Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Origin of The Mermaid's Shadow Lamp by Nora B. Peevy

I'm pulling one of my favorite stories from the vault today. Bewildering Stories published The Mermaid's Shadow Lamp in 2008. Bewildering Stories is a wonderful online magazine featuring speculative fiction. They welcome new writers as well as established and their Managing Editor, Don Webb, is one of the nicest editors I have worked with in the industry. (This is not just a plug for their publication -- it's true. He gave me a helpful critique of my story, which you do not always get when you submit. He also answered all the questions I had for him.)

They published the The Mermaid's Shadow Lamp in four parts. Here is the summary from their site:
Miriam Manchester is a bitter spinster and so rude that she is known as the Witch of Shorewood and is suspected of having sinister powers. One day she espies and purchases a musical shadow lamp in an antique store. Its beauty and music comfort her. It also has powers that surprise even a witch.
Three things inspired me to write this tale -- a love of shadow lamps, my favorite antique store, as a child, and your standard spooky witch who lives on your block.

First, I wanted to write a tale about a magical shadow lamp. I saw one in a magazine and I'd always wanted one as a child. For those of you who are not familiar with shadow lamps, here is a link to give you an idea. They are rotating lamps casting shadows onto the walls of the room. Miriam's has a music box included, though hers is directly from my imagination and not Amazon's modern version:

The second inspiration for this story was Chattel Changers. One of my parents' hobbies is antiquing, so as a little girl I often went with them to this neat antique store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I enjoyed wandering the two-story shop and gazing at all the jewelry. I also found myself particularly drawn to the lacquered boxes and music boxes. While Miriam's antique store is not exactly the same, I drew upon the memory of Chattel Changers.

The third inspiration was the universal childhood rumor of a neighborhood witch on my block. Every child growing up has the house at Halloween that no one wants to go trick or treating at because the woman is a witch. Fortunately, I had two such characters. I moved into the neighborhood I lived in for twenty-three years, with two rumored witches. One of them turned out to be a family friend eventually, but the other one scared me even more than the dark as a child! I dreaded having to pick up my ball from her front yard and after the first Halloween, I never, EVER rang her doorbell again!

I hope you enjoy The Mermaid's Shadow Lamp as much as I enjoyed writing it. I asked Don Webb for a comment on my piece because rarely as writers do we actually discover why our stories were accepted or rejected. His reply: The gist is that the Review Board liked the characters, dialogue, and setting.  
So what are editors looking for? Well, Mr. Webb, his Review Board, and Jim Harrington, a veteran writer for Bewildering Stories, answer those questions in What Do Editors Want? They look for good grammar, an entertaining read, and great characters/story settings. The article also discusses common writing mistakes and the top three reasons stories are rejected. I recommend it for all writers. You can also find more helpful articles on their site here:

As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!


Don Webb said...

Thank you, Nora, for telling us of the origins of "The Mermaid's Shadow Lamp." Your account is what I fondly call a truly Bewildering story — all in itself!

Readers will understand why the discussion "What Do Editors Want?" is necessarily a bit repetitious, although it does contain a few juicy tidbits. Our page "The Writer's Craft" has even more. I'm especially fond of "Who's Your Audience?" and "California, Here I Comma."

Keep up the good work, Nora!

Nora B. Peevy said...

Thank you for being such a good editor and giving us some great stories! I'm glad you liked my article.