Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Bloody Chamber - Angela Carter

Anyone who knows me in some capacity can tell you, without a doubt, that I love fairy tales. I can't say my parents had willingly reared me to love stories with sneaky spindles, lovelorn mermaids, and enchanted bridegrooms. However, I've been told that those were the stories I'd choose to read over anything else. Perhaps a tiny fairy godmother tapped me with her wand while I slept in my crib; she poured fairy tales into my veins.

That being said, I'm not a big fan of the movement to retell fairy tales in their darkest capacities. Blood, gore, adultery, abuse... this list goes on with common themes that make me cringe. This trend is reaching novels, but for the most part I'm talking about fairy tales short stories that tend to get published in literary magazines these days. I completely understand that most fairy tales were, in fact, vulgar and the symbolism involved in each tale bridged the gap between childhood and adulthood. But all these new pieces of fairy tale lore often make my stomach turn. And I'm not a squeamish person (In fact, I watched three Hellraiser movies in a row last weekend and loved every second of it, haha).

The thing is, I want to read retellings that carry me away with creative imagery and inventive worlds. I want quirky characters, plot twists that make my jaw drop, and a playful exploration of the symbolism each original tale carries with it. I don't want to fall down into the cracks of a day-less cave and wonder how many tears I'll shed before finding my way to the end of the book.

These feelings have prevented me from purchasing a copy of Angela Carter's fairy tale collection called The Bloody Chamber. Carter is a heavy-hitter in the literary world, but her writing has always been known to reach the very bottom of darkness and sensuality. I had read her stories over the years from different anthologies and loved them - but I had been worried that I was only seeing some of the more tame stories in the collection. I wondered what I was missing and if reading through the collection would be worth trudging through the trenches of the inner soul. Well, I was ready for it now.

After reading The Bloody Chamber, I can say, with absolute satisfaction, that Carter's retellings were amazing. Each one has its own creative spin and language, and the stories in the collection are arranged to that each one, in some way, naturally leads to the next one. That's expert structuring. Unlike some of the writers whose retelling work makes me shudder in horror and boredom, Carter used these darker themes to create unfettered worlds and character that make you think they have sprung from beautiful, jewel-tone paintings.

But the most wonderful part of The Bloody Chamber is the language. So from some of my favorite stories in the collection, I've plucked sentences that may not explain the plot, but show how intricately crafted each story is, even down to the word choice.

The Bloody Chamber

"I should have liked, best of all, a novel in yellow paper; I wanted to curl up on the rug before the blazing fire, lose myself in a cheap novel, munch sticky liquor chocolates. If I rang for them, a maid would bring me chocolates."

The Courtship of Mr. Lyon

"Before, however, he could announce his presence, the door swung silently inward on well-oiled hinges and he saw a white hall where the candles of a great chandelier cast their benign light upon so many, many flowers in great, free-standing jars of crystal that it seemed the whole of spring drew him into its warmth with a profound intake of breath. Yet there was no living person in the hall."

The Tiger's Bride

"A knocking and clattering behind the door of the cupboard; the door swings open and out glides a soubrette from an operetta, with glossy, nut-brown curls, rosy cheeks, blue, rolling eyes; it takes me a moment to recognize her, in her little cap, her white stockings, her frilled petticoats. She carries a looking glass in one hand and a powder puff in the other and there is a musical box where her heart should be; she tinkles as she rolls toward me on her tiny wheels."

The Erl-King

"The woods enclose and then enclose again, like a system of Chinese boxes opening one into another; the intimate perspectives of the wood changed endlessly around the interloper; the imaginary traveler walking towards an inventive distance that perpetually receded before me. It is easy to lose yourself in these woods."

The Lady in the House of Love

"The Countess stood behind a low table, beside a pretty, silly, gilt-and-wire birdcage, hands outstretched in a distracted attitude that was almost one of flight; she looked as startled by their entry as if she had not requested it. With her stark white face, her lovely death's head surrounded by long dark hair that fell down as straight as if it were soaking wet, she looked like a shipwrecked bride."


