One month after his mouldering corpse was laid to rest, I was summoned to the main salon. And there before me stood his bastard child. A shivering, tiny slip of a girl, perhaps 12 or 13. And so pale she looked like a ghost. She gazed up at me, and said,
"I am Snow White."
Indeed, I thought, and I am Rose Red. Newly bloomed, newly wealthy. But I will not have this girl here. "Esmeralda," I called out to my maidservant, "Bring Mistress White into the kitchen for meat and cheese. "You," I said, glancing over at her, "You need some fat on your bones."
Still motionless, and almost like a statue in the early morning light, she said, "You will address me by my proper name," and did not once look up at me. Esmeralda arrived wiping her hands on a linen apron, and gently took the girl away. But not before she turned back to me, and repeated, quietly, almost silently, "You will address me by my proper name. You will."
Solicitor who accompanied her, cleared his throat. But before he could speak, I interjected, "What whore was this?"
"Oh, no whore," he responded amiably, "I can assure you."
I glared at him balefully; another man in a velvet waistcoat, another diamond pin in his cravat, another man wearing wool breeches--- a cock coiled inside. Another man, who by virtue of his sex, more powerful than I. But I would not have it! I would live alone, unencumbered, in this castle, on this land hidden away by a grove of evergreen on a high hill, high enough to watch the sun set and the moon rise. And I would not fear the ghosts of the Duke's royal family. I would laugh at them. I would fuck the stable boy by the light of the moon. I would fuck him again beneath the oil portraits of his titled ancestors, inside the chapel, and I wouldn't be surprised if, one night, I lost control of all my senses and fucked him on my husband's grave because this was my property now!
"No matter," I said, coolly, directly meeting his gaze, "No matter who the lady is--- I will not have his bastard here." I crossed my arms, stood tall, my tits straining against the sky blue taffeta of my bodice, my own gems flashing in the morning light; sapphires, emeralds and jade, my black hair perfectly dressed. A woman, yes. But formidable. Still beautiful. When he did not reply, when he simply smiled, a ghost of a smile, I asserted, "And you shall tell the lady my decision. I will not have this child here."
"The Lady," he replied, "is the Queen."
"Her Highness," I said, evenly, "is the Duke's sister." I'd only met her twice. Also a beautiful woman, but cold, very cold. She hated her brother with a viciousness that I could only admire.
"And that is their child," he replied, still grinning, his blue eyes sparkling.
"She's been away at a convent, he said. (If he wasn't the Queen's emissary I would crack him over the head.) "When her Highness heard of her brother's death," he continued, "she decided to grant you custody until she is betrothed, or reaches her majority." His eyes traveled down to my tits, oh the insolence of this man!
"What is her proper name," I demanded.
"She hasn't been given one. She's always been referred to as the child," he replied.
I strode over to him, until we were nose to nose, not lady-like, not polite or well-mannered, "You tell the Queen is it my intention to live alone. Tell her I do not accept more years of servitude. She will know what I am referring to. I do not want 'the child.' And if her Highness insists," my voice raising, "you tell her, most respectfully----"
"--- the abbess doesn't like that tone of voice."
It was the girl, the child, Snow White hidden in the shadows at the far side of the room, next to a coat of arms. Her small feet planted firm on the flagstones, her thin arms akimbo; angel or devil. Either one was possible.
"She says if you speak like that, you will burn in eternal hell-fire. And then I say, I am burning. I say this is hell, and the devil is my own true love."
I turned back to the Solicitor, "What possesses her? Is she mad?"
He replied, "I can arrange for a nurse."
"She has fits."
Oh, this was too much. Clearly the girl was insane. Clearly the union of brother and sister had damned this child, and I would not have her. I would not. "Get out of my home," I ordered, "Now!" I pulled open the heavy wooden doors, "This is madness and I won't have it. Take 'the girl' with you."
