding Hood", "Jack and the Beanstalk", "Rumpelstiltskin" and "Hansel and Gretel", and if we're really lucky, they might go for some of the "less well known" tales such as "Twelve Dancing Princesses", "Thumbelina and "The Frog Prince".
The list of options, sadly never gets much bigger than that. There seem to be a number of tales which everyone knows [not all Disney], which are used and reused again and again and again. Most the rest lay mostly forgotten by the public until they pick up say an original Grimm fairy tale collection and realize they don't recognize half the tales.
Why do you think some tales are popular while others are not?
Are these the better tales? The ones that appeal more to our day and age? Perhaps they are the ones which are easiest to retell or write about? Or are there just certain elements that make these stories the ones everyone thinks about when they hear the words "fairy tale"? 
Naturally we talked a little about Kate's book and then we refocused things a little:
Maybe we can focus the topic more on writing fairy tale inspired stories. It's these same tales that seem to be the inspiration for most the literary interpretations. Do you think there are the tales that are easier to turn into a story? Or is it only familiarity that plays the important role in fairy tale retelling choices? 
We discussed illustrations, nostalgia, pop-culture, Disney (of course - such a huge influence though the company can't take credit for keeping Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and others in popular circulation), and cultural influences and traditions (eg Germany's and Russia's canons of popular tales might surprise many).

The most popular topic by far was: "What Do You Dislike In New Fairy Tale Telling Trends?" and although we all had our various niggles we did put forward some positive options and ideas as well (this was a very fun back and forth).

Kate added this quotable set of comments in the middle of it all:
Fairy tales are made by society. They are shaped by society at LEAST as much as they shape it.
What we don't like our fairy tales anymore, we change them. Heck, when we DO like them, we change them.
The cultural heritage aspect of them is one of the reasons we return to fairy tales. Just looking at the discussions here today, you can see how fairy tales grab people. We'll never quit them. The discussion here today show how far into the cultural DNA they are.
I have to add Alyne's lovely opening comment on the "Why do you love Fairy Tale re-tellings?" topic, which was the next most active discussion:
This book by Tanith Lee (Red As Blood, or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer) made me want to write fiction, as did Angela Carter's book, The Bloody Chamber. These are some pretty old books and so its been a long time I've had this dream.
I had to live in Europe to find my plots. Always the fairy tale element is there. Why? Because I am haunted by Grimm. 
Childhood is indelible.Those fairies and witches and enchantments, including the dark forest and castles and strange chapels, were incredibly romantic to me. 
Fairy tales are the stories of our ancestors. They are also cover stories for forbidden mysteries. Finding the root of these mysteries is a quest for some artists. Removing the veil. From this simple intrigue can spring many stories. 
That's what drives me as a writer. What about you as writer or reader? Why do you seek fairy tales?
(By the way - I am SO interested to know what any reader out there is thinking in response to these right now! If you have comments you want to share, please feel free to add them below. The more we discuss, the better equipped we will be as writers, artists and filmmakers in using fairy tales.)

A fascinating and tricky subject, which I wish we'd had more time to discuss was: "Re-writing "problem" tales", that is, tales that have something disturbing about them, including those that seem unfair and/or have an unhappy ending (Kate includes a few of these in her book by the way). This one is a little weightier and more difficult to grab an excerpt from that's self-explanatory so I will just suggest that you go read through the discussion. If you write or work with fairy tales, you're going to bump up against this problem sooner or later.

We also described fairy tales as "cultural dynamite"and "peanut butter" (as in, they go with everything/every genre). I'll leave you to look up the context HERE if you're interested... ;)

Kate's book is not only a good individual resource but is, as you can see a good prompt for conversations in the fairy tale community. I'm going to include the blurb from the back of the book as it summarizes very clearly, not only what the book is about but the spirit of the work that Kate Wolford is doing and just how inspiring it was to have her discussing fairy tales with the community at large:

Oh and please note: if you are an e-reader, Beyond the Glass Slipper has special e-reader friendly annotations and functions (explained HERE) to make the book more fun to read and a great fingertip resource.

I dearly wish there was a way to make fairy tale community discussions a regular feature but it's not as easy to make happen as you'd think. Kudos to Kate and the Enchanted Conversation readers and writers in particular for making it fantastic. I had a blast. I highly recommend joining in (or at least lurking and occasionally waving hi) if anything like this happens again.

*Older discussions were very active indeed, with members signing in daily and sometimes multiple times a day to contribute. They're a gold mine of information and inspiration. It would be wonderful to see this happen again!

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