Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sea Women on COTOM Website

Check out Sea Women, a new essay I wrote about mermaids on the Church of the Old Mermaids website.  

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Friday, July 19, 2013

When Stories Won't Go Away: Maternal Instincts and Killing Beauty

(This post is from my public Facebook page The Monster's Daughter and Company. You can read the first chapter of Maternal Instincts here.)

Stories come to me. Characters knock on my imagination and tell me their tales. Sometimes the stories are sad and horrific as well as beautiful. Sometimes I don’t want to write the stories, so I pass on them, and they disappear into the ether. But sometimes, the characters and the stories refuse to go away. This is the case with my in progress novels Maternal Instincts and Killing Beauty. These novels have at their genesis two horrific crimes perpetrated in our rural county in Washington. They are crimes I didn’t (and don’t) want to think about, and I certainly didn’t want to write about them—I most certainly didn’t want to exploit these terrible tragedies for entertainment purposes.

And yet, these crimes not only affected the families, they affected our entire community. The violence, the horror of these crimes, reverberated through our collected lives, like a kind of family secret that no one will talk about. I didn’t want to write the true life stories of these crimes. I believe fiction is often better at unraveling the real truth of an event, at finding the heart or heartlessness of the matter. It’s better at meaning and context than any true life tale. 

Still, how could I write these stories? I don’t like true life crime stories. I don’t watch true life murder shows or read books about true crime. When I was a girl, a girl I knew in my high school was brutally murdered. The crime was shocking and unbelievable. I lived in a small town in Michigan where things like that did not happen. It rocked me off my foundations and changed me forever. I didn’t think that murder was “entertaining” and certainly didn’t want to write about any murders in my novels—at least not in a Murder, She Wrote kind of way. 

And yet two crimes happened in the small town where I live now, and the stories were linked in my imagination as the seeds for two novels. The books wouldn’t go away no matter how much time passed or how much I didn’t want to write them.

In 1991, a young man who went to school here raped and killed a young girl who also lived here. The details were chilling, horrific, and stunning. He had an urge to rape her, seemingly out of the blue, he said, and then he decided to murder her. In 2004, a mentally ill woman took her babies into the woods near here and killed them. I remember that particular day as though it were yesterday. I can see the clear blue summer sky in my mind’s eye, can hear the news helicopters overhead. Not long after this second horror happened, I started a novel with this particular crime as part of it. It begins like this:

On Sunday the woman took her two little girls into the forest. She drove a long way from her home, heading north, toward the mountain she had only seen once, in a dream. She stopped the car at a place which reminded her of a gravel pit, only different. It was like a hole in the forest that would soon disappear. She spread a peach-colored baby blanket over the wet gravel. Then she went back to the car for her daughters. She carried her two year old and held the hand of the four year old and led them to the blanket. They were dressed in their Sunday best. The girls sat dutifully as she whispered for them to stay put. Clouds covered the summer sky. A crow flew overhead, calling out, and the girls looked up to watch the bird as their mother raised the rifle to her shoulder and took aim. 
Fog sank from the clouds, shrouding the dead children until the mother led the police to them.


But I couldn’t go very far with it. I cried every time I read it or thought about it. I had to put it away. This year, the characters again came knocking. This time they came with a plot that was more fictionalized—and the characters themselves were completely fictionalized. Tougher. The main character is Katie Kelly, a retired Portland police officer who spent summers in Beauty Falls, a small town in the Columbia River Gorge where she now lives. The novel begins when a young girl runs up to Katie on a trailhead and tells her she’s been kidnapped. The next book will be Killing Beauty (or Beauty Falls) and Katie will be involved in trying to save a child who ran into the forest to escape her mother after the mother killed her other daughter. The mother was a friend of Katie’s when they were teens and they both were out as a group with Amanda and Andy (and two other boys) the night Andy raped and killed Amanda.
I hope with these novels that I can give context to these kinds of crimes, give them some kind of meaning or reason (not justification). Such events can become mythic in a community—either to horrify or to inform. I still have difficulty even writing the scenes where Katie remembers just hearing about Amanda’s death (she was not a witness to the murder). Yet I write to better understand my world. I will try to do justice to these stories and therefore to the lives that were lost.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Wild Keeper Redux: On the Road

