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Dear Yulegoat

Posted on 2013.10.07 at 10:34
I really would prefer you to write the best story you can, and one you're happy with, rather than trying unsuccessfully to do something that doesn't suit you to fit what I asked for. I'm most interested in what you, dear writer, make of the source material.

Bele Doette (Traditional Chanson)

I'd love more about the abbey Doette founds, with its feast false lovers are unable to enter, and the gathering together of those who have suffered for love - I imagine it along the lines of some of the mysterious palaces that litter Arthurian legend. Perhaps a sort of romance or chanson d'aventure where the protaganist ends up at the abbey? Or something going into more detail about the abbey itself (what are its rules? what does it look like?).

I would love a story where our hero or heroine ends up at the abbey, or meets Doette as they were, in good chanson d'aventure fashion, out walking in the woods, but if that doesn't appeal, you could write something about the anonymous author of Bele Doëtte (the only surviving chanson de toile with an unhappy ending) and what the abbey imagery meant to them. Or you could just tell me more about the abbey, it's architecture and gardens and rulebook and the daily round of life there... Or you could invent a romance, or a fragment of a romance, after the fashion of Guillaume de Dole and its ilk, incorporating Bele Doëtte as a song sung within the text.

You can find the music on YouTube sung by Heliotrope, and in a more modern rendition by Nana Mouskouri.

Also the english lyrics and the original lyrics in my previous Jukebox letter (yes, I'm asking for this again - I want more).

Chinese Mythology

Character: Chang'e

I'd really like something dealing with Chang E's rise to the moon, or on her life there: the loss of mortality, immortality gazing down on a beautiful but transient world, the loneliness of the cold, white moon.

There's the doomed beauty of the transient world below, or the beauty that comes from constant change and loss. Then, purely as a matter of imagery, I love what can be done with the moon - it's associations with beauty but also with coldness - both perfection and otherworldliness, something to be admired but not touched.

Then there's the contrast between mortality and immortality - I'm really not a fan of 'oh, naturally being mortal is really ever so much better' and if immortality were an option I'd be signing up for it right now, but it isn't, and since mortality is our common lot, immortality is a good mirror in which to examine it.

(I'm reminded here of some of my favourite lines from a very different mythological tradition
[...] A man sees death in things
That is what it is to be a man.
[...] You'll be alone and wander
Looking for that life that's gone or some
Eternal life you have to find.
trans Herbert Mason)
In other words, I'm not looking for a reassuring story about how dying is just great and immortality is obviously a punishment, but any more nuanced interpretation would be wonderful and eagerly welcomed.

Or, if none of that appeals, you could do something with
First calls of the migrant geese, no more cicadas.
South of this hundred-foot tower the water runs straight to the sky.
The Dark maid and the White Beauty endure the cold together,
Rivals in elegance amid the frost on the moon.
Li Shang-Yin, trans A.C. Graham

As soon as the migrant wild geese are heard, the cicadas are silent;
The hundred-foot tower overlooks the water that touches the sky.
The Blue Maid and the White Lady both can endure the cold:
The one in the moon, the other in the frost, they compete in beauty.
trans James J.Y. Liu
Femslash with Ch'ing-nü perhaps?

Northwest Smith - C. L. Moore

Character: Yarol the Venusian

I would love anything at all about Yarol, whether something plotty, or a more introspective character piece, or backstory. As well, or even alternatively, I'd love anything that shares my fascination with exploring the world C.L. Moore created.

To be honest, I'm not that drawn to the Lovecraftian horror aspect of the stories* - the thing I first fell in love with was the sense of wonder. Often the part I like best is the start of the story, the Venusian waterfront or the Martian spaceport before the plot happens. If only we could spend more time there, without rushing on to the monster of the week! I want to spend longer exploring the cobblestoned streets of Righa, or walk for hours through the saltlands around the Martian Pole; I want to know what type of creature provides the ivory of Ganymede; I want to know what the sea smells like at Ednes and the precise colours of the Venusian dawn. I want to wander farther afield, to unmentioned places, to cities carved out of living rock or temporary nomadic villages built up in a day from blocks of ice; I want to watch the sun set over a violet lake and hear the strange song of alien birds; I want to taste the food of a hundred cities and wander through their shops and markets; I want to hear the rhythms of their music and know the outlines of the their religions.

As for Yarol, I sort of fell in love with him as a character last year, when I was rereading the stories for my Yuletide assignment. (And then I had to drastically cut his role in what I was writing, because given half a chance he'd have taken over and the whole thing would have been about how wonderful he is.) For a start, Moore has a habit of using him for exposition, or to conveniently recall some necessary fact, which has the effect (I suspect unintentional) of suggesting someone truly interested in the world around them, widely read and curious about everything (and if Northwest is repeatedly compared to a wolf, Yarol canonically gets feline imagery, mostly of the sleek and dangerous sort, but I think the gets into everything and is permanently curious comparison fits too).

