Book Wordy podcast 3 Milkmaids, Magicians, and Magic Transcript

Transcript for the Book Wordy podcast, episode 3.

Byrd Nash
Welcome to Book Wordy, a podcast about fantasy and science fiction, authors, and the art of writing. I’m your host, Byrd Nash, former journalist and author of the Wicked Wolves of Windsor and other fairytales.

Today’s podcast is going to discuss one of my short stories in the Wicked Wolves of Windsor. The story is called Milking Time, its the first story in the collection, and was the first story that I wrote, I think, in the collection too, wasn’t it?

Miles
I believe so.

Byrd Nash
Okay, so I’m going to start out though, by reading you a passage from it, and then we’ll discuss some of the themes in the story, and why came up with what I did, and how that relates to fairy tales, and other things of that nature. So here’s Milking Time.

Bess was milking her favorite cow as her stepmother entered the barn and asked her to kill a sorcerer. She continued the squeezing rhythm, enjoying the satisfying sound of the liquid stream hitting the tin of the pail. The barn was filled with the low murmur of contented farm animals. The early morning was usually the time of day she like best, mostly because she could be private before her family awoke.

“Did you hear me?” her stepmother demanded.

Being a short woman, the cow blocked her from seeing the girl’s exasperated countenance. Bess stood up, putting aside pail and stool. She returned the cow to its pen, letting the calf finish off whatever milk was left. She hooked the gate lash, retrieved the milk bucket, and headed back toward the house. Her stepmother broke into a trot to keep up with the girl’s stride, their long dresses whipping behind them.

So that is the first story in the collection of the fairy tales. And there was some reasons why I put that at the beginning of the book. One it’s kind of a gentle introduction to the themes of the stories and I think, two, Milking Time’s a more traditional story. What do you think, Miles?

Miles
In terms of the framework? I think it is. It is a local girl in a rural setting,

Byrd Nash
Yeah

Miles
Making good.

Byrd Nash
right. Honestly, I when I wrote this story, and after I went back and looked at it, I wondered if it wasn’t a little too old fashioned fantasy because the fantasy that I grew up reading… a couple of decades ago? There was, they didn’t shy away from the peasant girl kind of being the heroine and what I mean, usually the sword, the girls that became the sword masters and the kick ass heroines were just average people. They become orphaned because the village is raided and everyone’s killed in the village. I mean, that was really a lot of the science, well not science fiction but the fantasy, that I was reading at the time. What do you think?

Miles
Yes, I think there was a lot of that. An ordinary girl left orphaned or cast out

Byrd Nash
right

Miles
or the the young man with no prospects who takes off down the road because he has no food.

Byrd Nash
And again, this is the fairy tale thing of beginning a story with a person that is going to be given a task to do. And in this case, Bess is being tasked to kill someone, kill someone that has a magical ability. To take on the local dragon, so to speak, to kill it.

Miles
And also to take on the person of power, a person of some wealth and with great capabilities, that people would normally think she can’t do it. It would be laughable to think she could do anything.

Byrd Nash
Right. Right. And that is part of story it’s trying to show that she’s an average girl doing average things. Someone called her a milkmaid. Basically, she’s a milkmaid, and she’s going to go kill this powerful man. I’m not going to give away the ending in this podcast, we’re not going to try to do spoilers because I would like you to read the story without being exposed to some of the things that happened. But there’s also no way to get into discussing the story without maybe telling you some things about the story. So some of the things might you know, we’re going to try to stay away from the spoilers. But I was gonna, you know, some things about the story from the creative author standpoint. One: this is a story that began it all. Began me writing this fairy tale collection. I was working on another project that I was struggling with I couldn’t get through, and the line, the first line of the story where Bess is being asked to go kills the sorcerer by her stepmother, kind of popped up into my head one night when I was trying to get to sleep. And then I woke up with it in my head. And then it just, I didn’t know anything else about the story. I just knew that line and it just would not go away. So it just, I don’t know. So as I stayed stuck on this other book that I was working on, I thought, Okay, fine. I’ll play around with this idea. Maybe use it as a writing exercise. And then I started writing it and just kind of flowed out of me. And everything kind of fitted in together.

Miles
This story has a lot of fairy tale themes that I recognize. Some of them are carried forward in traditional ways. And others of them are inverted in amusing ways.

