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Gearing up for NaNoWriMo

Never thought it'd be me, sitting down in mid-October to declare my intentions for the month of November, but the baby is approaching seven months, my body is returning to a state approximating normal, and my creative mind is slowly but certainly coming back in, with the persistent, if subtle, strength of the tide.

Time is coinage these days; hard to come by, impossible to mint. It must be saved and guarded, each fraction of an hour. I imagine a weak little dragon, curled on a crumbling pile of clocks, hoarding. 

"Word-hord" was always one of my favorite phrases in Anglo-Saxon. 

I may be signing myself up for yet another small child who cries for my presence in the night, just when the baby has started to give me breaks from time to time, and when the adolescent dog finally sleeps in, if you make him. But I never was one for halfway measures.

So. 50,000 words. Somehow, in some moments. The story is shaped, the characters named and numbered, and the research, or at least enough of it for now, done. We'll see where I find myself on December 1st.


Ghost is a 2014 Nilsen Finalist!

While I've been busy keeping a tiny human alive, the wonderful people at Southeast Missouri Press have been reading my manuscript. And apparently they liked it!

Thrilled to be recognized like this and very grateful for the timing as I look towards the days when life comes with a touch more sleep and a little bit of writing time. I'd be lying if I said that things like this are what keep me writing, because if I didn't adore the process itself, I'd have laid it all down a long time ago. But they are definitely good for the ego.

Thank you to the Nilsen readers and judges!


Not Quite an Abandoned Blog

Just one that's been on hold dating from right around when I entered the third trimester. 

Happy to report that everyone is here, healthy, and if not quite sleeping through the night at four months, cute enough that we can easily forgive her for it.

Regular posts will resume soon.


The Water of Death, The Water of Life

From the tale "Marya Morevna":

Koshchei the Deathless was returning home when his good steed stumbled beneath him.

“Why stumblest thou? scentest thou any ill?”

“Prince Ivan has come and has carried off Marya Morevna.”

Koshchei galloped off, caught Prince Ivan, chopped him into little pieces, put them in a barrel, smeared it with pitch and bound it with iron hoops, and flung it into the blue sea. But Marya Morevna he carried off home.

At that very time, the silver turned black which Prince Ivan had left with his brothers-in-law.

“Ah!” said they, “the evil is accomplished sure enough!”

Then the Eagle hurried to the blue sea, caught hold of the barrel, and dragged it ashore; the Falcon flew away for the Water of Life, and the Raven for the Water of Death.

Afterwards they all three met, broke open the barrel, took out the remains of Prince Ivan, washed them, and put them together in fitting order. The Raven sprinkled them with the Water of Death—the pieces joined together, the body became whole. The Falcon sprinkled it with the Water of Life—Prince Ivan shuddered, stood up, and said:

“Ah! what a time I’ve been sleeping!”

“You’d have gone on sleeping a good deal longer, if it hadn’t been for us,” replied his brothers-in-law.

And Ralston weighs in with his own observations:

A Water of Life plays an important part in the folk-tales of every land.[297] When the hero of a “fairy story” has been done to death by evil hands, his resuscitation by means of a healing and vivifying lotion or ointment[298] follows almost as a matter of course. And by common consent the Raven (or some sort of crow) is supposed to know where this invaluable specific is to be found,[299] a knowledge which it shares with various supernatural beings as well as with some human adepts in magic, and sometimes with the Snake. In all these matters the Russian and the Western tales agree, but the Skazka differs from most stories of its kind in this respect, that it almost invariably speaks of two kinds of magic waters as being employed for the restoration of life. We have already seen in the story of “Marya Morevna,” that one of these, sometimes called the mertvaya voda—the “dead water,” or “Water of Death”—when sprinkled over a mutilated corpse, heals all its wounds; while the other, which bears the name of the zhivaya voda,—the “living water,” or “Water of Life”—endows it once more with vitality.


As a general rule, the two waters of which mention is made in the Skazkas possess the virtues, and are employed in the manner, mentioned above; but there are cases in which their powers are of a different nature. Sometimes we meet with two magic fluids, one of which heals all wounds, and restores sight to the blind and vigor to the cripple, while the other destroys all that it touches. Sometimes, also, recourse is had to magic draughts of two kinds, the one of which strengthens him who quaffs it, while the other produces the opposite effect. Such liquors as these are known as the “Waters of Strength and Weakness,” and are usually described as being stowed away in the cellar of some many-headed Snake. For the Snake is often mentioned as the possessor, or at least the guardian, of magic fluids. 


Russian Fairy Tale Research

"Vasalisa the Beautiful at the Hut of Baba Yaga" by Ivan Bilibin. Image in the public domain.So the last post, an excerpt from the W.R.S. Ralston collection of Russian Fairy Tales, is the first in a series. I'm in the process of researching Russisan fairy tales for a new project, and there are things in there that are worth sharing. I mean, how do you get any better (or darker, which, honestly, is better) than fiends eating corpses, kids being washed to death in boiling water, huts on chicken legs, skulls for lanterns, and lightly-made, heavily-kept promises?

I love fairytales and folktales of all kinds, but I've been in love with the concept of Russian fairy tales in particular for years, ever since I was sixteen, sitting in the large main room at the summer camp where I worked one night, listening to a visitor read to us all, about sixty 8-12 year olds and 12 teenaged staffers, from a collection. It was a dark summer night in Sonoma County, too far south for the persistent twilight glow on the horizon that would accompany the telling of these tales in their natural environment. The translation was choppy, as they all are, and the reader was doing just that, reading, and not reciting, not improvising. But it didn't matter--it was the closest I'd been to hearing these stories the way they were probably first told, at just the right time to imagine myself as the kitchen maid who occasionally surfaced (I was, after all, basically a dishwasher), and the atmosphere of that evening has clung to them for me ever since.

Now, I find that I need to know more about these stories. And despite some coursework on fairy tales in grad school, despite teaching a unit on fairy tales each time I taught Children's Literature, I'm not actually familiar with any more than that atmosphere and the basics, Baba Yaga and the Water of Life. So I'll be tracking my exploration of them here. I expect to find the sorts of things that I love finding in other folktales--strange, unquestioned magic, nearly-impossible tasks, unexpected helpers, wise crones, foolish princes, and princely fools--but with a particular flavor to them. For now, I'm continuing with the W.R.S. Ralston version, though I'm listening to it, not reading it, courtesy of Librivox. Starting with Ralston has the added benefit of giving me the 19th century English take on these tales, a perspective not unuseful to this particular project. I'll be keeping you posted.