GtPGKogPYT4p61R1biicqBXsUzo" /> Google+ The Story Behind the Story with fantasy author Selah Janel | I Smell Sheep

Thursday, December 21, 2023

The Story Behind the Story with fantasy author Selah Janel

The holidays are one of those times that put the good and not-so-great points of one’s life in high contrast. There’s (somewhat enforced) joy all around. It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, yet life goes on. Illness, breakups, accidents, death, memories of hard times—they all still happen. So how do you carry on, especially when everything seems to sparkling all around you, without you? Wouldn’t it be nice to have things just magically fall into place?

I will admit this time of year isn’t the easiest for me. I have very good memories of holidays past, and very difficult memories. If something weird or awful is going to happen, it feels like December is the month that’s the biggest target. Through it all, though, the possibility and hope of the season keeps me coming back. I want to believe that things work out, that people are decent, and we can all work to be better. I also tend to be a realist. When it came time to try my own spin on a seasonal tale, I wanted both sides of the coin to be shown. Life can be good, but it also isn’t easy—even when it’s good.

Holly and Ivy starts directly after a Christmas where Holly’s life falls apart. It’s a pretty standard chick lit opening, yet I still feel for her. We all have those moments where life is upended and are forced into situations to make things work. We don’t all have an imaginary friend who turns out to be real with a magic gift up their sleeve.

Faerie lore has always fascinated me, and the mental image of a dryad in a Christmas tree is the seed that grew into Holly and Ivy. What started as typical holiday romance tropes turned into an unexpected look at personal growth and the consequences of magic. In some ways, big-city gal forced back into small town life has become a cliché, but it was also the chance to dig into Holly’s emotions as she tried to claw back from heartbreak and probably a healthy dose of imposter syndrome.

Then there’s Ivy. While the temptation to make a magic character an all-wise ‘fix-it’ being was there, it was way more fun to let the chaotic, somewhat naïve, somewhat impertinent faerie be who she was. She’s fickle, she likes to gossip with the birds and animals about the elitist faeries across the veil, and she doesn’t get humanity. She’s flippant, carefree, emotional, supportive, and cranky, depending on the moment. Her moods change often. Her whole world is the Christmas tree farm owned by Holly’s parents. Despite her bias against humans and Holly’s time away, she supports her friend, though the extent of it isn’t truly known until the finale.

Holly takes time to find her footing, even with a little magical help. She’s wary coming off of major disappointment and heartache. She’s extremely hard on herself. She also alternates between wanting to be a good friend and getting caught up in her own life—then juggling the guilt that brings when things improve for her. It takes her a while to come to terms with everything, but deep within her is a strength that is finally brought out by the end of the story.

I loved writing these two and all their emotional extremes, both in the original short story version of this title, and now expanding it to a full novella. It was nice to be able to put messy emotions into a genre that traditionally is usually tied up with a nice tidy bow. I suppose making them confront the realities of their situations stems from many of my own complicated Christmases. And while there is a happy ending, magic still comes with a price. As Holly attempts to reassure herself toward the end of the story—things work out a Christmas, though I would add that we don’t always get to choose how they work out. And that’s okay. Magic and loss, love and heartache, light and dark coexist, after all. Part of the magic of the holiday season is feeling a sense of love in the darkest and coldest part of the year. Sometimes those shining stars and candle sparks that help you find your way are the best part of the season.

by Selah Janel
December 1, 2023
Genre: Magical, folklore, fairy tales
Holly is forced to return to her parents’ farm after she loses her job and goes through the worst breakup of her life. Incapacitated by hopelessness and embarrassment, she doesn’t expect to bump into a forgotten childhood friend who isn’t supposed to exist.

Ivy is a dryad who lives in the pine trees Holly’s family grows as part of their livelihood. As the friends reconnect, Ivy not only shares her views on life, nature, and the modern world, but also gives Holly a magic charm that will change both their lives.

As the year progresses, things magically fall into place and a new figure is introduced into Holly’s life. Still, guilt lingers that maybe all the good developments aren’t deserved and aren’t even her own doing. Christmas not only brings surprises, but a choice.

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The high chirp was perky sunlight through my window at six in the morning. I whirled and backpedaled, yelping when my foot collided with the blasted pinecone a second time. “Who’s there? Sammy?” I called, though why the neighbor’s kid would have hiked a quarter of a mile to see what I was up to on a school day didn’t make sense. My head moved sharply at the sound of a giggle that I couldn’t dismiss as the breeze.

