All posts by Deborah

Interview: Patricia A. McKillip

An Interview with Patricia A. McKillip (October 2008)

In October 2008, I had the pleasure of interviewing Patricia A. McKillip for a special edition of Green Man Review. Below, please find the interview – my questions are in bold face, while Patricia’s responses are in normal type.

 Several of your novels can be called literary fairy tales: lovely narratives that interweave fairy tale tropes into new (and sometimes surprising) shapes. What do you think the role is of the literary fairy tale in contemporary fiction, fantastic and otherwise?

Basically, it’s a great framework upon which to hang a tale. The plot is there; beginnings and endings are already defined; the writer has only to think up some good characters, a setting that can be as realistic or imaginary as desired, and ways to use or subvert the tale with unpredictable twists to keep the reader interested in a very familiar story until everything comes to a satisfying end. If a reader reads a fairytale once and never picks it up again, need has been satisfied. If a reader willingly reads a fairytale nineteen times, even in that many different versions, I think it’s because the need for that particular tale hasn’t been resolved, deep in the place where imagination and symbols, emotions and experience all speak the language of fantasy. Reading fantasy wakens the imagination; if the imagination returns again and again to the path of a particular tale, it’s out of some particular need on the part of the reader to keep taking that journey until something vital is resolved. The symbols of fairytale become the guideposts for the very personal journey into a definition of one’s self. I suppose that’s why those hoary tales have endured for so long, and probably will for as long as we still need them.

Could you perhaps tell us any particular fairy tale that has kept you picking it up again and again?

I suppose I was thinking more of children, who are apt to demand the same story over and over, even the ones that frighten them. A Baba Yaga tale comes to mind which frightened a young friend of mine, yet fascinated her as well: perhaps each time she had it read to her, she whittled away at her fears. Baba Yaga tales fascinate me, too. I finally had to write about her in The Forests of Serre; the ruthless, seemingly arbitrary witch who can also be a powerful force for justice, and who is not only associated with death, but with the magnificent Firebird.

I remember another tale — I don’t know it’s name — of an ugly man who fell in love with a beautiful princess. He had a mask made for himself of the handsome prince he wished he were, and wore it so that she would fall in love with him. She married him, and he proved to be the kindest and most loving of husbands. Only one thing preyed at him: that mask, which was his only lie. After years had passed, he finally confessed, reluctantly and with great fear, what he had done. She demanded that he take it off so she could see his true face. He found, to his astonishment, that through those years of loving her so well, his face had grown to fit the mask, and he had become what he had always wanted to be for her. This tale moved me very much; I took it to mean that we can change things we most dislike about ourselves, though it may take a long time: we will one day be surprised by the power we possess over ourselves.

I was recently at a talk given by Peter S. Beagle and Pat Rothfuss: both spoke about how an education in fantastic literature is in some ways required to be a well-rounded person. Rothfuss felt that a person who escaped childhood unexposed to the fantastic was stunted in some vital imaginative ways; Beagle felt that initiation into the fantastic at a young age makes one’s life in the “real world” difficult, for one’s imagination is switched on and nothing seems impossible. What do you think is the role of fantastic literature in the development of functional adults?

I can’t make a sweeping judgment about “functional adults”; like the writers above I can only make it personal. I can’t remember when I “developed” an imagination; I only know that nobody ever told me what it was (this was in the 50’s, when I suppose nobody figured it was important), and, being a child, I just assumed that everyone saw the world the same way I did. I was given Grimms’ fairy tales and a hefty Catholic education; nobody bothered to tell me that what I was taught was “real” (e.g. angels) and what was “unreal” (e.g. fairy godmothers) ultimately came from the same place: the imagination. It took a few shocks and a few more years for me to realize that things I thought were obvious simply weren’t, to most other people. The world of fantastic literature was very different back then. The landscape was pretty barren; there were no bookshelves full of genre fantasy in the bookstores; there was very little in the way of science fiction. I was into my teens before I encountered a weird and evocative novel called The Hobbit in my high school library, whose imagery lingered powerfully in my mind. And several more years until The Lord of the Rings fell like a cloudburst onto the parched and thirsty imagination of a generation, and turned so many of its budding writers toward fantasy.