Byrd Nash
Okay, so give me some examples of that. You’re always going to say things like, “yeah, that does that.” I’m like, where is the example? You know, to all my female listeners, you probably have experienced this very much with your male partners or the men that surround you. They always say, “yeah, that’s the way it is.” And you’re like, “give me an example. How do you love me? give me an example.” “I just love you. I love you for everything that you are. I love your, I love you.” I’m like “Yeah, but is it my eyes? What is it? What is it that you love?” But anyway,

Miles
and, and our male listeners can understand continuously being asked for specific examples and proof,

Byrd Nash
Proof! Proof and everything. Ok. So now I’ve given you a few minutes for you to come up with something. So what was the traditional things that you saw?

Miles
The very first line actually sets up a traditional pattern, which is the wicked stepmother in the stories, setting a impossible or dangerous task for her stepdaughter that she really wants to get rid of.

Byrd Nash
And of course, the twist (which we’re going to tell you because I don’t think that’s too bad of a spoiler) The twist is the stepmother’s not wicked, and Bess is completely able to do the task.

Miles
Yes, it becomes apparent pretty quickly in the story that both Bess and her, her stepmother know the Bess can do this. And the Bess is the right person to ask to do it.

Byrd Nash
It’s more of Bess just doesn’t want to be nagged to do it again, I guess.

Miles
Yes.

Byrd Nash
Yeah. Yeah. Not again. And one thing I was thinking of when I was putting together this podcast, that I was going to share. I don’t know if Miles knows this or not. But that first scene of her in the barn, farmyard, or barn yard or in the barn, that comes very much from Charlotte’s Web.

Miles
I did not know that.

Byrd Nash
I know, I keep these secrets from you.

Miles
I can see it though, when you say so, because the scene in the barn. Contented animals, doing the chores. Hearing the animals make noises and move around. That’s very much the feeling at the beginning of Charlotte’s Web.

Byrd Nash
And the feeling of Charlotte’s Web, too, is the father is going out to the farm yard to kill the pig. To kill the runt, which becomes of course the pig in the story. So there’s magic and farms, more magic than you think of. So that is also kind of… I wanted to talk mostly about Bess herself as the heroine in this story. You and I were discussing this actually, a couple days ago, I hope we can remember everything we were talking about. What I see nowadays in fantasy, and I don’t know that I really approve of it. Well I can tell you I don’t approve of it. What you see too much in fantasy right now is that female characters have to become really just men. They have to start carrying swords, they have to be physically strong. They have to be rude. And brusk. Just very masculine, what we consider, and of course we’re in a very gender fluid, we’re becoming more and more gender fluid. But traditional masculine traits that we’ve always given to men. Now we’re writing women, as men, but we’re giving them a female name, and I don’t like it.

Miles
Some people say, “Well, this is a great advancement, we’re now having strong female leads in stories,” Which is a great thing. I love strong female leads. But it’s disappointing that the only way that many authors can imagine a strong female lead is as a surrogate male, that the woman has to become a masculine, foul mouth, sword wielding braggart and a bit of an asshole at times. In order, in order to be strong. Instead of saying what about strong, a strong woman who is still a woman and…

Byrd Nash
Well I want to clarify, cause I’m probably getting, setting the the back up of a lot of people listening. First of all, I am a feminist, diehard feminist, If you knew me, you would know that I am. If you were following me on my private Facebook page, you’d know that I’m repellently feminist, feminist. So I don’t mean it that female characters can’t be strong physically that they can’t carry a sword. I had several female characters that I love reading that carry swords, and that are kind of asshole characters. But what I’m seeing is if you went into a bookstore, and you picked off 20 books, let’s say, and they all supposedly have strong female leads, I’m going to tell you right now that 19 of those if not all, 20, the character that is the female lead is pretty much the same female in every one of them. She’s probably less than 21 years of age. She is amazingly adept at swordplay, or being a sneak thief, whatever the speciality is. If a sneak thief, usually it’s slash assassin, so she’ll kill without remorse. And she’s extremely adept at it. It’s amazing how someone that’s only been on the planet about 20 years is apparently extremely adept at killing people, people that are stronger than she is. So my problem with this is we then fall into the stereotype of what is a female character. I just don’t like that.

Miles
And I think that you hit the nail on the head, the problem is not particular characters, but that they’re all the same.

Byrd Nash
They’re all the same.

