Book Wordy podcast 8 The Prince Learns a Lesson transcript

Transcript for the Book Wordy podcast 8 The Prince Learns a Lesson.

Byrd Nash
Welcome to Book Wordy, a podcast about fantasy and science fiction books, 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.

Hi, we’re back at Book Wordy, the podcast about fantasy and science fiction, art of writing and anything that crosses my mind and my partner’s mind, Miles, who’s hanging out with me today. I will be doing podcasts in the future guest hosting some authors. But for today we’re going to be going over one of the short stories in my book, The Wicked Wolves of Windsor and other fairytales. We’re going to be discussing the short story, “The Prince Learns a Lesson.” I’m going to go over how is a classic fairy tale story, some of the motifs in it, and also some of the pacing things that beta readers had questions about, that i think i would like to explain to my readers why I chose what I did. Why Vivian the main character is the way that she is. And perhaps some more information about fairy tale challenges and how characters are given these challenges and how they have to overcome them. Some of the other themes that we find in fairy tales, that’s also in this book. I’d like to start out with the first part of the story and read a little bit of it to you.

The prince was a spoiled brat and everyone in the kingdom knew it. Nannies, tutors, royal advisors, and a deployment in the military had all failed to remedy his behavior.

Flummoxed, the king decided to place an advertisement for help in the local newspaper. Scrolling through the classifieds on our tablet, Vivian saw his plea for help while eating her morning toast.

I think that’s probably very classic, don’t you think, in a fairy tale that the king has, makes an announcement?

Miles
That’s a very common motif of the king announcing, basically, a challenge. That he’s got some problem. The king wants to, wants to know how he and his wife can have a baby when they haven’t been able to so far. Or when the king announces the, that a challenge to get the princess to laugh.

Byrd Nash
right get the princess to smile. I’m like Wow,

Miles
Or to eradicate a particular evil out of the kingdom.

Byrd Nash
Another one…

Miles
It often starts with the king announcing the challenge.

Byrd Nash
You had mentioned in a previous podcast… you know, that that sometimes the challenge is to heal someone. The queen is sick and the king wants the queen to be healed, or the princess is sick, or the prince is sick. I read one recently the prince was sick and then the prince, the protagonist came and healed him and then she wins his hand because of it. So announcing something to the kingdom. Probably our readers and listeners are much more familiar with Cinderella, the ball was announced. And whoever comes to the ball, the prince will pick someone from the ball to wed. So there’s some sort of proclamation that the king makes and then people have to come forth and try their hand at winning it. Now what was really depressing, I thought anyway… I was reading a series of fairy tales where this happens. And anyone who didn’t win the challenge was immediately put to death.

Miles
And that’s a common feature in the fairy tales.

Byrd Nash
Why do you think that is? You think it’s because they’re like, if there’s not a real consequence everyone in the whole damn kingdom would just show up to do XYZ?

Miles
I think that’s exactly it. When it’s a challenge to win the hand of the daughter, of the princess, it’s not uncommon for it to be said that the princess got so tired of all these bozos showing up trying to do this thing that she said, okay, anybody that fails will have their heads cut off. And then that kind of got rid of all these irritating suitors, which is exactly what you wanted.

Byrd Nash
That reduces the line out the door of the castle.

Miles
Exactly.

Byrd Nash
No, no, no, thank you. No, thank you. I’m done with that. The Prince Learns a Lesson sets that up right from the very beginning. Vivian asked for three days from the king to accomplish the task of redeeming the prince, that is what someone called the bad boy. So redeeming the bad boy. I wanted to read another passage from Prince Learn a Lesson that will give you more of another thing I wanted to discuss about this book, or this short story from the book.

The king was much like his photos that appeared in glossy magazine spreads. He had a large domed forehead with hair more white than black, and a bony nose with a long jaw, all courtesy of the lineage of his noble ancestors.

“I thought…” he began and Vivian helpfully supplied the adjectives he might be thinking.

“Taller, broader, fatter, smaller?”

