To celebrate the recent release of Fae, an anthology of fairy tales like you haven’t seen them, some of the anthology authors are taking turns interviewing one another. Today I have the pleasuring of sharing a virtual chat with Shannon Phillips, author of “The Fairy Midwife.”
Laura: We see a number of fae in this story, all with different characteristics. Did you base these characters on specific folklore figures, or did you get to invent them wholly?
Shannon: The fairies Tara encounters are basically invented, although I took various aspects (little men, people with animal aspects, etc) from folklore. The idea of a human midwife who is summoned to attend at the birth of a fairy mother is one that does show up in folklore, although it can end either very badly or very well for the midwife depending on which version of the story you read!
Laura: I have to say, and it’s not much of a spoiler, the supermodel-gorgeous woman who spoke only in toad croaks was my favorite.
I love how some of your fairies blend in modern society, particularly Madon. Others, not so much. How did you come to think of a coffee-snob fairy and his unique business? Can you give us a bit of the story’s genesis?
Shannon: You know how some stories “flow” very easily while others are a struggle to piece together? This was one of the easy ones. I had Tara’s “voice” very clear in my mind when I sat down to write, and when I got to the part where I needed Madon to appear, he was just…there, in my mind, expensive cappuccino machine and all.
Laura: That’s pretty cool! Those wholly-formed characters are always my favorites. It makes me think that they’ve been ready for a long time, waiting their turn, and we just didn’t know yet to let them out.
Let me pause a second to alert our readers that this next question has a bit of a spoiler aspect. I really hate spoilers, so it’s only fair to say that you might want to skip this last question if you haven’t yet read the story. It’s not a major plot spoiler, but it’s the kind of thing I at least wouldn’t want to know beforehand.
Ready to go on? Okay!
Lots of fairy traditions feature the fae offering gold to humans, only later the humans discover the “gold” is actually dead leaves. Your fairy dad pays in dead leaves and Tara wonders if it will turn to gold. We don’t get to find out within the story…. Will it? Or do you know?
Shannon: In one of the old, folktale versions of the fairy-midwife story, it’s actually two sisters summoned to attend at the birth. For their payment they are told to sweep all the dust and twigs from behind the door into their aprons and carry it home. One of the sisters refuses, but the other dutifully fills her apron, and when she reaches her house it turns into gold.
As you note, fairy payments often work the other way too — apparent treasure changing into leaves and stones. I think Tara will forget about the oak leaves in the coffee can until the day comes when she’s swept up in some sort of peril and really, REALLY needs ready cash to hand, right away. In that moment she will go scrambling through the kitchen shelves until she finds the rusty old can: and then she’ll find that each of the leaves has transformed into a hundred-dollar bill. And each of the acorn caps has become a token for some kind of bus or subway system (the writing won’t quite be clear). Unfortunately, as Tara riffles through the bills she’ll realize that she’s a hundred dollars shy of the sum she needs — and in that moment she’ll remember being rude to the fairy dad, and the one leaf that he took back…
I didn’t know that until you asked, but when I thought about it, I think that has to be the answer :)
You can find “The Fairy Midwife” by Shannon Phillips in Fae, edited by Rhonda Parrish and available from World Weaver Press via just about every book retailer known to humankind (but that first link’s an Amazon affiliate link). And don’t forget to check out Shannon’s interview with me, over at her blog.