Miles
There’s one thing that I think this upcoming generation is making us more aware of: is there are many ways to be a woman, there are many ways to be a man, there are many ways to mabeke whatever you are, non binary, or there’s… Every person is different and defines themselves in their own way. I like to see the variety. Yeah, I’d like to see women who express themselves in many different ways instead of all being the same smartass swordswoman.

Byrd Nash
Right. The issue if she’s not a smartass she can’t be a heroine. If she’s not a swordswoman, she can’t be a heroine. If she’s not an assassin, she can’t be a heroine. If she can’t kill without remorse, then she’s not a heroine.

Miles
And I think it’s it’s great that they show women who have the strength and the, quote unquote, balls to succeed in a man’s world and to kick ass and do whatever they need to. But it disturbs me that the implication is that the only way that a woman can be strong is to be this way.

Byrd Nash
Right? And I, we’re just seeing too much of it. If you’re… What I don’t understand is if you’re an indie author, and you’re doing a book, why are you so hidebound to do these traditional stereotype characters? You’re already in a problem because, being an indie author, which I am, it’s going to be harder to be seen. You’re going to have to stand out. You’re going to have to catch people’s attention. So if you’re writing a stereotype character, stereotypical character of a woman that’s very popular in mainstream traditionally published fantasy, you are not going to stand out. And I just have read so much that has the same characters, that all I have to do is just remove the name and it’s the same person.

So I wanted to… When I wrote Bess, going back to the Milking Time story, Bess is just one of these girls that she gets shit done. She doesn’t do smartass comments, she doesn’t wield a sword. She doesn’t hate her stepmother. She doesn’t long to leave the farm to have this other life. She just wants to have her farm. She wants to do what she does and not be bothered. So not be bothered, you know, buy these sorcerers coming into town demanding magical battles. She’s just is a plain simple girl. And I wondered when I wrote that character, would people really like her? And I hope you do. But I mean, I… again, as an indie author, I’m going to write what I want to write. Because I’m not hidebound by what big publishing houses tell me that I have to write. So.

Miles
Yeah, she is a unusual character, in that she is not a smartass sort of woman. Neither is she a princess, or a fainting maid. She does not expect anyone to solve for, anything for her. She’s competent and capable and takes care of herself. But she also loves her family, and is interested primarily in a domestic life. And that doesn’t weaken or diminish her. That is in fact her strength.

Byrd Nash
Again, I don’t know that, you know… I’ve heard some feedback on the book. And then never, I haven’t heard yet that Milking Time is anyone’s favorite story. I hope you enjoyed it. I don’t know that. Some of the other stories are a bit stronger, I think. This was the first story I wrote in the collection. But when you’re thinking about this story, and you’re discussing it with other people, if you do a book club, or if you’re doing this for, like, your students, the character of Bess is integral to the story. And her family dynamics is very integral to the story. For example, in the beginning of the story, her stepmother’s addressed as a stepmother. By the end of the story, she’s addressed as mother. So there’s a change in the family structure. I originally had more about the family written in there. But just because of the brevity that you have to do with short stories that got removed. The father is very idealistic. They lost their money. He takes them to the farm thinking that they’re going to have this pastorial life, which of course, didn’t happen because he’s a foolish man. The father was a foolish man. And this actually was part of the whole Beauty and the Beast story too. I don’t know if you caught that when I wrote that.

Miles
I didn’t see the connection. But I see it when you pointed out that the kind of foolish father who

Byrd Nash
makes promises that he can’t keep

Miles
makes promoses that he can’t keep, who who loses his money,

Byrd Nash
And who the daughter idolizes. But the reality is the father still a fool. I mean, in Beauty and the Beast, the typical story of that the father, you know, to save his own life, he tells the beast that will give him his daughter. I mean, come on, the guy’s a fool. And also coward, really, to tell you the truth.

Miles
Yeah

Byrd Nash
But no one ever really addresses that. To me it should just be addressed point blank.

But another aspect of this story I wanted to get into in this podcast episode is Bess’s relationship with Maggie. Maggie runs the inn, with her husband, Stoney. Here’s a quote from story. Maggie tells Bess, “He’s already been down at least an hour. So nip upstairs and do what needs doing.”