“Older,” he decided firmly, taking a seat.

Since it wasn’t a throne, Vivian felt no hesitation in taking the companion chair, even though no one had invited her to do so. As her mother had said, the monarchy’s right of rule had long been dissolved.

The Prince Learns a Lesson is a contemporary modern fairytale. It takes place in a large city. It’s not actually London, like someone thought, it’s just a large contemporary city where a king has a problem with having a very spoiled grown son who needs to redeem himself. The monarchy no longer has any ability to rule. They’re just set aside, existing. They don’t rule the kingdom. They don’t make law. They don’t do anything in the government, but they’re a figurehead that people. honor, but they are not, you know, you’re not going to bow or curtsy to these people. They no longer hold that power.

When I got this back from beta readers, they did not understand why Vivian talked so casually to the king, when she was almost very formal and respectful to her mother, grandmother, and aunt. There’s a couple of things playing into this. It was a deliberate reason for me as the writer to do it that way. One of those reasons is because the king no longer holds a position as head of state, he is no longer the head of the government. This is a contemporary setting. He’s now just quote, a citizen. A rich citizen, very rich, and he has a long noble ancestry. But he’s no longer in charge of the country at all. Versus Vivian’s family, seen here is the three wise witches, the three wise women, who give her advice. They are part of her family, and they hold a place in her life that is very, I don’t know, I mean, how would you? How would you describe this, Miles?

Miles
They are kind of the matriarchs of her family. They are her elders, and she is respectful to them as her, as her elders.

Byrd Nash
Well, again, back to the former podcast, that we were discussing mirrors. Vivian’s relationship, or how she treats the king, is also a mirror to how she treats her family. She has more respect for her family, she has more courtesy to her family, then she does to this king. She doesn’t know this king. This king is just the guy who she wants to get a job with, but isn’t necessarily someone who is important to her life.

Miles
Yes. And I think the main thing she knows about the king is, she has, is that he has a son who’s a spoiled obnoxious brat.

Byrd Nash
Right. Which again, I don’t know if that would make you respectful of him. You know, maybe Vivian has a little bit of like, wow, you know, you could even raise your own kid. I don’t know. Now, something that came out from this story, when I was discussing it with my son, my youngest son Dirk, is that Vivian is black. I hope that you understood that when you read the story about her. She’s going to have a different relationship with the senior elders in her family, especially the women, and how she addresses them, than she does this white male King character that’s in the story. The contrast that comes out within the first three pages I guess of the story, that’s deliberate, there’s a deliberate reason why that is in there. And as I’ve talked about short stories versus novels, or longer stories, novellas: with short stories, everything that’s in a short story must be crucial to telling the vision the author wants in that story. With the characters, with the setting, with everything that’s happening. So when I wrote that story, that was definitely a deliberate reason for me to have that in the story. It’s not by accident. It’s something I wrote about that I wasn’t thinking why would I do this. Racially, when I was thinking of it, and I was writing it that way, I kind of felt like Vivian was coming in and trying to sell herself to the king. So she’s being a little bit over the top exuberant about, you know… trying to keep high energy, she’s in a job interview, you know,

Miles
I definitely got that feel. And to clarify, it’s not that Vivian is disrespectful to the king, but she’s approaching him as a prospective employer, that she’s wanting to sell her competence and confidence to.

Byrd Nash
I don’t think, I don’t think it’s even that she’s viewing him as an employer. He’s not really an employer, she’s more of a contract person.

Miles
She’s coming to him saying, I can fix your problem.

Byrd Nash
I can fix your problem.

Miles
You’ve got a problem, I can fix it.

Byrd Nash
I can fix it. So this isn’t where she plans on being long term employed by the king, and the king is going to have her washing his car every day, or chauffeuring him around town. Her job is she’s come here to solve a problem. His problem is his son being a brat. She’s trying to sell herself as “I am the solution to your problem.” And she only has one shot at this. And she thought she was going to have competition. But as it turns out, no one else wanted to deal with the problems so no one else showed up. So that also left the king like, I guess I will have to hire you. But if you think of it in terms of that, then that whole scenario kind of makes sense. She’s trying to sell herself. She is more respectful to her family members as elders. I hope readers would get the sense that her elders are not only just elders, they’re someone that when she mentions them to the king, he actually knows who they are,

Miles
At least by reputation. That they’re not just her aunt and grandma.

