Once upon a time, four of your favorite lesbian novelists embarked on a magical journey to bring their favorite fairy tale characters out of the closet and into the sheets. The result is a highly erotic and deliciously tongue-in-cheek collection that brings a whole new meaning to the term “bedtime stories.”
Lie back and let these fantasy femmes—and a butch in wonderland—take you deep into the forest, high into castles, and through the looking glass. You’ll be enchanted as Rapunzel lets down more than her hair, the Little Mermaid gets soaking wet, and Snow White proves that Sleepy and Bashful are neither. Whether you grew up wanting to be a princess, or wanting to rescue one, Once Upon a Dyke is the book for you!
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From A Butch in Fairy Tale Land
by Therese Szymanski
I ran and I ran and I ran. Okay, so maybe I just ran and ran. Gotta give up that pack-a-day habit. Anyway, it was quite enough running for me to get totally turned around in the dense forest. I had no idea where I was, nor where I had come from.
Maybe in more ways than one.
I tripped over something and went flying into a tree. Fortunately, I was still together enough to put my arms up to protect my head. But it still knocked the wind right out of me and gave me a mouthful of dirt. I spit the dirt out the best I could.
I lay on my stomach for a moment, still catching my breath while I listened for sounds of pursuit. Then I put my head down in my arms and cried for a while. I couldn’t believe the disappointed look in Sheila’s eyes when she said she’d told me not to follow them. I couldn’t believe they were just making a bloody movie!
Really, I was the injured party here. C’mon, I was just trying to help out a friend. I’ve read all about battered partners and all that, and of course I look out for Sheila—we’ve been friends since grade school! No one could ever be good enough for her. Not even Sal.
Now, okay, fine. Maybe sometimes in the past I was a bit over eager and all, but I knew this time I had been fully within my bestfriend rights. I pushed myself to my feet, wiped my face on my sleeve, and sat down on a rock to catch my breath and try to figure things out. And light up a smoke.
I already knew I felt like an asshole, and should’ve listened to my best friend when she told me it was all right. But still, I would have expected Sheila to come after me, to look for me. I couldn’t have come so far that I’d be beyond her yelling my name.
But I didn’t hear anything.
I couldn’t even see the underbrush I must have trampled before barreling into that tree. Then I saw a flash of red through the dense branches, which really didn’t make a lot of sense unless it was someone looking for me.
“Hey!” I called out, and the red stopped briefly, then rushed along even faster than before. I got to my feet to follow. It wasn’t hunting season, and besides, didn’t those guys usually wear shades of obnoxious and toxic orange?
Besides, whoever it was—and as I chased after the red, I knew it was a person—was either a dwarf or a child wearing a long, red hooded cloak.
It took a bit, but eventually I got a peek at what was under the hood. She was young, a teenager at the most, with blonde hair that curled around her face. Red glanced behind her once or twice, as if to see if I were following—but never acknowledged me.
She looked vaguely familiar. She carried a picnic basket in one hand and moved quickly, yet surely, through the woods, as if she were afraid a big, bad wolf was out to get her.
I followed little Ms. Red Cloak, hoping she’d lead me back to my car, or to someone who would know where I might’ve parked. After all, this forest couldn’t be so big anyone who lived here wouldn’t know where the cottage was.
So I followed her over the river and through the wood, feeling safe lagging far behind her because her red cloak would make her visible all the way through the Hundred-Acre Wood.
This forest was a lot bigger than I thought it was. And a lot hillier than anything in Michigan had a right to be.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, she arrived at a neat and tidy little log cabin that looked like an oversized version of Lincoln Logs. Red walked up the stone pathway that led to the front door (from the middle of the woods?) and boldly knocked.
“Grandmother?” she cried. “Oh grandmother! I have come to bring you a basket full of treats from my mother!”
Speaking of treats, my stomach growled. I inched closer until I could smell the fried chicken. Now that was a treat that could get me to do my Snoopy dance.
“Grandma? Where are you?” Red pounded on the door again. “Please answer, darkness comes swiftly and I am afraid of the wolves in this forest.”