If you pay attention to Maggie and Bess’s interaction, and also what happens later when the battle’s taking place, Maggie knows a lot more about what’s going on than you think. And I don’t want to spoil it for anybody, but it’s something you should definitely ponder: what is a relationship between Maggie and Bess? How much does Maggie know what Bess is up to? And why does she kind of help her? And a clue to that is actually in the broom that Bess uses to sweep the room. The broom is made out of certain things. For example, the staff of the broom is made out of ash. And Ash is a tree that has significant…

Miles
magical folklore impressions. It’s a it’s a traditional wood for a magician staff, or a Druid’s wand.

Byrd Nash
Well it’s your favorite wizard. Your favorite wizard.

Miles
That’s right. That’s right. Gandalf has a staff of ash. Which I’m a massive Tolkien geek and I study it all the time, and I didn’t even realize that!

Byrd Nash
until I told him. And I don’t even I don’t even really like Tolkien. I shouldn’t say that because then I’m going to get really barbecued. But the ash tree is the tree that is Yggdrasil, which is the world tree that Odin hung from, is actually an ash tree. And it’s also, the Ash is one of the three trees that’s sacred to the druids. the druid’s other two being Oak and Thorn, so it’s Ash, Oak, and Thorn are the three sacred trees. So here you have Maggie with the broom in her inn and the handle is made of ash. It’s also the traditional handle to a witch’s broom, the besom is Ash. That should tell you a lot about Maggie, and maybe what’s really going on in that town. I don’t know. Lots of things going on in that town. But you don’t know until you get deeper into the story and what’s going on.

Miles
Yeah. And what it says to me is that this is a, this is the woman’s culture that… Thus Stoney, Maggie’s husband, is up front, laughing with the people and taking money and serving beer. Maggie and Bess in the back, they’re in the kitchen and the farmyard. Taking care of things quietly and making sure everything runs smoothly, and solving problems. Without the men even noticing the problems come up.

Byrd Nash
Right. And that’s going to come up, actually in the sequel to the story. I do have a sequel planned. I’ll go into that another day. But another thing I wanted to discuss was the type of magics that Bess uses in the Milking Time story. I was asked by one of my beta readers, you know, I want to know… Tt wasn’t about this story, it was about another one. But you know, “I want to know more about the magic.” Well, in fairy tales generally magic just happens. Milking Time probably explains the magic more if you’re aware of magical practices. So for example, when Annie, which is Bess’s sister, and Bess make the poppets, that’s a certain type of magic.

Miles
that’s a very traditional magic, generally considered sympathetic magic, which is to use an image or something that represents something. The idea being that something that looks like something else influences it.

Byrd Nash
Well, and of course, in popular culture, people see that as the Voodoo. But that is actually a very old idea that if I make a mannequin that looks like Miles, and then I invest it with his hair, or his nail pairings, or some part of his body, then I can make a Love Spell over him. And that I’ll be able to bind him or hurt him. So if you want to do one of your enemies, you make a mannequin, a little doll or something that looks like them. And then you invest in it something from that person. Yeah. So

Miles
Yeah, and that’s a very, a very persistent, very ancient, magical belief that like appears in every culture in some form. That something that looks like something else, or resembles in some way is connected. That what you do to one you do to the other. And then that is taken even further by incorporating hair or something that someone has, because that then becomes contagious magic, which is where something that was in contact with somebody remains magically connected with him forever.

Byrd Nash
Right. Well, and the whole contagious magic thing is like: if you wear ring, the wedding ring that someone’s worn for a long time, if you had it, you could still influence the person who used to wear it. Sympathetic magic is where you make something that looks like something else. And then contagious magic is where you’ve taken something that the person has used or has, some you know, like hair, that’s attached to them and then you incorporate it into your magic. So again, I don’t want to go too much into spoilers, but the magical battle that happens between Bess and the sorcerer, which I think you know from the first line is going to be a magical battle. Come on, if you’re not going to figure that out, and you know, I’m really going to surprise you by all these stories. That is pretty typical. I can’t remember, I was trying to remember what is a story where the country girl, her boyfriend is taken by the fairies and then to get him back from Fairie she has to hold on to him while he changes into all sorts of horrible animals. That is a famous bard, is that, or is that just a country girl story?

Miles
That sounds like a famous lay of some kind, but I don’t know which one. I’ve heard that theme.