Byrd Nash
They’re not just Nana.

Miles
They’re not just Nana, they are the three wise women.

Byrd Nash
That a king would have gone, “Oh, okay. I’m gonna wait. I understand. Okay, you’re somebody now.” So once Vivian establishes her street cred, yeah, once she established herself the King’s like, “Fine. Okay, what do you need. I’ll do it. I’ll take the chance.” And then Vivian is given the job to reform the prince to be a better person. The three tasks that she gives, or what would you call those they’re not really tasks?

Miles
This is, it’s kind of interesting from a fairytale point of view, in that the king has one challenge, which is to reform his son, and Vivian turns that around and says she will perform three impossible tasks.

Byrd Nash
Oh, yeah. So that is kind of a putting it on his head that you usually don’t see that in fairy tale. Usually, they’re just given the three tasks.

Miles
They are usually given the three tasks. And she says, Okay, I will create and do these three tasks to meet your challenge.

Byrd Nash
So basically, Vivian knew more about fairy tales then the king did.

Miles
Yes. She, she knew it was going to take three challenges to get this thing fixed.

Byrd Nash
Well, I want to read you some more of the prince learns a lesson. This is Vivian speaking.

“If you give me three days, I will teach him three lessons that will make him a better prince, a humble man, and a loving son.”

Vivian gave a broad smile, her white teeth flashing against her dark brown skin.

“Now, Your Majesty, the three lessons he will learn is: the value of a hard day’s work, humility for his station in life, and empathy for his fellow man.”

The three lessons that turn out, and I’m not going to give spoilers in this podcast, but the three lessons that Vivian teaches the prince each accomplish those three tasks. So when you go and finish the story, if you go back to that quote, you’ll see that those three lessons were learned by the prince. how they got there, though, is the three different transformations that she puts the Prince in.

Another key to the story is transformations. Vivian transforms the prince into other beings, I’m not going to go into too much detail here, and that in turn teaches him the lesson. Transformations are a big part in fairy tales. Until I went back and started reading them back to back to back to back, I didn’t realize how much they were in fairy tales. Because the most popular ones that we know are from Disney: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and there are no transformations in those. I guess the only transformation is in Sleeping Beauty when the step queen mother becomes a dragon. And that didn’t happen in the original Sleeping Beauty, that I remember anyway, but she was just a witch. The transformations, though, in fairy tales often happen where the characters are changed into talking animals. It is not uncommon for that to happen. Usually when the prince loses the fair maiden he’s immediately transformed into an animal. Give me some examples. I mean, he’s usually transformed into a bird, a horse, a deer is an uncommon, because.. a stag that’s sent off into the forest. And I guess in that sense, the stories are meant to show your transformed into something beastial. You know, you lost your opportunity to be a man.

Miles
I think those particular types of transformations are, like you say, that depriving the prince of his manhood, of his literally, his right to, of his being a person, a human, and put in a situation where he must be rescued by somebody else.

Byrd Nash
Usually the woman. You know, thinking about that, usually it is a man that’s transformed. It’s not the female. Usually the females are the ones that had to find the transform prince.

Miles
And restore his humanity by recognizing him.

Byrd Nash
That’s interesting that we have these gender specific roles in fairy tales. That it’s usually the male that’s transformed and then it’s usually the female who gets them out of trouble by helping him regain his humanity. I didn’t want to say, I will release this little mild spoiler because it happens pretty fast in the story. The first lesson that Vivian teaches is she transforms the prince into a pony that is used as a birthday party pony where they get rides on the pony at the birthday party. There’s a reason I did that. I have taught riding lessons back in the day. I still own one pony. I could really see that happening. I know that for a lot of readers that was so horrible how, how that whole event happens. And by the way the pony’s okay, the pony is totally okay. Some readers were like, Oh my gosh, he really is a brat. And I wanted to show readers Yeah, he was a brat, and the bratishness started very early on.

