Sometimes a story needs to find the right audience to be considered grand. The key is to not give up. This is the story of my story that won grand prize in a contest at Fairy Tale Magazine.
Wise Women and Their Medicine
I wrote a flash fiction story for a contest a while back, which asked for tales of wise women, cunning women, or witches. Wisdom of the woods, in other words.
I’d been carrying around this notion in my head of someone who sees food as medicine or poison. An awesome and intense conversation with a new friend who was a nutritionist sparked the idea. She said that anything you put in your body could act as either medicine or poison. One was nourishing, encouraging growth and sustaining life. The other was toxifying, slowing down natural processes, and included many things that a body needed to filter out. Wholesome food versus processed food. Herbal tea versus whiskey. That idea stuck with me, as a binary I’d never thought of before. I decided to save it for the right story.
Cross-Stitch meets Cross-Reference
I took up cross-stitch in the pandemic, as a meditative practice to focus on sewing tiny Xs instead of the real world’s problems. At the time I was stitching a Hansel and Gretel pattern, a candy cottage deep in the woods.
These three things collided in my brain: Hansel and Gretel, Cunning Woman of the Forest, Medicine or Poison. So I wrote a short-short story, retelling the classic tale from the witch’s perspective. Maybe it had all been a mistake. Maybe she had offered medicine, and the wayward children, terrified and starving, had only seen poison.
I had to write it very quickly, in about two days, because I saw the contest notice right before the deadline. This pressure was actually a good thing, because it forced me to hunker down and make the story work instead of ruminating on possibilities.
The right story for the right audience
My story was rejected from that “cunning woman of the forest” anthology. Phooey.
I’ve never had a story win Grand Prize before, and as a fairy tale teller, getting chosen by Fairy Tale magazine just makes it that much cooler.
My son suggested I write a series of stories where the traditional witch is not the bad guy we always thought. Like Neil Gaiman’s classic short story, “Tori Amos), and the true evil is smiling behind ruby red lips.
I’m thinking of Sleeping Beauty (which needed a rewrite from the outset, frankly). Perhaps Aurora is a diva princess who should be taught a lesson, only the curse wasn’t meant to last a hundred years, and the whole thing is overblown for the jealous witch who made one teensy wicked wish….
You can buy the upcoming “Tales from the Night Queen’s Realm” issue of FTM, due out on September 1st, to read “Medicine or Poison”. I would love to hear what favorite witch’s tale you’d like to hear retold in the comments.
All the best,
Buy The Flight of the Starling, A Fairy Tale by Ella Arrow, out now. You can read the first chapter here.