Entering the realm of myth
Shaping stories...and being shaped by them

Stories that matter

The Wild Swans by Nadezhda Illarionova

Writing advice from Louise Erdrich:

"Begin with something in your range. Then write it as a secret. I’d be paralyzed if I thought I had to write a great novel, and no matter how good I think a book is on one day, I know now that a time will come when I will look upon it as a failure. The gratification has to come from the effort itself. I try not to look back. I approach the work as though, in truth, I’m nothing and the words are everything. Then I write to save my life. If you are a writer, that will be true. Writing has saved my life."

The Wild Swans by by Nadezhda Illarionova

Writing advice from Grace Paley:

"The best training is to read and write, no matter what. Don’t live with a lover or roommate who doesn’t respect your work. Write what will stop your breath if you don’t write."

The Little Mermaid by Nadezhda Illarionova

Writing advice from Ursula K. Le Guin:

"Socrates said, 'The misuse of language induces evil in the soul.' He wasn't talking about grammar. To misuse language is to use it the way politicians and advertisers do, for profit, without taking responsibility for what the words mean. Language used as a means to get power or make money goes wrong: it lies. Language used as an end in itself, to sing a poem or tell a story, goes right, goes towards the truth.

"A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper."

Thumbelina by by Nadezhda Illarionova

The art in this post is by the Russian painter and designer Nadezhda Illarionova, based in Moscow. She has illustrated tales from the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Perrault, and Mother Goose...but these books, alas, are not yet available in English-language editions.

Thumbelina by Nadezhda Illarionova

Looking at Illarionova's wondrous work, I'm reminded of these words by Lynda Barry:

"There are certain children who are told they are too sensitive, and there are certain adults who believe sensitivity is a problem that can be fixed in the way that crooked teeth can be fixed and made straight. And when these two come together you get a fairy tale, a kind of story with hopelessness in it. I believe there is something in these old stories that does what singing does to words. They have transformational capabilities, in the way melody can transform mood. They can't transform your actual situation, but they can transform your experience of it. We don't create a fantasy world to escape reality, we create it to be able to stay. I believe we have always done this, used images to stand and understand what otherwise would be intolerable.”

Donkeyskin by Nadezhda IllarionovaA related post (because it was the first time the Lynda Barry quote appear on this blog): "The Way Things Change."


The best of stories never take me where I thought I was going, but when I arrive, I know it's where I meant to be.

write it as a secret .... ooooh yes. I have discovered that this really does work ;-)

You always find such beautiful images to illustrate your posts. Beautiful! Thanks so much. xxx

The artwork reminds me slightly of P.J. Lynch's work; though I think Lynch has the edge when it comes to technical skill (thinking of tricky stuff like hands and feet here). Beautiful though.

This is great, all of it.

Oh, oh dear, what a wonderful post and how timely for me, personally, and the art is just beautiful. I am inspired and going to work, on the ambitious project. :)

This is a lovely post, Terri. Something for me to remember. I hope you are feeling better.


Stunning pictures. I want to live in her world.(Not Russia. Her fairy tale world!)


Writing for me is an exploration. A fogged window with a little patch rubbed clear so that one can peer into another world. Details accumulate as more and more of the fog is rubbed away. At some point, I can step through the window into the story world and begin to explore it. My stories always start from small things, little details, like the grit inside a pearl, that accumulate coatings of story layer by layer. (The layers have to be there, even if the reader isn't going to see them.) The story reveals itself, often a bit at a time. People ask me about where the story is going, and I say, "I don't know. That part hasn't been revealed to me yet," and it's true. Sometimes I know things about the story like you do in dreams, with dreamlike certainty, and sometimes I discover the most surprising things -- like the story I thought I was writing is nothing like how it turns out.

Wonderful post, Terri…and helpful truths for artists too!

That's funny. "Not Russia. Her fairy tale world" But being Russian or Polish give the gift
of creating other better worlds. My Polish mother told me when I was very little that
we have Slavic souls. And then she read me fairy tales.

Perhaps one of your publishers will commission her for one of your books, Jane...?

Beautiful described. It's a bit like that for me too, which is why I've always like this quote from E.L. Doctorow about his own writing process:

"Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

I was born with crooked teeth. My parents had pity to fix it but the pain you go through spacing and moving and pulling teeth...it stays with you because something about you was not quite right. Then you grow up and realize that even with teeth now straight there is always some perceived flaw a person will hold against you just because they can and will. Lovely post.

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