Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Broad

No, I'm not talking about going overseas. I'm talking about broads. I got a kick out of Meta Wagner's piece reposted on Alternet. She says there aren't any good broads left. Here's her list of broad qualities:

•Would never be caught speaking the words "that's hot."
•Doesn't own any pairs of Manolo Blahniks.
•Uses salty language, especially around men.
•Developed her brain and talents and flirtiness, in part because she couldn't coast on her looks alone.
•Doesn't watch her cholesterol or have her body mass index measured.
•Can probably be found right now in a back room somewhere playing poker and smoking cigars with the boys.
•Can kick your ass, and mine.
•Is not the librarian with glasses and her hair in a bun who then tosses her glasses and shakes out her hair to lure a man. She's the librarian. Period.
•She's not the superhero/martial arts heroine who beats the guy at his own game and then lets him "take" her. She's the one who beats the guy at his own game. Period.
•Knows who she is, and so no one would think of asking her to be something she's not.

I think I'm a broad. I fit most of these, except the bit about smoking a cigar with the boys. Of course, I can't hold a light to the likes of Molly Ivins or Mae West. Now they was some broads!

How about youse? Are you a broad or a limited?

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Made Visible

Mmmm. It’s an almost perfect Columbia River Gorge day today. We had rain showers. And periods of sunshine. The air is clear and crisp, with mist rising above the dark green sides of the gorge, rising until it is indistinguishable from the clouds, becoming clouds, I suppose. Does mist have ambition to be a cloud? Rain? Snow? The snow dusts the higher elevations of the gorge like powdered sugar on top of a conifer cake. Still feels like winter. Yet the cottonwood trees are all leafing out. Their leaves are lime-colored and tender-looking. The osprey are sitting in their huge nests alongside the river, slow-cooking embryos into bird babies.

Yesterday we had to go to town. It was beautiful then, too. Storming one minute, sunny with rainbows the next. Kind of like life, babies. As I was coming out of the library in the Hollywood District, a man came in the same door I was leaving from. I stepped out of his way. He looked at me and yelled, “Fuck you, too, for letting them rape my neighborhood.” It was hailing and raining outside, and Mario had gone to get the car because I had forgotten my hat and scarf and it was cold. A few seconds before my encounter with the man, I had been standing by the window watching the downpour and talking with another woman. We talked about the winter that never seems to end. Wondering when the locusts were coming. Then I saw our car and I started outside. Met the man. “Fuck you, too, for letting them rape my neighborhood!”

I thought he was probably schizophrenic and wasn’t actually talking to me. I looked back at the woman I had been speaking with and I shrugged and said, “Okay.” And I laughed. The woman looked afraid. So did another woman, younger, who sat on a bench near her. I started outside again. I could feel the warmth from the library entranceway and the fresh coolness from the rocky rain blending for a moment. And I heard the man say, “Don’t laugh.” So he had been talking to me, he was noticing me. I had my back to him and it flashed through my brain that this was how people got killed. In a moment like this. By a crazy person. An angry person. I didn’t like having my back to him. I sensed he was coming after me. I knew he was going to try to hurt me.

I ran. I ran into the hail and rain and I got into the car. Safe. Safe. Safe. Locked the door. Then I looked to see if the man had followed me. He hadn’t. He hadn’t followed. Mario drove away.

I was all right. Nothing had happened.

It made me wonder though: What had I done to allow the "rape of my neighborhood." Or what hadn't I done. How had I acted or not acted? How responsible was I—were all of us—for the state of the world.

Mario and I drove through the storm toward home. Huge blue-black storm clouds hung over us like magnificent paintings in a sky gallery. Ahhhhh. We had the radio on. Someone recited Kahlil Gibran's quote "Work is love made visible.” I’d heard that quote before, but it hadn’t really resonated with me. This time, this day, it did.

I said to Mario, “Wow. I think maybe that’s what I do with my writing: try to make love visible.”

“I know it’s what you do,” he said. “That’s why I was so sad when you said you were quitting.”

We drove through a tunnel just then. Into a kind of golden darkness. A noisy silence. Rumble. Then into the stormy light again.

Love made visible. As I thought about it, I knew that was what I did with my writing. It was what I did when I was a community librarian. All the work I did was an expression of my love. I remembered when I first heard that quote years ago, I imagined people slaving over widgets, cotton fields, office computers. How was that love made visible? I had wondered. I associated the word “work” with drudgery, unhappiness, this thing we had to do to stay alive. I’ve always been aware of how lucky and privileged I am to have the choice to try to make a living doing something I love. We should all be so lucky. So when I heard that quote before, I thought Kahlil Gibran must not understand what work is.

Yet now I wondered if maybe I should adopt a more catholic definition of the word "work."

My writing is work. I love my work. I love the creation process.

Some of my writer friends think it’s silly that I consider my writing to be my art, that I think of it as something that is sacred to me. Writing is something that sustains me, it is one of the ways that I communicate with the world. For these friends, we put words on paper. That's what writers do. Period. That’s all right. They can do that. I think that’s wonderful for them! Me? I’ll be the story shaman. It is my work.

Love made visible.

I’d like my entire life to be love made visible.

When I got home yesterday, I read an interview in Alternatives with Gary Holthaus, a sustainable agriculture activist. It was Part 2 and I hadn’t read the first part, but the person conducting the interview summed up some of the things Holthaus had said previously.

“Are you saying that the best course may be to leave that which is unsustainable to its inevitable fate? In other words, not spend a lot of energy fighting the giant institutions and corporations because they are, by definition, unsustainable and will collapse anyway, of their own weight? I’m thinking of Cargill, Monsanto, ADM, and the others. They buy the politicians, and they’ll write the Farm Bill as they please. But never mind them, let’s get to our work, which is about sustainable local and organic food, building up the soils, and teaching people about urban agriculture that works. Is that what you’re getting at?”

Holthaus answers, “Absolutely. It’s about finding out how to feed ourselves healthy food, and to heck with those other guys. I’d say to heck with Congress, we can ignore them, too. We can ignore the Farm Bill, we can do fine without Monsanto—in fact we’re going to have to learn to do that.”