One winter while conducting research for a book, I sat alongside Carlos Robles Elías, a Mexican rancher, in his silver truck as we raced toward his land (El Aribabi Conservation Ranch) in the Sonoran Desert. The pickup shook so badly I was certain it and we were going to crash and burn at any second. Carlos kept looking at his Blackberry and texting while he drove and talked to me. I looked back at Mario sitting behind us to make certain he had on his seatbelt. I whispered to the Universe, “Keep Mario safe,” and then I looked down at my notebook and continued taking notes and trying not to worry. 

We drove deeper into the desert, and our progress slowed (thankfully). We wound around the low desert mountains, and Carlos talked about his 10,000 acre ranch. He had sold all of his cattle and was now restoring the land and doing all he could to encourage and protect wildlife. He pointed out barren ground where other ranchers were overgrazing the land and talked about the attitude of many of the ranchers: They killed predators, no questions asked, in an effort to protect their cattle. He was trying a different way.

Carlos was protecting the predators on his land, including a male jaguar. For years, I had been researching the jaguars who had been spotted recently in the American Southwest, and that was why I had come to Mexico and this particular piece: At least one male jaguar had been photographed on Carlos’s ranch. 

Carlos, Mario, and Sergio (a Tucson biologist who met us on the ranch) spent the day driving and walking in an environment that was so stark, so desolate and wild, that is was almost incomprehensible to me. I was completely captivated—and I admired what Carlos was attempting to achieve. He still hadn’t figured out how to make a living while running his ranch sustainably, but he working at it.

Just before we left the ranch at the end of the day, just before Carlos was about to drive us back to Nogales, I was standing by the truck and I noticed a tear and threading on the front right tire. I realized that was why the truck had been shaking so badly. I showed the tire to Carlos. He had taken the truck to a shop just before he’d picked us up—because of the shaking—and they hadn’t found anything. It was nothing short of a miracle that we hadn’t had a blowout on our way to the ranch.  Soon enough, Carlos and one of the men who worked on the ranch were trying to take the tire off and put on the spare. Mario and I used the opportunity to wander around by ourselves, keeping close to the house, feeling lucky and happy as we watched the sun turn the desert wilderness into gold.  

We made it safely back to Nogales and across the border, just after dark. I missed the wilderness almost immediately.

Although I still haven’t written the jaguar book, I did write about our visit in the essay “The Wild Keeper” which is in Under the Tucson Moon. 
Mario & Carlos looking out at his land

Sergio, Carlos, and I in a dry riverbed.

The land

The tire

The ranch house


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Method to the Madness: One

(This is from my public Facebook page The Monster's Daughter and Company.) 

I like writing quickly. I don’t think a piece is better—has more quality—because it’s written slowly. In fact, a novel can be overwritten if it’s created too slowly (in some cases) and/or it’s rewritten too many times. I’m speaking of my writing, of course, although I have read some novels by other writers that were devoid, and I found out later the writers had rewritten these books again and again. 

One of the first books I wrote quickly was Swans in Winter which I completed in about 17 days. I did rework it a bit but not much. Some of my readers say it's their favorite book of mine. Church of the Old Mermaids is a perennial favorite of my readers, and I wrote it in about four weeks. I did edit it, but I did very little rewriting, if any. A lot of the power of these books comes from the fact that the stories came out of my consciousness in a rush of pure storytelling.

Novels don’t require perfection. Every sentence doesn’t have to be perfect. Every word doesn’t have to be perfect. Novels are about storytelling; they are about transporting readers to a place and a time and allowing them to be part of the tale. In that sense, the readers become co-creators. Novel writing is about creating a tapestry where reader, author, and characters are all threads woven into this great story, this wonderful experience. Or it is about the reader, author, and characters all walking down the same path and ending up at a destination that will be different for all involved. We—the writers—provide a kind of map or loose instruction for this destination and travel experience. (Ah, three metaphors in one paragraph for you!) 