I read in your 1992 Locus interview that you’re always looking ahead to the next story while you’re working on your current story, that you’ve already moved on once you’ve begun the current narrative. Have any of your books since then captured your attention sufficiently that you focused on nothing but the joy of writing it?

I’m not sure what I was working on during that interview. But I have had fifteen years since then to become more aware of the way I work. One thing has been constant: every novel has its own problems. I think it’s when the problems get a bit overwhelming that I start thinking about new ideas. It’s not so much that I’m looking longingly ahead to something more fun to write, as that searching for a new idea takes my mind off whatever difficulties I’m having. That way the “basement” or the “muse” or the “thingie” or whatever it is in the back of your head that solves problems can get a clear look at what’s going on and come up with an answer while the rest of the brain is busy elsewhere. Sometimes it takes a very long time; it depends on how complex the problem is. Every novel I’ve finished has sufficiently captured my attention, otherwise I wouldn’t have finished it. But sometimes staring at a problem simply doesn’t work; what does work is moving to a different world in your imagination so that the problem-solving genie can do its work in the world you’ve left.

I usually don’t think of “writing” and “joy” in the same sentence. Nalo Hopkinson once said something along the lines of “writing a novel is like wrestling with a mattress.” I thought that was a bull’s eye description of the process.

A novel is bigger than you are, it’s bulky, it’s hard to grasp, it threatens to fall over on you, it doesn’t go where you want it without shoves, prods, kicks and swearing. The joy might come when you’ve finally got the unwieldy thing where you want it. Or it might come much later, when you finally realize how close actually you came to doing what you set out to do. Most of the time, for me, it comes with the idea — the wonderful vision in my head, the moment of falling in love with the possibility of what I can create. After that it’s pretty much uphill all the way to the end, when I’m never quite certain I’ve actually gotten there, except that I don’t have anything left to say.

On a related note, which of your books is your favorite? And did its reception meet your expectations?

I’ve written about two dozen novels. They all have flaws; they all have left indelible images in my head; they are pieces of my life. I can’t say that I have a favorite. I do think that the most nearly flawless of them is my YA novel The Changeling Sea. I still get caught up in it when I open it; I still tear up at the same passage, which I wrote a good twenty years ago. I don’t remember what kind of reception it got. I do recall that somebody at Atheneum — my editor, maybe — suggested that I do a series based on the characters in the novel, so it must have been well received. I thought the story was pretty much finished, and I declined.

I also read in one of your Locus interviews that you’ve been working on a version of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter as told from the adulteress’ point of view. Could you tell us a little more about that project? Is this a novel we can look forward to reading in the future? (Please say it is so!)

That novel was a problem I just couldn’t solve. I worked on it off and on over several years, but it simply died without ever being finished. I was living in the Catskills then, in a tiny village surrounded by “the green wood.” The local minister lived next door; the stone church where he preached was across the street. I wanted to write about the village and thought that it would be a great setting for a modern version of The Scarlet Letter. The book pretty much died one day when I read what I had and got an image in my head of a huge jet so crammed with people and their baggage that it simply couldn’t get off the ground. My novel was so bogged down with details that the plot got lost in them and couldn’t move forward.

I’ve had other novel fragments that have suffered the same fate, for the same reason. Eventually I did write about that village, in the novel Winter Rose, and later, in its sequel, Solstice Wood. That satisfied my urge to write about the village; the urge to write about adultery pretty much faded along with the overstuffed jumbo jet.

As the importance of our online identities increases, it seems both prudent and exciting for authors to maintain some form of web presence, whether it’s the relative simplicity of Robin McKinley or the full-blown interactivity of Neil Gaiman. When I searched the internet for pages on you, however, I discovered that a fan has registered your name as the URL for his unofficial fan site. Are you comfortable with this, or do you think it may cause difficulties in the future?