I thought, yes, yes, yes! I’ve been an activist almost all my life, starting back in elementary school when I tried to protect the killdeer from the insane boys who crushed the birds eggs with hysterical delight. Most of the time, I’ve been fighting corporations, big businesses, big governments. I end up defeated; these entities end up energized by my defeat; and nothing is accomplished. The problem remains unsolved.

Holthaus goes on to say, “We’ve got to change our world-view. The difference between a sustainable agriculture—or sustainable culture—and one that’s commodity-driven and short-term is a difference in world-view. Only when we change the story we’ve been telling ourselves about how the world works can we transform the culture. That’s what we have to do.”

Of course he’s right. So much of our efforts have been based on bringing down the big guy or becoming part of the big guy so we can transform him. That ain’t working. It ain’t gonna work. We have to go on without them, almost as if they didn’t exist. And we can’t feed them, of course: We can’t buy their chemicals; we can’t buy their crap. We can’t use it. We must change our world-view and change how we act.

The root of the word “work” means “to act.” If work is love made visible, then isn't any act, any action, love made visible, too? Is it love to spray chemicals into the air and on our lawns? Is it love to create warfare in our homes, communities, and nation? Is it love to support businesses that aren’t sustainable? Is it love not to act?

I’ve talked many times about how we each have a responsibility. We each have some ability to respond: responsibility. Only you know what that means for you. But we can’t sit around wringing our hands. Step up to the plate, man, and swing, batter, batter, swing! No excuses.

Holthaus says that information will not save us.

“For instance, we’ve known about global warming for the last three decades,” he says, “and it hasn’t changed our behavior a bit. We’ve had all the information about the end of oil for three or four decades: hasn’t changed our driving. We aren’t going to win this with arguments—arguments just create defensiveness or aggression.

“No, the most powerful tool we’ve got is to change the story we’ve been telling ourselves. That old story is as toxic as it comes—‘bigger is better’, and ‘if you can’t get big, you’d better get out’. That’s the story of agriculture in the last fifty years. ‘Chemicals can fix anything’—they obviously can’t....The story we’ve been telling ourselves is about speed, growth and chemicals. It’s destroying us.

“The new story is about compassion instead of condescension or indifference. We are in this together, and we are going to take care of each other—not competition, but cooperation. Somehow or another we’ve got to find ways to spread that story, and we’ve got to spread it fast.
“One of my optimisms is that, we’re gonna multiply smallnesses, instead of encouraging bigness. Think about how rural America would look now if over the past fifty years we’d been encouraging smallness instead of ending it. We’d have lots of small farms, which inevitably give us prosperous small communities. And those prosperous small communities would be feeding us, and we wouldn’t be dealing with the urban sprawl, and all the problems that brings. That’s the story we need to tell and get out there.”

Multiply-smallness. Ain’t that a grand idea?

Love made visible.

Holthaus says we’ve got to change our story. Do you understand what that means? We must all be story shamans. You, me, him, her, us. Us. It has to be about what we teach our children and what stories we continue to tell ourselves.

This is the long way of saying that I've decided I am not going to quit writing. I’m not going to quit telling my stories. I'll keep doing it, keep writing it my way.

With love.

Made visible.

May You Work in Beauty!


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Internet Explorer Problems

Hello! So some of you have been having trouble with the website if you use Internet Explorer. Sorry about that. I don't use IE, so I didn't see it and when I checked it on the old IE, which is the only one you can use on a Mac, it looked fine. But we went someplace and looked at it with the latest Internet Explorer and saw what you were seeing, so we're hoping it's fixed. We don't see the things on Jane's post that some of you are seeing even when we get into the HTML, so we're confused.

By the way, I would suggest you try other browsers than IE if you can stand it. I like Camino, Firefox, or Safari much better than Internet Explorer. But if you do keep IE and you see problems with the website, let me know, because otherwise I won't know. Hope that makes sense. That was always true with Furious Spinner, too.

May You Surf With Beauty!

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Everyone Wins!!!

Yeah!!! The free book giveaway has come to an end. Thanks to everyone for reading the interviews and to everyone who commented. I've decided to give everyone who commented one of my books. I have most of your email addresses, but Gypsy, Vancouver Gal, Robert, and Melissa need to email me because I don't have yours.

By the way, someone said that in one of the browsers, Jane's interview has some squares in them. I don't see them, so I can't take them out. Sorry about that. Macs don't have access to updated Internet Explorer, so I have no idea what it looks like on that. I looked at an old IE, and everything was in caps. I hope it's not like that on the newer versions.

Anyway, I did check the blog on three browsers and it looked good on all three, although the font was smaller on one of them. Did you know that in most browsers you can go up to "view" and increase the font size of any page from there? Very convenient for readers.

Okay! I'll start getting those books out to everyone.

More later, gators.

Read more here...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Interview with Charles de Lint

Charles de Lint is one of the best storytellers of our time. For two decades, he has awed and delighted readers with his mythic fiction. I was sitting here trying to figure out how to adequately describe what Charles does. He writes urban fantasy like no one else, but that doesn’t really tell you anything. You can hate fantasy but love Charles’ work. Maybe his stories are so remarkable and accessible because they are so grounded in myth, grounded in those stories that make up our world; because of this and because they are also rooted in place, the stories become real to us. I suppose that is what all great writers do, but it’s more difficult when you are writing “magic.“ In other words, with most fantasy you have to suspend your disbelief. With Charles’ stories, you aren’t suspending anything; you’re going along for the ride! After reading his stories, you are certain magic does exist, right here and now, in the way the birds fly, the sun sets, and the coyotes howl in the desert.

Charles and I first became acquainted when Nina Hoffman sent me some reviews Charles had done of my short fiction. At the time I was living in Tucson getting my Master of Library Science; I was sick, miserable, and I had yet again quit writing for good and forever. I wrote to Charles after reading his kind reviews, and we’ve been friends ever since.

