Writing A Series of Novels: An Interview With Mary Mackey

Writing a Series of Novels” is an interview with Mary Mackey whose most recent novel The Village of Bones is a prequel to her  Earthsong Series. The interview was conducted by writer, author, and editor Charlotte Seaberry; and first appeared in the literary blog How To Write a Book. The Village of Bones has recently become available as an Audible Book.

Getting Started: The First Steps to Writing a Book

Charlotte: Mary, your new book, The Village of Bones, is a prequel to the Earthsong Trilogy, which includes The Year the Horses Came, The Horses at the Gate, and The Fires of Spring. Why did you decide to write this newest book? What inspired you?

Mary: I decided to write The Village of Bones, because I knew this was a book whose time had come. I thought it might, in some small way, help stop the on-going violence we are witnessing on a daily basis. And I was eager to explore the backstory of the Earthsong Trilogy.

I was inspired by two nonfiction books: The Civilization of the Goddess and The Language of the Goddess by Dr. Marija Gimbutas, a Professor of Archaeology at UCLA.  Her extensive research on the Goddess-worshiping people of Prehistoric Europe is a treasure-trove for any writer of historical fiction. I was also inspired by European legends, fairy tales, and myths; and by the hundreds of beautiful statues of of goddesses, some no larger than my thumb, which I saw in museums during my research trips to Romania and Bulgaria.

European legends were a particularly important source of inspiration since The Village of Bones is more magical and myth-based than the other novels in the series. This is because in the Goddess-worshiping cultures of Prehistoric Europe, prophecy and magic played major religious roles. For example, an important section of The Village of Bones takes place in Greece at Delphi, where in classical times the Delphic Oracle made predictions that often changed history. I researched the pre-classical myths of Delphi, which led me to the conclusion that it was a site of magic, prophecy, and Goddess-worship thousands of years before the Greeks claimed it for their own.

In a similar way, I drew on the ancient Icelandic, Scottish, and Irish myths of Silkies. These are powerful, shape-shifting creatures who lived as seals in the sea but became human on land. They were so human that they could mate with human beings and produce magical children who could also shape-shift.

Charlotte: How did you know your series needed a prequel? Did you have new ideas or themes you wanted to write about? Or did you want to give more background context to the series?

Mary: My sense that I needed to write a prequel grew increasingly stronger as I wrote the first three novels in the Earthsong Series. To be specific: The Year the Horses Came, The Horses at the Gate, and The Fires of Spring all deal with the Earth-centered, Goddess-worshiping cultures of Prehistoric Europe at a crucial turning point in human history. About 6,000 years ago, the horse was reintroduced into Europe during a great invasion of Sky-worshiping nomads who swept down from the steppes of what is now Ukraine. They brought patriarchy, genocidal warfare, and slavery to a people who had lived in relative peace for thousands of years. It’s an exciting story of struggle and massive culture upheaval. After I finished those three, I wanted to know more about what the Goddess People were like before the invasion.

I also wanted to know more more about Sabalah, the mother of Marrah, the main character in The Year the Horses Came, The Horses at the Gate, and The Fires of Spring. Marrah is a brave, strong, passionate woman who is utterly devoted to defending her people. How did Sabalah raise such an exceptional child? I already knew Sabalah had fled with baby Marrah across Europe to save her from the marauding nomads. What dangers did Sabalah encounter on that flight? Who was Marrah’s father? Was Marrah the result of a passionate love affair? I had to know.

Inspired by my own curiosity and my sources of inspiration, I set out to write The Village of Bones. As I did, I fell in love with Sabalah, baby Marrah, and a whole host of new characters. In fact, I liked living in the pre-invasion world of the Goddess People so much that it was sometimes hard for me to stop writing about them long enough to pay my bills and the get dust balls out from under the beds.

The Process: Writing One Part of a Series

Charlotte: Can you tell us about your writing process while writing The Village of Bones? Was it different from writing the other books of the series? If so, how? Did you have to write it while keeping the other books’ plots in mind? Or did you find yourself able to write this as its own separate project?

Mary: Writing The Village of Bones was very different from writing the other three books in the series, because I had to constantly keep the plots of the other books in mind. The story unfolds twelve years before the the opening of The Year the Horses Came, which means that I couldn’t contradict anything I had said about the past in The Year the Horses Came, The Horses at the Gate, and The Fires of Spring. This presented some real challenges.

For example, when Sabalah appears in the first chapter of The Year the Horses Came, we learn that she has never seen the nomads, never seen a horse for that matter. It was hard to figure out how to make this work in The Village of Bones. But I found a solution that not only solved the problem but became one of the most important moments in the novel. By the time I finished, it didn’t feel like a work-around. It felt perfectly natural. I think trying to overcome difficulties like this turned out to be a plus. I suspect that having to keep four plots in mind at the same time even made me more creative. 

Charlotte: How do you think writing for a series is different from writing a standalone book? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages to writing a series versus a standalone book? Were there any issues with writing or publishing you faced specific to writing a series?

Mary: When I was writing The Village of Bones, I found myself in the peculiar position of writing a standalone book after I had already written three novels that under any other circumstances would have been sequels. Writing The Village of Bones also reordered the whole Earthsong Series, which is now (in chronological order) The Village of Bones, The Year the Horses Came, The Horses at the Gate, and The Fires of Spring. This is doing things the hard way, but it also had certain advantages. For one thing, I knew right from the start where I was going, which is not always the case when I begin a novel.

That said, probably the easiest way to write a series is to do it in chronological order. The benefits of a series are considerable. You get to create a long, complex, interesting story that develops over a years, giving you a chance to show major changes in your characters and the world they live in. You get to develop characters in a deep, consistent way that makes them come alive. A well-done series creates a world that feels real and compelling. Readers care about your characters as if they are real people. They want to know what Marrah, or Sabalah, or Claire and Jamie Fraser are going to do next. Personally, I love historical fiction series. I check in every few months to see if Diana Gabaldon has finished her next novel.

The downside is that if readers don’t like the first book in your series, the rest will probably not get published. Fortunately that wasn’t the case with the Earthsong Series which has had good reviews and a lot of enthusiastic readers over the years, but it’s always a risk when you start out.

The Backbone: Research and Background

Charlotte: Can you tell us about your research process? How much did you have to research for this book specifically? How did you translate that research into narrative writing? Did you have to look back at the other books of the series at all to make sure aspects lined up and connected?

Mary: I had to do less historical research on the Goddess people when I was writing The Village of Bones because I already knew their world right down to the clothes they wore and the kinds of cups they drank out of. But that didn’t let me off the hook, because Sabalah travels to places that aren’t mentioned in the other novels and participates in religious rites that I hadn’t described before. This meant that I had to do extensive research online, in libraries, and on location. For example, I had to travel to France, find a deep lake that had existed since ancient times, and take photos of it so I could describe it accurately. I needed to find out how much a lion heart weighs compared to a human heart, what herbs repel sharks, and if there were oysters in the Black Sea in 4387 B.C.E.