Miles
It’s so awful to see that pony so abused by that horrible brat.

Byrd Nash
You know, though, anyone that has gone to a childhood birthday party knows that. Especially boys, I’m sorry, I have two sons and I definitely saw it in my oldest. Birthday parties are just so over the top exciting nowadays because parents have escalated this to, you know, the whole classroom attending a huge humongous birthday party with too much excitement. Too much cake and too much cookies and too much soda pop that childhood behavior cannot, can kind of go off the rails at birthday parties.

Miles
We have given birthday parties where things, not that the kind of things exactly,

Byrd Nash
thank god we didn’t get that bad

Miles
where it just goes over the top and the kids get overexcited. There’s acting out and there’s tears. Birthday parties can go that way.

Byrd Nash
They go that way. Then gifts are open and people are disappointed by the gifts, and then they can’t, you know kids, can’t hide that they’re disappointed. So then they throw the scarf off to the side and dive into the new Lego box that they got. The party that happens at the very beginning, that’s the first way that Vivian starts her reforming the prince, actually drew upon a lot of personal experiences that I exaggerated. I never saw anything that bad, but I think saw some pretty horrible birthday parties. And I’ve had my kid act out at birthday party, so… There’s just too much excitement and there’s too much expectation and that can lead to some bad behavior on kids.

So first party with the pony, and also of course I have a lot of experience with ponies. I love ponies. So I can tell you from a viewpoint of an author who loves ponies, that pony was definitely okay by the end of the party. And everything turned out okay for the pony. So if you need like a epilogue about the pony, and what happened the pony everything’s okay. Pony is retired and has everything that pony would ever want, is A-Okay.

One thing about this story that surprised me, of the six stories that I wrote for Wicked Wolves. This is probably the story that had a surprise in the middle of it, I’m not going to tell you what the surprise was. Because I don’t want to spoil anything for my potential readers. But from an author I was writing it and then I was halfway through. This happened with Milking Time to. I got midway through the story, I thought: “That’s why I wrote that stuff in the beginning.”

So anyway, but this was one of the the pivots of why certain things had to happen, and why they happen, and why the prince was who he was. I’m more of a pantster, what they call pantster rather than a plotter. And a pantster often goes intuitively writing things that they want to write about. The plot kind of naturally evolves, sometimes it doesn’t evolve, sometimes it just sits there. Versus someone who lays out the entire plot, they plot everything, and then they go back and they start writing. I’m actually kind of midway between those two types, I’m not hundred percent either way. I’m moving more towards plotting more, especially when I do my longer books. Sometimes when you’re writing something, as you’re writing certain situations evolve. Then another instance would have been Bess for Milking Time, the first story in this collection, I suddenly realized something about the animals at the farm. And if you read the story, you’re going to understand what I mean, that I didn’t know when I started writing. These can make natural surprises to both the author while you’re writing and and also the reader. If you’re the author, and it happens, you’ve got to make sure as you write the later drafts, that everything becomes a cohesive whole. That this surprising twist didn’t destroy a bunch of stuff that you wrote about before. They can make for a fun read. And it can make for some fun surprises to both reader and author. Like oh, wow, that makes sense. Now, now I know why I wrote that. That happened in this one. It was probably the biggest surprise I had, in all the stories I wrote for this collection.

Miles
And that’s something that I think gives this story a big emotional punch.

Byrd Nash
Yes, I do agree with that.

Miles
I think in this story that I, and I think a number of the beta readers, got tears in our eyes at a certain point in the story.

