Monday, February 1, 2010


Happy Monday, everyone. First off, I wanted to let everyone know that the Genre Wars anthology will be delayed by a couple of weeks. We're sorry, but it's taking more time and effort than we thought it would to proofread and format the manuscript, and now that we have it just about done, we wanted to order our own hard copies to preview before we made it available to everyone else. We feel it's important to showcase the writers as best we can, and we want to avoid major formatting problems.


The idea of legendary stories is something that often floats through my mind. I wonder how the Greek myths, or fairy tales, or the stories of the Bible are able to have such staying power in our civilization. Well, obviously some of those stories stick around simply because they are powerful stories. Icarus, Medusa, Little Red Riding Hood, Jonas, can we not be captivated by stories like that?

But, I find it hard to believe that modern writers aren't also able to invent such thrilling tales. Something that doesn't happen now, however, is that these newer stories don't get retold.

When we walk through museums, how often to we see sculptures and paintings--masterpieces--based on classic stories? The best artists in the world were immortalizing the best stories in the world. These stories were being recreated and propagated through other art forms and through retellings in the writing form.

I'm not talking about "similar" stories. I don't believe, for example, that Avatar somehow helps to make Pocahontas more legendary. (Please let's not get into debates about what story is again!) My point is that I wonder if stories wouldn't be more exciting if we could build off of each other, retell the same stories, persuade artists, writers, and musicians to take our characters and their stories and retell them.

What do you all think about this? Would you want other writers to retell stories you're written? What about visual artists or musicians? How would you feel, for example, if I were to take your story, your book, and basically retell it?


  1. What a most stupendous idea. Actually, isn't that a sincere form of flattery?

    I am writing a book, true story, I am fictionalizing parts of it, about a character from the Bible. Her story needs telling more than it has been.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly Davin. The newer ones don't get retold.

    I wouldn't mind if an author wanted to retell one of my stories. As long as I told it first. *grin*

  2. I think it all goes back to the fact that the old myths and legends were rarely written down. No one claimed ownership of thsoe tales. They were told; each teller added his own inflection and interpretations, maybe even modeling the hero/heroine after someone in the room. Today one has to watch out for copyright infringement.

    That being said, the first thought I had when I read your post was of Frank L. Baum. When I read Wicked, I imagined him literally rolling in his grave. It's not just a retelling of his tale; its a complete reversal. The Wizard is a hideous tyrant who keeps young girls in chains. Glinda is a complete narcissist. Remember, I'm talking the book and not the theater version. And in the play, Elphaba is all good, good good.
    Whole generations are seeing Baum's story that way and not really caring to read HIS version.

    As a writer I find that abit scary.

  3. ...I wouldn't like it; in fact, I'd be quite pissed. The only exception would be: if the person deriving/copying off my work admitted it was copying, like fan fiction could be okay in certain circumstances.

    I generally don't like remakes. A copy is rarely as good as the original. The Greek myths came out of who those people were, the time they lived in, the specific culture they created. No one else could repeat those stories in quite the same way, so what's the point in redoing them? They've already been done before, and by the best people to do them. If yours will be different from theirs but based on theirs, just remove the based on and write your different stories.

    If the Greeks based their myths on someone else's tales, then I think those someone else's tales were probably even better.

    Artists think they're starting ahead by remaking, reupdating, basing on, but I think they're starting with a handicap because the audience experiencing the remake will, either subconsciously, consciously or both, be comparing that remake to the original rather than evaluating the remake on its own terms. The odds of the remake falling short go UP then. Original is part of what makes some things great. Firsts always have the novelty of being firsts--and that's part of their quality to me.

    For classics especially, I also think believing you (impersonal) can do a true classic writer's work justice, or be as good as a true classic writer--that's some hubris!

    Hollywood's notorious for redos; they waste resources remaking the same-old movies, remaking the sequels to movies, the sequels to sequels! How many times is enough? Nearly all of these remakes are never as good as the originals. New stories are probably out there, but who will ever know of them when the old keep taking up all the space?

    I don't like when people say "all the stories have been told already." In my opinion, that's a stupid illogical unproven statement. How can anyone know that's the case until every single story’s been told by every single teller to ever exist? And, for sure, if people keep retelling and republishing the same ones, new ones are probably often being ignored.

    Find the stories YOU do best, find your trademark tale, and perfect that tale. Leave others to perfect theirs.

  4. Davin, I really like this idea you've proposed. Not all stories are the same, not all storytellers tell it the same way. Think of the last time you heard a great joke...who told it, and when you repeated it, was it the same.