I believe in doing meticulous research and I work hard at it, but to tell the truth, it’s more like fun than a job. I’m fascinated by the details that can make the past come alive for me and my readers. I love what I call “fun facts.” For example, I found an account of the Delphic Oracle that claimed that when she uttered a prophecy her hair stood on end.

Charlotte: How much of the book would you say is based in factual history? How much was your own narrative and invention? Could you tell us a bit about the real history that is included in the book? While writing, did you consciously want to keep some factual accuracy throughout?

Mary: We don’t have any written history from 6000 years ago, but we do have the research of archaeologists, paleontologists, archaeomythologists, and other scientists and scholars. I drew on their findings whenever possible, because I wanted my readers to feel confident that they were getting as accurate a picture of the daily life of the Goddess people as they could have without actually stepping into a time machine. Whether I am writing about Europe 6000 years ago or Imperial Russia under the Tsars, my goal is always as much factual accuracy as possible.

Still, there are places where we have no facts, and those are the places that allow me to fill in the blanks with imagination, narrative, and invention. How did people think 6000 years ago? What did they feel? Did they experience love, hate, passion, despair, and joy the same way we do? They left behind religious objects, but how did they actually use them in their rituals?

In other words we have bones and bits of broken pottery, but we don’t have the people themselves. I was my job as a novelist to bring them alive using my imagination and my knowledge of human psychology. I had to put those pots back together and fill them with offerings and incense, raise up the bones of our long-lost ancestors and make them dance.

Between the Pages: Know Your Reader

Charlotte: Who do you envision as the audience for The Village of Bones, as well as for your other books? Did you envision readers to already have a knowledge or interest in this period of time? Did you write these books with a specific demographic in mind? If so, how did you use certain language, tone, themes, etc. to engage with that specific audience?

Mary: The only demographic I had in mind when I wrote The Village of Bones was adults. There is sex in the novels, which some parents might consider unsuitable for their children. As for audience, most, but not all, of my readers are women, so in general I envision women of all ages as my audience.

This is not surprising. Women buy the most historical fiction, as opposed to men who tend to buy mysteries, action-adventure, and science fiction. More importantly, the novels in the Earthsong Series celebrate women at a time when Europe was a place where the Earth itself was worshiped as a living female body—a Goddess—who brought forth all life. Women were powerful, adventurous, and independent. They fished, hunted, sat in council, performed religious rituals, but they did not, as far as we can tell, oppress men.

I think this sense of harmony between the sexes is why men also like the Earthsong novels. This is a time when men and women were equals, doing the same things, performing the same tasks. With the exception of a few bad apples (which you always need to have to keep a plot interesting), the men in the Earthsong Series are kind, considerate, intelligent, thoughtful, brave, and compassionate. They are also great in bed. They’re much better lovers than the nomads who keep their women in a state of near-slavery. Like the women, the men of the Goddess people are often talented artists. For example, the main male character in The Village of Bones is a troubadour who travels across Europe playing a lute-like instrument and singing the songs and poems he’s composed.

In order to engage a wide audience of both women and men, I used plain, contemporary American English with no slang words. I felt it would be artificial and off-putting to try to invent a language people spoke to one another 6000 years ago. After all, when we hear our own native language, we aren’t particularly conscious of the sound of it or how arbitrary the words are. “Chair” seems like the only right word for that object we sit on, but a Portuguese speaker probably feels the same way about the word “Cadeira.” I worked very hard to make The Village of Bones easy and enjoyable to read.

Charlotte: Your writing style and voice is so engaging in The Village of Bones. I read the first sentence and before I knew it, I was halfway through! Did you use the same voice throughout the series of books? Did you experiment with different styles or voices before writing or did the voice come naturally as you wrote?

Mary: The style came naturally as I wrote. I use the same third person narrative voice for all the novels in the Earthsong Series. I like third person and have used it extensively in the majority of my other novels. It allows me to get into the heads of different characters, whereas first person limits you to one point of view. Most of the action in The Village of Bones is seen from Sabalah’s perspective, but there are some very important moments when we learn what other characters are thinking. At that point, we as readers know things Sabalah doesn’t know.

Keep Going! Finding Ideas and Continuing a Series

Charlotte: You are quite a prolific writer, with fourteen novels published! How do you get the ideas for so many novels? Do you ever feel “stuck” or like you can’t come up with an idea that you like? If so, how do you overcome that issue? What are some tips you would give our readers who feel “stuck” trying to come up with book ideas?

Mary: I rarely feel stuck, because over the years, I’ve developed a simple trance technique for coming up with ideas. It’s very rich and productive and gives me more workable ideas than I could ever use. I don’t sell it or teach it, but so many people have asked me about it, that I’ve written a blog piece describing it entitled “Using Trance to Get Ideas for Novels and Poems”.

This trance technique is the best tip I can give you for mining your unconscious and coming up with ideas. I developed it, because over the years I discovered that struggling to think up an idea is one of the surest ways to get writers block. You need to relax so your unconscious can send you messages. I get ideas for novels and poems when I’m not focused on finding them, not only when I’m in a trance but other times: early in the morning when I wake up, when I’m cooking or walking or meditating. I actually got the idea for the entire plot of my bestselling novel A Grand Passion while taking a shower. There’s something about the feel of water falling on my head that relaxes me and lets my mind wander.

The moment I get an idea, I write it down as completely as I can without trying to figure out if it’s good or bad. It’s really important not to prejudge your ideas or, once again, you’ll freeze up. I’d say a good 80% to 85% of my ideas are either silly, impractical, or not things I want to pursue. But that leaves 15% to 20% that I might be able to use.

When I finish a novel, I wait a few months to recover. Then I open my journal, pick the idea I like best, and start the process of writing a new novel: research, first drafts, character development, etc. Sometimes I go on to the end. And sometimes I discover that this new novel is not working for reasons I can’t control. I have to abandon what I’ve written and start in on another idea and begin yet another new novel.

For example, I once wrote 350 pages of a novel about a passionate love affair. I became intoxicated with research. I had stories of the lovers’ families going back three generations. However, I wrote and wrote and couldn’t get the main characters to be born, much less fall in love. I later realized when I started the writing this doomed novel, I had given it the working title Parallel Lines. Apparently my unconscious knew something I didn’t know.

The next best tip I can give you is not to hesitate to abandon something that’s not working. So you spent months on it. So you wrote 350 pages. Forget it. Move on. Keep going and sooner or later, you’ll find the novel idea that works. And at that moment you will be very happy.