Byrd Nash
I agree with that. And what’s kind of funny about this is that I often write stories that start out humorous or that you think is funny. And then they kind of have that emotional punch. And this was one of those stories. Because the Prince Learns a Lesson is one of the most, one of the more lighthearted tales in the collection. Definitely, if you listen to the Wicked Wolves of Windsor podcast, that’s a very dark story. This is a very light story, fun, humorous, playful, it ends happily, has a little bit of a hint of a romance. But it also when you hit that banana peel, you slide off and you land on your bum, and you’re like, oh, wow, it does give you an emotional impact.

Miles
It does. The story remains a fairly light and fun story, but it has a surprising emotional depth and emotional impact.

Byrd Nash
From what I’ve heard from beta readers, what I’ve realized is people who get the most emotional impact from this story, the Prince Learns a Lesson, seems to be older readers. And it’s usually parents. It’s, this story is much more about the father and son connection. I hadn’t really planned that when I was writing it. I was just wanting to write a fun, playful tale that would sandwich into the book that wouldn’t be as dark as some of the other stories were. And that happens a lot with my writing. You read my writing, so you know.

Miles
I definitely see a lot of you starting to write a story and you’re you telling me Oh, it’s going to be this kind of story. And then you sit down to write it and about halfway through it’s a different story than you had planned. And it’s richer and better. And it’s funnier or more impactful than the original story that you imagined would have been.

Byrd Nash
I like to write a story, and I also like to read stories like this, that have emotional connection. I do think with readers, that’s what they’re looking for in books. I think that’s why they connect with characters. You often see people say in reviews, “I love character X” or “I really identified with character Y” or “I love these people in the story.” In writing and examining why I enjoy other stories, and how I can make my stories more powerful, I realized that it’s really about the emotional connection readers feel about the stories. If you don’t feel an emotional connection to the story, then you just won’t care about the story. I can make an exciting story with lots of adventure and drop you off lots of cliffs, have lots of daring do, but if I don’t have you where you really care about my characters that you’re not going to stick with it.

One example I could use that we probably all would recognize is Indiana Jones from the Raiders of Lost Ark. That’s an adventure story, nonstop adventure pretty much. But let’s face it, you really like Indiana Jones. By the time the story ends, you like him as a person. You like him as the adventurer. If we took the same story and put another character into it, you may not like this story as much. Of course a lot of this is due to Harrison Ford’s acting and that the fact that he had built up so much of people liking him as an actor from Star Wars before he went and did Raiders. I remember when Raiders came out people just really fell for Raiders of the Lost Ark, in a way that very few people fall for stories nowadays. And it’s because we connected with Harrison Ford, who was playing Indiana Jones, and the character of Indiana Jones. Take another character, throw another actor, another character, put it in that story, and no one would have cared at all. It would never have gotten off the ground.

So when you’re writing characters, we want our readers to connect with them. What I’m trying to say to you as a writer, is we connect with the characters emotionally. And when you write stories, and you get reader feedback that yes, they cared about your characters, definitely pat yourself on the back because that is what keeps readers involved in reading your story. The actual in the plot can be really interesting. The world building can be really interesting. But without the characters, you won’t get them to return back to your story.

Miles
The reason that I continue reading a story is to find out what happens, not because the adventure but because I care about this person.

Byrd Nash
Well, let’s talk about the Penric stories that you keep reading and buying. Those are by Lois McMaster Bjold. And I don’t know how many of those short stories he’s writing now.

Miles
It’s a series of novella / short stories,

Byrd Nash
I think you own like five or six, come on,

Miles
I am buying them as fast she’s writing them. And it’s because I care about Penrick. I like him. I have an emotional investment in what’s going to happen to him, I want to know what he’s, what’s going to happen to him. Is he going to be okay? Is he gonna be happy? He needs to be happy.

Byrd Nash
Miles he’s gonna be happy. I don’t know with Bjold you never know. Maybe she, maybe he won’t be happy. But I think he will. If she ever listens to this broadcast, you gotta make Penric happy, or Miles will be unhappy. That will be sad.

Miles
I would guess from her writing, he is going to be happy. But he’s, it’s not going to be just a simple happily ever after. It never is with her.

