Hello, magic seekers. Not long ago, I announced that my story, “Medicine or Poison,” had won Fairy Tale Magazine’s flash fiction contest, snagging grand prize. It’s the Hansel and Gretel story told from the witch’s perspective. This is just a quick (ecstatic!) post to say the winning fairy tale issue is out for purchase now. You can read all the wonderful flash fiction fairy tales for only $5.99.
My extra good news is that as the grand prize story, Fairy Tale Magazine published it on their website for free. You can read it here right away!
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.
Ella Arrow artwork is now available on jigsaw puzzles! Society6.com, where I have my artist shop, has started offering 200, 500, or 1000 piece puzzles, so I set up dozens of my designs.
Personally, I love doing puzzles, especially when I’m feeling stressed. It fills that need to feel productive (without actually being important to finish) and requires a certain level of concentration that lets me block out the Big Scary News or whatever is troubling me. I don’t know about you, but I’ve done all the puzzles in my house in the last two years, so it might be time for some new ones.
Different artwork results in different puzzling difficulty. Not so hard: Box of Sparks, Green Mermaid, Fairy Creek
Medium challenge: Sea Treasures, The Question, Air Through His Bones
Quite a challenge: Blue Fairy Stars, Golden Road, Oak Tree Canopy
Woof: Dive In. I mean it’s all purples.
Give art and you support an artist. Art is a unique gift that you can be sure they don’t already have!
One of the things I’ve been promising to do once school was back in session is to go on a photography safari. Not to shoot wildlife, just take a drive for an hour or two and stop when I see something that strikes me in the right way. While I probably could have done this with kids in tow, I worried too much they would have gotten bored, making me feel rushed instead of meandering.
The first place I wanted to go had haunted me for a while. On the way out of Stoughton, almost to the freeway, there’s an old one-room schoolhouse perched on a bit of lawn between the road and a golf course. I’d always found it charming and a bit mysterious. What was its history? Was it still in use for anything? Could I park and hop out and peek in its windows without annoying golfers or the owners of their club?
I parked across the highway to be a bit less obvious and used the golf-cart viaduct to cross under the road to the schoolhouse. The paint is peeling more than I expected, as if whoever owns it has forgotten about the little historical building. A few windows are broken. You can see right into the basement through a square hole in the stone porch, as if a hatch or bunch of bricks are missing. The cellar is piled with lumber; the main room houses old furniture and flags.
I tried to capture the melancholy of the broken windows and fallen slats. I tried to catch the charm of the past in the familiar shape of the building. Many photographers find the same bittersweet beauty in shabby vintage vistas these days, so I mimicked the close-ups for texture and the wide shots for structure. After years of passing it on the road out of town, I was not disappointed.
I wish I knew its name.
I wish I could take care of it. It could be an art gallery, a quiet retreat, or a tiny coffeehouse. There’s an ache about such decaying beauties, an unspoken desire to imagine the heyday, and a slippery slope of enjoying the varying grayscale of weathered boards while wishing you could polish life back into their bones.
I live in a house built in 1885. The dining room slopes decidedly toward the windows and none of the doors are straight. I know how to love time-worn buildings and their glorious wrinkles.
I had no destination after the schoolhouse. I drove through a few little towns I knew, and followed some country roads I didn’t. My other find of the day was a few barns on the verge of collapse, on the edge of otherwise healthy-looking farms. A few years ago my son dubbed these “Jenga barns”, as if the loss of one little piece of wood could cause the whole thing to tumble. I didn’t want to creep around someone else’s property, but I got a couple of shots I liked from the side of the road. I love that you can see the sky through the ribs.
There was a Jenga barn on the road to turn in to my last office job. I loved driving by it every day, thinking about not only what it must have been, grand and wide and sturdy and useful, but admiring the way it sloped and shrugged, losing its shape to the weight of time. Someday I’ll head back there and get more than a snapshot on my phone. Some future safari, maybe.
Anyway, I decided to anthropomorphize the nameless schoolhouse in the photos’ one-sentence story. Hope you like it.
The dilapidated one-room schoolhouse stands despite flaking paint and broken windows, wondering when summer will finally be over.
As usual, prints and products of the images are up on my Society6 artist shop, and you can get digital versions on my Etsy store for less than five bucks.
I took this photo in Killarney, Ireland, on a trip that was extremely magical for me. I’m happy to announce that any reader who subscribes to my mailing list will get access to a free download of the image above, Fairy Creek, and exclusive access to the flash fiction story that the image inspired.
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You can also buy prints on Society6 or get the full digital image package in several sizes on my Etsy store.
Most people don’t need to be told to Go Play Outside as much as they can in the height of summer. My pre-teen son, maybe, when he’s eyebrow-deep in videogames and YouTubes of other people playing videogames. But otherwise, we all know July is a playground, don’t we? Summer’s free gifts abound wherever you look.