Charlotte: Do you have any plans to write another book for the Earthsong Series? When you write books in a series like this one, how do you know that the series is complete? Is there a part of you that will always want to go back and keep expanding the narrative of Earthsong? Or do you think it will feel complete?

Mary: I already have the beginnings of outlines for two more novels in the Earthsong Series. One begins right after the end of The Village of Bones and relates Sabalah’s search for her lover, Marrah’s father. The second is a sequel to The Fires of Spring, which tells the story of Marrah’s return to her home in the hope of finding her mother Sabalah still alive after many years. Both novels are stories of love, quest, and reunion. My only challenge is to figure out which one to write first.

Once I finish these two novels, I think the Earthsong Series will be complete. But you never know . . .

The Last Steps: Publishing and Promotions

Charlotte: The Village of Bones had a different publisher than the rest of the series. Why did you decide to use a different publisher? What do you like about this publisher and their style of publishing and book promotion? What is some advice you have for how to decide what publisher to use?

Mary: It’s not uncommon for novels in a series to have different publishers. The Year the Horses Came and The Horses at the Gate were both published by a division of Harper Collins. The Fires of Spring was published by Onyx, an imprint of Penguin/Putnam.

However, The Village of Bones is an unusual case. I don’t think many writers, particularly debut novelists, will run into the same issues I did when deciding on a publisher. Thanks to my agent, I own the film rights to The Year the Horses Came, The Horses at the Gate, and The Fires of Spring. The Earthsong Series is an excellent candidate for either a feature film or a TV series, but that can’t happen if I don’t also own the film rights to The Village of Bones. At present, it is almost impossible to sell a book to a major publisher without giving up your film rights. That’s why I went with Lowenstein Associates, which made it possible for me to keep the film rights.

The best advice I can give someone is to get a good agent who will work on your behalf. Your agent should be the one helping you decide between publishers. If you don’t have an agent, then first take a look at who your editor is going to be. Can you work with this person? Do they get what you’re doing. Then look at the other books that publisher has published. Did the publisher stand behind them? Promote them? Make sure you don’t use a for-hire press that will charge you a lot and do nothing for you. It’s not enough for a book to be published no matter how good it looks. It needs promotion.

Charlotte: What are some things you are doing to promote The Village of Bones? Is it any different from how you promoted your previous books, including the ones in this series?

Mary: I started writing novels at a time when publishers still gave you a first-rate publicity person to handle promotion, sent out review copies to all major publications like The New York Times, and sent you on nation-wide tours. All that is history. Now, unless they are selling millions of copies, authors have to do their own promotion. This is a problem because it takes time away from writing and many authors are rather shy.

Fortunately, I’m not shy. I want readers to know about The Village of Bones, so I’ve been talking about it in person and online. I did 42 readings, interviews, and TV/radio appearances for the novel when it came out. My social media presence includes my website where I run an ongoing blog interview series with interesting writers entitled People Who Make Books Happen. I have two Facebook pages; Twitter; Linked In; Goodreads; and my Amazon Central Author’s Page. I also put out a quarterly newsletter, and encourage my readers to add their names to my mailing list so they can be the first to know when a new book is coming out or when something important has happened like an audio book or a movie deal. I also encourage them to send me their own good news so I can personally congratulate them in my newsletter.  My aim is to build a community of people who share good news and rejoice in one another’s successes.

In addition, I’ve arranged to give subscribers to my newsletter birthday presents as a thank you. I was delighted to discover that it was possible to do this without running the risk of them being spammed. I believe in being good to my readers and am grateful that they read my novels.

Charlotte: What is some exciting feedback you’ve received since publishing The Village of Bones? Is the feedback different from your previous books? If so, how?

Mary: I’ve gotten some excellent reviews, which is very important to the success of a novel. Many cite the same things that made the first three novels in the series popular with readers including praise for my historical research and pleasure in a vision of a peaceful society where children are cherished, men and women are equal, and people live in harmony with the earth. The reviewers have also said that The Village of Bones is lively and entertaining.

The most exciting feedback has come directly from my readers who told me they love the magical, prophetic elements. One asked if I could see into the future like one of my characters does. I can’t, but the fact that she asked means I’m doing something right. Today, I got an email from a woman who said The Village of Bones gave her hope and provided refuge from all the bad news in the media. I treasure comments like that. They make all the hard work of writing novels worthwhile.

Charlotte: How can our readers reach you?

Mary: You can email me through my website. Find me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @MMackeyAuthor, and put and put your name on my mailing list and receive a direct email address. If you’d like to write me a letter,  email me and I’ll send you a physical address.

Mary Mackey is Professor Emeritus of English at California State University, Sacramento. Her books have appeared on The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller Lists, sold over a million and a half copies, and been translated into twelve foreign languages including Japanese, Russian, Hebrew, Greek, and Finnish. Mackey’s nonfiction, scholarly works, and memoirs have appeared in various journals and anthologies. 

She helped found the Women’s Studies Program and the English Department Graduate Creative Writing Program at CSUS. In 1978 she founded The Feminist Writers Guild with poets Adrienne Rich and Susan Griffin and novelist Valerie Miner.


Mary Mackey Poetry Reading Monday Night

Monday, December 11, 2017, Berkeley, CA: Mary Mackey is the featured reader at Poetry Express Berkeley. TIME: 7 pm. PLACE: Himalayan Flavors, 1585 University Ave., Berkeley CA. Come hear Mary read new poems and signup  for the open mic to read some of your own. Free and open to the public.

Beauty, poetry, Audible books, and turkeys on the run



Dear Friends,
     Welcome to the Fall Issue of my Good News Newsletter, an alternative to all the bad news that’s being covered by the rest of the media. Believe it or not, this Fall there is a lot of good news, and a lot of it is coming from you.

My good news is that The Village of Bones, is finally available as an Audible Book from Amazon, iTunes, and Audible. So if you love historical fiction and want to visit a more peaceful time when the Earth was sacred, and organized warfare didn’t exist, you can listen to it being read to you by Merritt Hicks, one of the best professional narrators in the business.
     My other good news is that my comic short story “Fowl Play” has been reprinted in The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos, an anthology of humorous Thanksgiving mystery stories.  So if you want to witness an attempted coup d’etat by a flock of turkeys on the run from Thanksgiving read a FREE SAMPLE of “Fowl Play” and then check out the anthology.
     Some more good news from my side is that a German language edition of The Last Warrior Queen will be published by Fischer some time next year both as an eBook and a paperback, and I have two poems in a wonderful new anthology of women’s poetry entitled Know me Here. edited by Katherine Hastings. Also, as many of you already know, Amazon choose The Village of Bones to be one of their Kindle Monthly Deals for September.
     If you think that’s a lot of good news from me, read on. You have sent me so much good news that it fills up half this newsletter (and makes me very happy).

