Fyodor paused, glancing up as the locker room door banged.
Volume 2 of the Something in the Water series arrives Tuesday, January 30!
Fyodor paused, glancing up as the locker room door banged.
Mason glanced quickly at Dusty, then looked back at the phone.
One of my current projects is the first book in a new series. The first entry is A Stranger Sort of Fairy Tale (tentative for an early May pub date right now). I’ve had a lot of fun with this project since it’s allowed me to get back to some of my roots as a writer. I love my athletes, but I’ve never been someone who was drawn to contemporaries. Give me historical fiction and high fantasy any day.
One of the reasons I write fantasy is because I find the “real world,” well, kind of boring. I mean, I live here. It’s not that exciting. Writing, for me, is an escape of sorts. Why would I choose to write about the realm I inhabit on a day-to-day basis? I mean, there’s an argument for writing about yourself as an actor or a model or a sports star, but why be that when you could be a queen? Or an elf or a unicorn or whatever else?
The other reason I love writing fantasy is the chance to draw on mythology. I’m fascinated by Greco-Roman mythology. Later, I began exploring other mythologies as well. Stories about fantastical creatures and realms have always appealed. And, I think, exploring these mythos allows us to engage in a form of modern mythmaking while simultaneously exploring something deeply rooted in the human condition.
Suffice to say I like big expansive worlds and fantastical creatures. In A Stranger Sort of Fairy Tale, one type of mythological creature is the fey.
First, why use the word “fey”? Within the story, “fey” is both the plural and the singular form. “Faery” is occasionally used, but it’s considered older and outdated.
The term “fairy” is commonly used within literature to refer to fairy tales, which is why I evoked it in the title. This isn’t your typical Cinderella story.
The term evolved around 1250-1300, from Middle English, when the spelling was “faierie.” Since spelling wasn’t standardized until the late 1700s, different versions of the word arose in common English usage. Edmund Spenser used “faerie” in his 17th century poem “The Faerie Queene.”
The term comes down from Old French, “fay-ierie,” meaning “enchantment” or “fairyland.” The modern spelling, fairy, has also been hijacked to become an offensive term for a homosexual man, particularly one who acts in a stereotypical feminine way.
The term “fay” (or fey) and the spelling “faery” is somewhat more “authentic,” and is usually preferred by folklorists who try to separate out modern notions of “fairies” from the older and more traditional concepts in folklore. Disney gives us Tinkerbell and calls her a “fairy”; folklorists look at the conceptualization of “fay” in Celtic mythology.
The term “fay” is singular. The plural is sometimes formed by making it “fey,” although “fey” is actually an adjective. The word indicates someone has been “enchanted,” oftentimes put under a spell by a fairy. “Fey” can also be used to describe creatures with magical powers more generally.
Why use “fey” as both plural and singular, and not fairy, faery, or even fay? Quite simply because it has the right connotations without any of the confusion of the other terms. It’s even gaining popularity among groups of enthusiasts who wish to discuss fairies and like creatures under one umbrella term.
The world of A Stranger Sort of Fairy Tale has some loose parallels to our own world. The various nations can be mapped onto various ancient civilizations.
The name of the fey homeland, “Fiddach,” is actually an ancient name for Scotland. The fey are a northern-dwelling people who live in some proximity to Rus, Norcross and the Nords, among other peoples. This roughly approximates the geography and cultural groupings of northern Europe.
Fairy lore is closely associated with the peoples of the British Isles, particularly with the Celts. The fey of Fiddach actually speak a language rooted in Celtic/Gaelic languages. Viridian, one of the main characters, indicates as much when he discusses the titles used to address royalty and nobles among the fey.
The Monarchiete and the Monarchiere, Cyan and Jonquil, rule Fiddach. Currently, however, Fiddach is subservient to Rus in the east, the seat of the Rus Empire.
Fiddach is a northern realm and experiences short summers and long, harsh winters. It’s rich in minerals and timber.
In this realm fey are human-sized creatures, although they’re typically slender, fine-boned, and dainty. They’re humanoid, but they also have insect-like features. They have large eyes, antennae, and enormous butterfly-like wings.
Fey begin with no sex. They’re referred to with the pronoun “fen.” Fey children change from nymph to adult by cocooning, often for a period of ten years. During this time, they develop their adult sex and their wings.
Adult males and females are relatively similar. Males have slightly larger wingspans, usually with more brilliant colors. All fey have color-themed names, which they are born with. The name usually corresponds with the color of their adult wings. Fey mothers “intuit” the names of their children before they’re born. The fey interpret this as a form of divine knowledge. The gods distribute names.
Fey are unable to stomach human food. They exist solely on nectars, syrups, fruit juices, fresh fruit, and flowers (in that order of preference). The males also ingest blood for additional protein, and possess specialized teeth to create puncture wounds. They also produce a sleeping powder on their wings, which lulls their victim to sleep.
Male fey are technically hermaphroditic. The males produce both sperm and eggs, which is why males require additional protein, but females do not. Fey develop their adult sex during the cocoon stage of their lives. Males develop in isolation from other fey. Male hermaphroditism appears to be a species survival mechanism; a lone cocoon would develop into a male capable of reproducing alone. In colony settings, males will mate several females before self-fertilizing to ensure the maximum number of offspring.
