Guest Blog by Melissa Bobe
Of all the fairy tale retellings I’ve entertained trying my hand at over the years, I really never thought I’d go for a Pied Piper reboot. I don’t have anything against that particular tale: music, justice, getting paid—what’s not to like? Still, it was a surprise when my writing mind turned to the Piper of Hamelin; when it comes to fairy tales, I tend to prefer Hans Christian Andersen and E. T. A. Hoffmann more than anything else.
I drafted the first third of the story a few years back. The idea of rebellion viewed through the lens of a small, suffocating town as a kind of pestilence really resonated with me. (This was years before COVID-19, obviously, though that I sent Rhonda a story about plague during a pandemic isn’t lost on me). I was at work on my PhD in literature, studying transgenerational trauma in 20th/21st-century narratives, and the idea that someone could be afflicted with something their ancestors had endured got me fixated on this notion of how much latent experience a person carries to begin with, and what happens when that experience inevitably begins to rise to the surface.
Piper and his brothers were natural characters for me to write, in no small part because I was raised around music. My father is a professional musician, so I grew up hearing him practice his trumpet and teach lessons in our home. I have fond memories of the gigs I attended, running on stage after the applause to help him pack sheet music and trumpet mutes. I also recall weekend mornings when he’d come home at sunrise after late-night club jobs and nap on the sofa as I played.
I inherited my abuelito’s violin, which he used to play in cabarets and on the radio in Panama before he came to New York and had my mother. There’s even a family story of him playing the violin in their Manhattan apartment and the mice in the walls coming out to listen (I learned the less charming ending of that story when I turned twelve, but I’ll leave you with the sweet, early childhood version of the tale). I began music lessons when I was four years old, and though my heart has always been in my writing, I learned all of the artistry and discipline that crafting fiction demands through those many years spent studying violin.
So, I had my rebelling girls and my musician brothers, but I wasn’t sure where to go from there. I tucked the story away until last spring, when I saw the call for Clockwork, Curses, and Coal. I immediately thought of “Necromancy” and opened the file to read over what I had so far. I realized that I could finish it if I did a bit more research and considered what my story was really trying to do.
Through my research, I learned about dancing mania, the fascinating phenomenon where people dance until they drop. I think any creative household usually fosters many art forms, and while my father was the musician in our family, my mother was the dancer. She taught me about alignment, posture, presentation, and always remembering to breathe; these are part of fiction writing, too, especially that last point. Representing the two artistic mediums that I have always lived with suddenly felt like a path forward; the more I wrote and the more I thought about it, music and dance seemed essential to both the original tale and the spin I was putting on it.
I have developed a recent fixation on the relationship between women and rats in speculative fiction. In many narratives I’ve consumed, I have come across this idea of women and/or rats as easy prey, these sort of incomprehensible, interchangeable creatures that are ultimately deemed expendable by the story into which they’ve been written. An example can be found in the series Penny Dreadful, which I was watching around the time I revived “Necromancy”: I found that the scene with the terrier slaughtering all of those trapped rats in the ring in the first season seemed to parallel the scene involving torture and murder of underage girls in a similar ring in the final season. I’ve pretty much kissed academia goodbye since I finished the PhD (although never say never, I suppose); as there is no longer a literary critical outlet for this fixation of mine, I guess it’s going to be manifesting in my fiction. And, as the above-mentioned scenes were hardly the first instance of this parallel that I’ve encountered, and I was already rereading my own story, I ended up quite sympathetic to the town rats.
Rats have never bothered me. While I would never want one to find its way into my home simply because two of my cats will kill anything smaller than them on sight, I consider most mammals pretty adorable and rats are no exception. It wasn’t hard to write them as Piper’s allies in my story; I’ve read a lot about how intelligent they are and what good pets they make. And once I had realized I was observing this parallel, I looked at the girls and the rats in “Necromancy” and suddenly knew where the story wanted to go.
Melissa Bobe is a fiction writer living in New York. Her debut novel Nascent Witch and her novella Sibyls are both available in paperback and ebook format, and a collection of Melissa’s short fiction, Electric Trees, will be available in spring of 2021. You can keep up with her writing adventures on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and WordPress @abookbumble.
World Weaver Press
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