Less Stress More Joy
When the going gets tough, the tough do something silly to remain sane. This Fall, I’ve been spending some time relaxing at WeRateDogs, a hilarious Twitter site that rates dogs from 1 to 10 and never gives a dog anything under a 12. (“They’re all good dogs.”). Here’s the link to my all-time favorite WeRateDogs page:
Send me your favorite ways to relax and I will post them in my next newsletter.
Want more beauty, passion, love, and lyrical poetry in your life? Read my recent People Who Make Books Happen Interview with poet D. Nurkse whose new collection Love in The Last Days (Knopf) re-images the Medieval love story of Tristan and Iseult. 
Good News From Friends
Congratulations to: Literary Agent Barbara Lowenstein for her work in Greece with refugees from Syria and Afghanistan; Rafael Jesus Gonzalez who has been appointed Berkeley’s 1st Poet Laureate; poet Katherine Hastings for editing Know Me Here, a new anthology of poetry by women; poet Dan Bellm for his translation of Speaking in Song by the Mexican poet Pura López Colomé ; Paul Pines for his new collection of poetry Gathering Sparks; poet Terry Lucas for Dharma Rain; Sri Lankan American author Nayomi Munaweera for her new novel What Lies Between Us; poet Bruce Bagnell for The Self-Evolution Spa; poet MK Chaves for Dear Animal; author-photographer Elaine Miller Bond for her children’s board book of wild animals and habitats Living Wild; Joan Gelfand who has signed a contract with Mango Press for Mastering the 4 C’s of Successful Authors: Craft, Commitment, Community, and Confidence and also had her essay “Dreaming in Thai” accepted for Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable; Alice Anderson for her memoir Some Bright Morning I’ll Fly Away; Michelle Zaffino on the publication of Parts 2 and 3 of her novel Skylar Saffron Librarian Detective; Iranian-American author Donia Bijan for her novel The Last Days of the Cafe Leila; Sylvia Brownrigg for her novel Pages for Her;  novelist Martha Conway for The Underground River; Achy Obejas for her short fiction collection The Tower of the Antilles; J. Alan Hartman of Untreed Reads for editing The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos and giving us all a lot of laughs (the man has a wicked sense of humor); writer-educator Louise Nayer for Poised for Retirement: Moving from Anxiety to Zen;  Mandy Aftel for her cookbook The Art of Flavor; psychologist-poet George J Kaliaden for Healing With Words: A Psychologist’s Experiments in Poetry Therapy; poet Basil King for having 12 of his BIRD paintings chosen for exhibition at the Appalachian State University Turchin Center for the Visual Arts; Thaddeus Rutkowski for his short story collection Guess and Check; author Kathleen Archambeau for Pride and Joy: LGBTQ Artists, Icons, and Everyday Heroes; poet and suicide prevention specialist Fredric Matteson for developing Contextural-Conceptual Therapy (CCT) for suicide prevention and for his on-going work to prevent youth suicide; and to artist-sculptor Cristina Biaggi for the installation of her nine-foot tall Triptych Portal, which you can see below.
Triptych Portal by Cristina Biaggi
Saunders Farm Sculpture Park, Garrison NJ
Please send me your good news so I can put it in my next newsletter. You don’t have to be a poet, novelist, film maker, artist, or musician. Good news is good news. And don’t miss the San Francisco Writers Conference 2018February 15-18 in the Mark Hopkins Hotel.
Upcoming Events

Monday, December 11, 2017, Berkeley, CA:  Mary will be the featured reader at Poetry Express Berkeley.TIME: 7 pm. PLACE: Himalayan Flavors, 1585 University Ave., Berkeley CA. Come listen to her read new poems from her forthcoming collection The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams and signup  for the open mic to read some poems of your own. Free and open to the public.

On Friday, February 16, 2018, San Francisco, CA:  Mary will be at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference taking part in three panels. More details to come as the time approaches.

To see Mary Mackey’s complete schedule of readings and other events please CLICK HERE

Invite your friends to join us for good news four times a year. CLICK HERE to join Mary’s mailing list and become part of a community of people who are sharing good news.

“All the news that’s fit to make you smile.”

“All the news that’s fit to make you smile.”

Now available for purchase as an Audible book, e-book, or trade paperback
The Village of Bones

A Prequel to Mary’s The Year The Horses Came.


Click for Resources for Educators
Mary Mackey’s website
Copyright © Mary Mackey, All rights reserved.

This email was sent to mackeym@mindspring.com
why did I get this?    unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences
Mary Mackey · Berkeley, Ca · Sacramento, Ca 95819 · USA

Email Marketing Powered by MailChimp

D. Nurkse on Love In The Last Days

The Story of Tristan and Iseult Revisited

D. Nurske is the author of eleven poetry collections, most recently Love in The Last Days from Knopf. He’s the recipient of the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He’s also taught at Rikers Island, served on the board of Amnesty International USA, and translated medieval poetry. He’s on the faculty at Sarah Lawrence College. Love in The Last Days is a series of poems based on the legend of Tristan and Iseult.

Mary: Welcome to People Who Make Books Happen, Dennis. The legend of Tristan and Iseult reverberated throughout the Middle Ages. It’s one of the most romantic stories ever told. I’ve loved it since I first read Chevrefoil by the medieval poet Marie de France, so I was delighted to discover that it was the subject of your new collection of poetry Love in The Last Days. Before we begin, could you please give us a brief summary of the story of Tristan and Iseult, so people who are not familiar with the legend can understand what we’re talking about .

Dennis: Thanks so much, Mary. There are a thousand versions. Some have a happy ending! Here are the barest bones: Tristan is entrusted to fetch Iseult from Ireland to marry his liege, King Mark of Cornwall. On the boat home they fall in love. They commit adultery at Mark’s court and escape to the wilderness; eventually they separate, Tristan to exile, Iseult to her destiny to be a queen. They are reunited at the point of death.

Mary: The poems in Love in The Last Days are filled with a richness, complexity, depth, and lyricism that is truly extraordinary. What inspired you to write them. Or put another way, what prompted you to do a new version of the legend of Tristan and Iseult?

Dennis: The story of Tristan and Iseult is wildly subversive. At one of the most hierarchical moments in history, the bond between lovers suddenly emerges as a force—stronger than church, state, piety, or public opinion. The plot pokes at the underpinnings of patriarchy—what if love and obedience are radically different? I’ve always been fascinated by the lovers’ escape to the wilderness; as if the impenetrable forest stood for the untamed part of the mind.

Mary: What research did you do for these poems? What sources did you consult?

