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Regional writers explore ‘Towers and Dungeons’ in ‘Lilac City Fairy Tales’

 (Keely Honeywell)
(Keely Honeywell)

When Seattle-based author Anca Szilágyi heard “towers and dungeons,” she immediately thought of escape.

“I pictured water dripping down stone walls; barred windows framing impossible vistas; the brambles in the story of Rapunzel, which blinded the man who tried to save her as he tumbled down from the top of the witch’s tower,” she said in an email.

With that in mind, Szilágyi wrote “Cauliflower Tells You,” which follows a woman in Victoria, B.C., Canada as she “journeys to a mysterious room in a tower in the hotel, with a very particular task.”

“Cauliflower Tells You” opens the fourth volume of “Lilac City Fairy Tales,” a collection of stories, poetry and art from Scablands Lit co-founder Sharma Shields, author of “Favorite Monster: Stories,” “The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac” and the forthcoming “The Cassandra.”

The fourth “Lilac City Fairy Tales” will be Wednesday at the Bing Crosby Theater.

Each year, Shields invites writers to submit pieces inspired in some way by that year’s theme. Previous collections have featured the themes “Weird Sisters,” “Magic is Normal” and “Marry a Monster.”

When it came time to pick a theme for the fourth edition of “Lilac City Fairy Tales,” Shields looked to the fairy tales she was reading her children at the time.

“There was an image of a tower in a Rapunzel story that stuck with me, and I think that probably got me thinking of the idea of tower,” she said. “But it doesn’t really work to have a theme that’s one word. You need to give people space to imagine something more fully than that, so I felt like towers and dungeons became really metaphorical because it was highs and lows but they are both cages in a certain sense.”

Shields also thought the theme “Towers and Dungeons” was fairly timely with the #MeToo movement, which found women across the world reclaiming the power that was taken from them.

“Those women have felt trapped, have felt really alone, kind of in a dungeon or tower, so it becomes really this beautiful metaphor,” she said.

There are male, female and gender neutral writers in “Lilac City Fairy Tales,” and Shields sees the book as an opportunity for people to explore their own cages in their own life.

Shields received just less than 100 submissions, nearly all of them from writers in the Pacific Northwest.

When going through submissions, Shields and her team of volunteer readers look for, to put it simply, good writing, pieces that are fun to read or that tackle the theme in an interesting or new way.

If readers are unsure about a piece, the group discusses it together to decide if it will go into the book or if they will ask the writer to try again next year.

“After four years of doing it, there are some people that were published last year that didn’t make it this year and vice versa,” Shields said. “It’s always really hard for me to send out the rejection letters because I know how that feels as a writer … But I also really do want to encourage people like ‘Please do keep trying.’ ”

This year’s “Lilac City Fairy Tales,” a benefit for Spark Central, will feature Meagan Ciesla, Fitz Fitzpatrick, Liz Rognes, Aileen Keown Vaux and Maya Jewell Zeller, all of Spokane, as well as Moscow, Idaho’s Tiffany Midge and Alexandra Teague and Seattle’s Szilágyi reading their work.

Caridwen Irvine-Spatz and Greg Spatz will provide fairy tale-esque folkloric music, Rognes and Zeller will combine the former’s music with the latter’s poetry and author Jess Walter will speak about the importance of Spark Central.

“Lilac City Fairy Tales,” which costs $15, is printed locally though Gray Dog Press, and artist Keely Honeywell designed the book jacket and interior.

Szilágyi, whose debut novel, “Daughters of the Air,” was released in December, is excited by the hyper-local nature of this year’s “Lilac City Fairy Tales” because she gets to read work from others who took inspiration from the region.

“The fairy tale is a powerful, malleable form,” she said. “It can be fantastical or realistic, psychological or abstract, grim or marvelous usually both. It can be set just about anywhere. Drawing on the rich imagination of the region through this form exposes us to new ways of seeing the world around us.”

Shields too is inspired by the number of local authors in volume four.

“It just makes me really proud of the writing that’s coming out of this region,” she said. “It’s not just established writers here. There are writers who are just starting out or just beginning to send work out even if they’ve written for quite a long time. It’s so exciting to publish them right next to people who have these big writing careers. It’s really fun.”

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