Charlotte Henley Babb
Writing fiction that makes women laugh while they recreate their lives.
I began writing when I could hold a piece of chalk and scribble my name–although I sometimes mistook “Chocolate” for “Charlotte” on the sign at the drug store ice cream counter. If you can remember drug stores that sold ice cream by the cone, you know how old I am.
When my third-grade teacher allowed me access to the fiction room at the school library, I discovered Louisa Alcott and Robert Heinlein, an odd marriage of the minds. These two authors, along with many others, have had the most influence on my desire to share my point of view with the world and to explore how the world might be made better. I had already read Black Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, and a good bit of King Arthur and Robin Hood.
Having (mis)spent my youth teaching English in high schools and junior colleges, I have had a few publications, first two SF story cycles of six pieces in a space opera anthologyPort Nowhere and now, my first novel, Maven Fairy Godmother: Through the Veil. I won an Eppie for my poems in an anthology for Children, The Thing in the Tub. My other credits include “Fairy Frogmother” at Les Bonnes Fees, “Bubba and the Beast” at SteelCaves.com, an article in Circle Sanctuary magazine, and a meditation in the Upper Room.
Moving beyond the first half century of my life, I amwriting the sequel, and have begun plotting a series of stories in a shared universe. I want to explore the clashes in societies between an engineered society and a lawless anarchy. In the meantime, I’ve fallen prey to steampunk and the gears are turning.
I bring to any project a number of experiences, including work as a technical writer, gasket inspector, cloth store associate, girl Friday, and telephone psychic.
I have finished grad school online, a new MA in Humanities: Mythology & Education, which required semi-annual trips to California, giving me more perspective on my Southern heritage. I met and worked with a dozen of the most wonderful women–and Barry–that I have ever met. GO JAGS!
I study mythology and psychology to deepen my work with themes from ancient sources. Sharing perspectives with people from across the country gives me time to delve into the cultural notions that are as invisible to us as water is to fish!
Now to get back to writing…or making my next steampunk costume or …?
Excerpt from Maven Fairy Godmother: Through the Veil
Maven & The Wolf
A scratching noise caught Maven’s attention when it began to rattle the door. The latch moved, but not quite far enough to allow the door to open. Maven set her teacup down and pushed herself up out of her chair. She was stiff from sitting still for so long.
All right, all right, don’t have a hissy fit,” she muttered. “Are you going to let me open the door?” she said to the house.
The latch flew up, the door crashed back against the wall, and a wolf leapt into the room. Covered with twigs and leaves, as though he had penetrated the underbrush with his long nose, he panted heavily, his sides heaving. His paws left mud and smears of blood on the floor.
“Oh, NO!” he gasped. “A Grandmother!” He looked back out the door, where someone was coming after him. They could hear the shouts and stamping of someone coming through the woods.
“Calm down,” Maven said. “I’m not going to eat you. What’s wrong?”
The wolf turned to go back out.
“No, wait. Climb into bed.” Maven looked at the nightgown and the bonnet on the peg. Fairy tale people were pretty easily fooled, but surely not that easily. She threw the nightgown over his head and tied the bonnet over his ears. “Don’t wag your tail.” She threw the cloak over him too. Not too bad if they didn’t actually see him. “Roll over.”
“I’m not a dog.” The wolf growled.
“You’ll be dog food if they catch you. Shut up. Look sick.” Maven turned to face the fireplace. “All right, Hut. Make it dark and musty in here, and make a kettle of whatever kind of bad smelling stuff they use for medicine around here. I don’t want anyone chopped up on my watch.”
“I prefer to be called Cottage.” The walls sounded peevish.
“All right, Cottage, you can be the freaking Taj Mahal as long as you do what needs to be done. Fiona would not have gone to this much trouble just to aggravate me.”
“Don’t count on that.” A brownish smell began to bubble from the kettle, an herb that seemed vaguely familiar, but Maven couldn’t place it.
Before she could ask the cottage, the door, having latched itself again, shook with the blows of pounding fists.
Maven leaned heavily on her cane and made her voice croak like a frog. “Who’s there? I’m just an old crone here, go away.”
The door rattled with the heavy blows, shaking the latch loose again. Three hulking woodcutters came in, axe handles in hand.
“Where are you, Wolf?” He saw Maven leaning on her cane. “There he is now.” He grabbed her by her shawl, which came off, exposing her iron gray hair and her face.
“My, what small ears you have.” he exclaimed, pulling on one of them.
“Must be why you are shouting,” Maven said. She pushed against him to no avail. She stomped on the instep of his hobnailed boot, but it only hurt her foot.
“And what small eyes you have.” he said, turning her face between his thumb and forefinger.
“Big enough to see your face and remember it,” Maven said, her look being dark enough to kill if he had been bright enough to see it.
“And your nose isn’t long at all.” He began to look truly perplexed.