"A developed myth has its own form, its own structure, its own expectations and values, its own cues to nudge the reader. When so much of the basic work has already been done, the artist may give the myth its final realization, or stand it on its head."
--- Joanna Russ, What Can a Heroine Do? Or Why Women Can't Write, in Images of Women in Fiction.
The Duke of Eastchester is dead, and thank God for that. I had gotten sick to death of the stink of his sick room. He farted, he vomited, he shit himself. The smell permeated into every room of the castle. I avoided him entirely that final week. I busied myself fucking the carriage boy in the stable. Harry is a good boy with strong muscles and I shall keep him on. I shall however get rid of the Duke's laywer, an idiotic man who believed that women have little use for finance. Well he shall see, won't he? I will also get rid of "Cook" an old bitch with a warty nose who hated me. She thought me a commoner who had married above my station, and so I had but that was because I had the finest tits in the land, and now a pox on anyone who crosses me!
I pretended to cry when the physician led me into the sick room as the Duke was breathing his last. I tenderly stroked his fevered brow when in reality I desired to crack his head open with his chamber pot. I held his puffy, swollen hand and thought about biting it; each finger, one by one, until they bled. When I knelt down on the prieu dieu pretending to be overcome with grief, inside I was a giddy as a young lamb in a spring meadow. When they washed his dissolute body down with soap and water, I wanted to claw out his vacant eyes. At the graveyard as the parish priest dolefully intoned the 23rd Psalm, I could scarcely keep from laughing and dancing on his grave.
I am not by nature a wicked woman. The Duke however was the devil incarnate. In the beginning, he was the perfect gentleman. My poor mother was speechless before his pomp and circumstance, his gold carriage, his team of stallions, his brocade jackets. I was a young girl, barely fifteen, when he took me as his bride. He savagely deflowered me on our wedding night. For hours I couldn't move. I was in such pain. My white eyelet gown stained in blood. He slipped out to join a pack of whores he kept waiting in the stables. I cried myself to sleep. And the next morning too shamed to ask for help, washed out the blood from beneath my fingernails, washed out the sheets.
I tiptoed down the grand staircase into the dining room. My legs were weak and shaking. The Duke was enjoying toast and tea. He completely ignored me. I spent the next 20 years summoned to his bed whenever he requested. I endured his temper and his violence when he was drunk. Often he beat me, though never about the face. Why did I not leave? I believed I was enslaved. In captivity. And I wanted my mother to have some peace, and she did. The Duke bought her a fine house in the countryside, and though I wasn't allowed to visit her, my spies told me she lived a good life. I was permitted to attend her funeral and wept bitter tears.
But now he is dead, and his kingdom is mine. There is but one fly in the ointment. Four days after his mouldering corpse was laid to rest, I was summoned to the main salon. And there before me stood his bastard child. A shivering, tiny slip of a girl, perhaps 13 or 14. And so pale she looked like a ghost. She looked up at me, and said,
In The Erotica Project (co-author Erin Cressida Wilson/Cleis Press 2000), the Mary Magdalene I envisioned was a woman of enormous strength, eroticism, and intelligence. When she had sex with the Savior it was as his wife and his consort. As his equal. In direct contradiction to the Old Testament. It was subsequently published on Salon.com. The Catholic League publicly and vehemently denounced me and my degenerate, blasphemous monologue.
Years earlier, in 1979, Elaine Pagels, Professor of Religion at Princeton University, also rescues Mary Madgalene from a two thousand career as a whore, in The Gnostic Gospels. She found another story about her in the Nag Hammadi; ancient sacred texts from one of the earliest Christian sects, discovered in Egypt in 1945. One of these texts, The Dialogue of the Savior, describes her as a trusted confidante of Jesus Christ, and she "who knew the all." Hardly the town slut stoned to death by an angry mob.
Tales from the Velvet Chamber is looking for women writers who want to continue this work by rewriting the women of the Bible, the women in myth and in fairy-tales; the dark archetypes. The whores, the wicked stepmothers, the evil witches. Women like Medea, Medusa, and Pandora.