I swallowed and tried again. “Rexy, is that you?” Sure it is, because he has motivation and dogs can talk now, my ever-helpful mind pointed out. In the seclusion, my thoughts were foggy with the scent of natural pine and distracted by the sticky residue that coated my feet the longer I walked.

“Nay, silly! ’Tis me!” Shuddering branches reached out and upward. In a scene from my fervid childhood dreams, the needles abruptly flattened and the branches extended like long, lithe arms.

I screamed, dropped my sneakers, and stumbled back into a tree, wincing at the sharp branch that jabbed me in the small of the back. I’ve lost it. I’ve well and truly lost it. They’ll find me out here foaming at the mouth and screaming that the trees are talking. My hands clamped over my mouth to spare myself a little dignity before I was committed.

“You don’t remember?” The voice quivered as the branch-arms drooped, their needles rustling in displeasure, or maybe disappointment. An eerily thin girl stepped out of the center of the pine. If Clara was a stylish waif, then this creature was a glass figurine. Her tunic was the color of deep, brown bark that bore the textured, grooved pattern of a tree trunk. It was even sticky with the needles’ gum. Her shoulder-length hair was bristle thin and pale yellow, though in certain angles they looked various shades of light green. She was impossibly slender and tall in a way that made her proportions look overextended, yet not grotesque. Her fingers and arms were longer than what they should have been, yet there was an elegance about them. The creature’s delicate, pale-green face screwed up in dismay and her large emerald green eyes stared down at me in disappointment. “Have you forgotten me that easily? Has it truly been so long?”

The city smog, the years spent trying to cram myself into one jean size smaller than what I could comfortably wear, the pep talks to always “work hard to get ahead,” the years of late nights spent studying and partying at college, and the painful awkwardness of my high school and junior high years dissipated in the heady, tantalizing scent of Christmas in the in-between of spring and summer.

“Ivy?” I whispered her name, because surely, surely, I had to be dreaming. My hoarse voice was no lie, though, and neither was the pain in my back, the on my skin, nor the fatigue in the rest of me.

It’s frightening how easy it is to discount some experiences as childish imaginings. It’s even more frightening when they reappear in front of your logical, grounded adult eyes as reality. Past and present me fused in a sharp, evergreen-scented bolt of recognition.

I’d been four or five when I’d stumbled upon the dryad during one of my all-day marathon adventures, back in the days when kids were allowed to play outside by themselves as long as they were home by supper. I was doomed to the fate of an only child living outside of town who liked stories featuring fantastic lands and thousands of characters. It was impossible on any given day to entertain myself when the only friends left to play an arch nemesis and a prince were the family dog and a cow we eventually sold.

I’d been playing at being lost in the woods while stalked by a troll when Ivy stepped out of her tree just as she did now, skipping elegantly and looking for a playmate. It took a few moments to understand that I wasn’t locked in my imagination, that the impossible creature in front of me was real. After that moment of surprise, I accepted her as fact and invited her to play. We defeated the evil troll king together and ruled our own country all in the span of an afternoon.

Her faerie name was something long and musical when she said it, but wasn’t a name a regular human could hope to pronounce. Maybe that had been purposeful and she’d been putting me on to avoid me ever having that kind of power over her. I’d always called her Ivy after the vines that climbed the trees and buildings in the fairy tale books I loved. Since her very existence was tied to the trees, it was fitting. Since it technically wasn’t her real name and allowed her to retain her autonomy while pursuing a friendship with a mortal, she was especially pleased.

She wasn’t supposed to exist, but it was easier to accept what was in front of me than accept that I’d had a nervous breakdown on top of everything else. Belief is surprisingly easy when you’re not given a choice.

About the Author:


Threads: @selahjanel99

Selah Janel has been blessed with a giant imagination since she was little when she  wondered if fairies lived in the nearby state park and worried that vampires hid in the old barns outside of town.

She has multiple e-books with Mocha Memoirs Press, including Holly and Mooner, and co-wrote the short story collection, Lost in the Shadows, with S.H. Roddey. Her work has been included in various magazines and anthologies, including The Realm Beyond, The MacGuffin, Curious Incidents, The Grotesquerie, and The Big Bad, vol 1&2.

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