Byrd Nash
Well, there’s a theme of where the girl, her, it’s usually a fiance, she’s usually attached in some way legally there, they’re pledged to wed and he makes the mistake of walking at night and then gets picked up by the Wild Hunt or the Fairy Ride who, and then she goes to try to win him back and the fairy queen tells her, well to win him back, you’re going to have to hold on. Or rather the witch tells her this is how you do it or something. But she ends up going back and she has to 1. identify who in the Wild Hunt is her intended, and 2. she must hold on to him till the stroke of midnight or till something happens. The moon, and the sun comes up or whatever, while he changes through a bunch of different animals. And they’re usually horrible animals to hold on to. So they’re like something like a snake that’s, you know, or a wild dog or something. So changing and transforming into different animals is definitely something that you see in fairy tales as a fairy tale theme. So there’s a lot of themes from fairy tales in Milking Time. It may not, you may not realize them immediately because it’s… I don’t know, reading it again, it almost reads like more of a story about witches, to tell you the truth. So it’s a witchy fairy tale. But

Miles
In some ways. But it definitely uses a lot of fairy tale motifs which of course witches are common in fairy tales,

Byrd Nash
right

Miles
or enchanters. Also, I know in Italian fairy tales, the, one of the things that enchanters do is change forms. And when you, when the young boy goes to apprentice to the magician, what the magician teaches him is how to change forms.

Byrd Nash
Yeah, but that usually ends up in fairy tales too as dangerous because then they can’t change back for some reason. So then you have the selkie. The selkie that gets her robe stolen when she comes out of the sea as a woman. She gets her skin stolen by the guy and she can’t go back to being a selkie because she she’s forced to stay as a woman. So when you, transformations that go wrong is definitely a part of fairy tales. You know, that you can’t get back out of the transformation, or that you’re in the transformation you become really, you forget being human and stuff like that.

The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip. That is, we just reread that one recently. I love that story. Again, a young girl and a story of magic on an island kingdom. I think she’s also very non traditional, but has a lot of great things to say to young people. It’s definitely a young adult book, but adults can enjoy it too.

So to wrap up, I do want to mention some stories that you might want to check out and I will have them in the show notes. The Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, that one of her, I think that’s her first work. That deals with the story of the Seven Swans, the seven swan brothers that are turned into swans by the evil stepmother. The character of Sorcha is really interesting. It’s definitely not your typical… well, She doesn’t carry a sword and she has to be silent through most of the book in order to save her brothers. But she is someone you want to check out if you’re interested in non traditional heroes.

There’s a series by Tanith Lee called the Red Unicorn, Black Unicorn, Gold Unicorn. Two of those are available right now on ebooks. One is not. I don’t know why Gold Unicorn is not on ebook, and it’s really irritating me. I told Amazon they need to get it on ebook right away, because I can’t finish my collection unless they do that.

Miles
I hate it when they do that.

Byrd Nash
Yeah, I hate that. But they heroine’s name is Tanaquill, and she is the daughter of a sorceress off in a desert. It’s great for young adult reading, also adults. A very humorous in places. Has a magical pet creature called a peeve, that I could read a whole book about peeves.

Miles
I want a peeve.

Byrd Nash
I want a peeve. We want a peeve! I don’t know where they live, but I want one. Although maybe the peanuts are just like squirrels. Maybe she has a squirrel because they’re pretty destructive, too. But those are just some of the books that I’m going to mention in my show notes. They’ll be some others that have some non traditional, what I would call non traditional nowadays, female heroines that I think show strength and you can really connect to, but are not your typical fantasy heroine that you’re seeing nowadays. Do check them out. Do support authors who are writing about non traditional characters, or traditional characters, but who are providing you as a reader with something different. You don’t have to read the same story with just a change of names. We need more unique stories stuff that I can read forever.

Miles
Exactly. Write more wonderfully unique stories that I’ve never heard before. But I will love immediately.

Byrd Nash
You know, that’s the thing. I want you to write something totally unique, but that I’m completely familiar with. And that I want to read forever. There you go. That’s not

Miles
that’s not hard.

Byrd Nash
That’s not hard at all. You can do it. Just do it. So we’ll see you next week with another episode.

You can find me at ByrdNash.com, Byrd spelled with a BYRD. On my website you can read the show notes to today’s podcast, as well as find a list of all the episodes. I also do book reviews and have resources for authors on the website. Frost Waltz is the music and it’s by Kevin MacLeod at incompitech.com.

Transcribed by Otter.ai
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