Write to Please or Write with Ease (i.e., What I Really Want to Write)?

Hope you had a splendid Easter. I had an Easter meal at the home of some friends and came away with a ton of leftovers, including the Peeps in the photo below that my friend Carrie decorated. I’m useless at this type of thing by the way.

Before church, I watched a behind-the-scenes video by a music artist I love, which was about the making of a video for one of the songs on her latest album. During this video, she talked about how she was finally at a point where she was no longer desperate to please people. She didn’t say that as if to imply that she no longer cared if anyone bought her music. The songs she’d written for the album came from a place of confidence and joy, because she was finally free to be who she was.

Kirstea feels free to be who she is. But she hopes she won’t become a free meal for the giant owl standing near her.

I love that sense of coming to a place where you create the way you want to create. Yes, there are risks involved. You put your stuff out there and people might hate it. Or they might love your vision.

That video came at an interesting time. I’d recently had a conversation with a grad school classmate who asked me if I felt pressured to write a certain kind of story (i.e., contemporary realistic issue-based or something based on the mythology of my culture). Please do not misunderstand me. I love both kinds of stories. I’ve actually had a contemporary realistic novella published under a different name. But honestly, I gravitate to fantasy stories based on the mythology to which I am most familiar. I told my classmate that I don’t like to be pigeonholed. I write the stories based on characters who deeply interest me, regardless of whether they look like me or not.

I seldom lean in the direction that well-meaning people steer me. In college when people told me I needed to major in something “useful” (like biology, poli sci, or physics) rather than continue in the writing program (part of the English department), I continued in the writing program. Though they didn’t see the “use” of such a program, I found it very useful when I had to write books.

To be fair, under contract I’ve written books that other people had suggested I write based on a need (like a picture book for an ESL program). Some were ghostwritten, others as work for hire under my name. (L. Marie is a pen name, as many of you know.) Pleasing the client (usually a publisher or a famous person contracted by the publisher) was paramount.

But creating a world like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, J. K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, or Charles Yallowitz’s Windemere has been my desire since I was eight years old. That was back when cuneiform was all the rage. I’m very influenced by writers like J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Sheila Turnage, Juliet Marillier, Robin McKinley, N. K. Jemison, Neil Gaiman, Gail Carson Levine, Shannon Hale, Holly Black, and many others.

Sir Terry Pratchett, N. K. Jemisin

Still, I know several people who would never willingly read a story I’ve written because they don’t like fantasy stories. It would please them greatly if I returned to contemporary realistic fiction. I won’t say never, if a character comes my way whose story is compelling to me. But I won’t say yes just to please someone.

How about you? Is the freedom to create what you want to create something you desire? What do you think about pleasing others? Is that good, bad, or something you’re indifferent to? Feel free to share. (If you are curious about the video I mentioned earlier, you can find it here.)

Having escaped from the owl, Kirstea has resumed being free to be who she is. But now she wishes she was tall enough to carry off one of the Peeps.

Terry Pratchett photo from Wikipedia. N. K. Jemisin photo from Wired.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Kirstea Shoppie is a product by Moose Toys.

Fairy Tales: Just for Kids?

When I was little, my dad used to read fairy tales to me at bedtime. He read from a picture book of fairy tales compiled by the Brothers Grimm. I never outgrew my love for them, though I wasn’t always quick to admit that love. In fact, on one of my bookshelves, you’ll find Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales. I also have books of Irish fairy tales, Russian fairy tales, and others.

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The other day, the Brain Pickings newsletter featured an article by Maria Popova on J. R. R. Tolkien’s discussion of fairy tales. Popova included many quotes from Tolkien’s essay, “On Fairy-Stories.” Maybe you’ve read that essay. I was interested, since I recently saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (awesome) and I basically love all things Tolkien.

This quote resonated with me:

Fairy-stories have in the modern lettered world been relegated to the “nursery,” as shabby or old-fashioned furniture is relegated to the play-room, primarily because the adults do not want it, and do not mind if it is misused. It is not the choice of the children which decides this. Children as a class—except in a common lack of experience they are not one—neither like fairy-stories more, nor understand them better than adults do; and no more than they like many other things. They are young and growing, and normally have keen appetites, so the fairy-stories as a rule go down well enough. But in fact only some children, and some adults, have any special taste for them; and when they have it, it is not exclusive, nor even necessarily dominant.

“Relegated to the nursery’”? True enough. Fairy tales are shelved in the children’s section of my library—hundreds of picture books. I’ve read many of them. But you can also find fairy tales in other places in the library. Many novels for teens and adults are fairy tale retellings. Case in point: The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale; Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire; The Black Swan by Mercedes Lackey; Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier.

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Wikipedia defines fairy tale thusly:

A fairy tale (pronounced /ˈfeəriˌteɪl/) is a type of short story that typically features European folkloric fantasy characters, such as fairies, goblins, elves, trolls, dwarves, giants, mermaids, or gnomes, and usually magic or enchantments. Fairy tales may be distinguished from other folk narratives such as legends (which generally involve belief in the veracity of the events described) and explicitly moral tales, including beast fables.

By this definition, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy fall under the fairy tale category, though they’re clearly not “short stories.” The stories in One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, however, are folk tales, rather than fairy tales, though fairy tales fall under the folklore umbrella.

For me, fairy tales are the ultimate escapist fiction. (I never miss a Disney adaptation of a fairy tale either. And I’ve enjoyed those by other studios.) The novels I write are fairy tales, though I never thought about writing them until a friend challenged me almost ten years ago. The novel I wrote at the time was going nowhere. I felt totally stuck.

“You love fairy tales, right?” she asked.
“Um, yeah” was my astute answer.
“Have you ever thought about writing them?”

Boom. It’s like the sky opened up, horns played, and a choir sang. Epiphany! But as you can see, the first step was admitting that they were my drug of choice: “I am an adult who loves fairy tales.” (I’m sure there is a support group for this.) Seriously, for years I felt a little embarrassed running down to the children’s section and carrying away a stack of fairy tale picture books. I used to bring a big tote bag in which to hide them. Now I don’t care who knows. I’ll shout it to the hills: “I READ FAIRY TALES!!!!!”


So yes, I write fairy tales. And you might even find a fairy or two in them. Although I’m writing novels for teens, I hope adults will enjoy them too, after they admit, like I did, that they might possibly love fairy tales. As Tolkien said, they’re not just for kids.

Got a favorite fairy tale or maybe two? One of my favorites is “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Another is “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” What are some of yours?


Books covers from Goodreads. Fairy image from mvscreen.com.

Thirteen for 2013

Writers also are readers, gaining inspiration and learning about the craft of writing as they read the works of others. Some writers swear by specific books on the craft of writing, books that have helped them hone their skill. I have several beautifully informative craft books on my bookshelves or stacked on the floor of my living room. I’ll probably write a post about them someday. But the following thirteen books, most of them award winning, are favorites that have inspired me over the years to put fingers to my keyboard (or pen to my writing journal—whichever I happen to be nearest), to dig deep and make my prose sing.

I don’t think I can adequately articulate why I find these books so inspiring, so I’ll just list them. I decided to go with thirteen in honor of 2013. Here they are, in no particular order:

I’ll give a quick shout-out to Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. I didn’t add it to the list, because I wanted to keep the list to thirteen books.

What books inspire you?