I met that particular fan a long time ago, liked him very much and am grateful that he did something for me that — at least back then — I had no interest in doing. I don’t anticipate that his use of my name will cause future difficulties.

I’d like to take a moment and turn to your latest novel, The Bell at Sealey Head. Quite a few of the reviews out for this novel focus on it being a “thriller” and being “almost high fantasy.” All the comments seem to be about the basic plot; however, one of the most compelling stories I found in the novel was the commentary on the art of storytelling, both the traditional written tale and an aggressive, literal tale-forging. I appreciated the ruminations on how storytelling affects both our personal lives and our communities. What did you hope to get across with this layer of your novel?

I haven’t read the reviews; I’m astonished that anybody would go anywhere near the word “thriller” to define that novel. I think of it as my “Jane Austen meets Upstairs, Downstairs” novel, which is about as far from being a thriller as you can get without bumping into P.G. Wodehouse. Basically I was just having fun with the different layers of storytelling. When I was still mulling over the basic plot, I had to figure out exactly why that bell was ringing, and I came up with the story idea that my heroine ultimately wrote to explain it. The idea wasn’t useful as a plot framework for the novel, but I liked it so much that I decided to let her work with it. I had done some research on female writers such as Austen and the Bronte sisters, just to find out how difficult it was for them to find time to write, to find publishers, and what people at that time would have thought of young women writing. That worked itself into the story, along with aspects of the process that I go through when I write: for instance, how you take the story with you when you leave your desk.

That novel, I have to admit, was closer to being fun to write than anything else I’ve ever written. I came up with the idea when I had a book due and had spent months endlessly rewriting the first five chapters. (That was a job for the problem-genie!) I had to give my editor something. Fortunately for me, Sealey Head put itself together quite easily. I wasn’t sure of all the details towards the end, but the book pretty much wrote itself and solved its own problems while it went along. So I really can’t say I was hoping to get anything across by writing about writing; I was just doing it. I did like very much what was happening with all the different levels of story in it, but looking back, I can’t say that it was very deliberate, except that the details of the secret world between the walls of Aislinn House were so often details that had excited me in books I had read. Maybe that’s what I was trying to get at without realizing it: how I learned about these tales, these details out of our literary history, through reading, and would never have known of these strange, wonderful realms — these myths and legends, this poetry — without opening the covers of a book.

Welcome to the Wood!

Welcome to the Wood, my dears. My home is safe enough, so long as you mind your manners. Pull off your cloaks, pull up a seat, and warm yourselves at my fire. There’s tea and all sorts of delicious things for you to… sample.

Never mind the scratch at the door, or the cree at the window. You’re safe as houses in this witch’s house.  There are stories, and poems, and things stranger than these. I hope you’ll admire them all.

Just remember: take a good, solid stick when you leave and turn your socks inside out. Hide all shiny things away, and keep to the path. (Or wander from it.) Always start in the bright midmorning. (Or creep away after midnight.)

To be honest, there’s always danger (and magic) in the Wood. But isn’t that why you came?

Jack o’ the Hills

Jack o’ the Hills by C.S.E. Cooney is one of the inaugural publications of Papaveria Press’s new Wonder Tales imprint, a slim and lovely volume of the fantastic sure to characterize future installments in the Wonder Tales library. At 69 pages, rather than being one continuous novella, Jack o’ the Hills is a pair of short stories unfolding the misadventures and mischievousness of one Jack Yap, his stone-shod brother, Jack’s skinchanger love, and the local grave-minded monarchy.