Before email was popular, Charles and I used to write each other long letters, snail mail. I am embarrassed now on how I would prattle on about nothing. (Not much has changed.) Life took various twists and turns and the long letters stopped, but we’ve never lost touch with each other, even though we’ve only met in person twice. I love his wife, MaryAnn Harris, and I have never met her in “real” life.

Charles has been my mentor since the beginning of our friendship. He helped me get my first agent, and he and MaryAnn were instrumental in getting Coyote Cowgirl published. What I like most about Charles’ work is the same thing I like about Charles. His stories have a kindness to them. He seems to empathize with his characters, even the ones who aren’t particularly “good.“ His stories don’t have a black or white, good vs. evil, view of the world. There is the sense that were are all kin.

Charles has published over 60 books. Eight of his books were chosen for the reader-selected Modern Library Top 100 Books of the Twentieth Century poll, conducted online by Random House. Charles won the World Fantasy Award for his short story collection Moonlight and Vines in 2000. As those of you who’ve read Charles have probably guessed, Charles is a musician, too. You can find lots more out about Charles and his work on his website. Enjoy!

Kim Antieau (KA): What was your favorite book when you were a boy?

Charles de Lint (CDL): Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, the edition illustrated by Ernest Shepherd. I must have reread it a hundred times, and still go back to it. But while most people loved Toad, I much preferred the company of Ratty, Mole and Badger.

KA: Place seems to be very important in your books. Is it equally important in your life? Are you an indoor or an outdoor guy?

CDL: A bit of both. I like living in the city where I have all my books and music and can go out to buy that night’s dinner or easily see a band. But I also like the wild places, especially hiking in the desert and the Eastern woodlands. Do I have to choose?

KA: You really love the Sonoran desert. Can you tell us about the first time you went and/or what it is about this place that speaks to you?

CDL: It’s one of those inexplicable things. I remember stepping out of the airport the first time we came to Tucson (it must fifteen years or so ago, now) and I just felt like I was home. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I lived in desert country when I was a kid (Turkey, Lebanon, with lots of side trips through the Middle East and Egypt). Maybe it was from reading all those Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey westerns when I was a kid. Maybe it’s because it was once a sea and we all came from there originally.

I do know that I miss it when I’m not there. One of the main things that stops MaryAnn and I from moving to Tucson is that we can’t afford the health insurance. And MaryAnn would miss her family, who all live in or close to Ottawa.

KA: Am I remembering right that you left home when you were quite young and were on your own. Was being on your own so young a difficult thing to survive? Do you think that experience contributes to your understanding and empathy with your teen characters?

CDL: You’re right, but you know it was 1967—the Summer of Love—and things were a little different then. Sure, there were dangers and you could get into real serious trouble when you were homeless, but they pale in comparison to what the streets are like today. And there was always a sense of community. Not necessarily with everyone, but you could always find people to hook up with, share a meal and a smoke, play some music, talk into the night.

A fifteen year old hitting the streets today has a lot more dangers to face.

But that kind of experience teaches you about being hungry; about being cold and wet with no place to go; about the kindness and indifference of strangers. I also can’t pass by a homeless person without considering what put them there, because on the streets, you didn’t have to say a word to be accepted, but you could also share war stories long into the night.

KA: When did you first start writing? When did you decide you were actually going to be a writer?

CDL: It seems like I always wrote, I just didn’t think of it as a career choice. I just liked to tell myself, to pen pals (I had a lot of them, all over the world). Of course this was in the days before computers were everywhere, and anyone could access the Web. You had to make an effort keeping up a correspondence, and the arrival of the mail once a day was a big deal. I think if modern technology had been around when I was a kid, I would never have left my bedroom except to take the dogs out for their run three times a day.

KA: You are a musician as well as a writer. Do you view your music as an vocation or an avocation? Or is that just such a capitalistic question? MaryAnn is also a musician, isn’t she?

CDL: We’re both musicians. I’ve been doing it for longer than she has and I think I like to play for people more than she does. She is just as happy sitting on the porch or the end of the dock up at the lake playing her mandolin with only the birds to listen to her. I like the buzz of playing with other people, for people.

It was my career choice from about fifteen on. I’ve always lived and breathed music, running off to buy a new 45 as soon as I got my allowance and playing that thing over and over for hours. I could listen to music forever, and once I started playing, I could play forever. Worked for years in a record shop, which didn’t feel like work because you were listening to and talking about music all day long. Every record store I worked in was like High Fidelity, but there aren’t many like that any more.

In my late twenties, I started trying to make a go of it as a writer and music, didn’t so much take a back seat, as become something I just liked to do.

KA: You’ve always written young adult as well as adult novels, haven’t you? Do you find the experience of writing young adult novels different from your experience of writing adult novels?

CDL: I wrote a couple before I hooked up with Viking, and also used to write stories for the kids in my life, but it wasn’t until Joe Monti (then a buyer for a big chain) got me together with Sharyn November my editor at Viking that I was able to do as much of it as I liked. And I do like it.

To me there’s no difference between writing YA and adult except that in YA I make the book a little shorter and the protagonists are teens. The difference is in the readers. I have great, responsive adult readers, but I adore the interaction with teen readers because they’re so enthusiastic about their likes and dislikes. They don’t pull punches.

These days, I find myself finishing a YA, then doing an adult novel, then back to a YA. I wouldn’t want to only do one—mostly because there are stories that work better, depending on the age of the protagonists.

KA: I’m interested in how writers actually write. Do you have an office? Do you write at a certain time of the day? If you have a regular place where you write, does that mean you have difficulty writing away from your nest? Do you write on a computer or a pad of paper. Etc.

CDL: I write on a computer, but I’ve run the complete gambit. When I was very young, I wrote with a ballpoint pen in school notebooks. Then I got pretentious and started writing with a dip pen on parchment (I wrote at least a novel-length poem that way). Moved on to a fountain pen. Then a typewriter, then an electric self-correct. Then someone gave me a word processor and I was amazed at being able to fit ten pages on one of those floppy discs. Now I work on a computer.

