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Fairy Tales for Writers
Lawrence Schimel
A Midsummer Night's Press, 32 pages

Fairy Tales for Writers
Lawrence Schimel
Lawrence Schimel was born in New York City in 1971 and is currently living in Madrid, Spain. He is an award-winning author and anthologist, who has published over 80 books in a wide variety of genres, including fiction, cooking, gender studies, sports, poetry and comics.

Lawrence Schimel Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Amal El-Mohtar

When I saw this book on the lists, I pounced on it; the words "fairy tales," "writers," and "poetry" so close to each other sold me right away. We so rarely get fantasy poetry in to review, and as an editor of a fantasy poetry 'zine, I often get the itch without being able to scratch it, as it were. Then, not two days after putting in my request for Fairy Tales for Writers, I saw it favourably reviewed on the Endicott Studio's blog, which heightened my expectations further. A couple of weeks after that, I received my copy.

First, I was puzzled by its size; it weighs in at thirty pages, but thirty very tiny pages, as the book fits into my palm. I certainly don't mind that; I love tiny books, especially when those tiny books are full of poetry. So I curled up with it and gave it a go.

Fairy Tales for Writers is a clever book, and a cute book, and I chuckled a lot while reading it. It's nothing less or more than what it purports to be: fairy tales for writers, mixed up into verse. Schimel takes fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White and uses them as templates for various experiences modern-day writers live: the workshops, the rejections, the rewrites, the sales (and, ahem, the reviews). A budding writer growing up in a family full of soccer-players is an Ugly Duckling; a workshop attendee who gives up her own 'voice' in order to please a teacher is a Little Mermaid. The templates work, and there are often surprising moments when the allegory 'clicks' in an especially satisfying way.

It is not, however, what I was expecting. This is brutally unfair to the author, though, because when I think "fairy tale poetry," I think of Lisel Mueller, Catherynne Valente, JoSelle Vanderhooft, Sonya Taaffe -- poets who craft language so deliciously evocative it melts in the mouth and delights the senses. As a result, I felt disappointed by the end of Fairy Tales for Writers, because very few of the pieces in the book are what I'd consider good, effective poetry; to me, they read more like amusing vignettes, admirable for their cheek and cleverness, the way that one admires nursery rhymes. Many of the poems have "morals" to them as well. I didn't feel anything in this book would get lost in translation.

Despite that, there are some poems in the mix that I'd certainly step up to an open mic and read. The opening piece, "The Little Mermaid," is very moving, and blends fairy tale and writerly experience almost seamlessly; I also enjoyed "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Sleeping Beauty" very much. Unfortunately, I felt the organisation of the book didn't help me appreciate it; my impression while reading it was that the strongest pieces were all clustered together in the beginning, so that by the end of it I felt it had just petered out into more of the same.

All in all, I found this collection to be straightforward, simple, and most of all, clever. I wouldn't recommend it to someone hungering for Gray's "thoughts that breathe, and words that burn," but as a collection of experiences most writers can nod to sympathetically, it makes for a fun read.

Copyright © 2007 Amal El-Mohtar

Amal has a history of reading anything with pages. Now, she reads stuff online, too. She sometimes does other things, but that's mainly it.

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