“It’s long enough to smell herbs cooking in a sick house.” Maven shook herself loose. “Now if you don’t want to be in the bed at your house, you’d better get on out of here.” Then kicking her self mentally for having a big mouth, she saw that they hadn’t seen the wolf in the bed at all.
“Can’t have a wolf running around, eating helpless grandmothers.” He stepped to the bed, his axe ready to fall and his cronies right behind him. “It’s for your own protection.”
“No!” Maven stretched herself up to her full height, drew in a deep breath, and pointed her cane at the woodcutters. Tulip had said she could turn anyone into a frog for self-protection, so she could do it to protect someone else.
She gathered her anger and forced it through the cane so that green sparkles flew out the end.
By the time the sparkles settled, three bewildered frogs sat on the floor beside their axes, one of which fell, narrowly missing the bed. The bed had seen it coming though, and dodged.
Maven shooed the frogs out, keeping their axes for future reference. She stacked them into a corner where they became a mop, a broom, and a pitchfork.
Thanks” she said to the Cottage.
Certainly,” it replied, less coldly than before.
“All right, you, get up.” Maven shook the wolf’s shoulder, only to feel it quivering. “You’re safe now, from the frogs.” She untied the bonnet and helped the wolf out of the nightgown. “How did they get on your trail? You must have done something to get their attention.”
“Humans. It’s always the wolf at the door; never mind what they do to us.” The wolf growled, slinking away from her towards the door. Yet he was afraid to go out.
Maven thought he looked pitiful, wavering. She dipped water out of the bucket into a bowl and set it on the floor. “Here, at least drink something and rest.”
“You aren’t afraid that I will eat you?” The wolf said. His legs shook, on the verge of collapse.
“You weren’t planning to, were you?” Maven said.
He slunk over to the bowl and lapped noisily until the bowl was dry.
Maven sat back in the rocker. She swirled the tea leaves again to listen to the wolf’s story. It was a different perspective, film noir, and at a 24-inch eye level, but it was clear he was a sheep in a wolf’s body.
“You are obviously a witch. Are you going to turn me into a frog too?” the wolf asked finally. “I’d probably be better at being a frog.” He laid his chin on his paws. “At least people wouldn’t be afraid of me.”
“Actually, I’m a fairy godmother. On vacation.”
What would a wolf wish for?
“That explains the brambles around the cottage.” He began to chew at the brambles in his paws. “I thought I would never get through. I don’t remember this cottage being here before.”
“That’s magic for you.” Maven shrugged. “Now, you rest here tonight. I’d be glad of the company.” She spoke to the kettle, and the medicine smell disappeared. She made more tea, and when a plate of meat appeared on the table, she laid it on the floor by the wolf. After he had eaten, he curled up by the hearth and went to sleep.
Maven moved closer to the fire as well, her legs cold and shakier than the persona warranted. She was so tired.
She picked up the bit of gossamer that had been her shawl before the woodcutter grabbed it and stretched it around her bare arms.
o wonder she was cold. Her hemline had crept up at least a foot and her sleeves had disappeared. She tugged the rags down, making them slightly less ragged, and much warmer.
What had happened to her gossamers?
She had used her energy, her anger, to transform the frogs. Now she could see why she had to be careful. It hadn’t seemed like all that much energy, but the adrenaline pumping through her was hers, not the energy available in the cottage. She turned the rocker towards the fire.
She was very tired now, and finally feeling warm again, she drifted off into a nap.
Charlotte Henley Babb’s Q&A
Many members of our fellowship took part in a Q&A. Here is Charlotte’s.
Q: Your Audience
C:I write for older women (older than 30) who like fantasy and science fiction with a bit of humor
Q: Tell us about what you’ve written
C: I have written one novel and three story collections, mostly fantasy, but one Southern fiction. I have a science fiction story in the works, and a steampunk novel.
Q:What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
C: Maven Fairy Godmother (2012) is my first novel, which was inspired by the number of people I saw in my classes who needed a fairy godmother. I thought it would be fun to wave my magic wand and fix all the patriarchal elements of the fairy tales we all know.I have a couple of sequels planned, based on outtakes from the first book.
Q:Do you have any unusual writing habits?
C:Not particularly. I struggle with having writing time since I work two jobs, one as an online teacher.
Q: What authors or books have influenced you?
C: My mom bought a set of books for us when I was in first grade. Alice in Wonderland and Black Beauty were my early favorites, but I also read Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island and The Knight of the Round Table. My first love was Robert Heinlein, the grand master of science fiction in the 1950s and 60s. At the same time, I was reading the Little Women series and the Anne of Green Gables series. I liked the humanist flavor of each of them, and the realistic optimism they expressed. I also read Isaac Asimov’s robot mysteries and everything I could find by Andre Norton. Now I am a fan of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, which are both satiric and hilarious. I also like Sherry Tepper’s work, and some of Ursula Le Guin. Neil Gaiman is another favorite.
Q:What are you working on now?
