retellings

The Mussel Eater

The Mussel EaterA few months back, the dedicated book reviewing team The Book Smugglers put out a publishing call for short stories based around the theme of subversive fairy tale retellings. I’m a fan of both the Smugglers and retellings, so I thought I’d give it a go. I actually had two stories that could fit, so I dithered for a bit and finally decided to submit a story I’d written based on the Maori legend of Pania of the Reef. Naturally, I spent the next couple of months second-guessing that decision, as it wasn’t really a fairy tale, but luckily Ana and Thea liked it anyway. “The Mussel Eater” is now part of their inaugural publishing season.

It’s one of my “future fishing in New Zealand” stories – I’m slowly building up a collection of interlinked stories about a speculative fishing industry full of beasties and burials and robots. The next one’s due out early next year, I believe, in Apex Magazine.

You can read “The Mussel Eater” online at The Book Smugglers for free, and they’ve also got a short essay by me on why I chose this particular story to rewrite. These two things are bundled with a short interview into an e-book put out by the Smugglers – this, as with the other five stories they’ve published this season – is available from their site and various e-publishing outlets.

And seriously, it’s got the most amazing cover. That painting’s done by Kristina Tsenova and it’s beautiful. The claws! The colours! You should check out the rest of her work. She’s really very good.

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So You’ve Written A Mystical Pregnancy…

Vita Urbis - High ResolutionI know. I know.

They’re terrible. You think I haven’t seen them or read them and thought “What is this bullshit?” Granted, I don’t hate them as much as I hate the Magic Baby, Child of Prophecy, but then nothing comes close to the hate I have for that.

I mean, a woman’s more than an incubator, and it’s a sad fact that inflicting a character with a mystical pregnancy pretty much turns her into little more than a host organism victimised by her own capacity for reproduction. No choice, no agency.

So why did I feel the need to add another story to this pile of idiocy? I’ve just self-published my November novella, Vita Urbis, wherein the main character, Vita, gets knocked up by a city. Yes, roll your eyes, go ahead. I don’t blame you. I did as well, on the grounds of better late than never. See, this novella is based on a short story I wrote, published earlier this year in the urban fantasy anthology Twisted Boulevard. That was unadulterated mystical pregnancy for you, though my idiot self didn’t see it until far too late. Although the story was intercut with scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, so transformation and some really twisted reproduction was par for the course. (Leda fucked a swan, for God’s sake. Say what you like about Vita, but at least she’s not out molesting the local wildlife.)

So I felt the need to do a fix-it job. Hence the novella – and if it makes matters worse then hell. It’s only a novella. I can always write another one.

To improve the expanded version I did three things. First, in the Ovid intercuts, I emphasised the themes of choice and agency. The novella is set around images of reflection – the stories mirror each other, the City with its own underworld, Vita reproducing through work and womb – so strengthening the metamorphoses helped to (hopefully) strengthen the whole.

Secondly, I gave Vita more choice… and made the City an active player in giving her that choice. For example, there’s a point where she considers abortion, and the same entity that got her pregnant in the first place makes it clear that it would support her if that’s what she wanted to do. It’s actually helpful about it. I’ve done things like this to try and return some agency to Vita, to make her more than a passive receptacle.

Finally, it’s the mirror effect again. Vita, in effect, knocks up the City before it lays so much as a smoky tendril on her. An architect, Vita reproduces herself in the buildings she designs, in a deliberate attempt to recreate the City in her own image. Little wonder the City wants to return the favour… Their relationship is mutually exploitative, especially as after the earthquakes that accompany Vita’s labour, her buildings might be the only things left standing.

So, I’ve written a mystical pregnancy. For the first and last time, probably. If it sounds like something you might be interested in, get yourself over to Amazon.

You can still roll your eyes if you want to.