I have an office, and I love it, but I can write, and have written, pretty much anywhere. In airports, on planes, in cafes, at someone’s dining room table...wherever I can open up the laptop and get to work.

KA: Are you ever unsure of yourself or your writing?

CDL: All the time. I think a good writer is a mix of confidence (sure that what they’re writing is going to appeal to their readers) and uncertainty (what if all these words are crap?). If you’re too confident, you get an attitude that seeps through into your writing, affecting the characters and the story. If you’re too uncertain, you’ll never finish anything.

In the end, I can only write a story I’d like to read, do it as best as I can, and hope that others will like it, too. The good thing about this method is that, no matter what else happens, at least I’ll enjoy the process.

KA: Now for the Cosmo portion of our interview: What do you do for fun?

CDL:: I’m boring. I like to read, play music, listen to music, watch TV (my last obsession was Veronica Mars). We’ve recently added a dog to our lives, young Johnny Cash, the dog in black, a Maltese/toy poodle mix. MaryAnn and I love playing with him and walking him. Our cat Clare is still holding judgment.

Also, if we’re in any sort of wild country, I love to hike. I also like painting and drawing, but I haven’t had enough time to enjoy it so much in the past few years.

KA: What’s your favorite thing to eat?

CDL: Chile rellenos at La Indita in Tucson.

KA: Do you have a favorite movie? Or are you not a movie kind of guy?

CDL: This will horrify real movie buffs who love the big screen, but I love watching home. Years ago I pretty much stopped seeing them because I just got sick of the theatre experience (the lines, the talking, the crappy theatres). Then along came Betamax (yes, I always choose the wrong format) and I was in heaven. I’ve since moved on to DVDs, which of course are on the way out now I’m sure with the advent of Blue Ray, but I doubt I’m going to switch. If DVDs become unavailable the way VHS tapes did when the big companies decided that we should only watch DVDs, I’m just going to stop buying them. I’ll still have lots of old ones to rewatch.

KA: What animal do you most relate to? (Not the animal you like the most, but which animal are you most like.)

CDL: If I say crows and coyotes, is that cheating?, considering I like them as much as I do. Or maybe a better term would be that I respect them, and they amuse me and fill me with wonder. But that’s true for pretty much every living thing.

KA: Alice Hoffman said in our interview that you can tell a lot about a person by which novel a person prefers: Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. Which do you like best and what do you think that says about you?

CDL: Haven’t read either—but then I’m not necessarily as well-versed in the classics. I had terrible teachers who worked hard to kill any love for reading a kid might have, and since I never finished high school, I wasn’t exposed to them in college or university (neither of which I attended). I’ve subsequently caught up with some, but not with Bronte.

But I liked Kate Bush’s song “Wuthering Heights.”

KA: Do you have a favorite poet? If you do, who is s/he?

CDL: Wow, that’s a tough question. I’m the only person I know who goes out and buys poetry books. (Like I went and bought a little stack of books by Jimmy Santiago Baca after you told me about him—the guy’s brilliant; thanks for the tip!) Anyway, the point is, I love so many. I’ve spent many a happy hour reading Yeats, Wordsworth, the Beat poets, Leonard Cohen and the like. I’d also include people more commonly considered songwriters such as Dylan and Robin Williamson.

Currently (at the risk of sounding like I’m sucking up to you), I’m completely enamoured with your husband Mario’s work, especially the poems collected in Animal Life. Carolyn Dunn is so gifted. Gary Snyder, though I tend to read his essays more than his verse.

KA: I won’t ask you which of your novels is your favorite, but I wonder if there is a novel you love that you wish more people would notice and read?

CDL: I wish more people would read me, period. What writer doesn’t? We’re here to tell our stories to as many people as we can. I’m grateful to the readership I have—they’re loyal to a fault—but I also know that there’s a whole mainstream market I could tap into if I could only let them know I existed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a letter, or someone’s come up to me at a signing, to tell me that they don’t normally read fantasy, but after they read (insert title of whatever book it happened to be) they went out and bought all the others they could find.

That’s gold, for a writer to hear that. But also frustrating because you know you could connect to so many more people.

And I actually have favourite books, but they’re favourites for various reasons other than quality, usually because I tried something different and it worked. I often cite Dreams Underfoot as my favourite because it’s where I learned to write short stories, and it’s also where I learned that one doesn’t need a linear plot, or a clear antagonist, to tell a story that works.

KA: Does MaryAnn ever suggest story ideas to you?

CDL: All the time. Or she’ll point something out in a ms. that will take the story to a better and different place.

KA: Do you want to tell us what you’re working on now?

CDL: Right at this moment I’m in the wonderful position of not being under contract to anyone (though I have a number of offers that my agent’s hammering out), so I’m just writing a story for the fun of it. It’s YA, set in the southwest, with Chinese dragons and bandas and narcocorridos. Maybe it’ll fit one of the upcoming contracts, maybe it won’t, but I’m having fun writing it.

I’d give you more details, but I don’t really talk about what I’m working on because if I tell the story, then I don’t feel like writing it anymore.

KA: I understand. I'm the same way. Thanks so much, Charles! Love to MaryAnn.

Read more here...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Interview with Joanne Harris

Joanne Harris writes about people, places, and food with a delicious kind of magical realism. And I mean that as a description, not as a literary genre, although you could also argue that she is a magical realist writer. In any case, her stories are realist and mythic, sounding as though she is chronicling events that really happened, telling us about people we wished me knew and are glad exist somewhere in the world. Perhaps part of Joanne's brilliance comes from her ability to mix a bit of her own colorful life into her stories. She was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire to a French mother and English father, and food and folklore played a powerful role in her life. Her first book, Evil Seed, came out in 1989, and she hasn't stopped publishing since. She lives not far from where she grew up with her husband Kevin and her daughter Anouchka. She plays bass guitar in a band first formed when she was 16, and she is currently studying Old Norse. The Girl With No Shadow, a continuation of the story of some of the characters from her best-selling Chocolat, has just been published in the United States. Her website has tons of goodies on it, including in-depth interviews and lots of scrumptious inside info on her books.