Oh, ya gotta be kidding me.
“Dear,” a gravelly voice croaked from inside the cottage, “I am very sick and can’t get out of bed.”
“But then whoever will let me in?”
“The door is unlocked. Come in and tend to your poor, ill grandma.”
Now, I know lots of women and lots of men. Lots of TGs, TSs, TVs and every other possible combination and degree in between—and one thing I could tell you was that wasn’t a woman with that voice. I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but it wasn’t a woman, of that I was certain.
While I was trying to decide what to do, the girl in her red cloak opened the door and went in.
Red cloak, with a hood. Little girl in the woods. Isolated cabin. Okay, now all of that could either belong in a horror or porn flick. But add in the sick grandmother, who was unquestionably not a woman, with a gravelly voice, and it all added up to one thing. One thing that was, without a doubt, not possible. Nonetheless, one couldn’t be too safe, so I quickly found the obligatory axe by the woodpile.
It was heavier than it looked. Grandmother must’ve had someone doing the chopping for her—someone like the local woodcutter perhaps. That is, unless she was The Little Old Lady from Pasadena, mixed in with the woman who wears a purple hat, and Miss Universe.
The cutting edge looked dull, so I found a slice of rough, thick leather, and did my best to sharpen the blade. Unfortunately, I cut the leather into two pieces. Oh, god, why couldn’t I have taken some sort of knife class in college? Maybe even a good culinary course? Well, okay, those would’ve had me sharpening blades with something metal.
Oh well. I’d done the best I could. I brought the heavy axe up to rest on my shoulder and went to the cabin. I didn’t have all day to waste, after all.
Having learned my lesson not too long ago, I tried the door before charging through it. It was unlocked, so I silently entered.
“Grandmother, what big eyes you have!”
“The better to see you with, my dear.”
Okay, so when I was dashing through the forest, I ran into a tree, hit my head, and was now out cold, lying on the damp forest floor, probably with a concussion, and lots of little animals nibbling at me.
“Grandmother, what big ears you have!”
“The better to hear you with, my dear.”
Oh, well. As long as I was here, I might as well do something. Especially since I knew how this story went.
“But Grandmother, what big teeth you have!”
I didn’t bother trying the bedroom door first. Instead I opened it with a swift kick. Thank god for kickboxing!
What greeted me was so much like a scene from a Disney movie that I almost laughed out loud. A wolf lay on the bed, wearing a little old lady’s cap and nightgown, and speaking English.
“The better to eat you with, my dear!” the big, bad wolf shouted, leaping from the bed and grabbing Little Red Riding Hood.
“This is so overdone,” I said, bringing up the axe with both hands and swinging it from my shoulder to lop his head off. Or at least, that was the game plan. What actually happened was the swing threw the wolf back onto the bed with a deep red gash across his throat.
I thought I heard his neck crack on the second swing, but I still wasn’t sure, so I tried again. It took four swings total for me to be sure the big, bad wolf was dead. And the head was still kinda attached. Okay, so I was no woodcutter.
I turned to the stunned girl, really not wanting to look at the really dead, bloodied, neck-skewed wolf’s corpse any longer. “For chrissakes, when was your grandmother ever quite so furry? And are you gonna even try to tell me her nose was anywhere near so prominent?”
“That, that wasn’t my grandmother!”
“Duh. Now run and get me a nice sharp knife.” She stood still, looking at the blood pooling on the floor. “Yo, Red, can we hurry it up a bit? Your grandma’s being digested even as we speak.”
Red ran to out of the room and quickly returned with an evilly sharp knife. I took it, hoping to god I was right about this, because I was sure Red would be really sad if granny was dead. If memory served, grandma could still be retrieved from the wolf’s overextended belly. (Really, did Red think grandma was pregnant or what?)
I took the knife, looked away, and aimed toward the beast’s gut—only stopping my own hand at the last moment. I couldn’t exactly do a random stab-in-the-gut now, could I? Grandma was in there!
I thought about lighting a smoke, but Red was staring at me expectantly, and I really did think the old woman was being digested. And I remembered why I decided against becoming a surgeon—I mean, I even had trouble dissecting Marsha, my dead frog in ninth grade bio!
