Lesson No. 4: More Than Once Upon a Time with Brenda Mann Hammack

Dina Goldstein's "Snow White"

Dina Goldstein’s “Snow White”


Welcome back to Fairy Tale. This is our last lesson. Please make sure to complete the End of Course Questionnaire and also check out upcoming course offerings. 

As any Google trip will reveal, writers aren’t the only revisionists having a go at fairy tale.  Dina Goldstein’s “Fallen Princesses”  is one of my  favorite visual responses to the ever afterlives of Disney’s protagonists.  The Daily Beast article on “The Amazing Photos of Depressed Disney Royalty” offers some background on specific images from the series.   If you are bored by (or simply cannot believe in) that promise of unending marital bliss, you might appreciate Goldstein’s “Where-Are -They-Now?” approach to typical fairy tale endings.

However, if Snow White’s domestic drudgery or Belle’s cosmetic surgery sends you into the funks of despond (into gloom, despair and agony on me), you might want to avoid Thomas Czarnecki’s “From Enchantment to Down” and Bruno Vilela’s “Bibbdi Bobbi Boo.”  Who cares about Roger Rabbit when someone seems to be taking all these once animated sopranos down?

Some photographers are less given to violent misogynistic fantasy.  Still, no one would accuse them of rivaling Disney in über perkiness.  The child heroines are as frightening as the hag protagonists in Miwa Yanagi’s fairy tale acts.  Yanagi’s children fight spindle-wielders, force-feed sweets to witches old enough to be diabetic. Meanwhile, Eugenio Recuenco‘s fairy tale characters manage to be  fashionable without losing touch with their inner freakery. 


Eugenio Recuenco
Eugenio Recuenco


But, some photographers still believe in godmotherly (or Gandalfian) magic.  

Kirsty Mitchell helps us to remember why we need escapes into a Wonderland where we might be lulled by incantations hummed by Chrysalis’s Child, where we might share a dream with Gammelyn’s Daughter,  where we might witness the tethering of the White Queen’s Armada, where we might journey home in the company of the Guide of Stray Souls.    Or maybe we won’t.  Who would want to leave such glimmer?


Kirsty Mitchell "The Queen's Armada"
Kirsty Mitchell “The Queen’s Armada”


Some photographers enable our fantasies.  Katerina Plotnikova‘s portraits of humans and beasts convince us that trust and love can still exist between species, while Annie Leibowitz restyles Disney for an audience, liable to succumb, at any moment, to trances cast by social media.  Her magazine advertisements and billboard reenactments rely on A-list celebrities to bring back the glam.  And one can’t help suspecting that she’s salvaging fairy tale for adult and adolescent fans of the paranormal romance.  


Drew Barrymore as Beauty in Annie Liebowitz's "Dream Portrait" series
Drew Barrymore as Beauty in Annie Liebowitz’s “Dream Portrait” series


On Revising the Revision

For this final week, you will settle into revising what is already a pseudo-revision (a story that appropriates or adapts fairy tale motifs and/or patterns).  When preparing for this lesson, I contemplated revision tips that might be specific to the realm of fairy tale. I scanned my over-flowing book shelves and book piles.  Unwilling to risk tumbling any towers, I gathered only works I could reach without risk.  I could share some smart commentary from Susan Redington Bobby’s Fairy Tales Reimagined: Essays on New Retellings, Elizabeth Wanning Harries’ Twice Upon a Time: Women Writers and the History of the Fairy TaleChristine A. Jones’ and Jennifer Schacker’s Marvelous Transformations: An Anthology of Fairy Tales and Contemporary Critical Perspectives, or Marina Warner’s From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers.   Instead, I’ll just recommend these books as well as everything Warner has ever written.  And, then, there’s everything Jack Zipes or Kate Bernheimer has ever written. And so on.

I realize, though, that what’s most important when retelling a classic tale or in creating an entirely new one (as Kirsty Mitchell does in her Wonderland) is fairly simple.  You need to find your own original twist.  You have to write the story that only you could write, the story that is invested with your past, your interests, your influences, your stylistic quirks.   Okay. So maybe not that simple, after all.  You can’t possibly know what has already been done to death without reading voraciously and widely.  Of course, that might seem like common sense.  Or maybe not.  When does one stop reading and begin writing?

I can only tell you what I do. And I can tell you that your favorite fairy tale writer (Kelly Link, Francesca Lia Block, Gregory Maguire, Kate Bernheimer, Neil Gaiman, Aimee Bender, Theodora Goss, Catherynne Valente, etc.) is likely to have a website or blog where s/he has posted reflections on writing craft.  Fabulist writers are among the most savvy  players of the internet game.  If you aren’t already making an effort to “friend” writers you admire, do so.  They can ignore you.  But most won’t.  Their publishers want them to tweet, to post, to connect.  If they have already reached the limit of 5000 Facebook friends, you’ll be re-directed to follow them. You can still see what they post, which means you’ll discover advice and discoveries that they and their writer friends are sharing.  Social media isn’t just about networking. It can qualify as research.  And if you get stumped while revising, you don’t have to feel guilty about visually eavesdropping on others’ writerly conversations so long as you don’t get lost in the labyrinth. You must return to your own writing, of course.