Kim Antieau (KA): Hello, Joanne! I’m interested in process, so I’ve got some writing 
geek questions. Where do you write? In a particular place? Chair? 
Bathrobe? Coffee, tea? In the morning, evening? Do you begin with a 
character or an idea?

Joanne Harris (JH): I generally begin with a series of ideas (not always in sequence) and a main character or two. Because I write in the first person, it’s important for me to get the voice right, after which I begin to feel more confident to develop the plot. I write on a very small Sony laptop, which fits into my handbag, and which I take everywhere with me. That way, I get to write on trains, in planes and in airports and hotel rooms (I quite enjoy these because I can order room service). When I’m at home, I generally work in the library, which is the nicest room in the house (it used to be my room, but everyone else adopted it). I don’t tend to dress up at home. Just jeans, Converses and an old cashmere sweater when it’s cold. On sunny days, I work in the greenhouse, a Victorian conservatory with a fig tree growing in it. I have a hammock and a rocking chair, and it’s just far enough away from the house to escape non-essential interruptions. I prefer to work in the mornings, especially in summertime (in winter I tend to suffer from the lack of light, and in spite of my SAD lamp, my work tends to slow down).

KA: Food is important in most of your books. I’m wondering if food as 
a kind of character in your novels is something you plan for each time or if it just happens?

JH: I don’t think of it as a character, more as an indicator of character. That’s why it takes on so many different identities, depending on the characters I’m writing about. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they relate to food. For me, it’s a kind of litmus test that defines the individual’s approach to life, culture and his peers.

KA: Your book Chocolat and the movie made from it were huge hits. Did 
that kind of success impact how you felt when you were writing your 
next book?

JH: Not really. I don’t tend to think much about the past when I’m working on something new. Besides, I had already finished the next book by the time Chocolat was published, so I didn’t feel the pressure to follow through.

KA: I won’t ask you which of your novels is your favorite but is there 
one you have a particular affection for that you wish more people 
read and noticed?

JH: I’m particularly fond of Runemarks, the fantasy novel I wrote for my daughter. I had such terrific fun writing it and working out all the intricate twists, and I think that some of the descriptive passages are as good as the best of my adult fiction.

KA: I read that you were a French teacher and wrote “in secret” while 
you continued teaching. Are you still a French teacher? If not, was 
that difficult to give up?

JH: I barely have time to write these days, let alone hold down a full-time job. Besides, after 15 years in teaching, I was more than ready to re-invent myself…

KA: Are you a good cook? A gourmet? Do you think the source of food is important? Freshness, organics, etc?

JH: I’m a decent (though far from brilliant) cook, with (like most people) very little time for cooking. I don’t prepare very complicated food, and my husband and daughter are vegetarians, so I tend to make a lot of pasta dishes, with soups, salads, roasted vegetables, curries, couscous, fruit, olives, tofu, cheese and rice. I think that the quality of the food matters more than the recipe – good ingredients don’t need much preparation – and I like to use fresh, local ingredients in season, rather than tasteless supermarket food flown in from a thousand miles away. I don’t cook meat or fish any more, and though I do eat them occasionally (especially when I’m travelling), I much prefer free-range, organic, ethically sourced produce. I support the Fair Trade organization, and I try to buy fair trade coffee, tea, chocolate, mangoes, bananas, etc. whenever I can.

KA: Do you want to change the world with your novels or a write a good 
story or both?

JH: If novels could change the world, then I guess someone would have done it by now. I just try to write the best story I can, and to make it as honest as possible.

JH: Runemarks is your first book for young readers. How’s that going? 
Was it a different experience writing for young readers? What does 
your daughter think of the novel?

KA: I don’t really think of this as a book for young readers, given that so many of my so-called “adult” books are being read by teens anyway. But it’s my first try at flat-out fantasy, and it has been tremendous fun. I wouldn’t have written it in this way at all without my daughter to spur me on. She’s very much the prototype for Maddy, and ever since I finished it, she has been pestering me for the sequel…

KA: The Girl With No Shadow, a sequel to Chocolat, is coming out soon. 
Was it difficult to return to that story and pick it up again? Fun? 

JH: I waited a long time to venture back into Chocolat territory, for a number of reasons. Principally because I wanted to explore other avenues, secondly because I knew that if ever I wrote about Vianne and Anouk again, the story would almost certainly be more about Anouk growing up, and I wanted to give my own daughter time to grow before I started to write about a girl on the cusp of adolescence. In many ways, therefore, The Girl With No Shadow has as much in common with Gentlemen and Players (my previous book) as with Chocolat. But I am very fond of those characters, and I’d always felt (as I still do) that there might be more to their story some day.

KA: Alice Hoffman says you can tell something about a person by which 
book they prefer: Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre. Which book do you 
prefer? Why?

JH: Wuthering Heights; partly because I live within a stone’s throw of the place, and the landscape has shaped my childhood, and partly because of the raw poetry of the writing and the extraordinary insight the author shows into the darker mysteries of the human heart – an at such a tender age. Fantastic.

Read more here...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Interview With Jimmy Santiago Baca

Jimmy Santiago Baca is a brilliant and gifted writer. As with most great poets, Baca says so much in a few words, evoking place and emotion sparingly, precisely, beautifully. His ecstatic poetry is reminiscent of Walt Whitman, but Baca's voice is definitely his own and absolutely unique. After enduring and surviving a harrowing childhood in New Mexico, Baca was sentenced to a maximum security prison where he discovered poetry and his own voice: He came out of a prison a writer.

Since then he has had many books published, including an inspiring and often heart-wrenching memoir, A Place to Stand. His book Healing Earthquakes: A Love Story in Poems is unlike anything I've ever read—a novel in poems. Healing Earthquakes is not something you want to read haphazardly. You cannot read it with the television on, the radio, the stereo. Read it with attention, love, for the purpose of seeing and feeling treasure in every word.