“Stone Shoes” first appeared in Subterranean Press Magazine, but is more than worth revisiting here. It is a delectably odious tale of unchecked impulses as it follows the abused and debased lives of Jack Yap and his seemingly simple brother Pudding. Their mother is a terror, having once sewn Jack’s mouth shut for three days (and oh, he has the scars to show) and insisting her towering simpleton of a son Pudding always wear painful granite shoes so he can’t wander too far. Their good old Marm’s too busy satisfying her own impulses to watch over her boys every second of every day, and so they terrorize the local countryside and come to find a skinchanger’s egg to further horrifying results.

“Oubliette’s Egg” is original to this publication and is more than worth the cost of admission if you’re hung up on the fact that you can read “Stone Shoes” for free. This second story picks up three years after “Stone Shoes” left off, introducing us to Princess Oubliette and Prince Garotte, twins and two of the most wicked and disturbing monarchs-in-waiting you’ve likely met recently. We also reunite with Jack Yap, Pudding, and Jack Yap’s own Tam, his bright and vicious skinchanger beloved. There are literal hanging gardens here, and murders most fell, nettle shirts and perverted swan-maidens, and more besides.

These are stories that made me shudder with horror and revulsion, but also had me clinging to the pages with delighted wonder and avid hunger. Cooney is a master with the cadence and rhythm of prose, weaving sentences and paragraphs that bespell and entrap. Her characters, while homicidal maniacs and terrifying sociopaths, are captured with breathtaking precision and captivating monstrousness shot through with just the right hints of humanity. They’re people you love to hate, but also find yourself hating to love– and doing it anyway. These stories are dancing with the best kinds of monsters.

Cooney also proves herself a deft hand at retelling fairy tales, or rather understanding their essence and tapping it to suit her purposes. Her stories are infused with the stark terror of maiming and mayhem implicit in so many fairy tales, right alongside the narrative nudges toward insight and maturation. “Oubliette’s Egg,” particularly, offers illumination with its subtextual commentary on skins: skins that bind, skins that change, skins that sicken us, skins that free us. There are only two overt skinchangers in the story, but the reader can’t shake the feeling that we are all of us skinchangers in our lives. Or that we want to be, and, oh, how we tangle and tame those around us by the metaphorical skins we choose.

After finishing Jack o’ the Hills, I found myself quite unable to put Jack Yap and Pudding and Tam and Princess Oubliette out of my mind. My dreams last night were actually Tam-colored, and that’s a captivating goldblack thing; today, I find myself impatiently wondering when we can expect the Empire of Leech to fall. These are tales written by a magnificent madwoman, full of rhyme and mischief, and all I want to do is ask her how much more blood she needs for her inkwell. Read Jack o’ the Hills, and you might just find yourself right alongside me.

If you’d like to find out more about Jack o’ the Hills by C.S.E. Cooney, check out “You don’t know Jack!” on the Papaveria Press blog. The post includes links to purchase information, news about the audiobook, and insight from the author on the origins of Jack Yap.

No magic would save me unless I had the wit and heart and courage to use it widely.

Terri Windling, Faerie Godmother of the Mythic Arts, needs our help.

Here are some things you likely already know about Terri Windling: she’s a fantastic artist, creating captivating sketches, paintings, and collages of tree-people and rabbit-people and fairy tales and faerie creatures and more. She’s a distinguished editor, responsible for co-creating Bordertown, co-editing The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (with Ellen Datlow), and a great other fairy tale anthologies and novels besides. She’s the author of The Wood Wife and more, the mother of Endicott Studio, and a gracious, generous woman.

Here is something you don’t know: Terri Windling’s work helped save my life.

Terri Windling has been through some shit in her time, and she’s turned those experiences around into both overt and embedded outreach in her work. An especially potent example is an anthology entitled The Armless Maiden and Other Tales for Childhood’s Survivors. Reading that collection gave me the wherewithal to break down some walls, battle the monsters that plagued me beyond them, and emerge from my inner-labyrinth a stronger, more capable person. Terri Windling is one of those amazing creators, women and men I have never met, who have built this sword in my hands through stories of strength, grace, and survival.

I’m not the only one. She’s helped people professionally, of course, but I’ve also heard from no few others about how she’s helped them personally through her creative works and endeavors.