Example: When you find yourself free for half an hour while your kid is in drum lessons (in person again, thank God and Goddess), walk up the hill so steep you have to zig-zag in switchbacks to spare your ankles.
Find an intriguing path through unfamiliar woods.
Follow the path as it loops around a park, empty but for an ancient swing set, made of wood and rusty metal, replete with one broken swing.
Count four varieties of butterflies. Pause at mossy trees, like twisted skeleton hands, among the riot of green life. Get scolded by a blue jay. Startle from an animal crashing through the woods, across your path and into the bushes on the other side, so suddenly and loudly that for a moment you aren’t sure what it was. A dog, surely, as you are surrounded by neighborhood and farmland. But those woods, that whip of a tail, that speed….
It was a dog, chasing a rabbit. Must have been a dog.
Stumble across daisies. Dare to pick a few, hoping no one in the neighborhood that is not yours will notice, or mind.
Find a complicated purple flower bubbling up on fountains of green leaves. Learn by a Google Lens search that this has the romantic name of “crown vetch“.
Wonder what a vetch is, and whether it’s some sort of curse or blessing.
More daisies, glorious daisies, all the daisies you could dream of picking. No neighbor would scold you for collecting them, for no handful could be missed in this vast galaxy of white and yellow stars.
With your fist gripping your bounty, recall that wildflowers are just one of summer’s free gifts.
I’m always on the hunt for other people who create joy around them and explore the world with an eye for wonder. The Disney+ show, “The World According to Jeff Goldblum,” is a short-form series that basically lets the actor and connoisseur run amok while exploring a singular topic in our modern world.
Denim. Ice Cream. Bicycles. Tattoos. He picks a subject and seeks out its history, its evolution, the makers and gurus of it, and the ordinary people devoted to it. He gives an overview, he deep dives, and he tries his darnedest to get to the bottom of why people love whatever the thing is.
The documentary and human interest stories are charming, but the real star is always Jeff Goldblum himself. Quirky, curious to a fault, game for anything, he brings the perfect combination of gravitas and whimsy to his interviews and narrations. He takes everything seriously and nothing too seriously. He deals out thoughtful interview questions and hilariously unexpected comments with equal ease. He never, ever mocks an enthusiast, even when they seem bizarre or over-zealous, but respects them and genuinely tries to understand them and their passions. His commentary is unique and highly specific, and I can’t help but watch, mesmerized, with the feeling that no one else could stand in his place.
I feel like Jeff gets it, that quest for magic in the ordinary. Here are a few examples.
On a “denim safari,” Jeff explores an old mining camp with a curator and merchant of vintage denim. Their infectious enthusiasm plays off each other, until Jeff says they’re like two sticks about to combust. At the end of the adventure, he declares, “This is the most fun I’ve had in my whole life!”
In his eyes, cotton is “cheeky”, and each pair of jeans tells the story of the individual who wears them. At a weekly line dance held by the Dallas Pride LGBTQ group, surrounded by fabulous be-denimed cowboys, he meets someone from Kansas and begins a spontaneous sing-along of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
He makes his own ice cream flavor and shares it with active military troops, asking them to close their eyes and describe the memories the ice cream brings. “Ice cream is like a time machine,” bringing back fun memories with family and friends, perhaps from simple joys in childhood.
“Studies have shown that nostalgia can uplift feelings improve self-esteem and make us feel connected to people for whom we deeply care. It gives comfort. A torch that lights the way to a brighter future. Lady Ice Cream, I say,” – Jeff sings – “I love you, tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you….”
On that final note, Jeff skips off along the beach.
My favorite episode is Bicycles.
Jeff gets his own bike custom built and brings it to a weekly event called Slow Roll Detroit. This community bike ride drew 3-5 thousand people every Sunday to ride through the streets of Motor City. The effects on the city have been astounding: residents along the route throw front-yard barbecues, children come out to cheer, and more importantly, people are moving back to the city because of Slow Roll. They stay in the city more once they get there, going to local shops and restaurants and bringing the community together.
Jeff Goldblum is moved to tears as he concludes his opus on the bicycle and the way they make cities feel more human again.
“Community unification – that’s no small thing. The bicycle is mechanical, it’s a machine, but you know, I – I felt it was an extension of my body. It allowed me in a unique and subtle but profound way to be in connection with everything around me. The potential of me and that bike has allowed me to connect with something in me that is – can I say real? Well, it feels like, in some way, I’m home.” Choking up, he repeats wistfully, “I’m home. Gee.”
The World According to Jeff Goldblum is uplifting every time. I watch it whenever I need a treat and a smile. Two seasons are out now on Disney+.
Sacred space starts with enjoying your air. You can craft your own candle scents candles with essential oils for only a few dollars in supplies, and cast a little air magic as unique as you are.