Since Baca got out of prison, he has conducted hundreds of writing workshops in prisons, community centers, libraries, and universities throughout the country. In 2005, Baca founded Cedar Tree, a non-profit organization working to "empower impoverished and imprisoned people through literacy." He has recently completed two documentaries, Moving The River Back Home and Chino, about the power of writing and poetry with marginalized students and prisoners.

I first heard of Jimmy Santiago Baca after I had been home ill for some time. I saw a piece about him on television. He talked about learning to read and discovering poetry. When he started writing poetry, he said, it was like wiping away ashes from his tongue and discovering a jewel. That was exactly how I felt about writing! He said poetry saved his life. Sometimes when I read Baca, I feel like his poetry is saving my life.

I hope you enjoy this interview. By the way, if you purchase Baca's books from his website, you can get signed copies. You can also find audio files on his site and listen to Jimmy read some of his poems.

Kim Antieau (KA): You essentially taught yourself to read when you were in prison. It seemed like the letters you wrote to Harry really helped accelerate your reading and writing skills. Is that true? Did you ever see him or write to him after you left prison? Do you think he knew what the correspondence meant to you? (Harry was a religious man who wrote to Jimmy while he was in prison)

Jimmy Santiago Baca (JSB): Yes, having someone like Harry, a real live person reading my words, helped me write. Never met him or wrote him after prison. Yes he knew.

KA: One of the things I like about your writing is that it seems very passionate, very engaged. It’s not stale or stoic. It seems personal. I admire your ability to do that. Your heart is in your words. It that difficult for you? Or does it come naturally? Is it cathartic or painful? (I ask this because I often write about personal issues, not in poems but in essays, and sometimes after they’re published or posted, I feel exposed and vulnerable.)

JSB: No, I pour my heart into my words to a fault, all natural, neither cathartic or painful, more like exhilarating, tunneling the caves of the minds and striking gold veins in the dark.

KA: I love Healing Earthquakes. How long did it take to write? Did you just sit down and these lines would pour out of you? Or did you plan each line or each section? Is it based on your life? I remember in your memoir one of the poems you wrote in prison was called "Healing Earthquakes."

JSB: Not long at all to write, maybe a few months. Yep, they poured will. I wrote it every day, somewhat similar to my life...sort of undulates in and out of my experience.

KA: You’ve written poetry, a memoir, fiction. Do you like writing one better than the other? Is your process different for each?

JSB: I lovvveeeeeeeee poetry. Each discipline demands its own process...some you write early in the morning, others in the evening, others in bursts and others contemplative....

KA: I like knowing how other writers write. Do you write every day? Every week? Do you take long breaks and come back to it? Do you write in an office, at a desk, at a kitchen table?

JSB: I hardly write, maybe once every two weeks. I've sometimes quit writing for three or four years, just read. I write everywhere when I write, mostly libraries though.

KA: Can you tell us about your work with Cedar Tree? The mission of Cedar Tree is to “develop an appreciation for the written word in underserved populations, primarily prisoners, families of prisoners, and at-risk youth.” I was reading about all the projects on the website. There’s a prison literacy project, youth literacy project, environmental literacy project, and online literary project. Plus you’re doing films. How’s it going?

JSB: Ahhh Cedar Tree. We do so much community service—establish libraries, facilitate workshops, books drives, scholarships, work with teenagers, prisoners, film docs., edit and air them and have people everywhere weep and laugh and share their joy and sorrow with you.....we have made a huge impact on a hundred thousand lives...

KA: You’ve completed work on two documentaries: Moving The River Back Home and Chino. Did you want to tell us about these movies?

JSB: They are about the power of reading and writing to change lives...

KA: I’ve been reading some of the poetry posted on the online forum and the responses to those poems. I noticed when the forum first started some of the criticisms could be quite harsh, almost personal. That seemed to change as time went on, as though the writers and readers were learning and teaching themselves what kind of commentary was constructive. Do you think that’s what happened? When you teach writing and do workshops, especially in prison or with at-risk youth, do you have to talk to them about being able to criticize and be criticized without it turning into something personal and then potentially dangerous?

JSB: I've always taught people to suggest rather than criticize...

KA: I read your memoir. I remember wondering how a person survives what you survived. Physically, emotionally. I don’t think I could have done it, at least not without becoming bitter and angry. You’ve created beauty. Do you know how you did that? Is it an ongoing struggle? Were you able to avoid the mistakes your parents with your own children?

JSB: I am probably a great parent—at least everyone who know says so—and yes, I've avoided many mistakes my parents made and yes, it is an ongoing struggle to maintain my life at the level I wish it to be at....especially in a world bent on destruction.

KA: The land and environment is very important in your writing. Right now the Southwest is in a severe drought. And the U.S. government is building a wall across the desert. My husband and I spend about a month of the year in AZ writing, resting, and documenting what’s happening at the border. It feels like a police state south of Tucson. Is any of that spilling over to New Mexico and up as far as Santa Fe?

JSB: Yes it is spilling over—in fact, my new novel coming from Grove in the Fall is all about that border issues.

KA: Is there anything you’re reading now that you’re excited by? Do you have a favorite poem or poet?

JSB: I read all kinds of books, find the best ones hidden away on bookstore shelves. I'm not much of a NY list book reader.

Thank you so much, Jimmy!

Read more here...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Interview with Jane Yolen

The amazing Jane Yolen has had nearly 300 books published since she sold her first novel, Pirates in Petticoats, when she was 22 years old! She has had a remarkable career and life since then. She has won just about every writing award out there, including the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, two Christopher Medals, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, the Golden Kite Award, the Jewish Book Award, and the Association of Jewish Libraries Award.

Jane writes for children, young adults, and adults—and for people like me who like to read whatever she writes. What I especially love about Jane's writing is that I feel like I'm right there with her characters, sharing their adventures, participating in the magic and wonder of what is happening in the story. This is especially true of my favorite book of Jane's, Owl Moon. I used to love to read Owl Moon at storytime when I was a community librarian. Jane was married to David Stemple for 44 years before he passed away in 2006. They have three children and six grandchildren. By the way, when you go to her website; stay a bit. A least until you hear the owl.