For me at least, when I listen to an oral storyteller—a good one, one whose singsong doesn’t put me to sleep—she doesn’t have every word memorized or every sentence perfected: She lets the story she knows flow and change as part of her interaction with the audience. It’s not about perfection. It’s about story and connection. And that’s what I try to do, too.

That said, some of you may want to know how I write quickly. A great deal of that comes from experience. I’ve been writing stories since I was in grade school, novels since I was in high school. It’s also about trust. I know I’m good at it. I may not be everyone’s cup of tea, not every book I write is the great American novel, but basically, I’m pretty good as it. I trust the stories I hear from the Imaginal Realms. If I start feeling unsure—and this happens—I give myself pep talks. It's important that we encourage our creativity not denigrate it. Nothing will send creativity scurrying away more quickly than nasty self-criticism. And then it’s butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard, as Jane Yolen says. 

And if none of that is working? I ask Mario to give me a goal. So he’ll say, “I want 1,000 words by the time I get home for lunch.” Or if I’m having a really difficult time, he’ll says, “How about one page by the end of the day?” I can’t believe how effective this is! Even if you’re not married to a writer, you could ask someone in your household to give you a goal for the day and see if it helps. The most important thing—at least for me—is that I don’t beat myself up if a project isn’t going well or I’m not writing up to my goals. The most important thing is for me is to be a participant in my life, and the writing comes second.

But that’s just me. As Mario says, “All writing advice is memoir.” And he’s exactly right. Every writing book you’ve ever read is about what worked for THAT writer (or his students, etc.). In other words, what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. All writers have to figure out how to go with their own creative flow...

(Artwork by John William Waterhouse, "Sketch of Circe," in the public domain.)

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Church of the Old Mermaids Website

My intention is to post on the Church of the Old Mermaids site at least once a week. I'm finding beautiful artwork to accompany each short post. This is what I posted tonight.

Artwork: "A Mermaid" (1901) by John William Waterhouse.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What Mythic Madness is This?

(This post is from The Monster's Daughter and Company, my public Facebook page.) 

People often ask me what kind of novels I write. I am always stumped by this question because my books don't fit into any one category. Although I've always thought this kind of eclecticism was a strength, publishers and some readers have not been thrilled: Why can’t I pick a category and stick to it? I am a librarian, too, and some librarians categorize work for a living, and the rest of us abide by those categories. It helps us find things more quickly when we need them. But I’m not fond of labels or categories for fiction. They are too confining.

Some critics and readers have called my work mythic fiction. I love this definition that Charles de Lint and/or Terri Windling came up with to describe a certain kind of speculative fiction—and I'm gratified that Coyote Cowgirl makes the list of 100 fine Mythic Novels by 100 fine authors at the Journal of Mythic Arts. Even my "straight" novels (like Swans in Winter, Jewelweed Station, Whackadoodle Times, and Broken Moon) are informed by the mythic. 

When pressed, I will say that my work is mythic fiction or what I call American magical realism. The quintessential magical realist novels are those Latin American tales where the mysterious and unexplained are a part of everyday life. When I wrote The Jigsaw Woman my intention was to write a novel in the genre of American Magical Realism even though such a genre didn’t exist. For me, an American Magical Realist tale would be inherently “American” in a way that wasn’t always explainable, although I suspected technology would often be the linchpin in these tales—even if only ephemerally so, if that’s possible. And the mysterious would come from the ground up, from the flora, fauna, and stories of the people of the Americas.

In The Jigsaw Woman, Keelie is created from pieces of three dead women, à la Frankenstein. She literally embodies the life of the mythic goddess Inanna—and so many other women. Although The Gaia Websters is ostensibly science fiction, Gloria and her abilities remain mysterious throughout. Her awakening—her re-membering—takes place at one of the hearts of the Americas: the Grand Canyon. The Monster—Mr. Em—in The Monster’s Daughter comes to the United States from Europe, but the story of Mr. Em and Emily could only take place in the American West. 

As the years go by, more and more of my stories are deeply rooted in the American West. Butch, Coyote Cowgirl, Church of the Old Mermaids, The Desert Siren, and The Fish Wife all take place in the Southwest. (The Fish Wife begins in Ireland; she travels to New Orleans and then lands in the Sonoran Desert in Mexico.) And that’s just the Southwest. Many of my other novels take place in other parts of the western United States. I find the western United States naturally mythic: The land just reverberates with story in a way I find I cannot articulate except through writing novels.