Now it’s our turn. To quote The Color of Angels, a fundraiser to benefit Terri Windling:

Terri Windling and her family have been coping with health and legal issues that have drained her financial resources at a critical time. Due to the serious nature of these issues, and privacy concerns for individual family members, we can’t be more specific than that, but Terri is in need of our support. As a friend, a colleague and an inspiration, Terri has touched many, many lives over the years. She has been supremely generous in donating her own work and art to support friends and colleagues in crisis. Now, Terri is in need of some serious help from her community. Who better than her colleagues and fans to rise up to make some magick for her?

A truly staggering number of Terri’s friends, colleagues, and fans have gotten together and…

Human Tales

Human Tales, edited by Jennifer Brozek, is an anthology of stories revolving around a simple, yet provocative concept: what are the cautionary tales that the supernatural tell their children to warn them against humans? So many of our fairy tales illuminate how dangerous dealing with the fair folk and others of their ilk can be – how they diabolically bargain for children when a person is in dire straits, how they do not lie but neither do their words add up to the complete truth, how they’ll lead you astray or drown you in deep waters. Of course, these are all from the human perspective.

Human Tales are, to quote the back jacket of the anthology, “[t]ales of warning and terror… of those who break their vows and kill for no reason other than malice. Tales of saving the lovely princess from a prince that is much less than charming… and what it takes to bring her home, of rescuing babes from parents not fit to raise them, and the reason no supernatural can truly win a bargain with such vile creatures.”

I have a story in this anthology – “A Tithe for Homecoming,” being the life and times of a woman named Laura Jane and a grove of elm dryads. It’s set in 1950’s rural Alabama, with all the kudzu-choked highways, ingrained spirituality, and folk songs that suggests. It’s about changelings and paying for things taken and finding comfort where we may.

I hope you’ll give…

Welcome to Bordertown

Welcome to BordertownI missed my exit to Bordertown.

I recall it clearly — I was standing in the musty confines of the SFF section in Zelda Books in Montgomery, Alabama. Many important moments began this way for me, as many a well-travelled book fell into my hands and helped build me into the woman I am today. I would spend every minute my mother let me, running my fingers along the spines of so very many inviting books, pulling those out that caught my fancy.Wolfwalker by Tara K. Harper. The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge. Beldan’s Fire by Midori Snyder.1

Life on the Border, edited by Terri Windling.

Honestly, it was the allusion to borders that caught my eye, along with the mind-expanding moment of being confronted with a collection of stories described right on the cover as “where Elfland meets rock and roll.” I needed borders at that time in my life: borders to cross, borders to run to. A way to escape into a place filled with magic, no matter the cost. I lingered over it, but my mother was calling from the register and I’d already met my quota of allowed books for the day with other choices. I reluctantly left Life on the Border on the shelf, determined to come back for it the next week.

I never found it again, as a kid. Tickets to Bordertown aren’t easy to come by, nor do they hang around if you make the mistake of not running off with them immediately. The collection was gone when I went looking the next week, and I let it fade from memory. I found my way to similar places — Newford under the wing of Charles de Lint, particularly. I found my way to the nexus of Bordertown authors and their kin by discovering The Endicott Studio almost as soon as I first logged onto the Internet, becoming an ardent fan of the site.

Yet it wasn’t until very recently that I found my missing ticket to Bordertown, and claimed the collections I didn’t quite manage to find when I was a perfect candidate for emigration. Funnily enough, my mother was the one who found them for me and sent them to my doorstep: a calling card from years gone by. (Thanks, mom!)

Here’s what you need to know about Bordertown: [keep reading this review on Cabinet des Fées].

“Make toast!”

Diana Wynne Jones died last weekend, surrounded by loves ones. Her death was not unexpected – she had been coping with lung cancer for some time. However, no forewarning could prepare her friends and fans for this serious loss: by all personal accounts, she was a generous friend, and creative, fierce, and clever. These qualities also permeate her books; she stands a wondrous titan in the contemporary fantasy genre.