Kim Antieau (KA): Hello, Jane! What fun things have you been reading lately?

Jane Yolen (JY): I have been reading a bunch of graphic novels, including The Pride of Baghdad, Laika, The Three Shadows, and The Arrival. Not sure I could designate any of them as "fun" as they deal with death, destruction, immigration/exile. But absolutely fascinating and showing the incredible range of what graphic novels can do.

KA: Which comes first with you when writing a story? A character? An idea? A concept? Or does it depend? What is your process?

JY: All of the above at one time or another, For example, with Owl Moon it was character and landscape based on a family tradition. With How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? it was a nudge from an editor, who called saying, "My son is three, hates to go to bed, and loves dinosaurs. Can you do anything for him?" The Devil's Arithmetic began with the idea of a modern child going back to the time of the Holocaust to ask those questions which modern children demand of history: why didn't the Jews run? Fight? Why did they believe the Nazis? Wizard's Hall began with a dream—I dreamed the first four or five paragraphs and woke up in a sweat trying to find pen and paper before they were gone.

KA: You write for all ages. This isn't a skill every writer possesses. Have you always been able to do so? Do you find writing for one age group easier than another? Do you enjoy writing for one group over another?

JY: I just love writing. Sometimes a piece tells me it's for children, sometimes YA, sometimes for adults. But I don't force it. And perhaps that is part of the secret of my enjoyment.

KA: I have to ask. How many books have you had published?

JY: Published: over 275. Under contract, about 35 more, some coming out this year, and next, others still to be scheduled. Only 5 still to be written or finished.

KA: I love your book A Letter from Phoenix Farm, which is a kind photo essay for children of your life on Phoenix Farm written in 1992. The readers get to see your home and where you work. Do you still work in the same place?

JY: Yes and no. Much about that has changed. Phoenix Farm is still my home. But my darling husband has died, the three children all married with children of their own, the 3-legged dog long gone.

KA: The publishing world has changed dramatically since you started out. What has been the biggest change that has impacted you and your life and writing?

JY: Multi-national companies owning publishers and demanding a bottom line mentality which puts sales (and salesmen) before the book (which they called "units" or "products") and the authors (who are known as "suppliers").

KA: Owl Moon is one of my favorite books. Each time I read it, I feel as though I am out in the cold on a winter’s night, walking through the snow looking for the owl. I know I’m not alone in this. Is this the book that is most identified with you or is it just me? Do I remember right that this story is based on real life?

JY: My husband always took our children out birding and owling was a particular activity. So it is a very personal book. And two years after his death, iconic within our family.

KA: What did you do for a living before you were writing?

JY: Editing. Journalism.

KA: Alice Hoffman says you can tell something about a person by which book they prefer: Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre. Which book do you prefer? Why?

JY: Wuthering Heights because I am really a Jane Eyre kind of person, a bit shy and quiet, though I stand up for others where I wouldn't stand up for myself. But in my secret heart, I want to have a life writ large, with huge emotions, and selfish choices, as in Wuthering Heights.

KA: Thank you so much, Jane!

Read more here...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Welcome to My New Website

So here it is, babies! I know, I know. I said I was getting a web designer and my new site would be all fancy schmancy and just so very cool. The fancy part didn't exactly work out. I've pieced this whole thing together myself using blogger, but I really like it. It fits my personality much better!

Regular readers will notice that this blog looks very much like Furious Spinner. I did that on purpose. I like reading and writing on that color, with that size font, etc. So I carried it over. My intent was (and is) to make all of this as readable as possible. Why did I move from Furious Spinner to this? The template on Furious Spinner is very old (relatively speaking) and I couldn't do a lot of things that I can do on this new one, and I couldn't move FS to a new template without losing a lot of stuff.

Plus I wanted a new start.

I have been the Furious Spinner for thirteen years now. Furious Spinner started out as my column in Daughters of Nyx: a magazine of Goddess stories, mythmaking, and fairy tales. Then Mario introduced me to blogging about four and a half years ago. I loved doing it right away because I could reach readers without having to go through an agent, editor, or publisher! It was just you and me, babes! I also started blogging because I was so angry and frustrated about where our country was headed. Still am.

But I am a different person than the one who started blogging on Furious Spinner in 2003. I sometimes cannot believe all the changes I've gone through and all the changes the world has gone through. Knock on wood I'm still here groovin' and movin' and being silly and too serious. And usually writing about it all.

Am I going to write about different subjects here than I did on Furious Spinner? I don't know yet. I imagine I will continue to write about nature, the world, my life, and writing. It's a whole new adventure.

For this first week of my new website, I asked five writers if I could interview them and they've all agreed. My first interview is with Alice Hoffman. (I posted it right below this entry just because.) After her, you'll be able to read interviews with Jane Yolen, Charles de Lint, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and Joanne Harris—not necessarily in that order. On the sixth day, you'll get to read an interview with me, conducted by about forty people total. More on that later.

I'm also giving goodies away! Yes, freebies! At the end of the six days, I will give thirteen books away to thirteen lucky readers who have left a comment somewhere on this blog during the six days. (You'll get to pick which of my books you want!) Won't that be fun?

I want to say a bit about the Church of the Old Mermaids blog. It is now the Old Mermaids Journal. What I plan to do is take myself out of it completely (except as the author) and have it be like a journal that the Old Mermaids keep at the Old Mermaids Sanctuary; I will also continue to post excerpts from my novels about the Old Mermaids. It is definitely a work in progress, but I'm very excited about it. For the first "new" entry, I put the first chapter of the novel Church of the Old Mermaids. I know many of my regular readers have already read this. But I promise I will be more diligent about posting on the Old Mermaids site than I have been in the past.

So go on, explore! Let me know what works and what doesn't.

May You Explore in Beauty!

Read more here...