I looked at the girl, then turned and sliced the beast open, gutting him like a fish. Wow. A sharp knife really does make a difference.
And there was grandma, gasping for breath. The wolf had swallowed her whole.
Just then, the front door burst open, and the woodsman came charging in, his own axe in hand.
“You’re a little late,” I said, kicking away my axe.
I washed my hands and the knife on the way out, slipping the handy blade into the back of my jeans. Maybe I wasn’t in a movie, but I knew the time for a quick exit. But that still didn’t stop me from grabbing a piece of that mouth-watering chicken from Red’s basket.
Back into the dark woods I went, munching happily on a second piece of chicken. It was gonna play hell with my cholesterol, but it was all a dream. A really silly dream. And I was gonna wake up now.
How long did this forest go on for anyway?
Yup, right now, I was gonna come to on the forest floor and get some grub and go to the hospital for the concussion I was sure to have. My stomach rumbled its compliance with the decision to get food before going to the hospital. All I had to do was wake up and find my car.
Right now. As in, this instant.
But the scenery didn’t change. I was still walking alone through the woods, and when I looked back, I couldn’t see Grandma’s cottage, nor any hint of smoke from the chimney.
I hadn’t walked that far. It was as if the structure had simply disappeared. That wasn’t possible.
But I had just slit open a wolf—ick!—and had a woman jump from its tummy, unharmed. I had just met Little Red Riding Hood, for fuck’s sake. Nothing was possible because it was all a bad dream. A nightmare.
Thank god I wasn’t on Elm Street. Then these dreams would have some guy with knives attached to his fingers, wanting to kill me, instead of damsels in distress, wanting me to save them. Oh no, what if this dream was being prompted by my thoughts? Freddie Krueger could be around any boulder or pine!
A white rabbit leapt across my path, scaring the shit out of me. I half expected to see a blonde girl in a blue dress to be following the rabbit. Poor innocent little bunny. I ate rabbit once. It was rather tough. Not the least bit like chicken. But of course, that might have just been my mother’s non-existent cooking skills.
Somehow, regardless of the chicken wings, I was still hungry, and even remembering that godawful rabbit dinner made me realize this simple forest was teeming with potential food. Birds warbled in the trees overhead, a deer leapt into a thicket, and small furry critters burrowed happily in the dirt. It was chock full of good things for my grumbling tummy. But that would require hunting, killing, skinning and cooking—none of which I was good at. I wasn’t even sure if I could start a fire without matches or a lighter.
But, of course I had a lighter. That pack-a-day habit comes in handy! Speaking of, I suddenly realized why I was so tense. I hadn’t smoked in a while. Took a bit for me to forget to smoke.
I pulled the pack from my jacket pocket, extracted one, and lit it. The smoke filled my lungs as the nicotine filled me with a sense of calm and relief. God, I needed that.
I knew I couldn’t actually hunt, kill and eat innocent woodland creatures, even though I had just killed a wolf. But that was a dream. Having to really premeditate, beyond sharpening an axe, would be so . . . premeditated.
As the nicotine filled my system, relaxing me and giving me a mild buzz, I looked around and realized that Disney wasn’t that wrong. Trees and underbrush and animals could look quite menacing and monsterific in the dark. They towered over me, like they were leaning toward me, stalking me, reaching for me.
No. Bad thoughts. Couldn’t have those thoughts now. Perhaps I should wonder if all the animals were as close as they sounded. It was as if they had never seen people—they weren’t scared of me, not running away or anything. Peculiar, really.
Except that maybe these weren’t all cuddly bunny-type animals that wouldn’t attack me. Maybe these were more wolf types ready to devour my lean, tender flesh, and enjoy its succulence.
Okay, no more bad thoughts. Don’t think about Freddie, I warned myself. Of course, then all I could think about was Freddie. For a distraction I wondered what really was around me. I flicked my lighter (everything’s afraid of fire, right?) and I realized I was looking at a patch of wild strawberries. Now, they weren’t as large as regular ones, but I knew they wouldn’t kill me. So I knelt and began a major scarf-fest. I could forget about the dirt and whatever had recently crawled over them, since this was a dream. Wasn’t it? After all?