Does that mean my fiction should be called geography fiction? Geographical fiction. That has absolutely no ring or magic to it! Sacred geography fiction? Naw. Mythic fiction is so lovely, and American magical realism describes who I am and what I write. I am a distinctly American writer (not in a jingoistic way, but in a geographical sense: the land inspires every story I write). My stories are magical, in many senses of that word even if the novels are straight mainstream stories. Realism is what my mythic magical tales are bound up in. 

Too complicated? Am I twisting myself up in knots trying to come up with a category? Probably. That’s why I don’t like categories. Mario says my work is the Kim Antieau genre. That’s enough definition. I suppose it would be if more people knew my work! What does it mean to say it’s a Kim Antieau novel? I don’t know. Those who read my writing could better tell that. Mario says it means the story always has heart, strangeness, and usually food. I can live with that. How about you?

(Definition of Mythic Fiction: Mythic fiction is literature that is rooted in, inspired by, or that in some way draws from the tropes, themes, and symbolism of myth, folklore, and fairy tales. [The Journal of Mythic Arts reading list]

Definition of Magical realism literature: Magic realism or magical realism is a genre where magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment. [Fair,s Wendy B. and Lois Parkinson Zamora, Introduction to Magical to Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community])

The painting is "The Magic Circle" (1886) by John William Waterhouse, and it is in the public domain.  

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Where I Post About My Writing & Books

I've started a public Facebook page here called The Monster's Daughter and Company where I share the secrets of my writing process and reveal some of the research gems I've discovered along the way. Characters come to me and tell me their stories, and I write down what they say. But I often need to research a time or place to fill in the blanks and give the stories verisimilitude. My job as a storyteller is to make my novels feel real to the reader, not to put in every detail I know! But I’ve learned some pretty interesting things along the way, and I’ll share those goodies with you here, along with my writing process. Come join us there! You don't have to be on Facebook to view this page, however. I will try to gather up the posts from there and post them here, too. 

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book Groups: 50% Discount

Get any of my books for 50% off the list price by being part of a book group: I'm offering a 50% discount (plus shipping) on any of my books purchased for use in book groups. (Five copy minimum per title.) This offer is good for any book group: ones that are already established or those you create by getting a group of your friends together just to read one of my books.

How it works: You tell me which titles and how many copies you want, I calculate the total plus shipping, and you pay me via paypal (or check). Email me at kim at kimantieau dot com or if you're a FB friend, FB message me.

Extras: And if you want, I'll answer any questions the group has about the book by email or skype with the group. I love talking about my books and hearing what readers have to say. 

Which book do you want? You can find out more about each title here and scroll down. (Click on "older posts" on the bottom to get the next page to see more titles or click on each title on the right hand side).

Pass it on!

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Friday, July 5, 2013

Under the Tucson Moon: Nine Winters in the Sonoran Desert

My collection of 39 essays written while I stayed at writing retreat in Tucson over nine winters has been published by Green Snake Publishing. You can find out more about it and read the intro here. And this is from the cover blurb:

For nine winters, writer Kim Antieau and her husband, Mario Milosevic, travelled to the Sonoran Desert. Kim wrote many novels on these retreats, including the well-loved Church of the Old Mermaids, The Fish Wife, Whackadoodle Times, and The Monster's Daughter.

While in the desert, Kim also wrote a series of essays about borderlands: not just political borderlands, but those in-between places where creativity thrives or dies, those places profane or sacred, joyful or despairing. In her novel, The Desert Siren, Kim describes one of her characters as “a siren. She sings to the wild things, she wrangles sea horses and dust storms. She directs coyote choruses and bargains with ravens. She does not hear the call of the wild. She is the call of the wild.” Kim is a desert siren, too, only she wrangles words, instead of horses.

Enter the life of a deeply creative artist in these 39 essays about life in the Sonoran Desert, gathered in one place for the first time, under the Tucson moon.

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All work copyright © Kim Antieau 2008-.