The Just-Us League is publishing its 9th anthology of short stories. Seeds of Lore is a collection of stories based myths and legends.
Renee Frey wrote Morgan’s Revenge, a retelling of the Cú Chulainn myth.
Renee answered, “I’ve always loved my Irish heritage. One of my favorite authors growing up was Morgan Llewellyn, who wrote extensively on Irish mythology. I also loved the Prydain series, which uses Welsh mythology to tell an epic story.
One day, while wearing my writer’s hat, I wondered what if we still had druids? Sort of like a Percy Jackson interpretation of Irish mythology. I plan to write the series, and when this prompt was chosen for a Just-Us League Anthology, I knew I could use it to create a prequel that would explain the world of Ancient Ireland and set up the rules for the modern world, where I’ll base the series. “
I asked, “What draws you to retellings?”
Renee answered, “To me, stories are little pieces of magic that bring us together. Every culture has a creation myth, for example. Almost every culture has a great flood myth. When we find these things we have in common, it’s a celebration, a realization of the humanity we all share. Retelling these stories keeps them alive. For example, in writing Morrigan’s Revenge, readers may learn about and read about the whole Ulster cycle. By referencing other stories and works, we keep them a part of our identity, both our cultural identity and our personal heritage.
On a more personal level, retellings are a puzzle, a challenge. I have to work with something that already exists to create something new and interesting, to be creative. The limits help me really explore and innovate the story. I’ve got a fairy tale retelling in the 4th Just-Us League Anthology of Legend and Lore. I also have a novel-length retelling of Arabian Nights coming out this fall. With both works, I explored new cultures and tried to imagine the story with our more global lens.”
I asked, “What did you wish to accomplish with your retelling?”
Renee answered, “I think first and foremost spark interest and curiosity about Irish mythology. There’s so much scholarship out there, and it’s a developing field, so interest in it can only help us understand it better.
I also wanted to create something that would draw the reader into the world of the full length novels once they’re published. Basically, write something good that leaves readers wanting more. :)”
I think that’s the goal of all good stories, and this one is entertaining. But I wanted to know, what makes this story different.
Renee answered, “Most of my retellings have been fairy tales, which rely a lot more on symbolism and cultural allusions than myths do. So I didn’t have the semiotic parts to dissect and reinterpret like I do in fairy tale retellings. Because mythology brushes up against history, I think there’s this very tricky fine line between retelling the myth and writing an alternate history. So it takes a little more nuance, especially because you are also limited more in how you interpret the characters. Too much change, and it’s no longer the myth. That said, it’s been fun to cast an ancient society into modern sensibilities. “
I asked, “So were there any difficulties in writing this piece?”
Renee answered, “Oh, where to start? First of all, the myth I’m retelling, the Ulster Cycle, is MASSIVE. It’s an epic dedicated largely to the hero, Cu-Chulainn, and his exploits at the court of Ulster, known as the Red Branch. Distilling the story down to a short story instead of a novel was a huge challenge. I had to cut a lot, simplify a lot, and ultimately shift my focus to tell the story I actually wanted to tell, which was the Morrigan’s perspective of the story. The Morrigan was part of a triple war goddess, and as such was not the most sympathetic character.
That was my other challenge–making Morrigan likeable. In the original myth, she’s very much an evil stalker of Cu-Chulainn, and even curses the hero’s wife to never bear children. She’s very jealous of anyone who pays any attention to her hero. To make this work and set the stage for the series to come, I needed Morrigan to be someone we could root for, which wasn’t easy.
I think the hardest part was cutting certain point of view sections. I’d written some sections from the point of view of Cu-Chulainn’s father in law (to be), and they were so much fun to write and so good. But ultimately, they distracted the reader from the story. I’ve saved them and hope to find a home for them some day. But man, cutting that hurt!”
Morrigan is certainly not the most lovable character, and I can see why you are talking about a series of novels instead of a single one. Where would a reader look if they wanted to know more about the legend you used?
Renee answered, “I would definitely say look at Red Branch by Morgan Llewellyn. If reading a straight myth isn’t the reader’s thing, there’s also Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier, which incorporates a lot of Irish myths into the story. I love pantheon.org because they have such a repository of mythology–much more extensive than Wikipedia. And a trip to Ireland itself is definitely the best way to learn more about the culture and the history behind the myth.”
I asked, “And what if the reader wished to read more by you, where would they find your writing?”
Renee answered, “Follow my website, which I update when I have updates. I co-own Authors 4 Authors Publishing, so my writing time is also spent editing, marketing, and working with other authors. If you like my writing, you should definitely check out The First Story, by C. Bradley Owens, and A Seer’s Daughter, by B. C. Marine. I have two other shorts in Just-Us League Anthologies 2 and 4. You can get them individually, but honestly, just get the anthology. All the stories are really good, and you might find another author you love!”
I asked, “Are your other pieces similar to your legend?”
Renee answered, “The Princess and the Frog, in Of Legends and Lore, is a fairy tale retelling, so more inline with this. As I shared, I do have 1001 Days coming out this fall, and that’s a retelling of the framing story of Arabian Nights (the story of Scheherezade and the Sultan). Jump Discontinuity is more of an adventure flick, so the elements of betrayal and action are there. For that story, however, I based the main character on my late father, so it’s definitely more contemporary in feel.”
I asked, “What about your novels? What can we expect from your novels?”
Renee answered, “I’ve got several fantasy series planned, it’s honestly just finding the time to write them. I’ve got one that’s going to be inspired by history, so a sort of retelling. I don’t want to say more, but I hope to have that available in the next 3 years or so. I’ve also got some more idea-based fantasy planned.”
I’ve seen you keep progress bars on your website, so readers can follow along. While we wait, check out Renee’s website.
Renee has been published in two anthologies, and is currently working on multiple other projects. She is one of the owners of Authors 4 Authors Publishing. She enjoys reading and writing fantasy for both adults and young adults. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Mike, and their two dogs: a puggle named Ziggy and a chihuahua named Megatron. Renee graduated Summa Cum Laude from West Chester University with a BA in English Literature. When she is not writing, she makes her living in instructional design, technical writing, and teaching dance.
Visit Renee at https://www.reneefreyauthor.com/