Dennis: There are lovely books in English: The Romance of Tristan and Iseult as compiled by Joseph Bedier, and Tristan: with the surviving fragment of the “Tristan of Thomas” as compiled by Gottfried von Strassburg. The stories in the Arthurian cycle are bedrock, and there are troubadour versions; René Nelli writes about troubadour eroticism. Jacques le Goff has an essay called “Levi Strauss in Broceliande: Brief Analysis of a Courtly Romance.” Beautifully specific documentation can be found in John Cummin’s The Hawk and the Hound: The Art of Medieval Hunting. Jean Rimmer has researched the Irish harp. The French series Bibliotheque de la Pleiade has a terrific one-volume compilation of sources. My own book is inscribed to the memory of Marc Bloch, an expert on the feudal imagination, who died under torture at the hands of the Gestapo.

Mary: Could you put the legend of Tristan and Iseult in a historical context for us. What did it have to do with Courtly Love. How did the Medieval Church view it? Did it find a popular audience?

Dennis: The legend began before the era of Courtly Love, but it was adapted (or adapted itself? It has a mind of its own.) and became a vehicle for troubadour ideas. The Church hated it. Yes, it found a popular audience—but my own ancestors were peasants a generation or two ago; who knows how deeply into the commons it reached?

Mary: How did you change the legend?

Dennis: I want my version to be psychological—it’s not clear that spells and monsters aren’t just the shadows of desperate love. But I’d better steer clear of hubris. The originals, pre-Freudian though they are, are full of double entendre and the agency of the unconscious. Stories teach that illusion is part of love—you can’t wish it away. When you’re close enough, the other’s face is as invisible as your own. My version has no patience for the values of aristocracy and purity. Sometimes it’s funny.

Mary: How did you change the main characters?

Dennis: Well, Mary, the original characters morph according to who’s telling the tale and when. Tristan and Iseult are open to interpretation. I really just tried to hear in my mind the voices of two young lovers, destined to become old lovers, baffled at any given moment, but who complete each other strangely over the arc of a lifetime.

Mary: You depict Iseult as a woman of great strength. Did you find hints of this in the Medieval versions of the legend, or is her emergence as a powerful woman new to the story?

Dennis: It’s one of the exciting things about the original story. The troubadour versions are strikingly empowering to women characters—and there are women who themselves are poets or troubadours, including Marie de France and the evocatively named Dangereuse de Chastelreaux. There’s a transformation of gender relations. Of course, most it may take place mostly in literature, and be susceptible to the “pedestal” critique. But it’s radical for any time.

Mary: You say in the Preface that your version “takes places in an imaginary past known as The Last Days.” Why did you call this past “imaginary” and why did you name it “The Last Days?” Is this a reference to the Book of Revelation? A veiled warning of the approach of a contemporary apocalypse? Please tell us more about The Last Days. [Read more…]

Join Mary Mackey and Sharon Coleman at Mythos Gallery in Berkeley

Friday September 22, 2017, Berkeley, CA: Mary Mackey reads with poet Sharon Coleman at the Berkeley Mythos Gallery where the theme is Animal Spirits.  Mary will read from her novel The Village of Bones plus new poems from her forthcoming collection The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams:New and Selected (to be published by Marsh Hawk Press in Fall 2018). TIME: 5:30 PM. PLACE: Mythos Fine Arts and Artifacts, 1790 Shattuck Avenue (at Delaware) in Berkeley CA.

VILLAGE OF BONES A Kindle Monthly Deal Through September 2017

News Flash: Amazon.com has chosen The Village of Bones to be one of its Kindle Monthly Deals for September 2017. CLICK HERE before October 1 to buy a Kindle copy of The Village of Bones for only $1.99.

The Village of Bones: Sabalah’s Tale

Written as a Prequel to Mary’s best-selling Earthsong Series, The Village of Bones is now the first novel in the series. (The Earthsong novels in chronological order are: The Village of Bones: Sabalah’s Tale, The Year the Horses Came, The Horses at the Gate, and The Fires of Spring )

hi res b of v front cover March 21 2016

“Mary Mackey’s The Village of Bones, gives us the vivid adventures of The Clan of the Cave Bear, the magic of The Mists of Avalon and Lord of the Rings, and the beauty of Avatar. Filled with the belief that love drives out fear, it contains stunning twists that will leave you wanting more.”
            Dorothy Hearst, author of the Wolf Chronicles

A perilous journey, a stunning prophecy, a dangerous love that could destroy humankind: In 4386 B.C., a young priestess named Sabalah conceives a magical child with a mysterious stranger named Arash. Sabalah names the child Marrah. This child will save the Goddess-worshiping people of Europe from marauding nomad invaders called Beastmen, but only if her mother can keep her alive long enough to grow up. Warned by the Goddess in a vision of the coming invasion, Sabalah flees west with Arash to save her baby daughter, only to discover that she is running into the arms of her worst enemies. In the dark forests of northern Europe, other human-like species left over from the Ice Age still exist. 


Censored Shakespeare by Pamela Rafael Berkman

Today novelist Pamela Rafael Berkman shares a post with us at People Who Make Books Happen. Her essay Censored Shakespeare first appeared on her website at pamelarafaelberkman.com on July 24, 2017.

Censored Shakespeare

By Pamela Rafael Berkmam

Public Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar has finished its run in New York’s Central Park, despite the withdrawal of support by some sponsors and the disruptions on June 16 and June 18.

Within seconds of the first stage rush, institutions and individuals worldwide raced to defend Shakespeare. My favorite hashtag, #ShakespeareSunday, was all a-Twitter. But during his lifetime Shakespeare would have had no one to so staunchly defend his right to free speech.

Censorship was a fact of life for him and all of his fellow Tudor writers. Not market-based shutting up, like getting a book contract cancelled, but real, true, hard government censorship, the defiance of which carried penalties like imprisonment in seriously horrible places, getting a hand cut off in the public marketplace, and grisly forms of execution.

Shakespeare’s colleague Ben Jonson spent several months in the Marshalsea political prison for co-writing a play called The Isle of Dogs (we’ll never know why – it’s lost). And the only example we have of Shakespeare’s handwriting (we think) are some notes on a play by someone else that he was script-doctoring, with several other playwrights, to make it more palatable to official censor Edmund Tilney, Master of Revels.

Tilney’s job included reviewing every play to be performed in the London-area playhouses. The play was The Book of Sir Thomas More, and the scene in question depicted a mob rioting (some would say protesting) in London.

In the end Shakespeare and his co-writers couldn’t revise the scene enough for Tilney’s approval. Tilney ordered that any representation of the riots be described in narration instead of shown on stage, adding ominously, “not otherwise at your own perils.”