And then there is the matter of Yarol's humanity, or lack thereof. You have passages like this:
And presently from the leafy solitudes of the trees a little mist-wraith came gliding. it was a slinking thing, feline, savage, fearless. He could have sworn that for the briefest instant he saw the outlines of a panther stealing across the moss, misty, low-slung, turning upon him the wise black gaze of Yarol - exactly his friend's black eyes, with no lessening in them of lost humanity. And something in that familiar gaze sent a little chill down his back. Could it be - could it possibly be that in Yarol the veneer of humanity was so thin over his savage cat-nature that even when it had been stripped away the look in his eyes was the same? ... He knew why Yvala in her satiety had not even wakened at the withdrawal of Yarol's humanity - it was so small a thing that the loss of it meant nothing.
and yet the one time he asks Smith's word on something, in recompense for saving his life, it's entirely for Smith's own benefit. Whatever Moore (or Smith) means by humanity, it's not the ability to show loyalty, or to care about someone. Which is not to say Yarol is any sort of moral paragon - we're told he's ruthless, and shown he has no particular objection to the slave trade, so long as he's being paid, but the same is true of plenty of the human characters (including Smith himself).

So, really I'd be happy with Yarol in all his impetuous, practical, dissolute, irreverent, curious, reckless, imperturbable glory; or with anything at all exploring the wider world of the stories (or at least anything exploring it with the same sense of wonder I mentioned); or both, of course - as I said above, I'm greedy, and both together would be perfect - but just one or the other would be absolutely fine too, and if you want to go the with exploring the wider world, you have my permission not to include Yarol if you want to write plain description / a travel guide / anything else where he wouldn't be appropriate.

* I mean, compared to other aspects - it is something I normally like, so if that's the way you really wanted to go, I would much prefer a well written story you were comfortable with than that you try to force yourself to write my request.

One note here about slash - I know Smith/Yarol is a popular reading, if anything can be said to be popular in such a tiny, almost non-existent fandom. And it's not as though I have any objection in theory - Smith does spend an awful lot of time noticing how gorgeous Venusians are in general and Yarol in particular - but I have a hard time reading Smith as anything other than straight, or perhaps not straight exactly - I can imagine him having friendly, casual sex with Yarol on a regular basis - but we spend enough time in his viewpoint that it really does seem to me his type, or what he genuinely believes is his type, is women (women, or possibly eldritch abominations and dark gods - with whom, frankly, he appears to have more success). So I'm not at all going to say no slash with Smith if it's what you signed up wanting to write, but maybe no PWPs, and I'm going to be an easier sell for either casual sex + Yarol being his partner and therefore the most important person in his life without him ever thinking either of these things are relevant to his relationship with women, or to him being messed up enough (see above re dark gods) to see the whole 'lack of humanity' thing as an attractive feature outweighing his normal gender preference. Yarol himself is far more of a blank slate - Yvala appears to him as a woman, but that in itself doesn't establish he's only interested in women, or indeed the Venusians think about orientation in the same terms we do today.

Sumerian Mythology

Character: Dumuzi

There are so many types of stories you can write about Dumuzi, from horror to drama to eroticism to philosophical reflection, and I would be happy with any of them! You could write about Dumuzi's relationship with his sister Ngeštin-ana, or with Inana (so much ground there - their courtship, the period when everything is going well for him, the end when Inana lets him be taken in her place - what does she really feel about him, and he about her?), then there is his dream, and the terrible way it comes to pass, or his views on kingship or on the relationship between gods and men. Alternatively - and I know this is a long shot, but I thought I'd mention it - if you felt like using some of the forms of surviving literature, I would really love it - something all dialogue, a debate, a lament, a šir-gida ... (obviously the rules, such as they may have been, for the various forms are now a matter of conjecture and interpretation, but I would be very happy to see your conjecture and interpretation), but whether you want to go with a long, plot-driven story, or a character piece, or an atmospheric vignette, or whether I can persuade you to write me a lament or a šir-gida, I'm sure I shall be delighted.

I'm not sure what else to say about this one, because really I would be happy with anything at all. It seems rather lonely, having this one prompt sitting by itself with no further blathering about the fandom, but I can assure you it isn't because this is a less favoured request I don't care about as much as the others - I've been requesting it for years, I'm just having trouble getting beyond the Anything! Give me anything at all! stage, even though I know I prefer more detailed prompts than that myself.

