Hi friends! I hope you’ll join me in welcoming Eilis Flynn to ALBTALBS!! For once I didn’t include any of her other book covers because I think the focus is as it should be – on Festival of Stars and I hope you’ll find a new book to love. (I’m also super excited to have this little visit back to APAHM.) I love fairy tales and twisted fairy tales! <3
Celebrating a festival of stars in a year of diversity
By Eilis Flynn
Like the fairy tales that kids in Western culture grow up reading and hearing about, the story of the festival of stars is one that kids all over Asia know. The annual meeting of the Weaver Princess and the Cowherder—that’s the version I knew when I was a kid growing up in Japan; you’ll find it under several different names—is a wonderful, tragic, yet hopeful love story, and I always wanted to adapt it to modern, American times. It goes like this: The princess and the cowherder meet one day, and fall in love. But because they neglect their duties in their devotion to each other, the Celestial King rules that they must be separated, with only one chance a year to get together. This is the “romance of the Milky Way,” the Tanabata, as the ancient Japanese poems refer to it, the Festival of Stars.
That kind of love is universal, and it speaks to us all, I figured. Right? So I wrote it.
When this book was originally published in 2007, it was the book of my heart, allowing me to retell the story of what I had always regarded as the ultimate romance, but set in the United States of contemporary times, taken from the Japanese folktales with which I had grown up. But I ran into a road block when I was told, and told again, that the majority of readers wouldn’t be able to relate to it because of its theme of biracialism and bigotry. Editors to whom I submitted it literally told me that Asians didn’t read (which surprised the heck out of me and possibly to the billion literate Asians out there) and thus would have no interest. In any case, when I did sell it, despite decent reviews the book sold poorly, so when I eventually got the rights to it back, I laid the book to rest, assuming it would never see the light of day again.
And so life went on, I wrote other books—keeping away from the ethnic themes, because I got the impression that they weren’t all that popular. Nice thing about paranormal and fantasies: readers expect them to be exotic. But the story of the Weaver Princess always beckoned, because there are crows around here where I live, lots of them, and crows (or ravens or magpies—basically black birds) are how the princess and the cowherder get together, with their help. (Yes, that’s part of the story. I’ve always looked out for black birds since I read the story, hoping that they’re working to help lovers, wherever they are.)
But 2018, I figured, is the year for diversity. It’s the year that Crazy Rich Asians, a comedy about…you figure it out…gets worldwide release, adapted from Kevin Kwan’s best-seller! Maybe Kristin and Dare’s story deserves to be told again!
They are meant for each other…but they only have one chance a year to find each other.
It happens once a year. Gaze up at the evening sky, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see the Weaver Princess and the Cowherder meeting after spending an entire year apart, reunited once more. If rain or fog prevents them from finding each other, the star lovers must wait another year. And reach each other they must; unless they do so, eventually, the stars will move away from each other, never to meet again. If that were to happen, the stars themselves will diminish, their lights fading from the luminance of the sky forever.
This story is one I’m uniquely suited to tell; my mother was a native of Tokyo and my father from Arkansas. I’ve seen others with similar backgrounds come to terms with their own heritage, or not, and my graduate training in anthropology has helped me examine the multiracial elements in our society today, so different from previous periods in history—and in some ways, still very much the same.
They are meant for each other, but they only have one chance a year to find each other. Have you heard of the ancient Japanese legend of Tanabata? Gaze up at the evening sky, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see the Weaver Princess and the Cowherder meeting after spending an entire year apart. They are reunited once more on the wings of their helpers, the star ravens. Hope for good weather, because if rain or fog prevents them from finding each other, the star lovers must wait another year. The lovers look for each other in every generation. This time, Kristin Olafsson and Dare Borodin must struggle against the protestations of their families, their loved ones and even themselves to reach each other. Sometimes when the stars shift in the sky, the lovers are a little farther apart, and they struggle to reach each other. And reach each other they must, for unless they do so, eventually, the stars will move away from each other, never to meet again. And so each year, they must try.
“What happened?” he whispered to no one in particular.
“You passed out, Mr. Borodin,” someone chirped, just out of view. “Someone will be with you in just a minute.”
“That’s fine,” Dare said faintly. “I’ll just wait here.” He brought his hand up and noticed with only mild surprise that his palm was bleeding. He vaguely remembered using that hand to slow his fall, skidding along sharp pebbles and stones and wet concrete for a few seconds before he collapsed in a heap of pulsating pain, the rain beating against him.
It would start hurting real soon, he thought. In fact, it hurt now. He closed his eyes.
He slowly opened his eyes again when a voice intruded into his pain-induced haze. This voice wasn’t talking to him, but it was one he had heard before, he knew it.
He turned his head—or tried.
Someone walked past. A woman.
As it happened, she looked down at the same time.
For a moment, they stared at each other.
Hair so dark and shiny it looked like black satin; her eyes sparked like fire. And that mouth. He knew that mouth.
Who was she? The pain receded as he tried to focus. Then he remembered.
She laughed out loud. “You have a sense of humor, Mr. Borodin. You must not be a native.”
The doctor from Indiana. The name. It was something he wouldn’t have guessed—
“Dr.—Dr. Olafsson?” he whispered, ignoring the pain for the time being as he struggled to converse. “Aren’t you Dr. Olafsson?”
She bent down closer to him. The faintest scent of apricot hit his senses, triggering the memory of a spirited conversation, and—something else. “Do you remember me?” he asked.
Probably she didn’t, he thought vaguely, since her expression didn’t change. But then her eyes widened just a little. “I’m sorry. I know we’ve met before, but—”
Dare tried again. The Swedish came back mercifully quickly. “Mitt namn ar Borodin,” he said, trying to prompt a memory. He smiled, forgetting for the moment he was flat on his back, the human version of a minor car wreck. “Dare Borodin. Ar min Svenska sa dalig?” Is my Swedish that bad?
He wracked his brain for all the Swedish he could remember. If he weren’t in pain, he would have been embarrassed.
But it was worth it. He saw her stifle a smile. “Jag har brutit armen?” he continued, recalling lessons learned years ago. I broke my arm?
Well, it hadn’t been his arm, but he couldn’t recall the word for “wrist.” And it had been a fracture, but he couldn’t remember the word for that either. He tried to get up, but thought better of it when his head began to spin.
“Don’t move,” Dr. Olafsson said, pressing him back down. Then she stared at him for a second. He knew he looked like hell—again. He was wet, his face covered with cuts and bruises, and when she reached out and flicked at his hair, he realized he still had some twigs tangled there.
Actually, she would never have recognized him if he had been in one piece, clean-shaven and well-groomed. And dry.
She said after a pause, “Mr. Borodin, right? Pascisci? What happened? How did you get hurt this time?”
His eyes closed for a second. “A car and I had a face-off, and I lost.”
Bio: Over the years, Eilis Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, a young adult, a graphic novella, and self-published historical fantasies and short stories (most published under the name of Eilis Flynn). She’s also a professional editor and has been for 40 years, working with academia, technology, finance, romance fiction, and comic books. She can be reached at eilisflynn.com.