The most well known example of Shakespeare and his friends being placed directly in danger by his writing involved the play Richard II, which contains the “deposition scene” in which Richard is stripped of his crown. Conspirators in the Earl of Essex’s doomed 1601 rebellion paid Shakespeare’s company, the Chamberlain’s Men, to perform it publicly the day before they tried to wrest the throne from Elizabeth I. Company member Augustine Phillips’ later testimony is priceless.


Richard II handing over the crown as seen in “The Hollow Crown” (Photo: provided by BBC)

The Chamberlain’s Men, Phillips said, told the Essex rebels that the play “was so old and so long out of use as that they should get no company at it.” They had, he said, heartily wished to put on “some other play.” They only did it because Essex’s men offered them 40 shillings over the going rate.

The company was cleared of any deliberate wrongdoing, but they must have been terrified.

In Elizabethan England the ideas in our First Amendment were unheard of, undreamed of: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Considering what Shakespeare managed to leave us even working under the government restrictions placed on him, imagine what he might have done had he enjoyed the protections of the First Amendment. And today, worldwide, what genius is silenced, never to be heard or remembered, because he or she does not?

Note: For more details on the events I’ve mentioned here, try Park Honan’s Shakespeare: A Life, Oxford University Press, 1998.

All The News That’s Fit To Make You Smile Summer 2017

An audio book, new poems, getting happy, and other good news from Mary Mackey. Free Copy of Mary’s Summer 2017 Newletter

Dear Friends,
It’s summer, which means it’s time to get out in the sunshine and enjoy life. Other media outlets have all the bad news covered, so starting today, my quarterly newsletter is only going to bring you good news. I think we all need a refuge from stress, so I’m making this a place to kick back and be happy. I want you to look forward to seeing my newsletter in your inbox four times a year; and I want it to contain not just my good news, but yours too. So please send me your news and scroll down for some cheer.
Less Stress More Happiness
One of my favorite ways to get happy is to sit on the bank of the American River and watch the Mergansers, who look like brown ducks with 1950’s flat tops. Mergansers are natural clowns, and they almost always make me laugh.

Send me your favorite ways to get happy and I will post them in my next newsletter.

Start your day off right by reading some great poetry in the most recent issue of the Marsh Hawk Review where you will find work by Maxine Hong Kingston, Jane Hirshfield, Marge Piercy, Dennis Nurkse, Rusty Morrison, and many more wonderful poets.
My News: The Village of Bones will be coming out as an audible book in late summer or early fall. Meanwhile, I’m busily writing and revising poems for my New and Selected collection to be published by Marsh Hawk Press in Fall 2018. Right now I’m calling it The Citizens of Pompeii Shelter in Place, but that may change. By the next time you read my newsletter, I probably will have decided on the final title.

In addition, I’m putting the finishing touches on a new YA novel written from a dog’s point of view. I’ve never tried this before, but living inside a dog is more fun than I can describe. This is why you are seeing a lot of dog-related tweets if you follow me on Twitter.

I’m also starting to outline another novel in the Earthsong Series, continuing the story of Marrah and Sabalah and the Goddess-worshiping cultures of Prehistoric Europe. I have never ceased to be fascinated and inspired by a people who lived peacefully in harmony with the earth and one another for thousands of years.

Read my inspiring People Who Make Books Happen interview with Susan Kelly-Dewitt  On Becoming A Poet.”
News From Friends
Congratulations to: Dawn McGuire for her collection of poetry American Dream With Exit Wound; Joe Cottonwood, who has had three poems published by NatureWriting; Jane Hirshfield who has a new poem in the June 22 issue of The New York Review of Books; Joan Gelfand whose poetic film The Ferlinghetti School of Poetics has won a Certificate of Merit at the iASD Juried Art show; Renate Stendhal for her memoir Kiss Me Again, Paristhe Sacramento Poetry Center whose archives have been acquired by California State University, Sacramento; novelist, poet, and essayist Janice Eidus whose essay “How Poetry Saved My Life” was published in Purple Clover; Robert Gibb, winner of the 2016 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize for his collection After; poet Basil King for his collection History Now;  poet Patricia Carlin for her collection Second Nature; poet Burt Kimmelman for his collection Abandoned Angel; poet Edward Foster for his collection Sowing the Wind: A Requiem in the Modern World; Sandy McIntosh for his poetic memoir A Hole in the Ocean: A Hampton’s Apprenticeship; poet Andrena Zawinski for her collection Landings great weather for MEDIA poets Michelle Whittaker for the forthcoming publication of her collection Surge and John Paul Davis for his collection Crown Prince of Rabbits; poet Lucille Lang Day for her children’s book The Rainbow Zoo (Illustrated by Gina Aoay Orosco);  the women of We’Moon for their Solstice Blessing and their 2017 Anthology/Datebook StarDust ; JD Moyer for winning the Omnidawn 2016 Fabulist Fiction Chapbook Prize for his manuscript The Icelandic Cure,and poet/activist/scholar Judy Grahn for winning the 2017 Northern California Book Reviewers Fred Cody Award For Lifetime Achievement and Service.

Please send me your news so I can put it in my next newsletter. You don’t have to be a poet, novelist, film maker, artist, or musician. Good news is good news. And don’t miss the Northern California Book Awards on Tuesday, June 27, 2017 when I will be presenting the Cody Award to Judy Grahn.

Upcoming Events

Wednesday September 6, 2017, Oakland CA: Mary Mackey reads new poems from her forthcoming collection The Citizens of Pompeii Shelter in Place (Marsh Hawk Press, Fall 2018) as part of the Pandemonium Press series, which has recently relocated from the Spice Monkey to the wonderful Octopus  Literary Salon.  Time: 7 to 9 pm. Place: Octopus Literary Salon, 2101 Webster St #170, Oakland, CA 94612. Come to hear the poets  and sign up for the Open Mic.

Saturday September 23, 2017, Sebastopol, CA: Join Mary Mackey for the kick-off reading for Know Me Here – An Anthology of Poetry by Women, edited by Katherine Hastings. Poets in this incredible anthology include: Janine Canan, Maxine Chernoff, Gillian Conoley, Lucille Lang Day, Sharon Doubiago, Susan Kelly-DeWitt, Molly Fisk, Jane Hirshfield, Kathleen Lynch, Mary Mackey, Rusty Morrison, Gwynn O’Gara, Connie Post, Hannah Stein, and many more. How can you possible miss this event! TIME: 7 PM. PLACE: Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 282 S. High Street, Sebastopol, CA.

(More Events Coming Soon:  New York, San Francisco, and maybe Rio. Please stay tuned.)

To Mary Mackey’s complete schedule of readings and other events please CLICK HERE

Invite your friends to join us for good news four times a year. Here’s the link:

“All the news that’s fit to make you smile.”

