Publishing: A Fairy Tale
March 6, 2019 § 18 Comments
By Cathy Park Kelly
Once upon a time, there was a writer with a tale to tell. As many fairy tales do, it began with a beguiling maiden and a charming knight. All the people of the land admired the knight for his strength and his tales of bravery. Not many had caught the cunning in the eyes and the gleam of the teeth behind the iron mask.
But soon the maiden saw what the armour hid. At night, in their betrothal chamber behind the castle walls, a fire-breathing dragon came roaring out from behind the visor. The maiden, who feared that her knight was under an evil enchantment, tried to melt away the spell with her love. She listened, she gave, she carried more and more to free her man from the burden of this dark magic.
But the glare in the reptile’s glittering eyes, the cold cut of his scales on her skin, and the fire he breathed in her face were too strong. His rage burned and burned, night after night, until eventually, the flames engulfed most of who she thought she was.
One dark night, she picked up her pen like a sword and wrote a promise to herself in shining letters. ‘My life is precious,’ she wrote. ‘I must fight for it like a warrior.’
And so the story ended, like all good stories should, with a warrior woman holding a pen.
The writer worked on this tale night after night, writing her way through the dark, her pencil looping and twirling on the paper until the dawn broke and the morning sun slanted onto the page.
One morning, she got ready for the journey to the Land of Published Stories. She was determined to gain entry to this magical land of book launches, reviews and readers, the land where the Amazon river flows. She packed for the trip: a water bottle, walking shoes and, most importantly, her story.
But she knew the Gate Keepers were stern Guardians of the land. They were known to be harsh. Their decision to step aside and allow travelers to enter their kingdom depended on the direction of the wind, on a strange creature called Market Forces, and a wide range of mysterious elements the Pilgrims of the Word knew very little about.
The Gate Keeper this writer had chosen to approach seemed fair and friendly, and treated other Pilgrims with respect and care. She had even given the writer advice, told her what she needed to pack for the journey and what kind of story might gain her access into the Land.
So the writer tucked her story snugly under her arm and began the long climb up the winding steps to where the Gate Keeper waited beneath the Publishing Tree, her face in shadow. On this sunny morning, it was hard to see whether the Gate Keeper was a wise elder or a cunning trickster.
Wordlessly, and slightly out of breath, she handed her story over. And waited. A light breeze sprang up and the leaves of the Tree next to her shimmered. It was laden with fruit: dozens of stories that had ripened in the heat and hung heavy from the boughs, ready to be plucked and savoured. She longed to see her story there too, full and gleaming in the sun.
She heard the scrape of a footfall behind her, and turned. Winding their way up the path towards the Gate Keeper, were dozens of Pilgrims of the Word, some brandishing their stories in front of them like swords, others fanning themselves in the heat with the pages, and yet others with their stories rolled up and tucked under their arms, like ancient scrolls.
The writer turned back to the Gate Keeper, who looked up from the pages and said, “Tis a good story. But you’re not yet ready to pass through this Gate.”
Rolling up the scroll, she handed it back to the writer.
“The knight in your tale is well known, his exploits are vast. You must beware. You don’t want to wake the dragon. He will come sweeping over your home and lay it to waste.”
And then the Guardian looked up at the Publishing Tree as though waiting for it to speak. Its leaves fluttered in the breeze. She looked back at the hopeful writer.
“You need to take counsel from a Keeper of the Law.”
The writer ran her fingers slowly over the pages of her story, nodded, then turned to head back down the path.
As she walked, her way became clear. She would head into the mountains and track down her Writing tribe. She would consult with the elders, those who had passed through these Gates before. She would sit by the fire with them and talk of words, of stories and longing, deep into the night.
And one day she would return, with gold coins of wisdom in her purse, and her story – strong, true and dragon-proof – held out proudly once again.
Cathy Park Kelly is a writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her first book, Inside Outside, a memoir of teaching juvenile offenders in Johannesburg, was quoted extensively by the (then) South African Minister of Correctional Services in a speech. This is the closest she’s ever gotten to Parliament. She has recently completed her second memoir of surviving an abusive marriage. She has had personal essays, poems and short stories published in Short Story Review (South Africa) and the POWA (People Opposing Women Abuse) Anthology. She is also an entrepreneur who sells 3D design software on the side to support her writing workshop addiction. On good days she writes, makes some sales and plays on the trampoline with her son. On difficult days, she bites her nails and spends far too long on Facebook.
Author photo by Nat Gold Za