"Although she could not run so fast on two legs in petticoats, she trotted out in her new dress to investigate the odorous October hedgerows, like a debutante from the castle, delighted with herself but still, now and then, singing to the wolves with a kind of wistful triumph, because now she knew how to wear clothes and so had put on the visible sign of her difference from them."

Sunday, June 19, 2011


The living room fills with the tiny click-clicks of a keyboard. I haven't bothered to put my ear buds in or even glance at the lovely stack of books on the coffee table that have tried to tempt me with their gleaming, paperback covers. Vanilla Turkish Taffy twists like a sticky ribbon in my fingers as I fiddle with it and squint at the text on my laptop screen.

It's not right.

If my sentences could dance, they'd jerk and jive like someone threw ice down their backs. "Too awkward," I mumble. I separate paragraphs and stare each sentence down. I make a list on my miniature legal pad of what, exactly, I'm trying to accomplish by writing this letter. There's an art to letter-writing, I think. And I'm not sure I've mastered it.

I won't compare letters to telephone calls or even emails. I won't pretend that I, like many people in Jane Austen's time, can read or even write a criss-cross letter. But there's something about composing a letter that will never change: the privacy of it. And nothing says "microcosm" than opening up a page full of handwriting. But here's a confession. I haven't handwritten a letter in a long time. I actually tried to do it recently, but my handwriting isn't that great and, well, I write a lot. I'm one of those rambling writers. I feel like I have too much to say, and I get excited, and, being a writer, I feel that if I have just one more paragraph, I can make you feel as if you were right there with me. Or that's what I'd like to do one day.

I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter - Blaise Pascal

So if you receive a letter from me that's only a page long, you'll know I've labored over it, haha. Whether I'm handwriting a letter or typing it, I often feel like the air around me disappears. I try to imagine the person I'm writing to. Would my words make her smile? Can that joke sound funny without a "just kidding" directly after? Will he understand what I'm saying when I try to relate?

This is why people are paid to write greeting cards, right? When I browse the card aisles, I can't help but admire even the cheesiest of lines. The point comes across. The message is clear. This is why people will buy expensive cards with golden, swirly words and only sign their names on the inside.

No matter how much trouble a letter can be, it's one of the best feelings in the world to send it on its way. I feel warm and happy, knowing that my letter is changing hands, hitching rides in people's pockets, flying overhead, or sailing across the sea. And very soon, the seal will be broken and the letter unfolded. There's magic in that.

Photo from We Heart It

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Wandering Apple

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, they say. But this apple rolled down the hill and left her sisters behind. Her father had called her a Pink Lady, but she knew in her heart that her heritage was strictly Empire. She wanted to go sailing on the aquamarine whale-roads and eat chocolate-filled croissants on rainy days. Staying in the shade of her mother-tree could offer her none of these experiences. So the apple had packed her bags and went away.

Dogs lapped at her shiny skin when she hitched a ride in the back of a dog-catcher's truck. Red-headed children used her as a ball while she waited for a neighborhood bus. An evil queen with a haughty mirror wanted to make her into a gift, but the noble apple refused.

The apple couldn't stay still. The world was too big to stay put. Every cloud, wildflower, and garbage receptacle passed through her head faster than film tape through a projector. Maybe apples were meant to sit under trees because they couldn't hold onto their own memories.

The apple could only carry her one desire with her: to see the world. And since she couldn't remember, the world, to her, remained entirely endless.

Okay, I swear I'm not hungry. Actually, I'm thinking about a tiny, curious memory I've kept with me, even though it happened a few weeks ago. Waiting for my family to gather fruits and veggies for the week, I wandered over to the small section of apples in the grocery store. As if in a trance, I picked some of them up and turned them in my hands so I could read their names.

It seems to me that there are so many types of apples in the world. When I think about it, I'm in awe. And the names can be very beautiful. I like to imagine that each apple has its own name, but I confess I've never asked one. I don't eat them as much as I should.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Tidbits: June Edition

Picture / Photo Find

Something I Did

May 30th was my twenty-third birthday. Hooray! Considering this post is supposed to represent June, this statement may be a little off. But I couldn't bring myself to post about my birthday on its own. It didn't seem right. So I waited for June. It's strange to be twenty-three. I don't feel much different, but I know that I've crossed a line of some sort. Twenty-three. How grown up am I supposed to be now?

