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Now It Can Be Told!

Yuletide lantern
I wrote this piece of post-apocalyptic fanfiction about Goodnight Moon. If you read it, thank you. I have been overwhelmed by all the wonderful responses, and I'm thrilled that so many people connected with the story. This post has all the DVD extras and behind the scenes geekery I've been keeping quiet about for a month, so if you're wondering how I got that story out of a seemingly innocuous picture book, stay tuned.

Also, for the record, I officially release this story to you under the following terms: Do whatever you like with it, so long as you a) credit me as the author of this story (my name is Julia Rios), b) tell me what you've done (I'd love to know about it, and you may e-mail me at julia@juliarios.com), and c) don't do it for profit. This was written as a gift, and I strongly feel that whatever it spawns should also be shared freely.

This year I actually wrote four pieces for the Yuletide obscure fanfiction exchange, but if you're here because you really liked the space bunny, probably the other three aren't going to interest you. That's okay (and it's okay by me if you didn't like "Goodnight Room", too, just while I'm being all presumptuous and giving you permission to have a subjective outlook on things...).

Anyway, since the authors are no longer listed as anonymous, I can tell you that (in addition to "Goodnight Room") my pieces were:

"Sisterhood Uber Alles" -- a 694 last minute extra treat for agapi42, who actually requested Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I make no secret of the fact that I am a giant nerd and adore Sabrina with its silliness and its very fake animatronic cat in a variety of special animatronic cat costumes, so I certainly wish to support and encourage any others who share this love. This vignette is about the two aunts, and is G-rated, but probably not of interest if you don't know the show.

"Something Soft and Low" -- a 1,394 word extra treat for soupytwist, who requested a story about the song "Drive On, Driver" by The Magnetic Fields. Since this is one of my favorite bands, and since I, too, have often wondered what the story behind that song is, I thought it would be fun to take a stab at it. It's not polished as it was another last minute treat, but it was fun to write. There's some drug and sex references in, but nothing terribly graphic.

"You Catch More Spies With Honey..." -- a 2,867 word extra story in Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls world for akamarykate , who was my recipient the first year I did Yuletide, and who gave me an extra story last year (one of the great things about Yuletide is that you can meet excellent friends through it). I wanted to tell a story from Bex's point of view because she seems really cool, but the books don't give us very much insight into her character. The one other story in this fandom this year has the series voice and feel down pat, and also features Bex, so I feel a bit sheepish about admitting mine exists, but there it is. Also, the other story turns out to have been written by magistera , who is awesome, and a friend of mine.

Those three stories all got a couple of comments each, and about 40-60 total hits in the first anonymous week. That's about the level of Yuletide recognition I'm used to. Oh, I've had a couple of slightly bigger stories (like this coda to Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, which racked up an impressive 9 comments), but generally I'm writing small stuff for a specific person, and not hoping for more than the target person's approval.

I've explained all those stats so that you can appreciate just how shocked I was at my main story's performance this year. "Goodnight Room" got about 6,000 hits the first week. There are 87 comments so far, and I do plan to respond to each of them as soon as I can. I just wanted to have this entry in place first.

So, enough preamble. Let's move onto all the fascinating things I now know about Goodnight Moon and its author, Margaret Wise Brown.

***

When I got my assignment this year, I was intrigued. My mother used to read this book to me when I was very small, and phrases from it still persisted in my memory. My recipient, Kass, wanted to know what it was really all about. Here's the prompt she gave me:

I've been reading this book to my infant son a lot this year, and I find myself wondering: who is the bunny? Who is the old woman? What is up with the great green room and the red balloon? Why is the bowl full of mush just sitting there, like a still life, though it is obviously not dinnertime? I would love a story which explores the surreal and somewhat bizarre universe of this children's tale!

That got me thinking. I wanted to know all that stuff, too! I spent a week in heavy brainstorming and research mode. I told my local Pub Trivia team what I was doing and they were all intrigued, too. "How are you going to research that?" they wanted to know. I wasn't entirely sure, but ckd said that he'd seen a blog post about the astrophysics of the book, and I said that was as good a place to start as any. I think I can thank that post and Kass's question about the mush for my story's moon-orbiting spaceship setting, but it took more time and research before the story coalesced.

My internet searches didn't yield any evidence of other Goodnight Moon fanfiction (though there do seem to be several pieces of fanfiction which borrow the title, and apparently there was also a musical stage play in Seattle a few years ago--alas, I couldn't find out more about that last one), so I started looking into the author of the original source. The first thing I did was go to my local library, where I found a picture book biography of her by Carol Greene. Now this was really interesting, because it was told in light children's book style, so a lot of information was elided. I got the distinct impression by what wasn't said that Margaret Wise Brown might have been queer, for instance. Also, as Debbie (Readerbuzz) Nance noted in her GoodReads review linked above, it tells us that Margaret died at 42, but the cause is very mysterious. This book was firm on a couple of things, though, and one was that Margaret Wise Brown loved rabbits. It also mentioned, but didn't really explain (save that it was great exercise) her beagling hobby.

My next step was to look her up online and try to find out if my gaydar was actually working, and also how she died. I found several online biographies with varying degrees of detail, indicating that yes, she was queer. She seems to have had a long relationship with John Barrymore's ex-wife, Michael Strange, among others. She did date men, too, and was engaged to a man (James Stillman "Pebble" Rockefeller, Jr.) when she died. And as for her cause of death? An embolism after a largely encouraging recovery from surgery to remove an ovarian cyst.

But what struck me about this round of research was all the intense privilege Margaret Wise Brown enjoyed. Was she aware of it at all? The biographies talk about her eccentric lifestyle: the way she frivolously bought a whole streetcart's worth of flowers with her first royalty check, her penchant for hanging fur all over the walls of her homes, they way she kept her Maine retreat free of electricity, but fully stocked with wine and lobsters.... What they don't say is that the only way she could really afford to do all that is if she had plenty of money to start out with. Of course, it's implied. She went to elite private schools, including one in Switzerland, and her list of romantic partners includes a Rockefeller and the Prince of Spain, but no one ever outright said, "Hey, check out the heaps of privilege right here!" It was all presented as if class and wealth didn't signify anything.

And then the Michael Strange thing got me thinking about gender, but of course longtime readers will know that I am pretty much always thinking about gender. Blend all that with some major USian Thanksgiving-induced examination of my own privilege, and the seductive whisper of Claudia H. Pearson's academic thesis, Have a Carrot: Oedipal Theory and Symbolism in Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny Trilogy, and the story was raring to go.

Of course, I still wondered who the bunny was, which led me to think about other famous fictional bunnies and their genders and privileges. In the end, I intentionally referred to Watership Down, Peter Rabbit, and The Runaway Bunny. In her role as one of my beta readers, akamarykate noted a connection to The Velveteen Rabbit, which I didn't even think of while I was writing it, even though "Goodnight Room" is a story about a bunny in quarantine. How silly of me.

Now, a lot of you have said it creeped you out. To you, I would like to say, OMG it totally creeped me out, too! I was extremely disturbed by this story while I was writing it, and I'm rooting for the bunny just as hard as you are, if not harder.

One final bit of strangeness that I didn't know how to fit in above: Margaret Wise Brown left the royalties for Goodnight Moon and several other books to a little boy who lived next door to her. Albert Edward Clarke III apparently thinks she was his mother, though everyone else seems unconvinced. Joshua Prager wrote an interesting profile of Clarke for the Wall Street Journal in 2000, in case you are curious.

Comments

nyssa23
Jan. 8th, 2011 06:10 pm (UTC)
I would like that. Yay! :D

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