Some consider fey “nature spirits” of sorts. They are magic-users, and there’s some speculation they’re related to the Nords of Norcross, who are also magic-users but are wingless. Fey most often lack the power of flight, but their wings are important as social status markers, markers of reproductive ability, and as sources of medicine, particularly the sleeping powder produced by the males.
Their fantastic wings and magical abilities have made them the stuff of legends in many of the southern empires where fey are more rare. Southern fey exist, although they tend to be different from their northern cousins. Many peoples around the world value fey wings for their supposed medicinal value.
Fey are quite social and prefer to live in big colony groups. There are relatively few of them, however. Reproduction takes a long time, and young fey often die before reaching maturity. Poachers steal cocoons frequently. These people enslave or kill baby fey.
The fey have their own endemic religion, centered on a series of nature gods. The forest goddess is the most important deity, contrasted against other cultures where the sun is the primary god.
The fey religion is polytheistic, and includes deities of the forest, rivers, mountains, sea, land, sky, rain, and night and day. The fey live long lives, although they die from disease, starvation, and injury. Fey do not have a concept of the afterlife, and their pantheon does not contain a personification of death. Those who die are “taken back” to nature. They are placed back into the natural world through processes of decay. Thus, for the fey, even death is not a permanent state and in being one with nature one achieves a sort of immortality.
The fey religion is primarily a “sunny” one, punctuated with festivals and rituals for warding away evils. Fey have relatively few conceptions of “sin” or wrongdoing. They prefer to focus on harmony between all people and all aspects of nature. Fey may not necessarily see death or illness as evils. Interpersonal relationships are punctuated by reciprocity.
Nonetheless, the fey do systemically punishing wrongdoing. In fey society, the greatest wrongs are those that cause others pain or suffering, or disrupt the social status quo. Most fey consider greed quite evil, since it leaves others around you with less. Lying in order to harm someone is considered a great evil than lying to protect yourself, and lying to protect others from harm or upset is often seen as a relatively minor infraction.
Fey identify at least four genders. Fen (neither) is typically for the asexual children; “fian,” associated with those identifying as female; “fion,” associated with those identifying as male; and “fon,” associated with those identifying as both male and female. The word “fey” refers to the people themselves, in both plural and singular.
Understandings of oneself as one gender or another shift throughout the lifecycle. A male may identify as male early on in life, then later shift to a predominately female identity, depending upon sexual and reproductive roles and partnerships. All fey begin neutral, and they typically self-identify before they enter the cocoon. Most parents acquiesce to the child’s wishes.
Males and females tend to hold similar power and ranks, although males, including those identifying primarily as “fian,” sometimes discriminate against “true” females.
Only the upper classes practice marriage, since there’s an emphasis on ensuring bloodlines and lineages. Many encourage sexual freedom and see sexual openness as a way of maintaining relationships between even casual friends. Partner-swapping is frequent, and it is not unusual to find large families with three or four “pairs” of adults who change partners as desired. Parents communally rear fey children.
The issue of parentage is rarely a concern in the lower classes, particularly since both males and females can become mothers. If parentage is a true concern, a male can self-fertilize to create the desired offspring. Many fey die during their nymph or cocoon stages, so fey society has evolved to place an emphasis on reproducing the maximum number of offspring and then ensuring the maximum number survive to adulthood.
If you’re looking for these fey, you can find them in A Stranger Sort of Fairy Tale, available May 2018!
Danny let the door fall shut, frowning deeply as he came face to face with his phone. It was right where he’d left it, sitting on the nightstand next to the alarm clock. It was still flashing blue—another request, another message.
The horn sounded before Luke had a chance to catch his breath, or so it seemed. He closed his eyes and followed his teammates blindly down the tunnel.
Sy glared at the screen of his phone, then squinted at the pile of text messages he had.
Sean honestly had no intent of bringing Luke back to his hotel room. Even though the younger man was denying it, Sean was fairly certain Luke was high. Sure, he claimed he’d only taken a couple of pills, that it had been hours ago, that they’d worn off during the game, that he was fine.
There are a lot of nasty things going on in the world today: war, violence against women, murders of transgender people, police brutality against people of color, deportation of immigrants. The list goes on and on.
There’s also a growing epidemic of mental health issues. While it’s being debated why we’re seeing a rise in the number of mental health cases—is it an actual rise, are diagnoses made more frequently, or are we simply more aware and willing to acknowledge them now?—the fact of the matter is many, many people today struggle with mental health on a day-to-day basis and struggle very openly.
Obviously, none of these things are very pleasant, and those of us who struggle with them in our daily lives will tell you as much. So why bother writing about them?
We’ll start by acknowledging the most common argument against writing mental illness in fiction: We don’t want to read about it. Depression, PTSD, and EDs are not pleasant things to read about. For those who wrestle with their own conditions, reading about these subjects can bring up many unpleasant and unwanted memories. Even those of us who have our conditions under control may studiously avoid material that contains references to these subjects, since they could unexpectedly take any semblance of stability out from under us. Mental health and wellness can be so fragile.