Not much, by the looks of things. I celebrated by seeking out macrons. As I've said in previous posts, bakeries don't exist where I live. If they do, they close within months because of lack of patrons and high rent. And even if they do stay, they never carry macarons. They were mythical desserts. So the family and I took an hour's ride to track down some of those unicorn-rare treats, in a bakery far, far away. And I felt like a pirate when I opened the box and found them all smiling up at me like gold doubloons:

From left to right: chocolate, pistachio, raspberry, banana, and orange. Surprisingly, pistachio tasted the best. I'm happy to report that they were delicious.

A Quote from a Book I Love

Thanks to MJ over at The Woodland Library, I found out about a wonderful book called The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente. For anyone who loves a good fairy tale - complete with strange, heart-warming characters, exciting adventure, and a lot of mystery, this is the book for you. The voice of the book is witty and old-world sounding; this is the type of book you might discover hidden away in the back rooms of a secret bookstore. It actually started out online, so you can read the first few chapters and see if you like it (and don't forget to listen to the song).

I had the hardest time choosing just one excerpt, but here it is:

"The Leopard of Little Breezes yawned up and further off from the rooftops of Omaha, Nebraska, to which September did not even wave good-bye. One ought not to judge her: all children are Heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb high trees and say shocking things and leap so very high grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. But, as in their reading and arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.) Some small ones are terrible and fey, Utterly Heartless. Some are dear and sweet and Hardly Heartless At All. September stood very generally in the middle on the day the Green Wind took her, Somewhat Heartless, and Somewhat Grown."

Song I Can't Stop Repeating

"The Engine Driver" by The Decemberists

This song puts me in a quiet, pensive mood. With foot-tapping. And the lyrics are wonderful:

And I am a writer, writer of fictions
I am the heart that you call home
And I've written pages upon pages
Trying to rid you from my bones
My bones
My bones

A Writer Thing

Lately I've been writing like something is chasing me. I can't say that what's coming out onto my Word documents are lousy because of this speed, but I'm astonished at how fast the words flow. I made a promise to myself that I would finish my manuscript (for that is what it is) for Birdcage Girl by the end of the summer. So perhaps my fingers have caught up with my head. Chapters are pouring out of me like a flood.

Many writers feel sad to see a novel end, to reach that very last page and know - besides revisions - that they are done. You have to say goodbye to your characters and tip your hat to the world that you've been exploring through every late night, every snatched moment. I'm not near the end of Birdcage Girl - I think I'm almost at the middle of the book (experimentally short chapters means a novel will take a lot longer to finish than one would think, haha). It's strange, even in the middle, to think that it will end.

I attended another summer workshop yesterday, and this is what we talked about after finishing for the day. My two fellow writer-friends have already finished manuscripts; one has an agent and the other must begin revising his first draft. They know what it's like to finish. It was fun picking their brains and enjoying a nice mango smoothie while I was at it.

So I'm trying to ride the wave of writing while I can. I feel like I'm on a roller coaster with my characters strapped in next to me. They're ready to go. I just, somehow, need to send us all flying down the first drop.

Video I Watched Too Many Times

Because I love stop motion.

Food I'm Craving

I want marmalade! You know, I've never had it before.

What sparked this desire is that I'm working with a terribly annoying character who is still, to this day, withholding his true name. I think I've found-and-replaced his name numerous times already, and I'm still not happy with what's there. He started out as Ruari, and now he's Buell. But I don't really like either. And I don't have much trouble with character names in general. There's always a rebel.

So when I was reworking this character's description, I described his hair was being the color of bottled marmalade. And so I feel like, if I eat some marmalade, perhaps his real name will pop into my head. What do you think? And what's good to put marmalade on?

Marmalade photo found here
Photo finds from We Heart It