The inspiration for Tales from the Velvet Chamber of course owes much to Angela Carter’s critically acclaimed collection of fairy-tales, The Bloody Chamber published in 1976. Carter’s Beauty, from Beauty and the Beast, stands in stark opposition to the classical version. Her Beauty is cerebral and intensely sexual, a canny and powerful wench who has her wits about her, and is well aware of her power. The Beast ravishes her on his large luxe bed in his dead kingdom. Yet, she enjoys her role as sexual object, because just as easily, she swaps it out for the role of “bad girl,” a heroine with balls. She is a woman of power and agency; both object and subject. She alone escapes the fate of her hapless predecessors.
One of Angela Carter’s strategies is to reveal the hidden societal and religious constraints these women had to endure. She shows us the broader social and political picture. Carter believed that “a successful retelling delicately re-imagines the story’s content while preserving the boundaries of a form that led to such remarkable narrative stability.” The idea is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The idea is retain the original magic, the original enchantment, the glamour, the timelessness that is evoked with Once upon a time.
In addition to revealing the political or societal constraints as Angela Carter does, authors can write beyond happily ever after---- what happens to the Wicked Stepmother after Cinderella marries the Prince? What if the Wicked Witch of the West reconstitutes herself from a puddle of water and sets out on a new and different path? And what if a strong dose of female eroticism is combined with the mystery, the romance and the deep structure of myth? If Mary Magdalene can rise up after 2,000 years with a new story, then so can Medea and Medusa.
The Bible, fairy-tales and myths are linked by their remarkable narrative stability--- yet their simplistic and often charming form hides their raging misogyny. These cartoonish and often distorted images of women permeate much of modern culture: the raging she-devil, the madwoman, the slut, the gorgon, the temptress.
Anthologies by women writers who attempt to revision these stereotypes are few and far between.
What if the considerable wattage that myth can bring to the narrative is maintained, but these bad girls now exhibit beauty, grace, intelligence, sexiness, creativity? Or at the very least, tell their side of the story?
Perhaps there should be two or three variations on a deeply embedded story, not a single, monolithic one.
Perhaps its time to burnish the rotten reputation of some of the most devilish, the most evil, yet inherently the most powerful women in myth and literature. How would we view Pandora, Delilah and even Grendel through another lens?
Tales from the Velvet Chamber would attempt to answer these questions. In stories that would be dark, funny, sexy and unexpected.
You will find all the information you need to submit a story (sidebar, just scroll down), inspiration for a story, and why we need an anthology of revisioned, contemporary feminist fairy-tales and myth (blog posts). You will also find my story, serialized, "I am Snow White," as an example of how this could work--- and I hope I find many, many dark, funny sexy stories from you. Deadline: October 30, 2010.
Nationally and internationally produced playwright, award winning producer and author for NPR and WBAI. Published in Salon.com, USAtoday.com, dumbonyc.com, by Cleis Press, Seal Press, Heinemann Press. Reviewed in NYTimes, Art in America, Village Voice, The London Sunday Times. MA from NYU.
What I'm looking for
Stories that radically revise stereotypes of "bad women" in the Bible, in myth and in fairy-tales. Stories that aren't afraid to be literary, transgressive, dark, and sexy. Think: Lilith, Medea, the Wicked Stepmother, the Evil Witch, Pandora, Eve, crones, sibyls, fates, muses. Contemporary adaptations are fine. Mythical adapations equally welcome.
The spine: We begin to see these women through another lens.
How to submit
Email story in word attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org Subject line: Submission. Documents should be double-spaced, 12 pt. font, Times New Roman. Paragraphs should be indented five spaces. Bio (necessary) and contact information in the upper right hand corner. Stories should not exceed 5,000 words. Please do not send work-in-progress. Final drafts only.