So, one of the things I’m nearly ready to put on my works published page is a short story going into an anthology. Back in May 2017, I got an idea for The Nutcracker being the first generation of an ongoing alliance between our world and the place where Sugar Plum Fairies are awesome and flowers waltz. Soon after that, a friend contacted me about being part of an anthology that tells the story of what happens after a fairy tale. I immediately e-mailed my plot proposal to the person in charge and she greenlit the idea.
That’s where it gets less simple. I took my yellow notebook with me to Austria and wrote snatches of this story between journal entries. Then I came home and started writing in earnest.
I’ve been a fan of that ballet since before I was a fan of Swan Lake. I remember watching Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland on TV at Christmas and my dad helped us do grand jetes like Clara in the play room of our Oregon house. I remember seeing it on stage at the Wang Center in Boston as well as at the DeJong Concert Hall at BYU. I still cry every time the Christmas tree grows because it was my definition of magic when I was seven and it’s stuck with me for 30 years. Last year, I saw it at the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago with one friend and continued my tradition of taking that friend’s cousin’s daughter to it at the Utah Metropolitan Ballet later the same month.
So yeah, it’s my Christmas tradition. But this isn’t a story about Christmas. Not in my anthology contribution, anyway. Why? Well, for one thing, the entire premise of the story started with “What would happen if the Nutcracker could come at other times of year?” Also, when I was in 9th grade, my Jewish English teacher gave me a copy of the original book by Hoffman.
I knew I wanted to start the story when the main character inherits the old family doll in her mother’s will. It would be something that was tied to her memories of her mother. I had this mental image of the Nutcracker Prince showing up when someone was sitting shivah and immediately started looking up Jewish mourning rites. (I was also inspired by a book called Kaddish, about a man doing the prayers for the dead for his father for a year.)
I found things like the three stages of mourning and the story became a three-act tale based around those things. I also discovered a Talmudic tradition about inviting the angels of Shabbat to enter a home and what would cause a good angel or a bad angel to visit.
So long story short, because I wanted to see Mikhail standing around in his costume, awkwardly eating a sandwich while someone’s grandmother talked him up as a friend of the family, my main character became Jewish and then the rest of the story fell into place around it.
The complication was when I sent in this beautiful story of coming to terms with grief and the editors went “This is great! But everyone else wrote an adventure. Can you put a quest in?” I was emotionally invested at this point, so I said “Sure!” One friend worked out all the creepy details of the threat to the main character with me on New Year’s Eve while we confused her daughter by discussing everything from Sanskrit to possession to Dissociative Identity Disorder to vernichtunskrieg.
So now, the Nutcracker is in the 21st century, the Mouse King was a shape-shifting sorcerer, a Tchaikovsky ballet has a Facebook reference in it and my “short story” is actually around 50 pages long, but HEY! It’s shorter than 300 pages!
I just turned in a draft after getting edits from people who corrected my use of ellipses, but also suggested a joke about Mother Ginger and her giant skirt and kept laughing at my modernisms. I’ve really enjoyed writing this story.