“Which path are you going to take,” asked the wolf,
“the path of needles or the path of pins?”
No. 13: Lee Upton
Q. Three non-Oz aphorisms by which you live include…
I have only one non-Oz aphorism which I cannot help but live by: Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I do one thing every day that scares other people. Inadvertently.
Q. I admire your work’s seamless flow. Details cascade, giving the reader a panoramic accrual. 100% edited organic! Tell us about your revision process.
Sometimes writing fiction, for me, is like trying to figure out a mystery—and that takes time, and the willingness to look in the draft’s dark corners. I may be tempted to try too hard and push the story. So then I give up, then circle back, then give up, then circle back. And when I’m thoroughly defeated, that’s when some new possibility might occur to me and I’m awash with happiness.
Occasionally, if I’ve found the right voice and the right situation, the story speeds on ahead of me. But most often my revisions amount to a good deal of listening to the draft and trying to be patient. I’m sometimes listening to see if there’s a story under the story—and when I’ve discovered that second story I can begin to think more clearly about the shape of what I have on my hands.
Q. With centuries of life experience to draw from, it’s only a matter of time before fairy tales form their own consulting firm. Which character offers the best advice and why?
The Ugly Duckling would offer the best advice. The Ugly Duckling was savagely ridiculed, relentlessly humiliated. But eventually, given time and a lucky accident, he discovered his true nature and flew with the other swans. So the Ugly Duckling’s advice would be to learn to wait for the right time, try to be brave, find your own true flock, and be grateful when your life is transformed. You’re not ugly at all. But he will also warn that even after overcoming all that crap you might still be known by a stupid name, a name like, say, the Ugly Duckling.
Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Poetry Editor Jon Riccio.
Lee Upton’s poem “Oz Aphorisms” appears in The Emerald Issue of Fairy Tale Review.
- When a scarecrow disappears from a post a poor family endures a hard winter.
- A city should be most beautiful from a distance.
- A green city is a city of many greens: jade, algae, pine needle, sofa the
cat lies on, unripe star fruit, dusk over tobacco leaves, lichen, horses,
fire escape mold.
- Opium fields surround the city – inevitably. Poppy seeds caught in the
hem of a skirt travel for miles.
- “You liquidated her, eh?” Assassinations in the city will be celebrated.
- “But we’ve got to verify it legally.” Death isn’t death without an official.
- If an explosion occurs in the city citizens should lie flat.
- “Go away and come back tomorrow”: rallying cry of bureaucracy.
- “I can cause accidents too”: rallying cry of bureaucracy.
- Initially an audience with the ruling elite will be declined, but re-
member there’s always hope: the powerful are moved by their own
- Most mustaches are hideous, and everyone in the city resembles
someone you knew in your childhood.
- Call yourself great and powerful and small people will listen.
- An earnest face and brimming eyes / will soon be met with earnest
- Only the most flimsy fabric divides us from knowledge.
- Aliens must be given absurd errands outside the city to prevent them
from returning to the city.
- Such errands should be dangerous enough to cause horror and loss
- You can leave the city at any time and return home, but no one will
- A heart, a brain, courage: there are those who pretend they have the
power to supply those to supplicants.
- Water saves your life. It’s as simple as that.
- You have to be hit by flying debris and have been kidnapped and
threatened with torture and death before you’ll agree that home is
- Some cities are dream cities. Meant only for you. People can say they
visited your city. They haven’t.
- A young girl will grow old. She will tell others that she had many ad-
ventures as a young girl. No one will believe her. Who believes an old
woman? Of course no one believed her when she was a young girl.
But no one believes an old woman even more.