Byrd Nash
But no one would ever want to read a simple happily ever after.

Miles
No. It’s the mixture of light and dark, and the growth. He becomes a real person.

Byrd Nash
So I just think that when you’re looking to understand why readers come back and read you on your second and third or fourth book, or why they are interested in your story, it’s because they become emotionally invested into the main character. If you have a reoccurring character. Now, if you don’t have a reoccurring character, you have different characters, they have, you have to begin that reinvestment all over again, that they get reinvested in the new character, that they like the new character.

With a book of short stories, That did pose quite the challenge, which we will talk about in another podcast. But with short stories you have very little time in order to win your reader over to understanding your character, and investing into your character, and liking your character. Characters and writing about them is kind of my strength. So I like talking about character development.

With the Prince Learns a Lesson, you have a character, the prince, who’s actually very unpleasant from what little we know of him. And then when we first meet him in the pony adventure, we see that he is unpleasant and he is a brat. One of the beta readers had written at the end of the first adventure, the first day, that oh, this shows that he’s redeemable. So if you read the last few lines of the pony adventure in the Prince Learns a Lesson, there’s a line or two that shows the prince is redeemable.

So if you’re writing about an unpleasant character, someone that you fear that your readers are not going to like, you have to give them a glimmer of hope that he’s worth it. Or she’s worth it. You know, she may be obnoxious, she may be arrogant, she may think she’s really something else, but she’s worth it. There’s something in her that’s redeemable or there’s some reason why he’s the way that he is, that’s external from his own internal personhood.

Miles
There needs to be some sign that he can, or she can, learn and can change and become a better person.

Byrd Nash
There’s a fairy tale book out, I’ll put it in the show notes. You can find the show notes on my website, ByrdNash.com, but I’ll put it up in the show notes. There’s a fairy tale book that I read that’s perfect for young adults or adults. And it deals with the fairy tale story of the girl who she’s a princess. And it’s one of these stories where the father promises her that the first person who walks into the kingdom is going to become her husband. And there’s various variations of this, you know, the, the first person that walks in the door, the first person she meets on the road, she has to marry. What happens is that he drags her off and she has to learn to become a reformed character through the story. And I’ll put that in my show notes. The one that more people might be more aware of is the Princess and the Frog, which is I think originally called the Golden Ball, where the spoiled rotten princess throws a ball it lands in the pond. The frog gets it for her. And instead of rewarding the frog, she goes back to the castle without him and then he comes and knocks on the door. And once the king finds out that the princess has not been grateful to the frog for getting her golden ball, he gets to sit at the table and hang out, sleep in her bed, and I don’t know what else. It’s because she’s spoiled. She’s a spoiled little bratty princess. And then at the end she of course realizes that she was wrong. And then he turns into handsome prince and then it’s all okay. That’s kind of a twisted story to tell the truth. Well, I’ll have to write a fairy tale about that one day.

Miles
The end of that story is actually kind of twisted.

Byrd Nash
It’s kind of twisted too because you, the emphasis is that girl is pretty young. Who, what age girl’s throwing a ball around in a garden? I always thought when I read that initially she’s probably like 12 or 14. Yeah, and then wham, bam.

Miles
Prime marriageable age in Medieval times. Starting to get old. Getting a little dried up.

But conversely, the climax of the story is when she gets mad and takes the frog and dashes his head against the wall to kill him. And that shows that that she has “passion” and she’s ready to grow up now. And so they can be married.

Byrd Nash
Okay, so one thing one thing we have not discussed in our podcast is the disturbing nature of fairy tales.

Miles
Yes.

Byrd Nash
And I’m near the end of the Prince Learns a Lesson, so we’re not going to talk about the girl that bashed the frog’s head in. We’re not going to talk about that. I may have to write a story about that. Because I now gotta save the damn frog. But I don’t know. I don’t know about that girl. I wouldn’t want to be married to her? would you want to be?

Miles
I wouldn’t want to be married to her.

Byrd Nash
No, thank you.

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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