They were food, and that was all that mattered. I could hunt and ingest these all right. They were probably organic and therefore extra good for me.
But they didn’t last long. I ate my way through them and was still hungry. I looked around for more berries, or something else that I knew I could safely eat, and that’s when I saw . . .
A trail of bread crumbs.
“Good sex and good humor together in one lesbian story is a true rarity!”
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“Finalist for best erotica of 2004.”
—Lambda Literary Foundation
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“A handful of beloved lesbian writers give classic stories a twist in this collection of reimagined fairy tales... The best part? You can read Once Upon a Dyke and discover exactly how mermaids (and Rapunzel, Snow White and many other familiar characters) get it on!”
—Curve Magazine, February 2005
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“I have never been a fairy tale aficionado, but then there have never been fairy tales like these.”
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“Fun is exactly what the reader gets.”
—R. Lynne Watson
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“If you enjoy a fun romp between the covers (of a book), then look for this wonderfully racy collection at your favorite bookstore.”
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“Once Upon a Dyke transforms virtually all of the shopworn conventions of the fairy tales we know into fertile ground for a host of adult stories with heroines that are nobody’s gender stereotypes . . .”
—Quality Paperback Book Club
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Midwest Book Review
Once upon a Dyke: New Exploits of Fairy Tale Lesbians is an amusing and arousing quartet of novellas from four well-known lesbian writers. Culturally speaking, fairy tales were created for several reasons; community identity, teaching morality, and of course, as entertainment. Thus it is fitting for a group of lesbian authors to reconsider fairy tales and ask in their introduction, "Why were the heroines always pretty, pure, passive little things who needed rescuing? .... What was so charming about Prince Charming anyway?" pviii
Julia Watts pens an interesting retelling of Beauty and the Beast set in the rural South roughly 100 years ago. "La Belle Rose" questions the nature and quality of "otherness." Everyone sees Rosie as "normal" and yet this "pretty" young woman has always felt the different-ness of her internal self. Rosie escapes the expectations of others by joining a carnival show, and finds that her views of what is proper and normal resonate with the show's company more than with her family. When Rosie finds love with a "beast" many expect that it is only a temporary amusement because Rosie is "normal" and could return to the "normal world."
Watts challenges readers to look beyond the surface and our assumptions. "La Belle Rose" is a parable for many gender issues, including the ability for more traditionally "feminine" lesbians or bisexual women to "pass" in the "normal" world. She points out that these women who have a "choice" about their role and place in society suffer pressure from both the "normal" and "other" world. Rosie's solution to this quandary is a very touching one. For fans of Watts' novels, the tone of "La Belle Rose" is recognizably hers with its engaging characters, empathetic presentation of heartache, the rural southern setting, and the touching, unexpected, resolution.
Therese Szymanski takes her readers on a witty little romp in "A Butch in Fairy Tale Land." This trip through several fairy tales is a kind of "Queer Eye meets Quantum Leap." Cody is a sweet (but don't call her that), sexy, well-meaning, romantic butch who likes to rescue fair maidens, or meddle in the lives of friends, depending upon one's point of view. Thus, when she stumbles into an enchanted forest and runs into Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and a range of princesses, Cody finds she HAS to solve their problems. (This, despite the fact that the characters are rescued in the stories that come down to us.)
The action grows erotic as Cody discovers Rapunzel in her tower, not to mention a totally new slant on Snow White and the seven ... dwarves. Cody's wry observations prompt several laughs. For example in this little bit when she evaluates her decision to kill the witch that Hansel and Gretel have met in the forest:
"The point I was struggling with was, what if this was a misunderstood good witch, a victim of patriarchal mistrust of feminine nature and oppression of old womyn and their unusual abodes? What if I chopped up a good Crone? How would I ever go [to the Michigan Music festival] topless and share tofu again? Well, now that I thought about it ... maybe the key was to just get it over quickly. Trust the fairy tale. Next time I was passing the talking stick around the bonfire, I just wouldn't mention this little episode." p82
Most contemporary fairy tale reinterpretations attempt to flesh out the stereotype or symbolic characters of the story. However, in this satirical survey of fairy tales, Cody is the opposite. She becomes "The Butch" a new queer fairy tale persona for the 21st century. Overall this characterization works as a way to keep the humors, as it were, flowing.