C:My current WIP is a steampunk novel set on a brothel airship in British America, set around 1860 in an alternate history line where the American revolution failed. I have a couple of sequels planned, based on outtakes from the first book, one of the dangers/benfits of pantsing
Q: What is your best method or website for book promotion
C: I am in the process of hiring a publicist because I haven’t found it yet. I did manage to give away 150 copies of an ebook by sending a number of my facebook buddies a link to the book when it was free. Sending them individual messages in reply to comments they made about designing the cover gave them some sense of ‘owernship, so they felt like they had received a gift. On the other hand, just posting a “this book is free today” message on my timeline did practically nothing. That book is selling better than the others, but not by much (500,00 rather than 1.5 million rank) . The book does include the first two chapters of my novel. I hope that a few people will read it and feel compelled to buy it
Q: Do you have any advice for new authors?
C: Don’t listen to any advice from anyone who does not write, no matter how many books they have read. Readers are like consumers: Eating does not teach how to cook, no matter how delicate the palate.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever heard?
C: Anne Lamott: “Allow yourself to write shitty drafts.” Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering and Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method are very good ways to help conceptualize and plan the story. They have very good blogs and offer advice and answer questions online.
Q: What are you reading now?
C: I’m reading Tim Musgrave’s historical/detective Patrick O’Malley series set in 1860s New York, mostly detective, but with steampunk elements. For those who aren’t familiar, steampunk is the amalgamation of Victorian adventure fiction, golden age science fiction, and paranormal/fantasy—H Rider Haggard, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells on acid and steroids.
Q: What’s next for you as a writer?
C: I have several more projects in mind, and I’m learning marketing. This project is part of that.
Q: 3 or 4 books for deserted island?
C: Realistically, I’d want a solar-powered satellite connection and a tablet—and a credit account. Failing that, a lot of notebooks and pencils. I can’t pick 4 books that I could read more than 10 times.
Q: What inspires you to write?
C: The stories nudge me and bang around inside my head if I don’t let them out. I see a storyline play out on TV or with people I know. My characters are more real to me than some of my family members—and a lot more interesting.
Q: Tell us about your writing process
C: My writing process goes by fits and starts. I have not found a good rhythm that works for me, although I write best early in the morning or late at night. The question is which end of the day I will give up sleeping. Some of my drive for writing ends up as comments on student papers. I don’t know how Stephen King taught English and wrote. But then, he says he has “a no-nonsense spouse,” and I don’t.
Q:Are you an outliner or a seat of the pants writer?
C: I’m a recovering pantser. I am learning how to outline, which for me is not about having an outline but about thinking through the story so that it brings out the inner conflicts of the characters.
Q:If you are an outliner, what do you use to outline? Whiteboard? Software?
C: I’m learning to use Scrivener, a software program ( $40) which allows for lots of different ways to visualize the information–text, corkboard, outline–and makes all the research available in one place. It tends to keep me off Wikipedia. It even has an excellent name generator. It will import MS Word files, web pages, and about any kind of digital file a writer might print to put in a paper binder.
Q: Do you create character sketches before or during your writing?
C: I have character sketches, and I use images of TV and movie stars as reminders of what my characters look like. Maven looks a lot like Kathy Bates, for example. I also go back and work on character again when I am not sure what they would do or why.
Q: Do you listen to or talk to your characters?
C: All the time, sometimes as actual words, buit more often as automatic writing. I have found that to be fascinating and sometimes the character has a lot to tell me.
Q: How do you interact with your characters while you are writing?
C: I have been using tarot readings for them, which has been very helpful.
Q: What advice would you give other writers?
C: Don’t let other people talk you out of it. If you want to write, write passionately, intensely, and compulsively. If it doesn’t make you happy, quit. Writing is too hard if you don’t need to do it.
Q:How did you decide how to publish your books?
C:After being desperate to have my first book published, and having an agent that was at best inexperienced (and at worst, looneytunes), I signed a bad contract with a small press that puts out two ebooks a week. They were focused on romance and have expanded into thrillers, but my book really didn’t fit with their catalog. They declined to publish it in paper form after a year (it wasn’t selling well), so I published it through Createspace. As soon as possible, I got the rights back, did a second edition, and published on Kindle.
When you self-publish, you have control of all aspects of marketing. I have the tech skills to do the layout and design, so I do that. You also have all the responsibility of marketing and promotion, but you do anyway, even if you were published in New York. I am now looking into having several publishers, such as Lightning Source, which allows bookstores to return unsold books. I’m not sure about having the same work at two publishers.
Q: What do you think about the future of book publishing?
C: My crystal ball is as opaque as anyone else’s. I like reading paper books, but I read more online, or on my phone than I do on paper. It’s not the method of publishing that is the problem. It’s the lack of people who like to read in inverse proportion to the people who want to write. Thank goodness for the rabid readers out there. I hope a few of them like Maven.