I always meant to read more of her novels, and had not yet gotten around to it for all that The Dark Lord of Derkholm and The Tough Guide to Fantasyland and the Chrestonmanci books sounded extremely up my alley. I would have liked to have been more familiar with Diana Wynne Jones before she left us; it saddens me to know that we now have all the books by her that we’re going to get.

Gorgeous, touching or just heartfelt things have already been said by a number of people:

Neil Gaiman – “Being alive. Mostly about Diana.”
Pamela Dean – “I want to tell of our journey down the river.”
Delia Sherman – “More Precious was the light in your eyes that all the roses in the world.”
Marie Brennan – “A Seed of Hemlock.”
Robin McKinley – “Diana Wynne Jones.”

In memoriam here, I now give you the story of the first and only Diana Wynne Jones book I’ve read, a theatre-outing to see Haoru no Ugoku Shiro, and two silly gaijin.

I am an ardent admirer of the Studio Ghibli films directed by Hayao Miyazaki, most prominently of Mononoke Hime (Princess Mononoke) and Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away) at the time this story takes place in late Fall 2004.

At the time I moved to Tokyo, I actually had no idea that Miyazaki would soon be releasing his newest offering: Haoru no Ugoku Shiro, or Howl’s Moving Castle, inspired by a British author’s book of the same title. A fantastic girl I worked with – Becky, who would soon resolve as one of my fastest and best friends in Tokyo – clued me in to the forthcoming Studio Ghibli feature, and soon we were both intrigued by the film’s premise and eagerly awaiting its release.

One problem: neither of us spoke more than a few phrases of Japanese.

To counteract our ignorance, I hied myself to the nearest bookstore after work one day and purchased a copy of Diana Wynne Jones’ novel. I figured we could both read it, and then follow the basic story as it unfolded in Miyazaki’s film.

I didn’t expect to fall head over heels into such a marvelous narrative. I didn’t expect the sly humor, the meta-inclusion of fairy tale tropes, the urban fantasy mixed in with secondary world fantasy and a dash of portal fantasy. I didn’t expect this novel to push so many of my buttons, indulging my fascination with the heart and witches and fairy tales. And strong women: in a time when I was often feeling vulnerable and lost, Sophie’s irascible strength filled me with a sympathetic conviction.

We saw the film in the theatre at Roppongi Hills a couple of weeks later, reveling in super-plush seats and the fact we didn’t have to wait ages to see it in an indie theatre back in the States.

For the first five minutes, the fact that we understood none of the film’s dialogue wasn’t a problem. (Especially considering there isn’t any dialogue for the first several minutes of the film.) We were armed with our knowledge of Diana Wynne Jones’ fantastic book. We were prepared!

Of course, then Miyazaki took us for an utterly fantastic ride away from the source material and into his own, equally genius vision. We were soon utterly lost, but it didn’t matter. The intoxicating imagery moved us, the music enthralled us, and I sat transfixed as even more of my thematic fascinations played out on screen: fallen stars, the lure of power, the glory of flight.

I may have missed all the nuance of Miyazaki’s concept in that first viewing, but I had a wholly complex two hours there in the dark: Diana Wynne Jones’ narrative and Miyazaki’s vision collided in my heart, leaving me immersed in an artistic experience beyond language that enthralled much deeper than either the novel or the film could have on their own.

It’s an experience that has stuck by me, and it need not have happened at all. The theatre we visited apparently also does a small number of showings of Japanese films each day with English subtitles. We had just missed that detail, and didn’t realize what the beleaguered ticket lady was trying to communicate to us before she just gave up and sold us tickets to the Japanese-only showing.

Still, I’m glad Becky and I were such silly gaijin. Otherwise, I would have missed out on a potent experience.

If you’re not familiar with Diana Wynne Jones’ work, do yourself a favor – find her books and read them.