Barbara Johnson's "Charlotte of Hessen" is a sweet retelling of Cinderella with a sprinkle of "fairy dust." An orphaned Charlotte finds herself at the mercy of an unpleasant step-mother and two step-sisters. Charlotte takes solace in the animals of her woodland retreat and in Mina, a striking young woman sporting men's clothing. Mina's love makes her life worth living. Little does Charlotte know how true that will be! This charming story is after a fashion the most "traditional" retelling of the four. However, the erotic moments and amusing double lavender twist ending will please readers.
Karin Kallmaker's "A Fish Out of Water" turns "The Little Mermaid" on her tail and creates a "Mer" culture that is complex, magical, sensual and perhaps not as superior as it first appears. Ariel is the seventy-seventh daughter -- Not the most advantageous of birth order -- of the Queen of the Mer. When Ariel and some of her Mer friends go "hunting" for "human song" one night, Ariel accidentally breaks an edict from the queen and is punished for it. In a complicated twist, her sentence holds the possibility of a "cure" which is heavily laced with its own punishment.
Kallmaker reflects the original story's themes of love, redemption and self-sacrifice; poses questions about the nature of desire and obsession; and tweaks the reader's point of view in what is considered "perverted." As a tale about magic and fantastic beings, "Fish Out of Water" is more typical of her Laura Adams' fantasy novels than Kallmaker's contemporary romances. The story also carries Adam's lyrical writing voice with the Mer "song" imagery, dark mystic elements, and use of symbolism. This thoughtful, bittersweet story is a vast improvement over Andersen's original. Yes, it is definitely a fairy tale for this century.
Finally, Once upon a Dyke is a title in Bella Books, "Bella After Dark" imprint or as the editors say in their introduction, "Fairy Tales are about sex, and we're not shy." pviii The sex gets steamy and sometimes may challenge readers. The novella formats make for a nice change of pace in reading. Once upon a Dyke is romantic, funny, thoughtful, and hot. Buy a copy and live happily ever after, for a while.
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Once upon a time…
by Joy Parks
… there was a lesbian book reviewer who was quite uneasy about reviewing a book of lesbian fairy tales. Despite her penchant for acting like a princess when the situation allowed, she had more than a mild disdain for the fantastic and avoided the formulaic when it came to her literature. Besides, she was a practical lass, and of the opinion that anyone who would wander through a dark, sinister forest alone or eat unwashed (probably not even organic) fruit offered by an evil enemy was in need of night courses in assertiveness and self-defense. Not a prince. Or even a princess for that matter.
In Once Upon a Dyke, the second book in Bella Book’s new erotic imprint, B.A.D (Bella After Dark), four Bella authors have been charged with the task of re-telling well-known fairy tales in the novella form. It’s not the most original concept and the results could have ranged from a disastrous creative writing exercise to a chance to breathe some realism and a lesbian sensibility into these ancient tales. But because real life is not as cut and dried as a fairy tale, the result lies somewhere in the middle. At times, plot movements and dialogue give off the scent of having been forced to fit the restrictions of the formula. And substituting a Princess Charming for a Prince does not a gender revolution make. Still, there are quite a few exceptional bits to the book, enough to make it a better than average summer read.
