One of the creative writing classes I took at the university assigned a book of short stories as the text. The teacher prepared a list of story collections for every taste, ranging from Raymond Carver’s What We Talk about When We Talk about Love to Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. We were supposed to choose one we hadn’t read before.
I liked the sound of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, with its fairy tales for grownups. I was quickly absorbed by the lush, decadent prose. I fell in love with Carter after I read her takes on the Big Bad Wolf and Bluebeard’s Wife.
My classmates were all solidly literary, with none of the messy genre inclinations I felt. I wanted to write a modern fairy tale, but I didn’t think I could get away with anything like Cinderella’s sorority sisters cutting off their heels to fit into the magic shoe.
So I wrote a fairy tale for the modern age.
One of the places I loved most of all at the University of Michigan was the greenhouse at the botanical garden. Especially when the snow flew outside, the temperate house was toasty warm, filled with the scents of good clean earth and flowers.
My favorite part of the greenhouse was the carp pond, with its waterlilies. I’d take my notebook and sit at the edge of the pool, listening to the waterfall trickling into the pool and watching the giant koi glide. I wanted to honor the place by setting a story there.
I workshopped “Grandfather Carp’s Dream” over and over, over the years. Most genre readers thought it stopped too soon. Most literary readers didn’t like the flavor of magic. The story never found a home. Since it wasn’t based on a familiar fairy tale, it didn’t fit most fairy tale anthologies. It didn’t have big magic or world-altering danger. It didn’t resolve into a pretty Happily Ever After. It remained a touch too literary. No one seemed to be publishing magical realism under 2000 words.
And yet it was exactly the story I wanted. My point was that the botanical student is aching and lonely, even as he’s consumed by his studies – like young men I met at the university. The fairy is alien and equally lonely. They deserved – needed – each other.
I didn’t want to resolve their relationship. I wanted the reader to do that for herself. Would they get their happy ending or would his apartment be filled with dragonflies and sparrows come spring? Could the carp let her go with his blessings?
I was thrilled with Martha J. Allard invited me to submit to an anthology she was editing. I worried that my fairy wouldn’t be classical enough: no wings, no pixie dust, but instead a direct and powerful connection to nature – and a desire for something more for herself.
Martha surprised me by accepting the story. The anthology, called Out of the Green, is available now on Amazon.