That’s one of the best memorials such a fine writer could have.

Help Japan

Japan changed my life – utterly and certainly for the better. I lived there for only a couple of years, but the effect my experiences there had on me transcend such a paltry measure of time. Japan, Tokyo, my friends – Becky, Mayumi, Iwao, Kazue, Junichi, and so many more – have become landmarks on my inner topography. I miss walking my neighborhood streets in Tokyo in a way I’ve missed nothing else – except home.

When I heard about the devastating earthquake and resulting tsunami, my heart literally hurt. So much destruction. So many lives lost. I remember how bemused I would be when there was an earthquake while I lived there – any earthquake at a good distance from Tokyo, mind – and my family and friends reached out to me with great concern because they were unsure of the geography. I know the geography. I know how far the people I know stood from the epicenter of this terrible event, but it didn’t matter. Especially since distance wasn’t as helpful in the face of an earthquake that measured 9.0 on the MMS. Part of Honshu (the main island of Japan) was moved almost eight feet. The tsunami destroyed entire cities. Collateral damage certainly reached as far as Tokyo, as in the oil refinery fire in Chiba. There is an ongoing concern with Japan’s nuclear reactors.

My friends are all safe, for which I am exceedingly grateful. However, it is a bittersweet thing – for all that I rejoice in my loved ones’ safety, I can’t help but think of all those lost, and homeless, and devastated.

helpjapan-shukugawara-2

I am moved by the charitable response that has swept the world, and especially by the harnessing of the Internet to generate donations for the aid of Japan and other areas affected by this catastrophe. I can’t turn around without finding a new way to give to Japan, and I thank the world for that.

If you haven’t helped already, and if you have the means and desire to contribute, I hope you’ll consider a few of the ways below:

Papaveria Press, purveyor of brilliant books, is donating all proceeds in the near future to Doctors Without Borders.

Genre for Japan will be auctioning prizes (related to the SFF and horror genres) for donations.

Writers for the Red Cross, while not specifically geared for Japan, is raising money for the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which will be assisting recovery efforts in Japan.

If you participate in any fandoms, you may like giving through one of the following – get something cool, and help Japan at the same time!

help_japan: A series of fandom auctions, from fanfic to artwork to care packages.
japan_calls: Auctioning celebrity voices to raise funds.
fandomaid: Another series of fandom auctions.
helpjapan: Deviant Art’s auction group, mostly of arts and crafts.

These are just a few ways you can help; like I said, you almost can’t turn around without falling over a new way to donate. This is an amazing thing, and I hope you’ll search your pockets or the couch cushions for even some small bit to chip in to one of those charities.

Now, let’s close close this post with another amazing event that has arisen in the wake of this tragedy: Hideaki Akaiwa named Badass of the Week. The silly honor is not the amazing bit – just read the story and see! (Warning, though: contains language.)

Stone Telling 3: Whimsy

The third issue of Stone Telling was released yesterday, full to bursting with a dizzying profusion of whimsy.

I haven’t yet had a chance to read the full issue, but have instead sampled here and there as fancy took me. There’s a new poem by Catherynne M. Valente – the first in nearly two years! – that makes me want to amble on the range and shed fierce tears and laugh in the seized grasp of truth. “The Secret of Being a Cowboy” is powerful, and the accompanying audio recording by SJ Tucker in an Arkansas accent brings that point well home.

Sonya Taaffe’s “Persephone in Hel” is a paragon of macabre beauty and leaves me both delighted and creeped out. A startling juxtaposition to be achieved by one poem, but it’s true! Jo Walton’s “The Weatherkeeper’s Diary” is a slow little bit of cloud-gathering, equal parts pragmatism and whimsy. The timbre of Walton’s poem suits this issue of Stone Telling entirely, and adeptly strokes the reader’s imagination.