The crux of the argument is we use reading—and fiction in particular—as a means of escaping the cruel realities of this world. We can easily imagine, in fiction, a world without nuclear weapons. We could also imagine realms where depression doesn’t exist or where no one suffers from PTSD. If we just use our imaginations, we can envision worlds where people never need to contend with these issues.
For those confronting these issues in their everyday realities, they don’t necessarily want to see them reflected back at them in their escapists fantasies. They read to forget about these issues, to take a well-deserved break from their own struggles. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all.
One of the strongest arguments for including these topics is creating verisimilitude. Even in high fantasy and sci-fi, we look for reflections of reality, of our own human experience.
A world where mental health issues don’t exist seems unrealistic. Because they’re so common, it’s difficult to imagine what a world where no one suffered or struggled with these issues would be like. Would everyone be constantly happy? Would it be some kind of Stepford Wives situation? Or would it be a sort of fairy tale? Cinderella and Snow White still have issues. Cindy’s stepmother and stepsisters abuse her, and Snow White’s stepmother tries to kill her. Tell me those girls are fine.
And this is the crux of the problem: Fairy tales simply pretend these issues don’t exist. As adults, as informed readers who have maybe struggled ourselves or know people who have, we feel this is unrealistic and insincere. The issues, we believe, still exist. The stories are merely glossing them over.
For many of us who have dealt with mental health issues, that’s a very problematic message, since we hear it all the time. The stigma is only just being lifted on mental health, so there are many people who have suffered in silence, who continue to suffer in silence, and many who refuse to believe these issues exist.
Since we live in a world where the existence of mental health issues is frequently denied, the denial of their existence in a fantasy world brings up alarming shades of this rhetoric. It also asks us to push the narratives further, to really poke and prod at them until they begin to crumble. Cinderella and Snow White are both “fine,” the story tells us. They get their happily ever afters. Do they really? We wonder as adult readers.
Worlds without mental illness should strike us as “off.” It’s one reason to argue for their inclusion in fiction, even if they are difficult to read. We also need to challenge narratives that “disappear” or deny mental illnesses.
Battling these sorts of false narratives is another reason to include mental illness in fiction. When characters battle with these conditions, they’re pushing back against larger social narratives that exist in our own world. When we write about Cinderella or Snow White dealing with PTSD, we’re peeling back the curtain on real-life narratives that similarly deny the existence of this mental health condition.
We’re showing, through fiction, that these conditions and the people who live with them do in fact exist.
We can also use fiction to battle false narratives around the mental health condition itself. I suffer from depression and anxiety. Depression is almost always portrayed as someone being immeasurably sad. They sigh a lot, they cry frequently.
I didn’t. For me, depression manifested in a sense of worthlessness, listlessness, and finally, a lot of kicking and screaming. I was irritable and angry. I cried, but because I was so frustrated.
Depression is also shown as being readily “cured” by love. All we really need is a supportive partner, we’re told. This is also a false narrative. I started dating my (lovely) partner in June 2015. I tried to break up with him a few times because I was stressed and felt he was being demanding. When things started going wrong in my professional life, I fell deeper into a trough of depression I’d already been in. I tried to commit suicide in December 2015, even though he really loves me.
When I’m writing fiction, I can combat the stereotypical portrayals of mental illness like depression.
As much as I’m writing fiction, which is inherently false, I’m also writing truth. While the characters may not be real, the conditions they deal with and the ways they deal with them are meant to be very real.
For readers, this can be something of a comfort. We talk a lot about how fiction tends to reflect the dominant social reality. Books are very white, very English, very North American, and very Christian, sometimes without even realizing it. We talk about diversity in fiction and the importance of seeing yourself reflected there. (Just look at the reaction of young girls to Wonder Woman or of black children to seeing Black Panther.)
Fiction, as much as it’s not true, validates our truths. It says to us, “You are not alone.” It shows us others like ourselves. It holds a mirror up to our experiences and our realities. We see ourselves. For those of us who live with mental health conditions, this is important, as society very often tries to deny the existence of these issues or write them off as affecting a handful of “crazy” people.
There are also so many negative stereotypes and harmful narratives surrounding mental illness. Fiction is one way we can talk about to them, dismantle them, and create a more realistic representation of the experiences people have.
So why do my characters suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD, EDs, and other mental health conditions? It’s not because I think these are convenient plot points, like many writers do (and are accused of). I think they’re important reflections of the world as it stands, and I feel there’s important work to be done in telling these stories. It’s the same reason I advocate for more diverse books, inclusion of more people’s stories in history, and so on.
Books are reflections of our experiences. They tell the stories of human lives, of realities and lived experiences. As human beings, we need those stories to relate and make sense of our own experiences. To validate ourselves. To assure us we’re not alone, that our experiences—as unique as they are—are not beyond the pale of comprehension.
Moreover, these narratives can help people who aren’t struggling with mental health issues on their own understand the experiences of others and what they face in their lives. In this way, fiction becomes a vehicle for connecting us through understanding.
Luke glanced down at his phone, then at the name of the restaurant. Google said they matched, although …