I defaulted on Yuletide due to illness, which was hugely depressing for me, but got somewhat better after that and ended up writing three treats! So between that and my FOUR wonderful gifts, I had a happy Yuletide after all.

Where Nightmares Live is based on a famously traumatizing novel by Stephen King, Pet Sematary. It's not only quite scary in terms of horror tropes, but is an extremely visceral evocation of a number of real-life nightmare scenarios. King was inspired to write it when he barely managed to save his toddler son from being hit by a speeding truck, and then was haunted by thoughts like, "What if I'd been a second too slow? What would I feel if my son died? Is anything worse than losing your child?"

The essay in which he explains that and other real-life inspirations for the book is in the beginning of the Kindle version, and can be read for free by clicking on "Look Inside." It's a powerful essay that was particularly intense for me to read recently, because it's about what happens when you're the kind of writer who naturally integrates autobiography into your fiction, as King is and I am as well, and you're going through an extraordinarily dark time or at least have something extraordinarily dark on your mind. You write from your heart, as you always do, but what you come up with may not be what anyone wants to read. Stephen King nearly shelved Pet Sematary because he thought it was too disturbing to release, but his wife Tabatha persuaded him that it was too good to hide away and made him send it to his editor.

Pet Sematary is a book that lots of people seem to read once and then wish they hadn't. This has nothing to do with its artistic quality, which is quite high. It sears itself into your brain and leaves you deeply unsettled in a way that few horror novels do. I have read it exactly twice, once when I was about fourteen and once this year, and found that I recalled it extremely well despite the nearly thirty-year gap between readings. I re-read it after seeing the prompts for it, which were excellent prompts and for a book which asks the question that was on my mind at the time, which is "Is there anything worse than death?"

The prompts, by Raedbard and Maharetr, asked what happens to Ellie Creed, the protagonist's daughter, who is a child when the book ends. All the disturbing stuff in the book is also in my story, which is extremely spoilery for the book. Content warning for literally everything upsetting that involves death and dying.

It was fascinating for me to read the other (excellent) story (by Raedbard!) which answered the same prompt, because we told essentially the same story - young adult Ellie is tempted, but with resurrection for herself rather than for a loved one, and has a direct confrontation withe the evil force, but ultimately refuses its poisoned offer. But the tones of our stories were so different. I focused on the terror of death and pain and the destruction of one's own body, and the other story focused less on real-life fears and more on supernatural spookiness. Those are both in the book, but we picked totally different aspects of the book to build on.

I included some motifs from Pet Sematary specifically - the long reach of the evil power to set up situations that enable it to make people offers they can't refuse, the endless obstacles Rachel faces trying to return to Ludlow flipped around for the ease of Ellie's arrival, the semis, the images of decay - but also one which is both a perennial theme of King's and a very ancient idea, which is that the Devil can tempt you, manipulate you, and even kill you, but cannot force you to do evil against your will. There may be enormous pressure on you to choose badly, but you always do have a choice. Ellie's tiny metal shard nearly topples the deadfall because the one thing the Devil can't stand against is her will to defy him. You can lose everything - your life, your work, your sanity, the people you love - but the only thing that cannot be taken by force is your self.

(And yes, that poor doctor broke HIPAA regulations left and right, but she was being strongly influenced by an outside power that was a lot harder for her to resist because she didn't even know it existed. I'm sure she learned her lesson and will never do it again,) Finally, Ellie's boyfriend is Indian-American as a homage to one of the supporting characters in King's book, a rather sensible Indian doctor.

The Story of the Doe Who Hid Her Kittens is my third Watership Down story. It's a story-within-a-story, a tale told in secret by a doe in Efrafa. I don't think the story works if you haven't read the book. The prompt was by Astrokath, who wrote my single favorite Yuletide letter. We share a number of fandoms and she had great prompts for all of them. I would have written for all her prompts if I'd had time.

This story is set before the does' and Blackavar's failed attempt to petition the Council to leave Efrafa. I intended it to be the inciting incident for them to start planning that - Hyzenthlay's story gives them the idea that there could be a better way of life, but also makes them think that it's impossible to transform Efrafa as the nameless warren is transformed in her story. Yarrow had El-ahrairah's help, but the Efrafa rabbits don't, or think they don't.

At the very end, we learn what inspired Hyzenthlay to tell that story - she had already faced Yarrow's choice, but had chosen differently. Her story offers hope that a warren could be better, but she doesn't believe that she could be a bringer of transformation to the extent that the characters in the story are. But she is, of course; they all are. It just takes more than one try, and more rabbits than just them.

The reason the story is broken up is to set up what happens with Nelthilta later. In the book, she comes very close to screwing up the escape attempt because though she's brave, she's immature and reckless and can't keep her mouth shut, thus alerting General Woundwort to the escape plan. In my story, she also can't keep her mouth shut, and this also calls unwanted attention. Because of this, she only hears the story up to the point where it looks like Stonecrop is going to save the warren single-handedly. She misses the part where it's revealed that Stonecrop doesn't act alone, that she and Sorrel and Yarrow are silent and wait patiently for quite a long time, and that the warren is only saved when many more rabbits pitch in. So Nelthilta is inspired by the story, but by the wrong part of the story.

Watership Down isn't a story about lone individuals, it's about community and rabbits working together. Luckily for Nelthilta, she gets the chance to live and possibly learn. But we never see her at Watership Down, so she presumably stayed at Efrafa. She seems the type who would tell her own version of the story in which she was the heroine and everyone else nearly ruined everything, with anyone who might contradict her far away.

To Heal A World was written for Vonda N. McIntyre's Dreamsnake, for Eisoj5, who has requested this fandom multiple times. Every year I want to write it for her, and every year I keep not having a chance. I was so happy to finally write it this year.

It's a fandom I've requested myself (and received lovely stories in, including one this year!) It's one of my favorite sf novels, a post-apocalyptic picaresque about Snake, a healer who keeps genetically engineered snakes for their healing venom. The book is about doing good in a troubled world. I think all you need to know to read my story (which is quite short) is that in the course of the book, Snake adopts an abused child, Melissa. Both the story I wrote and the story I received are about what happens to Melissa after the book ends. My story has a spoiler for something that happens about a third of the way into the book, and I'm not sure if it makes sense if you haven't read the book.

"What does it take to heal a world?" was one of the prompts, and that question is very much at the heart of the book. The novel implies that Melissa apprentices herself to Snake more because she idolizes her than because she has a calling to be a healer, and that she will probably end up doing something else, though perhaps something related. I thought about how one might heal a world without literally being a doctor. I also wanted to have snakes feature prominently, because Eisoj5 mentioned having pet snakes. My solution is probably not that scientifically likely, but hopefully emotionally satisfying.
ext_12542: My default bat icon (Default)

From: [identity profile] batwrangler.livejournal.com


I didn't read the King (either source or fic), but I read the others and they are lovely. Good work, even better for being accomplished despite extreme adversity in your own life.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


Thank you! I'm glad you liked them. And being able to write was definitely cheering for me.

From: [identity profile] arielstarshadow.livejournal.com


You know, it's way past time for a Watership Down re-read on my part. Yours was a lovely story. Thank you.
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