“All the news that’s fit to make you smile.”

Now available for purchase as an e-book or trade paperback
The Village of Bones

A Prequel to Mary’s The Year The Horses Came.


Click for Resources for Educators
Mary Mackey’s website
Copyright © Mary Mackey, All rights reserved.


Susan Kelly-DeWitt on Becoming A Poet

Susan Kelly-DeWitt Kelly-DeWitt was born in San Francisco but spent most of her childhood in Hawaii before it was a state, living for several years on the grounds of an historic artists’ colony called Wailele. She moved back to Northern California in 1960. Kelly-DeWitt is a former Wallace Stegner Fellow and the author of Spider Season, The Fortunate Islands and nine previous print and online collections . Her work has been widely published in numerous journals and anthologies, both at home and abroad, and has been featured at Wordstock, and on Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. She is also an exhibiting visual artist.

Mary: Welcome to People Who Make Books Happen, Susan. Let’s start at the beginning: Why did you become a poet?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: Hard to know! My mother had a beautiful clothbound volume of Leaves of Grass. My father could recite The Iliad though he had only an eighth grade education. My parents also knew Don Blanding in Honolulu in the early 50’s, so I probably heard the word “poet” at a very young age. I was always a voracious reader but I never thought I could actually be a “real” writer or poet myself until I was in my twenties, in college, and read Plath. Having had a lot of trouble and tragedy in my life by then, Plath’s poems showed me there was a way to write about that.

Mary: How old were you when you wrote your first poem?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: I may have written some small silly ditties when I was a child but the first “real” poem I remember writing was when I was a freshman in high school.

Mary: What was it about?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: I had read A Tale of Two Cities and subsequently wrote a long poem–two or three pages in rhyme and meter–called “The Guillotine”, about a prisoner marching to his execution. The last lines were: “So spoke my head from its place unseen/ Where I left it, near the guillotine.” I always get a big laugh when I tell this story to high school students!

Mary: That’s hilarious. My first poem was about garbage collectors. So, which poets have influenced you?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: So many! In childhood/adolescence, Poe, Coleridge, Dickinson–though I never actually thought I could be a poet then. After that some of the biggest influences–where I read everything I could by and about–were Whitman and Dickinson; Blake and Yeats; Rilke; Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Ratushinskaya; Neruda; Bishop; Kenyon, Oliver and Dove; Hillman and Gluck; Kinnell; Merton; Heaney and Boland; Mistral; Milosz; Rumi; Transtromer; Levertov (who was also my mentor when I was a Stegner), and Plath, of course. The three Wrights have been very important to me also–C.D., Charles, and James Wright especially. Finally, and hugely, my early mentors and now dear old friends, Dennis Schmitz and Sandra McPherson.

Mary: What inspires you to write a poem? How do you get the initial idea?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: Reading other poets always inspires me–I enter into a conversation with them and start replying, connecting associatively via lines that come into my head and make it to the page. Also, when I take my daily walk I frequently begin to get a line. When that happens, I keep it going for as long as I can, memorizing what comes, keeping each line as an evocative unit, in terms of both rhythm and meaning, and push it as far as I can. As I said in another recent interview, I also “see” the poem as a shape in space–a word sculpture. (Now that we have cell phones I sometimes pause to type out the lines on my Notes app.) When I come home I start to work on what I have. Sometimes the poem simply finds me–as one did a day or two ago, when I walked by jasmine vines in bloom and inhaled the perfume–I have been writing and revising it ever since.

Mary: What are your personal poetics? In other words, what are you trying to do with regard to both form and content when you write a poem?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: I am a big believer in Denise Levertov’s “Theory of Organic Form”–that the poem must find it’s own shape/life, life-force as it evolves on the page. I believe this even when I am trying to write a villanelle or a sonnet. For me each line (as Levertov said) must exist as “an evocative unit of thought.” I also want to write something that will connect across time, space, class, culture–something that celebrates or articulates or witnesses for others in some small way–and/or something that helps someone through its beauty or use, or both.

Of course, as Frost said: “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” The poem has to teach me something, take me somewhere new–the poet as detective, solving the mystery. The poet as photographer, developing film in the darkroom.

Mary: You’re the author of nine Chapbooks and two full-length collections of poetry, beginning with A Camellia for Judy published by Frith Press in 1998. How has your poetry changed over the last twenty years?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: You know, Mary–I’m not sure that I am the best judge of this. I did try, in Spider Season, to tackle some new subjects and to feel my way to a different kind of poem-shape. I think in the early years I was still discovering my own voice, and I hope–especially with Spider Season–that I have now found it. That said, I have always tried to include poems that address history–personal, political, social–in some way. I don’t think this has changed. The natural world and the visual image have always been important to my poetic vision and self (probably stemming in large part from growing up in Hawaii and living for several early years in a defunct artists’ colony surrounded by art and a tropical rainforest)–I’d like to think I have gotten better as an observer of those worlds, but I am not sure that I have. I’ll have to listen to the critics for that.

Mary: You just mentioned your most recent collection of poetry, Spider Season,” published in 2016 by Cold River Press. What does the title symbolize? How did you arrive at it?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: Coming up with the title was largely intuitive. I woke one night with that title in my head. I had written quite a few new poems during the previous months (known as the “spider season”) and I had encountered numerous spider webs on my morning walks. Spider also means “mother” in dream symbolism. Since this is the first full-length collection I have published since my mother’s death, I’m sure that had something to do with the intuitive part. The book also casts a wide web of connections for me–parts of my life that I have not written about before.

Mary: What are the three most important poems in Spider Season? Why?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: Well, first let me say: I think we know the writer/artist is often the least qualified to judge her/his own work! That said, the three I might choose from Spider Season now would be “The Subject of All Poems is the Clock” and “First Light.” Number Three would be a tie between “Interrogative” and “Don’t Forget.” I would choose these because they all tackle the large existential questions, and some of them also witness the political and environmental crises that loom over our planet’s future.

Mary: Do you have any other new work you’d like to mention, or any new books in the works?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: I do. A third full-length manuscript is making the rounds–it is titled The Moon Bee. I also recently had a group of poems published online at Mudlark. They are poems that give voice to some painful experiences I have not written about so explicitly before. 

Mary: You are a visual artist as well as a poet. How do these two aspects of your creative life influence one another?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: Well, I have often been told that I am a very “visual” poet–that my imagery allows the reader to “zoom in” and focus. Over the years I have taught several workshops where we explored the painter/photographer’s techniques and language as useful tools for the poetry writing process. My life as a visual artist has taught me to “see”–to attend, remove the distance between myself and the subject; it has also helped me (especially watercolor painting) to recognize the fortunate accident, and to know (usually!!) when to stop.