In the Wiccan tradition, the element of Air is all things breezy: the wind, the sky, smoke, birds, butterflies, feathers, bubbles, bells or chimes. Air is associated with the cardinal direction East, and so with the sun and the break of day. Air is linked with the mind, thoughts, creativity, and inspiration. Invoking the element of Air will help you puzzle out a tough problem, find that zap of inspiration, get the lift and drive to start a project, and focus your mind.
Lately I have been invoking Air in my home using scents. Essential oils have risen in popularity of late, in part because of companies like Goop, raising both their profile and accessibility. (Negative flak for essential oils has risen proportionally, but mostly I put that down to rants against popular things.)
Plenty of people have raved about the purported powers of essential oils, but I’m only going to deal with how they smell.
Disclaimer: Nothing on this blog constitutes dispensing medical advice, even my personal stories about remedies I’ve used. Please don’t get your medical advice from blogs.
One way to perfume a space is with scented candles, but dang, those things are expensive. I admit to falling for fancy names and dreamy scents at BB&B on occasion, but only with their ubiquitous coupons lining my wallet. Without the option in the past year to even give them the sniff test, I set out to create my own scented candles. My recipe is cheap and simple:
Unscented pillar candles from the Dollar Store
Jars big enough for the candles
Essential oils and perfume oils
Once I’d thought of it, this method was incredibly easy.
Put candle into jar and burn until the melted wax reaches the edge.
Blow out the candle.
Put several drops of oil into the melted candle wax. Stir it around with a match or toothpick.
Relight the candle, right away or later once the wax solidified.
And like magic, I had my own custom-scented candle for 1/20th the price of the brand-name ones. I can control how much scent there is, and if I can modify it by adding oil as the candle burns down.
Mason jars work, or if you’ve saved old jar candles, you can clean them out with a table knife and then a microwave to get out the old wax. Be sure you remove anything metal, like the wick stub, before microwaving.
Only use oils, not eau de parfum, which is water-based and will pop if burned. Likewise don’t drop oil on a candle flame or it could flare and be dangerous.
One thing I love about this is blending my own combinations of oils. I didn’t have to rely on artificial ingredients or unidentifiable scents. I could make my bathroom smell clean, my dining room warm, my library cozy, while knowing exactly where those scents came from in nature.
Kitchen: Cinnamon, Sweet Orange, Peppermint
Dining Room: Cinnamon, Clove, Sweet Orange
Bathroom: Lavender, Peppermint, Eucalyptus
Meditation: Amber, Cedar Wood
Focus: Rosemary, Tea Tree, Peppermint
Air magic invites experimentation and play. Imagine the air in your house as an element for you to dress, just like you do the walls and the floors. What do you want visitors to feel when they enter your space? What do you want to feel? Can you find a combination that helps you focus on work in your home office, or relax in your bedroom at the end of the day? Experiment with different mixes and craft your own candle scents with essential oils in combinations specific to your affinities.
My essential oil collection is fairly basic, with the occasional blend picked up in craft markets and spiritual shops. What do you think I should add? What other ways do you invoke the element of Air in your home? Leave me a comment.
This week I’ve opened my store on Etsy! For a long time, I debated whether the effort to open one would be worth it, since I have other venues where my art and book are sold, but it answered two important needs I’d been pondering for a while. Plus like most things, it wasn’t as complicated to execute as I’d imagined.
I can easily offer signed copies of The Flight of The Starling paperback on Etsy. If you want an autographed copy of the book, personalized for you or your favorite fairy tale reader (or simply signed), you can now order one from directly me. To prove it, here’s a photo that includes my book, my hand, and my library wallpaper.
I ordered a bunch of paperback copies in March 2020, anticipating a book sale at the local writer’s conference, and then 2020 was all PLOT TWIST! So since I have them on a shelf, and people have asked how to get signed copies before, this feels inevitable.
Downloadable Digital Images
My Society6 storefront is an awesome tool for printing art on anything you can imagine (coffee mugs, notebooks, and tote bags are my favorite), but currently they have no option for simply buying a digital image. Etsy to the rescue!
As someone who has done a lot of layouts, desktop publishing, and just plain switching up my computer wallpaper, I love digital art. You can print it and put it in a frame, tack it to your office wall, make it into a birthday card, or set it as a pretty background on any of your screens. It’s quick and easy and if you lose it or scratch it, you can download another copy, forever. It’s also a lot cheaper than buying physical art – the online equivalent of buying a print at the art fair.
A new store deserved a new artwork, right? Cue the trumpets.
Sea Spiral – Digital Art on Etsy
One digital art purchase includes 5 files, sized to fit various standard frames. If you buy it and somehow it doesn’t fit your needs, just contact me and I will adjust and send a brand-new file, free of charge.
