I thought I had a lot going on at the start of last July. My day job was super busy, I’d just wrapped up my third novel (Rosemary for Reversal), and I was working hard on promoting the book bundle the novel was in. Then I switched day jobs, which meant continuing to be super busy and learning a ton of new things, Jasper had some strange and unexpected health issues, Rosie had an odd event happen, the pandemic picked up again, then Jasper had (different) strange health issues, then there was a giant fire that wiped out huge swaths of nearby towns, and then we finally got to 2022. Things seemed calm for a bit, then we learned that Rosie’s odd event had led to damaged cartilage near her larynx. And now there is a war. There’s a lot more I could say on that topic, but for now I’ll settle for sharing this quote.
“For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Jasper is doing fantastic. He’s almost twelve (or thereabouts, we made up a birthday when we adopted him), and he’s super energetic and happy. Rosie will be fine, we just will need to adjust her activities so she doesn’t overheat in the summer. I love my day job, and no longer feel like my brain is too full all the time. I finally have the mental energy to write again, and my latest short story, “Marusia and the Monster,” appears in the anthology Once Upon a Bite!
My mother’s family immigrated to the U.S. from Slovakia in the early 1900s. Not much of the culture made it to my generation. The only thing I know how to say is “good night.” I remember my mom making two Slovakian dishes. One is apparently referred to as an “egg cheese,” which I actively disliked; the other was a braided bread, which I did like, but unfortunately my mom stuck to the tradition and only made it at Easter. I’m sure there were more things that I just don’t remember, but this is what’s left.
The Once Upon anthology series is an annual collection of fairy tale retellings, with a different overall theme each year. I’ve written short stories for five of the seven issues, and have found myself drawn to fairy tales and folklore from the region my great-grandparents came from. They were all from eastern Slovakia. One of them lived in a village so close to the Ukranian border that her family attended church in what is present-day Ukraine. I now have a collection of books on Slavic/Russian/Ukranian fairy tales, folklore, and culture. I don’t know which stories my great-grandparents were told when they were children, of course, but I’m sure they heard variants of at least some of the tales I’ve read. It’s been really fun to base my stories off of the old fairy tales, and to think about what my ancestors’ lives and experiences were like.
My story, “Marusia and the Monster,” is based on the Russian fairy tale “The Fiend.” I originally came across this story in Forests of the Vampires: Slavic Myth. In the original tale, a young woman named Marusia meets a handsome, wealthy, charming man who wants to marry her. But, as is often the case with fairy tales, there’s more to this mysterious gentleman than meets the eye.
Fairy tales were often used to convey lessons, and the main lesson in this one is: do your research and don’t let the handsome stranger sweep you away. 🙂 I started writing the story from Marusia’s point of view, but kept getting stuck, mostly because she was so passive. For example, here’s how things go the night she meets the stranger.
“Marusia, sweetheart!” says he, “would you like me to marry you?”
“If you like to marry me, I will gladly marry you. But where do you come from?”
“From such and such a place. I’m clerk at a merchant’s.”
Then they bade each other farewell and separated.
I finally decided to write from the mysterious suitor’s point of view, which turned out to be a lot more fun. I changed a couple things around, like making the suitor a woman, and I set the story in a little beach town in Mexico loosely based on San Pancho. The setting turned out to be a little problematic, since I then had to take into account Mexican funeral customs, but that also made the story more interesting. And now I know a lot more than I ever expected to about Slavic vampires, and how what they do is a little, well, different than what we’re used to. 🙂