Karin Kallmaker’s re-write of “The Little Mermaid” is more to the liking of Bruno Bettelheim than Disney, no clamshell pasties here, but something deep and layered with meaning. The cool, ethereal sexuality of her mermaids could easily be mistaken for a comment on the hedonism of the bar scene. And most fascinating is the odd rule by which the mermaids may seduce women — they can have their way with the straight or bi-curious, but must avoid real lesbians or suffer dire consequences. It’s hard to tell if this is symbolic of a fear of commitment or some old-style form of internalized homophobia, one of those long buried rules that claimed it was a far more deviant thing to fall for a real lesbian than be one. And it doesn’t matter because the result is an unexpectedly haunting tale told in image-drenched language that stays with you long after the story is over. Barbara Johnson choose the Cinderella story, kept the nasty stepmother, ugly stepsisters and glass slippers, but added a twist, which shows how a real life lesbian princess might have gotten around that tricky marriage issue, and proves that beards can be found in places other than on the faces of kindly woodsmen. Julia Watt’s version of “Beauty and the Beast” makes some interesting statements about body image, looksism, difference and finding community.
But by far, the most original novella in the pack, and the only one to swerve fully out of the traditional fairy tale paradigm is “A Butch in Fairy Tale Land” by Therese Szymanski. Szymanski knows there is no fitting her desperate-to-do-good butch into the femininity-steeped genre of the fairy tale, so instead she sends her on a sex-laden odyssey through a series of tales. What is also wonderfully different in this is Szymanski’s refusal to sacrifice her character ‘s early 21st century sensibility; there are references to cigarette lighters and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a travel pack of lube that magically appears in her pocket when faced with the seven beautiful femme miners who live with Snow White. Her sometimes snide, sometimes self-deprecatory tone gives the whole thing a wonderfully freeing satirical edge. Is Szymanski telling us that while it is ridiculous for a butch lesbian to attempt to be a fairy tale princess, it’s equally absurd to try to mold her into a prince, so perhaps we should just laugh off the premise and start the story from scratch? It would seem so.
And then there is the level of eroticism within the writings. This prudish princess isn’t particularly heated by overly graphic scenes or thrust by thrust descriptions of sexual acts that often end up reading more like instructions to operating an overly complicated cappuccino maker, but there’s plenty of it for those who like that sort of thing.
All in all, it’s a happy ending for Once Upon A Dyke, which will probably end up a Kingdom-wide hit on this year’s summer reading lists.
This was the first New Exploits book—the one that came with the original proposal—and the second Bella After Dark (BAD) book. In some ways, this was one of the easier ones, since I could do some reading, which was rather like research, and then some writing. I figured it'd be cake, since I could just rework an existing fairly tale—or two or three or something like that.
Well, I bought the complete Hans Christian Anderson and the complete Grimm's fairy tales and did a lot of reading. I was contemplating a few different tales, like the The Boy Who Couldn't Get the Shivers. Then Karin asked me to send her the real Little Mermaid and I did. And as we all talked, I realized everyone was using a Disneyfied story—so, one of the big ones.
And that's about when I decided to write several different beginnings and let the other authors choose which one I would go with. Since, by the time I'd written the five beginnings, we knew what everyone else was doing, we could use that to help us decide which oneI should do.
And that was how I ended up with a silly butch popping in and out of various fairy tales (I really did have that as one of my five choices. I think I presented the first few chapters on that one to the committee, since it took a few chapters to understand what I was planning).
I can tell you that the rest of the team briefly thought I should go first in the book, but I argued against that since my opening might indicate something less than happy and cheery (and that’s part of the reason I’m not using it as my excerpt for the book). Remember, I'm often a marketing person during the daytime. (I'm always a vampire at night.)
I can say this: I read one blog where the reviewer is disgusted with this book's story with the butch who goes around saving all the femmes. I sometimes wonder if people like her actually read the book, since Cody doesn't do the saving, she’s the one being saved. Ultimately. Now, what goes before… is it a fantasy or reality? And can you spot the fairy tales? And the innuendos? Hmmm…
Regardless, since each of the four of us has our own style and inclinations, each of the New Exploits books has a wide variety of stories, with something for everyone!
And you can buy the book from your local independent/feminist/LGBT or rockin' lesbian bookstore, or any really cool store that might sell books like mine.
Oh, and of course, you can buy it/find out about its availability and such from my terrific publisher, Bella Books.
My books are also available on a veritable plethora of online booksellers, including
all the Amazons in the world:
And a whole lot of other places.