Fairies, and other borrowed things

The fairy culture in Sparkwood is based on one great, undeniable truth: I didn't want to write high fantasy.

I knew that Finn, my main character, would have to cross over to the fairy world to find out what happened to his brother. So, if this wasn't high fantasy, what would he find there?

Looks cool, but no. | Noel Paton

Looks cool, but no. | Noel Paton

When I think about fairy kingdoms, I picture beautiful golden tree houses, or the Seelie and Unseelie court, and all kinds of glittery things. If I wrote traditional fairies, I would either have to be meticulous about mythology, or I would have to invent a fantasy world from scratch. I love reading about traditional fairies, but I knew with my writing style and my deadline, that wasn't for me.

I wanted to pare down my fairies to a few core rules or concepts.

Let's go back to that question: What does Finn find when he crosses over?

My solution was that he found a town almost identical to his hometown of Sparkwood.

My fairy culture is based on that concept: a lot like humans, but a little bit off. A little strange, a little wrong.

Sparkwood is set in the modern-day. Sometime in the last 40 years, fairies were confirmed to be real, and now there's some movement between their world and our own.

The things that humans are concerned about in Sparkwood are very mundane. How do you have a commercial interaction with a fairy? What's insulting to them? Can they fuck?

Excerpt:

"All the stories in these books are ancient." Finn's voice caught. "Luke said we forgot how to live with them. Modern people forgot, I mean. So now that we know they're real, things will have to change. It's just too soon for us to have figured it out."

Of course, Luke hadn't been thinking about laws and crime. He had talked Finn's ear off about cultural exchange, and what people could learn from the gentry, as he called them. That was one of the courtesies he had picked up from his books. Finn couldn't help but notice that politeness hadn't kept him alive.

"Didn't CSI have a fairy murder episode?" Julie asked.

"Yeah, but do you think that was accurate? CSI doesn't even understand the internet."

***

Still, I didn't want my fairies to be completely unrecognizeable for what they were. I needed to do research, and I answered my questions about fairies like any person living in the 21st century: I Googled.

You don't, it's against the law.

You don't, it's against the law.

I visited a lot of very hippy sites about fairies and I read bits and pieces of the mythos about them, by people who believe in them—just like characters in my book do.

Not all of this was useful research ("Fairy gold can float in fairyland"??), but occasionally something would spark. Most of all, I loved the idea of people casually asking Yahoo! Answers how to deal with fairies, because that's such a delightfully human thing to do. When I googled "how to protect yourself from fairies," I was like, yeah, Finn has probably done this too.

I also did some more hard research. Irish Fairy and Folk Tales by Yeats has some amazing details on fairy traditions and myths.

But since my other biggest influence was Twin Peaks, I wanted to do something distinctly American. Again, I wasn't writing high fantasy. These are fairies with diners and dive bars, and a back door onto small-town America. Twin Peaks mixes magic and mundane, and I wanted Sparkwood to strike a similar cord.

The Black Lodge in Twin Peaks is surreal magic at its finest. | Twin Peaks, ABC

The Black Lodge in Twin Peaks is surreal magic at its finest. | Twin Peaks, ABC

That doesn't mean there's the fairy equivalent of New York City bustling out there somewhere. Fairies are strictly rural creatures. The fairy Sparkwood is connected to the human one, and shifts alongside it—but it's always a few decades behind. They don't have modern technology like cell phones and computers—their magic doesn't play nice with complex programming. They do have rotary telephones. They have electricity.

And they steal.

I knew the world I had set up wouldn't support a giant fairy La-Z-Boy factory producing fairy furniture, for example. So I followed the example of the fairy town: fairies take second-hand or discarded thing, and give them new life. So everything in the fairy world isn't shiny and magical after all; it's kind of shabby and comfortable.

Thanks, Yeats. 

Thanks, Yeats. 

In myth, fairies are often cobblers, or tailors, or artisans of some kind. That made sense for my fairies too; they can craft things on a sustainable scale. But still, there's some cachet to having new human-made furniture.

Finally, and maybe most obviously, fairies have magic. And fairy magic is bullshit.

Much of the literature about fairies implies that they're short-tempered, impulsive tricksters. I decided that magic should work the same way—basically, if you can justify it, it works. And fairies are very good at leaps of logic that mean one insult could turn into a curse. Fairies experience whirlwind emotions, that change at the drop of a hat. They're not a monolith, of course. One of the hard rules I made was that they have just as much racial and body diversity as humans do. The same thing goes for how they process emotions.

But as a general rule... just don't fuck with a fairy.