    I for one, think retelling the classics is a fun idea. I loved what they did with Pride & Prejudice in Bridget Jone's Diary. It was fun, funny, and updated, but the premise was still the same -- would she get it on with Mr. Darcy?

    As for someone retelling my stories? Hmm, good question, I supposed it would be all right if I were published.

  5. It would be very interesting to see how many different ways a story could be told. Hmmm. Thought provoking! :D

  6. I agree with Robyn about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.

    I enjoy a retelling of a classic if it is done well. Look at Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet. So beautiful, and retold in a way that makes sense to urban teens even though the original language is used.

    I think, though, that we need to make a distinction between "retelling" and "knockoff." Because as soon as something becomes popular, there are a thousand copycats waiting to pounce on the profits. Vampire stories, anyone?

  7. One distinction I should have made: moving a story from one medium to the next is more okay with me (book to film, film to play, book to painting)--provided the exact original story is being moved. Some minor tweaking may be involved in the translation, but as long as almost the whole is preserved intact, then that's okay. I still, however, think the original will probably be the best quality.

  8. If someone rips off your story/text, and then gets it published when you can't, will you consider that flattery too?

    Don't copy, don't get in the habit of copying, don't extol the supposed virtues of copying. Unless when it's done to you someday, you aren't a hypocrite, and you just laugh it off rather than get mad, sue, and so on.

    The copying penchant is a bad habit today among younger artists especially. I don't know how or when this became popular, but it makes me nauseous, frankly. And, to me, this shows that the overall amount of human talent has gone down not up.

    I think that probably every writer is and has been influenced by all the other writings around her, but there's a big difference between being influenced by or between subconsciously absorbing bits and pieces from everywhere, and directly intentionally copying. Unfortunately, these lines have been blurred today.

  9. There is a history of re-telling, even for the ancients. The Biblical story of Noah and the flood is a re-packaging of the ancient Sumerian tale of Gilgamesh; there are many parallels between Hercules and Samson; while Jesus may be the most famous prophet with stories of an immaculate conception, birth in a cave/stable heralded by a star, miracles including raising the dead, and his own rebirth after death, Horus of ancient Egypt had those same attributes (and more) centuries earlier.

    I like when a story is embellished by another art form. For example, Dalton Tumbo's JOHNNY GET YOUR GUN taken as the subject for Metallica's "One"

    I'm not very fond of a straight re-make, but to take an ancillary character and re-create the novel from that character's viewpoint is cool. So is re-telling a tale in a different way, like THE SOTRY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE and its repcakaging of Hamlet. Or Bob & Doug McKenzie's movie STRANGE BREW as a re-telling of Hamlet, eh?

  10. Rick: "Strange Brew" is the best version of Hamlet yet! And don't forget that Hamlet stole his idea from Thomas Kyd, who stole it from Bellefloret, who stole it from Saxo Grammaticus, and we have no idea where Saxo got the story. There are bits in "The Iliad" that are similar to "Hamlet," in fact. Or, rather, the other way around.

    Neil Gaiman's recent Newberry Award-winning "The Graveyard Book" is a scary retelling of Kiplings "The Jungle Book."

    I side with those who think that the retelling/reinterpretation of myths and classic stories is a good thing, and keeps these myths relevant. I might also lean towards agreeing with C. G. Jung, who felt that myths represent archtypal human belief systems and that many stories are told to discuss these archtypal human states and therefore the myths not only belong to all of us, but are in fact projections of all of us.

    I will say, on the other hand, that I also believe in intellectual property rights for living authors, and I was happy about the court injunctions against the publishing of the "sequel" to Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye."

  11. Isn't that what fanfiction is? Retelling/recasting of the newer stories? Except you're referring to intelligent, artful retellings (not that fan fiction can't be really good at times), that become literature in their own right. Copyright laws might be part of the reason for that. Or our society's fractured need for rugged individualism. We don't tell stories to reinforce our own communities anymore--we'd rather deconstruct.

    Okay, that was way too philosophical for a Monday morning. So, um, go ahead and borrow anything I've published and run with it. I'd be flattered. :)

  12. Well, I think what makes the old myths so memorable is the awesome characters involved. Zeus whose shield is storm and thunder, come on, who doesn't want to hear more about that guy? A lot of the old stories have a larger than life aspect that many people can find appealing, and they have a variety of tales to appeal to many audiences.

  13. I think that the difference between fan fiction and a reinterpretation is twofold: First, fanfic is written about a work that is still, generally, under copyright to someone else. Secondly, fanfic *needs* the original work to make sense, it doesn't establish its own world or characters or rules, it can't stand on its own. Fanfic usually doesn't (isn't allowed to, normally) change any of the characters/story history, doesn't interpret or reinterpret themes, doesn't challenge the original story in any way.