Now that I’ve got the store open and figured out the finicky process of resizing to make the files, I’ll start adding more artwork in the near future. Have any advice or suggestions for running an Etsy journey? Leave me a comment.
Lately I’ve been taking walks every Sunday with a friend. It’s socially distanced, outside, and away from our houses and kids. We’ve explored neighborhoods and trails, window-shopped our quaint downtown on shoveled sidewalks and slogged through woods on snowshoes, searching for winter’s treasures. We both look forward to it every week, not just for the chance to get a couple hours of fresh air but for the novelty of in-person conversation.
One Sunday we were walking a trail by the Yahara River that wends through the woods. In the summer time, bullfrogs belt their basso profundo blues and red-winged blackbirds trill their swampy arias. In winter it’s far from barren, just more quiet. Snow shushes everything and the wildlife, if they aren’t sleeping deep in nests and holes, at least don’t feel like singing.
The beauty of the woods in winter is sometimes blatant – white snow sticks to black trees preening to be photographed naked – and other times elusive. Leaves turn brown, flowers die, color leaches out of the natural world. Maybe it’s that hyper-awareness that’s come from being cooped up indoors, but I found myself eagerly looking for beautiful objects this winter as if on a dare.
So when we stopped on a bench a mile and a half from our cars, I didn’t just notice the big black oaks that twist so dramatically. I tuned in to a small white branch among the decaying foliage.
I got close to inspect it. Along the pale branch were curling whisps like a grapevine seeking a fence, and leaves that still had all their fibers and structure but none of their color. I’d never seen this kind of ghost leaf before, but since then I’ve realized they’re pretty common in the Midwest. Back in Montana, the leaves either dry and crumble, or rot into dirt, not stop halfway through and decide to haunt the forest floor.
I was reaching for them, lacey leaves like delicate wings, and I wanted to explain to my friend why I was so interested in dead leaves. I wish I’d thought to call my collection of dry naked sticks a “winter bouquet,” but sometimes writers aren’t eloquent on the spot. So I plucked the ghost vines and said, “I have this vase of … desiccated things in my house, and I want to add this to it.”
She laughed. “If I had to pick a phrase that described how you decorate,” she said, “it would be ‘I have this vase of desiccated things in my house.’”
It sounded more morbid than I usually think of my eclectic and colorful home, but at the same time, she’s not wrong. I collect shells and rocks, feathers and sticks with ant writing. I have a couple animal skulls (clean), a paper wasp nest (empty), and an enormous array of crystals. My husband tends more toward strange devices and mechanical things, like microscopes, pocket watches, and an antique electroshock machine with a hand crank.
It’s important to have friends who truly see you, and who can put a name to your truths.
My winter bouquet had two sticks in it. One was furred with white fungus, the other had two tiny white cups of mushroom like wee satellite dishes or heavy-lidded eyes. Longer than flowers, they cast dramatic shadows in their vase. A grey feather and empty milkweed pods added variety in texture. The ghost vines were next. I took a lot of time arranging them so they would shoot out in just the right direction, create a pleasing line along and away from the rest of the bouquet. I added long flat grass fronds and tight dark stems of headless flowers, which my cats promptly destroyed.
All in all the arrangement has an otherworldly feel that I like. When you think about it, our world becomes a bit alien in winter, as plants die, wildlife sleeps, and humans often hide themselves away. The seed pods, curling and hairy, look as if something strange and possibly tentacled had hatched out of them. The ghost leaves whisper, translucent, of the world before the seasonal apocalypse. Everything is stark, minimal, silhouetted.
I’ve picked up random gifts from Mother Nature on a regular basis (one of my many witchy habits), but I never chose to arrange them deliberately until this winter. Now as spring is booting up and it’s past time to take down the Christmas lights on the porch, I’m unsure what to do with my vase of desiccated and beautiful oddments. Should I pack it away, bundling them carefully into a box in the attic with my other seasonal décor? Or should I sprinkle them in my backyard bushes and kitchen garden, letting them return to the earth and resume their arrested decay? If I keep them, am I depriving future winters of the joy of collecting a new array of Spartan beauties?
As usual, I’m overthinking it. Of course I will pack them away. Next autumn or winter, I’ll take them out, cull the bits that have crumbled to dust or wilted beyond saving. The rest will go back in their vase, standing tall and austere in the corner of my dining room, and I’ll add more ghost leaves or cemetery weeds or whatever next winter decides to gift me. I’ll find a way to celebrate in the dark times and appreciate the loveliness in demise.
After all, it’s who I am.
Post script: After I took my photos, I left the winter bouquet in my library instead of putting it back on the high cabinet in the dining room. A crash and skitter, spilled sand and broken sticks, and I instantly remembered how impermanent nature’s beauty can be. Thanks, Fluffy, Topaz, and Ruby, for reminding me!