Beyond these, there’s a pantoum inspired by mathematics, a haunting prose poem concerning Lot’s wife (who deserves a name), kaleidoscopic poetry invoking the chaos of cities, and several other pieces as unlikely and surprising. The accompanying images are deftly chosen by Rose Lemberg, and there are audio recordings of the poetry where available.

Stone Telling is also unique among poetry zines in its inclusion of nonfiction columns. In this issue, you can find an article by Nin Harris on Muhammad Haji Salleh’s Sajak-Sajak Sejarah Melayu, as well as one exploring the pantoum that I am honored to have contributed.

In “There is That Line Again: Revealing the Pantoum in Context,” I explore how the pantoum emerged into the Western poetry scene from the Malay pantun. I included quite a few examples of Malay poetry, French poetry, and poetry in English, along with the historical context and an expanded definition of the pantoum form. If you have any interest in poetry, I hope you’ll read it – if you do, tell me what you think!

After you’ve read this fantastic issue of Stone Telling, be sure to continue on to the roundtable led by Julia Rios – this is another unique aspect of Stone Telling, and one that never fails to foster important conversations.

This issue of Stone Telling can be discussed at stonetellingmag, the zine’s Livejournal community. Also, if you’ve enjoyed the publication and are interested in supporting the arts, please consider leaving something in the tip jar at the bottom of this page.

Of cats and birthdays.

Today is my thirtieth birthday, and that definitely feels odd to type. I don’t feel thirty years old, nor am I sure what thirty is meant to feel like. My day began with errands (emissions test, tag renewal) and exercise (biking, aerobics). It’s closing with writing creatively, teaching myself crochet, replaying Kingdom Hearts, and a decadent Italian dinner (but with only half a tira misu). Perhaps I’ll wedge in a viewing of one or two of my birthday gifts (How to Train Your Dragon and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World).

Maybe this is what thirty feels like, this mixture of responsibility, self-respect, creativity, and silly fun. That’s not bad at all.

Happy birthday also to Mary Robinette Kowal1, Jules Verne2, John Ruskin3, Seth Green4, and Kate Chopin5!

Each and every one of you should do something awesome today, and be excellent to each other. Get excited and make things. Maybe even say it was done in the name of me. I would be amenable to that!

Here’s something both enjoyable and generous you could do:

Erin M. Underwood is raising money to donate to the Great Lakes Bengal Rescue, an organization dedicated to helping Bengal cats in need. As part of this effort, she solicited cat poems from the online community and has posted them along with images of some absolutely gorgeous Bengal cats and a donation link.

Go. Enjoy free cat poetry, and give a little if you can.

You will find a poem of mine entitled “Fae Cat Fib” in there. It was originally inspired by the Cait Sidhe in Seanan McGuire‘s October Daye series, although the final piece also drew upon the Scottish legends of the Cait Sith. The poem is also informed by the Fibonacci sequence: I set out to write a fib, but decided I wanted to mirror the structure in the end.

Brittany Warman’s “My Cat is a Collector of Stories” is one poem particularly deserving of your attention in the collection: it’s infused with an elegant fairy tale sensibility, and phrases both fully apt and startlingly resonant. Jess Mersky’s “Alice is Missing” evokes shivers of dark delight, summoning to mind the black and white kittens from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. “Reveille” by Martha Wallen makes me laugh because it’s so true, and Amanda Gannon’s turns of phrase in “Cat in the Doorway” are gorgeously constructed and perfectly evocative.

Read poetry. Help bengal cats in need, if you’re moved to do so: make a donation, or spread the word of Poetry for Cats.

And have an awesome day.

Notes:

1. Who wrote the delicately enthralling Shades of Milk and Honey, one of my favorite books of 2010.

2. Who is being honored with a great interactive Google doodle!

3. Who may have inspired his friend George MacDonald, who wrote Phantastes, The Princess and the Goblin, and many other fantastic works.

4. Who made me love him as Oz in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and is stunningly well-connected in Hollywood.

5. Who wrote The Awakening, one of the more engaging books I was tasked to read in a rather intellectually painful high school English class.