  14. Although the literary world can get a bit crazy sometimes (once as an English grad student, my hubby had t oassist a prof with research on how the shark in jaws is really a vagina) I think as srtists we want to inspire. When artists are inspired, they create - that is how they are made. So, I don't think it's possible to create something and expect or want it to never be touched. Interpretation of others is a risk - but also a great possibility.

  15. I think I'd be honored that someone was fascinated enough by what I did to want to make something of their own.
    There was a stunning exhibit of artworks created by other artists of Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. I thought it was a wonderful homage.
    That said, ripping off is not the same as paying homage--where the original work is acknowledged.

  16. I'm so glad Jonas appears in today's post. I don't think Beyonce could have won at the Grammy's last night without that great dance Joe Jonas did of her Single Ladies song online this year. I was hoping he would perform it last night in black leotard. This is one of the most important stories of the 21st Century.

  17. craig cotter: Thanks for pointing that out! What most people don't realize is that the entire oeuvre of the Jonas Brothers is actually an English translation-in-progress of Dostoyevski's "The Kamarazov Brothers." Great art standing on the shoulders of prior great art! Thus does civilization march onward into the future!

    And Beyonce? She's like so totally Cytemnestra. Jay-Z had best watch out.

  18. Whoa! I just got out of a meeting, and it's great to see this discussion. Honestly, I'm surprised that so many people are okay with the idea of this. I thought more people would be against this. But, as several people have pointed out, it's one thing to be fan fiction and it's another to steal. I'm definitely talking about the first one. I'm not exactly talking about retelling in a different way, as I see that as more of a new story rather than propagating the original. Although, that depends on the retelling.

    F.P., I agree with you about the power of originality. But, from an originator's point of view, I'd be curious to see what other people do with my stories! That could be fun. Myself, I'm not sure if I could copy other people's stories, but I do like the idea of propagating tales. I guess if I felt like the story was strong enough I'd feel happy to take part in keeping it alive, and this retelling is a way of carrying on stories.

    Susie brings up a good point about the idea that earlier stories were told, though.

    Dominique, do you really think no one is coming up with character's as cool as Zeus? It's something I wonder about, and it depresses me to think that no one is. I hope that's not the case!

    Holly, I really like what you have to say about inspiration. That's a totally different way from how I've been thinking about it. It's lovely!

  19. There's definitely a huge difference between folklore (created organically, by a culture) and single-author works. Folklore has a richness and, at the same time, a mysterious vagueness that forms part of a cultural subconscious and can have many different meanings. Retellings of folktales tend to take that amorphous lore and turn it into a specific, deliberate work.

    I suppose that a single-authored story can become such a part of pop culture that it can take on "legendary" status and then become a springboard for variations on the theme, much like folklore. But as I think of examples, most of those legendary single-author tales are well-crafted retellings of folklore.

    Fanfic is something different. It's like a game of "telephone" or a wiki app or something. It's a continuing storyline created by more than one person, but in a linear, taking-turns fashion, not an organic development throughout a cultural epoch like a myth or folktale.

    Anyway, I think that myth and folklore MUST be taken into account in any human story. Reflections of cultural mythology are always there, deliberately or not.

  20. Davin, I think this also depends on how personal a writer's writing is. If it's personal or autobiographical, then outside derivations are really unacceptable to me. Even with nonfiction, I've read many a biography, but unless the people they're about sanctioned those works, biographies leave me uneasy. No one but the person herself should be telling her life story; other types of biographies often seem like invasions, and unfair ones at that.

    If I'm not mistaken, you've said you don't consider your fiction writing personal overall, so maybe that's why you wouldn't have a big problem with people using your contents.

  21. I think we're all telling a story that's previously been told, just in our own way.

  22. They say every story has already been told. If that's true, we're already re-telling the same story over and over.

    Having said that, I would not like someone else to re-write my story. Without trying to be egotistical either, I doubt they could. One of the things that I like about writing is that my stories come from somewhere within me. So while you might be able to use the same names, the same framework, you couldn't tell my story in the same way. It is our different writer's voice that allows us to keep "re-telling" these stories.

  23. But, I find it hard to believe that modern writers aren't also able to invent such thrilling tales.

    Who's to say they haven't? The only difference is that the old stories have already passed through the winnowing fan of history. It takes time to sort out the stuff that's truly lasting -- sometimes lifetimes.

  24. I'll be a dissenter and say that anyone can copy my story -- but only after a minimum of, say, 20 years. It would sting a little if someone took my idea too soon -- but later on, down the road, I'd find it really flattering.


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