Mary: How has your involvement in the Sacramento literary community influenced your work?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: Stanley Kunitz once wrote: “Poetry withers without fellowship.” Our literary community casts a wide web of friendship, support and creative energy. Getting involved with the Sacramento Poetry Center in the late 70’s brought me into that web, and I have been there ever since. As one of the early members, readers, program directors, workshop facilitators, and editors of the literary magazine, I found my place in the world, and I continue to treasure every moment spent in that nurturing environment which does not differentiate between “inside” and “outside” the academy. The word “community” (as defined by Webster’s) says it: a unified body of individuals–and so it is, and so we are.
Mary: If you could ensure that one of your poems would survive to be read 500 years from now, which poem would it be, and why have you chosen it?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: Tough question! That said, “Apple Blossoms” would be my choice today because I think that it captures the struggle for survival, the beauties and complexities of the human dilemma in a very plain-spoken way. Kooser used it on his American Life in Poetry column, and I know that a lot of people have connected with it since then. I think it would still relate to a reader as long as there are people, long winter nights, bees and spring blossoms. Of course with Trump’s position on climate change, 500 years may be far too optimistic.

Mary: “Apple Blossoms” is one of my favorites too. Here it is, accompanied by your painting “Pink Leaves.”

Apple Blossoms

One evening in winter
when nothing has been enough,
when the days are too short,

the nights too long
and cheerless, the secret
and docile buds of the apple

blossoms begin their quick
ascent to light. Night
after interminable night

the sugars pucker and swell
into green slips, green
silks. And just as you find

yourself at the end
of winter’s long, cold
rope, the blossoms open

like pink thimbles
and that black dollop
of shine called

bumblebee stumbles in.

                                Copyright © by Susan Kelly-DeWitt Kelly Dewitt 2001

Mary: Do you have any upcoming readings or classes? How can people get in touch with you?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt: I am going to be teaching my Poet as Camera class in Stockton CA on June 24th as part of the University of the Pacific’s Creative Writing Conference . I will also be teaching a five month private workshop on hybrid forms in the fall. People can contact me via my website at: http://susankelly-dewitt.com/. My public email address is: skellydewitt@gmail.com.

As for readings–I just took part, as the Featured Poet for 2017,  in Solano Community College’s annual launch-reading for the Suisun Valley Review, and I am happy to be part of the upcoming launch at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts on September 23rd for Know Me Here – An Anthology of Poetry by Women, edited by Katherine Hastings. Hopefully you and I will be reading together, Mary, since you are also in the anthology.

Mary: Thank you, Susan. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. I’m looking forward to reading the poems in The Moon Bee.

Join this  People Who Make Books Happen conversation with Susan Kelly-DeWitt. You are warmly invited to leave a comment. People Who Make Books Happen is where the writers hang out.

For writing advice; a sneak peek at Mary’s most recent novel The Village of Bonesthe latest news; course syllabi; resources for Women’s Studies, Women’s Visionary Fiction, Women’s Visionary Film, Women’s Visionary Poetry, and Advanced Composition and more information about writing and teaching, you are invited to visit my website homepage and click on the tabs where you will also find a number of stunning photos of Prehistoric Goddesses.



Healing the Earth, Healing Ourselves: 7 New Books


Vicki Noble, co-creator with Karen Vogel of the Motherpeace Tarot Deck, recommends seven new books to heal us and give us hope.

A Writer’s Journey Guest Post:

Vicki Noble:  I have seen so many wonderful books come out in the last year or so—many of them done by respected friends of mine—that I decided to share them with you. Given the state of things in our materialistic and celebrity-focused culture, it’s rare that such out-of-the-box books are even published these days, let alone marketed and distributed properly.

1.  Starhawk’s wonderful visionary novel, City of Refuge, the happily-awaited sequel to her earlier book, The Fifth Sacred Thing. I’ve read them both more than once and recommend them as heart-warming, thoughtful, intelligent, and incredibly hopeful versions of future possible realities in which the power of nonviolent, magical consciousness becomes contagious and carries the day. Starhawk is in the process of getting these novels made into movies, which would be fabulous. May it be so!

City of refuge, Starhawk

2. Mary Mackey has come out with a “prequel” to her earlier feminist trilogy of books in the Earthsong Series, based on the impeccable archaeological research of Marija Gimbutas into ancient prehistoric Goddess civilizations of Old Europe. Mary’s newest book in this series is called The Village of Bones: Sabalah’s Tale, and it’s a page-turner.

3. Charlie Bensinger has released a futuristic trilogy of quirky, suspenseful novels called Radical Option, Beyond Fire, and Primal Source—all part of a series he calls People of the Change—that I have totally enjoyed reading. I’m not going to spoil the intrigue here by telling you the plot, but trust me, it speaks directly to our current global situation and offers up unique and imaginative solutions to world problems and dilemmas.


4. Craig Comstock released a book late last year called Gift of Darkness, in which (as I said in a blurb for the book) he “captured the poignancy of a young, frightened human being” faced with what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil” as a teen in Amsterdam during the terrible period of the Nazis. It has eerie similarities to our own time.


5. In a whole other vein, the Goddess movement’s own Ruth Barrett has compiled Female Erasure, a brilliant anthology of essays by authors speaking discerningly about what they perceive as the “dogma of transgender politics” in our culture at the moment. In a time when this controversial subject has become so heated and the debates so downright violent—often delivered with highly-charged sound bites, rather than the depth the subject deserves, it’s a relief to have this whole book of thoughtful analyses from diverse feminist positions and backgrounds.


6. Starr Goode’s brand new book, hot off the press, shares decades of her research into the enigmatic and archetypal image of the Sheela na gig (or what Miriam Robbins Dexter has called Female Sacred Display). The exquisite hardcover book is called Sheela na gig: The Dark Goddess of Sacred Power. Well written and beautifully illustrated!


7. Also, in memory of Lydia Ruyle, I’d like to recommend her final book about the marvelous banners she created to honor Goddesses all over the world; Lydia’s banners have graced the walls of temples, festival halls, and museums around the world. This book, Goddesses of the Americas, presents images, stories and mythologies of Goddesses she found in North, Central, and South America. A fine memorial!

8.And last but not least, I hope, I have included the anthology compiled by me and Miriam Robbins Dexter and published at the end of last year, Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement: Elders and Visionaries; the book features the personal stories of many of the women who were there from the beginning. We wanted to share some of the vision, originality, and vitality that emerged spontaneously in the late 1970s and early 1980s to became a global Goddess movement.

Foremothers Cover

 I wish all the other progressive authors out there the very best in getting your books into print and out into the world. Goddess knows we need inspiration in these times!   Vicki Noble