Interview with Alice Hoffman

Alice Hoffman is one of the best-loved and respected writers working today. She wrote her first novel, Property Of , when she was twenty-one and she hasn't stopped since. She often writes about strong magical women and places and people you want to know—or people you feel like you already know. Her stories are mythic, filled with tragedy, love, and joy. Publishers Weekly called her latest novel, The Third Angel, "elegant and stunning." I admire Alice's writing so much. Her storytelling ability is stunning. That is a perfect word to describe her work. The word "stun" is an Old French shortening of "astonish." Alice's work is astonishing and exquisitely beautiful. I was nervous when I prepared these questions, so I asked too many of them. And yet Alice graciously answered them all. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did.

Kim Antieau (KA): Have you read anything lately that you really liked?

Alice Hoffman (AH): I don't really like to read when I'm writing—I'm afraid of getting someone else's rhythm in my head—and I just finished a book last week then hopped on a plane—so not much time yet to read. Actually, I took The Witch of Portobello with me. Going to the beach to read it as soon as I can.

KA: I’d like to start at the beginning—the beginnings of your stories. Could you tell us how your stories begin and then evolve? What starts the process: a smell, sound, character, feeling, vision? After this beginning, do you keep going? Or do you let the idea, character (whichever) ferment for a while? Or does it consume you once it has begun, like a new love?

AH: This is a difficult question. I'm not sure of the answer. I think I fear that if I ever figure out how I do it, I'll lose the ability. I think that's why so many academics find they can't write fiction—they are so busy deconstructing they can't just let go. I do everything everyone else does—outlines, notes, notebooks, charts, drafts that don't work—but really I don't know how it happens. That's why I keep doing it I assume. Like love, it makes no sense. And very consuming.

KA: I’m always fascinated by how writers physically write. What time of day or night. At a desk, on the couch, out on the beach. With a cup of coffee, tea, chocolate? With a pen and paper, computer, tape recorder? Do you write every day? Or do you take off weeks or months at a time?

AH: When I had small children I was very scheduled—up at five, etc etc. Every day so many hours or pages. Also when I was beginning and had other jobs. Now, my kids are gone, and my work and life are blended together. I write all the time on and off on a portable computer. No office anymore. I feel trapped in a room.

KA: I love reading your stories, in part, because it feels as though I am reading fairy tales or myths, as though they are all stories that have been around for a long while, and you are just kindly telling them to us again, to remind us of what we already know. Like many fairy tales, your stories often begin with catastrophe. Terrible things happen to your characters and to the people around them. Is it difficult to be a witness to these tragedies, as the writer? Is this emotionally draining for you as you are writing it? Or is it cathartic? Or neither?

AH: It's cathartic to take straw and make it into gold, or as close to gold as you can get it. Also to transfigure reality and expand it. Terrible things happen in all fairy tales -- why not? They are the most honest of all literature.

KA: Do you do a lot of research before you write a novel? (I’m thinking of Incantation, for one.)

AH: I do the research after usually—so I don't get caught up in the "facts"—with Incantation though I had been reading about Marranos (hidden Jews) for some time and had been interested and reading about Kabbalah for some time. I had a historian read the ms, but it's really more of an emotional journey than a historical one.

KA: You were a successful writer quite young, and you’ve continued to publish. Publishing has changed so much, especially in the last ten years. It used to be that authors were allowed time to build an audience. Now books are expected to have big openings like movies and are considered failures when they don’t. Has that trend affected your career at all? Do you have any feelings about this trend?

AH: I feel sad about the trend. First time authors are made too much of, then when their second book doesn't live up to the first, they're crushed and the industry looks for someone new. So many writers with two or three books can't find a publisher if they haven't sold X amount of copies. It's not a good situation, but it's a trend far beyond publishing.

KA: I often write about my struggles with illness, depression, and anxiety. I know that you’ve struggled with some of these issues, too. I read that you were able to write when you were getting treatment for breast cancer. Do you think this helped your healing process? Can you write most of the time or are there times when you can’t? When (or if) you can’t write, do you find reading is healing?

AH: I find reading very healing, but for me writing is more so. I can disappear. That's often what I'm aiming to do.

KA: Your women are most often very connected to place. They know the plant medicines, the stories, the magic of their environment. Are you connected to your place, your environment? Are you able to sniff out the stories and magic of a new place right away?

AH: Place matters to me. Invented place matters more.

KA: I have just read two of your young adult novels, Green Angel and Incantation. They are both so beautiful. When I finished Incantations, I sat on my couch and cried. I have recently started writing YA novels, and I love it. I feel freer, somehow, when writing them. Do you find the process of writing young adult and adult novels different? Do you prefer one over the other?

AH: Thank you! I think I allow myself to me more emotional when writing for teens—getting to the most raw of emotions. I just prefer to write—I think adults read teen books and teens read adult books and there's not much of a difference.

KA: What do you think of Muriel Rukeyser’s often-quoted line, “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.”

AH: Hah! Good line. I love it.

KA: I saw that Emily Bronte is a writer who has influenced you. Since you didn’t mention Charlotte Bronte, I’m assuming (perhaps incorrectly) that you prefer Wuthering Heights to Jane Eyre. Can you tell us what you like about one or the other?

AH: You can tell a lot about a person by which one she or he prefers. That's all I'll say!!! I am a Wuthering Heights reader all the way.

KA: I won’t ask you which of your novels is your favorite—since that’s almost like asking a parent which of her children is her favorite—but I wonder if there is a novel you love that you wish more people would notice and read?

AH: Seventh Heaven. An homage to my mother set in the suburbs in 1959.

KA: Do you want to tell us anything about your new novel The Third Angel?

AH: My new book is about love and loss—set in London in the 50s, 60s, and 90s. I have a character named Lucy Green and she just stepped in and I followed her. This novel is filled with secrets, some I didn't realize until I was done writing it.

KA: Do you want to talk about your work with the Adelphi Young Writers?

AH: It's a great program for teen writers—there should be more programs like it. There doesn't seem to be time to include writing in the high school curriculum anymore. We'll just have to take to the streets.

KA: Thank you so much for your time, Alice, and good luck with The Third Angel.

Read more here...
All work copyright © Kim Antieau 2008-.