Walls of Emerald - Li Shang-Yin

I love the imagery of this poem: densely, richly allusive, obscure and yet somehow coherent despite the uncertainty of the meaning; what I want is something inspired by that imagery, and by the mood the poem conjures up. If you want plot suggestions, you could take any of the stories to which there's a recognizable allusion in the poem, or any interpretation of the poem you prefer (I'm not particularly asking for Li Shang-yin RPF here, although of course if that's what you'd like to write, go ahead); you could set your story then, or now, or in the world of myth and folk tale (or in any other setting that particularly appeals to you); if you think you can do a thousand words held together only by image and allusion, with no plot, that too would be excellent: basically, anything at all structured around the imagery would be amazing.

It is entirely greed that keeps me asking for this, as the excellent lnhammer has already written a fantastic story for me, but, well, I am greedy, and I want as many interpretations of this as possible. I don't mind when or where your story is set, whether Tsarist Russia, or modern-day steampunk, or a crossover with one of my other fandoms, no definable setting, stick with T'ang Dynasty China, or ... look, how many ways can I say, do whatever you like? I promise I will be interested in whatever you make of this request. (Examples chosen at random to indicate the wide range of acceptable possibilities, not because they're particular interests of mine - the point I am trying to make is that what interests me is how powerful the poem's imagery remains over a thousand years after it was written, and even in translation, so if you're interested in exploring its original context, that's fine, and if you're interested in examining it in a new context, that also is good.)

If you didn't match on this but thinks it sounds interesting: to get you started, A. C. Graham's translation from Poems of the Late T'ang may be found here. James J. Y. Liu's commentary from The Poetry of Li Shang-yin is here. Do remember there is very little in the way of agreed upon interpretation, and that what I am in any case interested in is what it means to you: there is no need for you to feel obliged to follow, or even consider, any particular interpretation, and also no need to give particular weight to Graham's or Liu's positions just because they were what I had conveniently to hand to scan for you.

I asked specifically for Walls of Emerald, and I would especially love that, but if you end up tearing your hair out over it and really wish you could write for a slightly more straightforward poem instead, I'm extremely fond of his untitled poems also and you may take this as explicit permission to write for them instead. Or, in fact, any of his poems at all.

Liáo zhâi zhì yì | Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio - Pú Sônglíng

I'm interested to see whatever you choose to make of this. Retell one of Pu Songling's stories or tell one of your own. Play around with language and allusions or concentrate on plot or on character. You could do something with the ever present fox spirits - they're viewed in such a range of ways, from meriting death through to the ambivalance of Cut Sleeve to Lotus Fragrance's role as admirable heroine. Or you could do something with the relation of dreams to reality, or the extent to which stories are a type of dream. You could look at Shican and Huang's relationship in Cut Sleeve - there's a lot of emotional ground at the end of that story the remains unexamined. Make your language as densely allusive or as simple as you please, your tone as light or as dramatic as you want. Gen, slash, het; light-hearted, bitingly satirical, restrained or sly or melancholy ... anything that strikes your fancy.

If you're now regretting whatever we matched on, this would be a good alternate possibility (if this is what we matched on, please excuse me a minute while I attempt to interest other people in this excellent fandom). It has something for everyone: canon gen, het, slash, poly, gender swap, gender queer, platonic friendship ... well, alright, it doesn't actually have canon femslash, but there are plenty of relationships you could take in that direction. Liaozhai is a collection of short tales of the bizarre, the supernatural and the out-of-place; they're playful, occasionally satirical, boundlessly interested in the world and at times melancholy. The original is a masterpiece of classical (as opposed to vernacular) Chinese, both elegant and difficult. English translations generally don't attempt to reproduce the style and are content to be simple and straightforward - which happily licenses you to write in whatever style you prefer.

You can approach many of the tales purely as ghost stories or horror stories, and several modern writers and filmmakers have done so, but that's by no means the only approach you can take. A number of the tales play with the line between dream and reality, sometimes to comment on the nature of fiction itself, other times from a religious perspective from which reality itself is a kind of dream. Some tales are about obsession (by no means always sexual), and thus by extension about what counts as valuable and whether it's worth suffering or dying for. Other tales could readily be made into fascinating character studies. The mood can be melancholy or light-hearted, serious or satirical.

