I am absolutely honored to have a superiorly talented individual on the blog today. I’ve known KT Bryski for a few years now, and she never fails to impress me with her amazing ideas and turns of phrase. She recently contacted me for some artwork, and I really wanted to set the perfect tone for the project she proposed. That project is one I think everyone should give a listen to, first because it’s FREE, and second because KT’s writing is really just that good. No matter the subject, KT enthralls, excites, and paints marvelous imagery for her audience. She’s a true storyteller, and it’s nothing short of joy to experience her tales.
In today’s guest post, KT offers up some thoughts that are quite relevant to my interests and audience. I think you’ll find her words both educational and insightful. Definitely check out her new project, Six Stories, Told at Night!
Jazzing Up Fairy Tales
Hi everyone! My name is KT Bryski—I’m a Canadian author and podcaster, and I’m thrilled to be here today. Thanks, Starla, for letting me hang out on your blog!
There are many things I admire about Starla’s creative work, but I’m particularly struck by the way she uses fairy tales in her Flipped Fairy Tales series. See, Starla does something really cool: she plays with fairy tales. She flips them, she changes them around, expands them, and makes something very familiar utterly brand-new.
Of course, fairy tales are fluid by nature. Sort of like jazz. That’s one of the things I love about them. Every fairy tale retelling is a product of a particular time and place—and of the particular author involved. Most fairy tales we know today descended through oral culture—every storyteller put their own stamp on it. And so, each version is valid in its own right: there’s not really an “authoritative” or “most true” version of any fairy tale.
…which can sometimes be frustrating. I work with fairy tales myself. My recently-released one-woman-audio-drama, Six Stories, Told at Night, uses five traditional Canadian folktales within a larger framing narrative. Our heroine Sam is trying to save her friend Joëlle from the Faerie realm, and the only way to enter the Otherworld is to tell the Faerie Queen a story she’s never heard before. Hence, my folktales.
One slight problem: of the five folktales I used, only two had a cohesive plot. Two were just folkloric figures (as an analogy, we all know the Boogeyman—but have you ever heard a story specifically about him?), and one was a literary oddity that pretty much every source responded to with, “Lolz, IDK.” So how do you get around a lack of story, detail, consensus?
By doing the same thing Starla does: by playing.
Again, I think of it like jazz. You’ve got a main motif, on which you riff. Take our Boogeyman—in Québec, there’s a similar figure called Bonhomme Sept-Heures. He stole children out of bed past seven o’clock. So you take that, and you add context. Which children? Why are they out of bed? What happens if one escapes?
You add trills and embellishments. There’s a theory that Bonhomme Sept-Heures (literally, “Seven o’Clock Man”) is a French bastardization of the English title “bone setter.” You know, the guy that set broken bones: a procedure that was exceedingly painful and dangerous. So hey, let’s add some bone imagery to Bonhomme.
Now, both jazz and fairy tales have well-defined structures. That’s cool—that’s what keeps the art form recognizable. It’s a support system, not a prison: there’s plenty of room to subvert and finagle those chord progressions and plot beats. In fairy tales, things tend to come in threes. Let’s have our heroine take three things to fight Bonhomme.
So you keep doing this—playing and riffing and changing the key—and eventually, something pretty cool happens. You’ve got that motif—that familiar kernel at the story’s heart—couched within something that’s utterly brand-new and yours. Your own take on an old tune: something that maybe other people can riff on.
This is why I love fairy tales: they’re alive, they breathe, they grow. And when you hit the right notes, they’re pure magic.
Thanks again for having me, Starla!
KT Bryski is a Canadian author and podcaster. She has short fiction in Daily Science Fiction, and stories forthcoming from Strange Horizons and Apex. Her audio dramas “Six Stories, Told at Night” and “Coxwood History Fun Park” are available wherever fine podcasts are found, and she is currently at work on her next novel. KT is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing. As you may have guessed, she also has a mild caffeine addiction. Visit her at www.ktbryski.com.