We’re all told when we’re little girls
That if a man loves us
Like the man who hides his cigarettes
and cleans his clothes real good
soaked in stress and Tide
so that she’s not afraid of his breath
Like the drunkard with a bottle
Hidden in the septic tank
so that he can smile
Holding her with the drink seeping
through his pores
Like the free spirit
monogamous at last
glued to the computer screen
sweating and laboring over splayed strangers
And when they don’t
There once was a Prince
Who loved the mirror more than his mother
Probably was a blonde
Who wanted to get married
And have babies just as handsome as he
But he refused to help an ugly old lady
Bent, with warts and a ratted cloak
And she cursed him
Turning into a beautiful sorceress
Like an Aldo model in a Greek dress
And his hair grew out of his head and down his back
Turning black as his selfish heart
And his fingers became claws, and his ears horns
He was a Beast
Who could marry a sap like that?
But there was a Beauty, so beautiful her name was
as in ‘of the ball
And her father tried to pick the Beast’s roses
The only pretty things that he had left
And the father, scared to shit
Gave up his Beauty to save himself
Cowardly sacrificing his virgin daughter to
But she loved the Beast
even as she left to care for her sick, selfish father
and broken his monstrous heart to death
Even with his hair and his lice
and his unclean paws
And she kissed his crinkled, animals lips
Because he took care of her, so nice
Back to the golden haired prince
with the mirrors and the castles
And they were wed
And the father forgiven
And the mirrors smashed
Except for one mirror
In the Prince’s bedroom
where he stares so long that he swears he can see
The claws beneath his fingernails.
On my poetry blog I have a series of posts called ‘Why I Write’, in which I go a little more in-depth about the recurring images found in my poems. Now that I’ve really begun to sink in to my fiction writing career, I figured it was about time that I did that for this blog. Albeit, I don’t write as much fiction so there’s not going to be as much material to choose from. However, I feel like it’s important in understanding both who I am as an author, and what I’m trying to accomplish with my writing.
So we start with my biggest fiction project: the Once Upon a Reality series. As stated before, this series will take common women’s issues and look at them through the lens of classic fairy-tales. For example, ‘Till the Last Petal Falls uses the framework of Beauty & the Beast in order to highlight some important issues surrounding abusive relationships. The currently-in-edited-stage To Dwell in Dreams tackles prescription drug addiction and a form of post-partum depression through the lens of Sleeping Beauty. The third installment, in planning stages, uses the Snow White story to bring to light the abuse, confusion, and difficulty of growing up as an autistic female with an overbearing mother.
But why? Why these issues? Why not just write about them straight-up fiction (or non-fiction) style? Why feel the need to bring in the fairy-tales at all?
There are a couple of reasons for this. The first ties in to how I even thought of the series in the first place. I was reading another blog’s take on fairy-tales and the bad lessons that they teach us as children. I, being a lover of everything that’s been retold by Disney, was offended. I immediately leaped to defend all that is sparkly and magical. But then I stopped. Sure, the classics that I had grown up on had taught me plenty of good lessons. Wonderful lessons. But as I grew older, and ran into more morally complex and potentially dangerous situations, I realized that these lessons, though good, were no longer enough. Some of them that had been applied healthily as a child, such as learning to love people despite their exterior, were being warped into adulthood and becoming reasons to allow myself to be abused, or to stand on the sidelines and watch others be abused.
The more I looked in to the unintended ‘side-effect’ lessons of my favorite fairy-tales, the more I wanted to do something. Couldn’t there be a way to re-direct the original story into something that was more applicable to adults? It was from that desire that I began planning the series- I took the original plot and aligned it to what I saw as being the ‘bad’ message that the tale was sending to its audience. From there, I figured out how I needed to tweak the original story to make the new goal the driving message- whether that meant changing the story’s ending, or pushing the story more to the background in order to bring the goal forward, or tweaking the roles of certain characters throughout. My hope was to create stories that not so much re-told the original fairy-tale, but released their readers from the hold that the original tale might have had on them just enough that, while the original ‘good’ message of the tale remained intact, the ‘bad’ message would be somewhat neutralized by this new take.
It goes without saying that the topics that I tackle in this series are not happy-go-lucky ones. Even in later novels that are nowhere near as physically violent as the first, the themes are still dark. In polite conversation, most people avoid talking about these subjects, because they can become uncomfortable. They are things that we do not want to think about, or that we think about in depreciating manners that can turn dehumanizing for certain groups of individuals. For me, the fairy-tale framework becomes a way to ease people into the topic who might not normally want to talk about these things. The safety of the narrative allows the reader to immerse themselves into a new world, and a new way of experiencing life, rather than just pontificating at them and scaring them off the topic. Using fairy-tales also makes the issue much more relate-able- how many times have you heard your girlfriends (or guyfriends) talking about which Disney princess/prince they are more like or which story of theirs is most like their own lives? When forcing those timeless characters to go through situations that fit their own stories, and yet branch off into ways that are normally taboo… the taboo subject becomes more relatable. Instead of being on the outside looking in, readers are allowed to dip into a world that is terrifying and begin an honest discussion about it.
It is my hope that this series can contribute to the discussion of many things that have been deemed ‘uncomfortable’. I focus on women’s issues mostly because they are the issues that touch me personally the most- things I’ve had happen to me first hand, or seeing siblings and best friends endure throughout the years. From the question of ‘Why did she stay in that situation, if he did x?’, to questions of ‘What does it mean to have no sex drive in an oversexualized age’ and ‘What if I’m not excited about my pregnancy, at all? Can I talk about being scared?’ and ‘Why does it seem like my mother is always acting in competition with me?’. Relationships, situations, expectations that drive people to the edge…. things that we don’t talk about, or things that we assume about others that are largely untrue. I know that I alone can’t just solve all of these problems… but if I can just get one or two more people talking about it who otherwise wouldn’t… then that’s enough for me.
Stay tuned for the next ‘Why I Write’ in which I will go more in-depth into the way the fairy-tale is twisted in Till the Last Petal Falls- how much of that narrative was based on personal experience, some statistics regarding domestic abuse and ways in which you can help speak out against violence against women.
“There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”
For many, this is one of the first lessons that we learn regarding love and how it works. Love begets love, right? So how do you explain domestic violence? Is it because you did not ‘love’ the other person enough? Is it because your ‘love’ wasn’t real enough? That you didn’t mean it enough? Speaking as a woman who has been both physically and mentally abused by those I have loved for years at a time, I can promise you that this kind of an explanation just doesn’t cut it.
When does it become okay to release yourself from the conventional ‘stick-it-out’ love and get out of a horrible relationship? When does it become okay to admit that you can love someone all you want, but you cannot force someone to change if they do not wish to? When does it become okay to admit that, just because the object of your desire doesn’t love you back, it doesn’t mean that you are unloveable?
I would love to have an open discussion about this, as this was an honest challenge for me to tackle when taking on a re-imagining of such a classic, and sometimes classically misleading, fairytale. What are your thoughts on this?