In previous years, I've asked for specific stories in order to encourage people who might worry about offering the whole thing, but this year someone else nominated it (see! it's a growing fandom!) with no listed characters, which I think is probably the best plan. Certainly I am happy with anything at all, based on any of the individual tales, or on the style of the collection as a whole. However, in case you aren't sure where to start, I've copied below my original notes for the selection of tales I used to request, which I chose to cover as wide a range of interests as possible. Don't feel you need stick to them however! (They were Cut-Sleeve, Flowers of Illusion|Taoist Miracles, Friendship Beyond the Grave, The Merchant's Son|The Trader's Son, Grace and Pine|Miss Chiao-No, Fox Enchantment, Lotus Fragrance, The Laughing Girl, The Painted Wall, Twenty Years a Dream and Bird.)

Gen: Flowers of Illusion|Taoist Miracles and Friendship Beyond the Grave are themselves gen. The Merchant's Son|The Trader's Son, Grace and Pine|Miss Chiao-No and Bird all have important gen elements.

Het: In particular, Fox Enchantment, Lotus Fragrance, The Laughing Girl, The Painted Wall, Twenty Years a Dream.

Slash/Femslash: Cut-Sleeve - canon slash. And definitely an opportunity here to flesh out the characters: this is, after all, a story in which the protagonist has a conversation which could be summed up as 'Dearest cousin-in-law! What fond memories I have of our affair in my past life - the one where you consumed my Yang until I fell sick and died. Which reminds me, there's this official who's bothering me - I was thinking, maybe you could go seduce and kill him. What do you mean, you don't want to?' Both Friendship Beyond the Grave and Grace and Pine|Miss Chiao-No have subtext. Your best bet for femslash subtext would be Lotus Fragrance.

Poly: Lotus Fragrance and, if you want to read the subtext that way, Grace and Pine|Miss Chiao-No.

Friendship: Friendship Beyond the Grave (m/m friendship), Grace and Pine|Miss Chiao-No (m/m and m/f friendship) and Lotus Fragrance (f/f friendship)

World as Illusion: There are hints of this in almost all the tales, but it's a particular theme of Flowers of Illusion|Taoist Miracles (unsurprisingly) and The Painted Wall, and also, at least by implication of, Friendship Beyond the Grave and Twenty Years a Dream.

Fox Spirits: These turn up in many of the tales, sometimes as admirable figures, such as in Grace and Pine|Miss Chiao-No and Lotus Fragrance, sometimes more ambiguous and dangerous, as in The Laughing Girl and Cut-Sleeve, sometimes as evil creatures to be killed with impunity, as in Bird, Fox Enchantment and The Merchant's Son|The Trader's Son (although only in the last is there no trace of sympathy at all for the foxes).

Bird is particularly interesting for its family dynamics, both Bird's relationship with her abusive mother and sister and her subsequent treatment of her son. The son in The Merchant's Son|The Trader's Son shows something of the same cruelty, though there it's treated as resourceful and praiseworthy. The most vivid individual characters are probably in Cut-Sleeve and Lotus Fragrance.

Penguin Classics has a selected translation by John Minford - this should be readily available and has helpful introduction, notes and glossary. A much earlier translation by Herbert Giles is available online, but keep in mind this is the 1908 revision of the original 1880 translation. In other words, no, whatever Giles may try to tell you, what that man is doing with the woman who just turned up in his bedroom is not, in fact, in the original, getting married. But if you can overlook somewhat dated prose and the occasional bowdlerisation, it is free. There's also a translation by Denis and Victor Mair, Strange Tales from Make-Do Studio , Rose Quong's Chinese Ghost and Love Stories and and the recently published first five volumes of Sondergard's projected 6 volume complete translation. Judith T. Zeitlin translates a number of tales of particular interest in Historian of the Strange (which I very much recommend).

In General

Things I like (provided only as indicative of my taste, not in any way as particular requirements of your story): established relationships, smart and competent characters, witty banter, slash (incl. femslash), political intrigue, moral ambiguity, apparently simple conversations with a great deal going on under the surface, angst if done with restraint, difficult decisions with no right answer (I think I mentioned moral ambiguity?), metaphor, clever use of literary allusions. Endings can be happy, sad, ambiguous, or anywhere in between. Let's see, what else? Fierce loyalty (the tear the world apart for you variety, not the sit here passively putting up with anything variety), complicated love/hate relationships with lots of backstory, unflappable characters, arrogance if the party concerned has the requisite ability to back it up, committed partnerships between people who see the world at the same angle (even if they aren't always on the same side) ... Things I’d prefer you avoided: I’m not terribly keen on mpreg, watersports, scat, humilation or stories told in the 2nd person, and I do have something of an embarrassment squick.

Oh, all right, I also don't tend to like issuefic, but I'm not sure that's something people generally set out to write - one person's issuefic is another's searingly honest portrayal. On the whole, however, I much prefer stories that have a balanced and multi-faceted examination of their themes, rather than stories that set out to preach, and I prefer the themes to be ones capable of such examination.

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