Whenever I reach a block in a narrative or I cannot untangle a snarl I’ve created in a draft, I go somewhere else.  If it’s too late at night for me to walk safely in my neighborhood, I travel through images on a screen.  If you haven’t discovered that Pinterest isn’t just for collecting recipes, bad jokes, and tips for DIY projects, let me introduce you to my unboring compilations.  Yes, I’m a frequent insomniac.  As a result, I have two large fairy tale boards, a myth and folktale board, two boards of miscellaneous phantastica as well as various other collections of characters, settings, stories, and eclectic ephemera.  I can’t possibly do justice to all this inspiration during my lifetime.  

Although I think you should be able to access  one of the Phantastica boards directly via this link  even if you don’t have a Pinterest account, I’m not completely sure about that. (Please let me know if you’re forced to register so I’ll know for future reference.)    


Wonderbook Cover


In addition to directing you to my favorite source of visual stimulation, I also wanted to share at least one creative writing book that seems especially useful to authors who are operating in fabulist realms.  Recently, I have been fluttering about  in Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction (New York: Abrams, 2013).   His chapters all read like visual wonder cabinets.  The book is almost too stimulating.  I find myself oohing and ahhing as I flip through the pages as if I’m on a psychedelic trip in writing wonderland.

Luckily the book’s website contains a number of extras so I need not pick and choose in order to provide some peeks at the wise-musings and whimsical characters that occupy Vandermeer’s text.  As you might expect, the hard copy is much more substantial than the free content on the website, but we would need a sixteen-week semester to do half-justice to the book. The excerpts, here, will offer a fun interlude as you decide how you want to revise.  You can also get a sense of the other big names who make guest appearances in interviews or essays interspersed between the kaleidoscopic illustrations:  Catherynne M. Valente; Neil Gaiman; Nnedi Okorafor; Karen Joy Fowler; Rikki Ducornet; Ursula K. Le Guin; David Anthony Durham; Lauren Beukes; Kim Stanley Robinson; Lev Grossman; Peter Straub.   

In appearance, at least, Vandermeer’s book reminds me a lot of Lynda Barry’s What It Is.  Barry describes her graphic coming-of-age-as-an-artist text as “autobifictionograpy.”  She needs a neologism because “what it is” defies simple genre designation.  See a couple of relevant sample pages below:


lyda barry What It Is Fairy Tales


Publishers of Fairy Tale Fiction and Poetry

Although you are likely to be reworking one of the pieces that you crafted during the month for this week’s effort, it may not be ready to be birthed into the world.   However, once you and the genie have finished polishing that revision and you are ready to release your work into a capable  midwife’s hands, you might be interested in submitting to one of the following publications.  I recommend sampling some of these links while you are still in the process of revision so that you’ll have a sense of particular editors’ fancies as you complete your effort.  You may be surprised by what qualifies as fairy tale.

First, I recommend The Review Review‘s article on “Lit Mags Seeking Fairy Tales.”  This source provides links to a number of the better known journals and magazines.

Kate Bernheimer, editor of My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me,  is the founder and managing editor of The Fairy Tale Review.    Copies are available as PDF downloads on the review’s website.   

Interfictions Online, an electronic publication of the Interstitial Arts Foundation, is a promoter of those perverse texts that refuse to nestle comfortably into a single genre category.  If you have a fairy tale that shifts between poetry and prose, for example, it might find a home amid the other magical misfits in the online publication.  The IAF’s homepage can also provide you with insights into what qualifies as interstitial (or in-betweenish) writing/art.

Some of you may be familiar with A capella Zoo as a publisher of magic realism. However, that journal’s mission statement also includes “modern fairy tale” on its want list along with  “new weird,” “surreal,” and “experimental” texts.

The mythic art links that Terri Windling provides on her website studio can lead you to many blogs, journals, and websites.  I also recommend her blog, Myth & Moor.  See her blogroll on the right.W

e collect stories and p

Writing Assignment

This is our last week. We will increase our word count to no more than 5,000 words. This week you can choose from the following focuses:

  1. Revise a story you’ve already submitted, lengthen it, or don’t lengthen it.
  2. OR Combine two stories you’ve already workshopped during this course into one story.
  3. OR Create a new story inspired by materials I’ve provided above.
  4. OR Submit a fairy tale fiction that you have written before, albeit not for this course.



Share what you’ve learned, thus far, about your own revision process.  

Feel free to recommend fairy-tale oriented articles, publishers, blogs, websites, or images that other workshop members are likely to appreciate.  

You may also use the discussion area to share background information or intentions.  Are you hoping to transform this week’s submission into a much longer work?  Why did you select this particular piece?


End of Course Questionnaire

Please complete the End of Course Questionnaire. We will use this information to understand what is working for you in the course; what can be improved; know what courses to add to our schedule; and understand how you came to find us. Thank you for sharing your words and talents with us this month. We hope you’ll join us again. Make sure to check out the upcoming course listings, especially Magic Realism, Hybrid and The Undead Workshops and let me know if you have any questions. I’ll be happy to make recommendations. 


End of Course Questionnaire

Please complete the End of Course Questionnaire. We will use this information to understand what is working for you in the course; what can be improved; know what courses to add to our schedule; and understand how you came to find us. Thank you for sharing your words and talents with us this month. We hope you’ll join us again. Make sure to check out the upcoming course listings and let me know if you have any questions. I’ll be happy to make recommendations.


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