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Publication News: “The Swan Maiden’s Children” by Bethany DuVall

Q. How did you come to writing and who are some of your influences?

Writing was normal in my house while I was growing up. My mother is a writer, so writing was just one of the many options for how to spend our time. When I got more formal with learning writing as a craft, I got a lot of mixed messages about what was and was not acceptable literature, and I found myself loving the stories that walked the line between literary and fantasy. Jean Rhys’ The Wide Sargasso Sea was one of the first reimaginings that I read, and loved it. I also adore Toni Morrison, Aimee Bender, Neil Gaiman, and Barbara Kingsolver.

I’m a huge fan of well-researched stories, and also want at least a little magic in them. Storied Imaginarium was a watershed for me because I felt like I was finally finding the space where my own work belonged. I got enough traction out of my fist SI workshop that I’m still building larger stories from that material. I fully intend to keep coming back for more.  

Q. Have you published any stories that have come out of the generative workshops at the Storied Imaginarium? If so, what inspired your pieces, and where can we read them?

“The Swan Maiden’s Children” is my first published piece to come out of the SI workshops, inspired by the tale “The Swan Maiden.” When we read it, I kept thinking what terrible parents both the Swan Maiden and the Hunter were. The kidnapping and societally accepted rape of a woman via forced marriage are the flashier problems with the story, but these two kids get abandoned at home, and, like so many of us, their parents’ sins were never their fault. The kids only get a line or two in the story – their entire presence is to explain how their mother escaped. We never learn if they are even still at home when their father drags her back. So, “The Swan Maiden’s Children” is an examination of what happens when we adults let our own trauma keep us from noticing our children.

I don’t have any other pieces from the workshops published, but the story that grew out of our “Hansel and Gretel” week has become the centerpiece of a trilogy I’m working on. Even though the other stories I’ve published since taking the workshop didn’t originate there, they couldn’t have happened without it. One is a retelling of a mermaid sighting documented in 1830s Scotland, “That Which was Fine and Free” (Legends Reborn, Carpathia Publishing), and the other is a reimagining of a funerary practice in pre-1900s Great Britain, “Sin Eater” (Ghost Parachute).

Q. What advice do you have for writers working with fairy tales and myth as well as combining them with current science and social issues?

Take the Intersections workshop. Really. Take it.

And, aside from that, notice what things matter to you, what truths you already question, what areas of science and society feel incongruent. Notice how whenever people tell a story – casually, at the bar, over holiday meals, anywhere – they leave things out. Consider how the folk and fairy tales you’re playing with may have also left things out, or been working with incongruous understandings of reality. Start digging there.

Q. Can you give us an insight into your writing process? Any habits when you sit down to write?

Over time, I’ve developed some rhythms and rituals, but I think it’s really important to say that this idea that we have to sit down at the same time every day for it to work – that’s great if we can do it, but if we can’t, sitting down to write at all is better than not writing. So now that my children are adults, and there are no terminal illnesses in my household, and other trappings of the first half of life have fallen into order, or at least familiarity, I sit down at the same time on the same days every week. I start with morning pages – a written brain dump – and then I do three different meditations, and then I pull out what I’m working on and write. I’ve borrowed your write-in solution, Carina, using Zoom sessions to gather a group of writers together virtually. For the actual pen-to-paper bit: I write out of order. The first scene I write is almost never the first scene of the story, and I’ve stopped expecting it to be. I let it expand in all directions and worry about organizing about halfway through the first draft.

Q. What is next in store for your readers?

I have high hopes that my novel, The Former Lives of Buildings, will get picked up soon. This is the story of a woman whose memories get stolen, and she must recover them in order to get back to her son. While I’m looking for representation for that project, I’m also working on the trilogy inspired by the “Hansel and Gretel” unit in Storied Imaginarium. These are longer projects, and may take some time to get into the world, but usually shorter works pop up and surprise me when I need breaks from the bigger works, so you may see some of those as well.

Bethany DuVall writes stories with a touch of magic. Her characters live in the borders where the seen and the unseen worlds meet. She loves research, and uses story building as a form of travel. Her writing has taken her to continents far from her home, centuries back in time, and through the science and magic of memory and dream. For six years, she worked alongside mental health professionals at HD Counselling, LLC, to offer creativity workshops. In 2012, she founded Shine Street Writers, which continues to foster Central Florida writers of all genres. Bethany teaches in the Creative Writing MFA at Full Sail University.

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Twitter: @BethanyDuVall

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