Mary Mackey and Jaguars at South Natomas Library Nov 17

Saturday November 17, 2018, Sacramento, CA: Mary Mackey will read from The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams: New and Selected Poems 1974 to 2018 and sign books. She will be sharing the stage with the new Poet Laureate of the City of Davis, Jame Lee Jobe.  Amber Moon Press will print several poems by Mary and Jame for distribution to the audience. This free family friendly event is hosted by Crossroads. Curated by  poet/artist Tina Drotar. Time: 1:00 to 3:00 pm Place: South Natomas Library, 2901 Truxel Rd, Sacramento, CA 95833. Free and open to the public.

Maxine Hong Kingston Praises Mary Mackey’s Poetry

Marsh Hawk Press has just published Mary Mackey’s new collection of poetry The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams: New and Selected Poems 1974 to 2018.

This collection, which spans over 40 years of Mackey’s poetry, has received high praise from a number of well-known American poets and writers including Maxine Hong Kingston. Already into a second edition (the first edition sold out the day the book was released), Jaguars contains the best poems from Mackey’s previous 7 collections plus 47 new poems, including more poems about the beauty and terror of the jungles of Brazil, plus a series of very short poems about life on the farm in Western Kentucky where Mackey spent summers when she was a child–a place where hogs are homicidal and 80-year-old women are tough enough to fight them off with brooms.

The poems are both accessible and very wide-ranging. You’ll find passionate love poems; lyrical descriptions of the rain forests of the upper Amazon; a section called A Threatening Letter to Shakespeare in which Juliet talks about how her marriage to Romeo didn’t work out; poems from the early years of the Women’s Movement that sound as if they could have been written yesterday; poems about Goddesses, Carmen Miranda, fevers, samba, and the Kama Sutra of Kindness. There is even a poem that takes you to the place where the Ghost Jaguars live.

Praise for Mary Mackey’s The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams

“Mary Mackey’s poems are powerful, beautiful, and have extraordinary range. This is the poetry of a woman who has lived richly and felt deeply. May her concern for the planet help save it.” – Maxine Hong Kingston

“Mackey’s poems crackle with powerful, lush energy.” – Marge Piercy

“Mackey’s crisp-edged perceptions are set down with a sensuous, compassionate, and utterly unflinching eye.” – Jane Hirshfield

“It is difficult to resist the temptation to compare Mary Mackey to Elizabeth Bishop. Both poets are stunningly imagistic, musical, and awake to topography, sociology and the world beyond.” 
                                    –The Huffington Post

“Always Mackey’s eye is drawn to the marginalized, the poor, the outcast, the trivialized, the ones who stand at the center of the human adventure. [In] The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams, Mary Mackey has created an oeuvre, wider, more open to change with each passing year. Hers is a monumental achievement.”
                                                  –D. Nurske

“Her fine work deserves ever widening exposure.” –Al Young, California Poet Laureate

The poems in Jaguars are, as noted above, accessible and for the most part easily understood, yet Mackey never compromises when it comes to beauty, lyricism, depth, and a complex range of emotions. She is visionary and mystical, yet at the same time supremely rational. Take for example, her poem “Ghost Jaguars” in which we see myth, botany, and the unmapped forests of the upper Amazon welded to a a meditation on risk-taking, religion, and a hunt for meaning in both life and in its ultimate destination, which may be death or may be (Mackey hints) something more ghostly and powerful.

Ghost Jaguars

by day you told us the dead crouch in the jungle
arms wrapped around their knees
heads down blind
living in a great blueness
that expands to the horizon
like an infinite ocean

at night they rise
and hunt ghost jaguars
drink the black drink
count the trees

we threw your yopo seeds on the ground
and trampled them
begged you to come back to us
but you had already eaten your gods
gone hunting with the dead
seen the sun rise and gone blind

“Ghost Jaguars” shows not only the influence of the years Mackey spent living in the jungles of Central and South America, but also the months she spent as an undergraduate working in the Harvard Ethnobotany Museum under the guidance of Richard Evans Schultes. It is not surprising then to discover that she did her doctoral dissertation at the University of Michigan on William Henry Hudson who was both a novelist and an ornithologist. Mackey has been exploring the point where science and mysticism meet for many years. The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams represents a major step in her quest.

The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams is available from and Mackey’s website can be found at, You can connect with her on FaceBook at, join her mailing list at and follow her on Twitter at @MMackeyAuthor


Just Published The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams

Marsh Hawk Press has just published a new collection of my poetry The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams: New and Selected Poems 1974 to 2018.  Jaguars is now available from (Small Press Distribution) and Marsh Hawk sent it out into the world September 1st, and it’s already gone into a second edition.

Jaguars contains the best poems from my previous 7 collections plus 47 new poems, including more poems about the beauty and terror of the jungles of Brazil plus a series of very short poems about life on the farm in Western Kentucky where I spent summers when I was a child–a place where hogs are homicidal and 80-year-old women are tough enough to fight them off with brooms.

 The poems are both accessible and very wide-ranging. You’ll find passionate love poems; lyrical descriptions of the rain forests of the upper Amazon; a section called A Threatening Letter to Shakespeare in which Juliet talks about how her marriage to Romeo didn’t work out; poems from the early years of the Women’s Movement that sound as if they could have been written yesterday; poems about Goddesses, Carmen Miranda, fevers, samba, and the Kama Sutra of Kindness. There is even a poem that takes you to the place where the Ghost Jaguars live.

 So far the response to these poems has been encouraging. The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams is being considered for several important prizes (my lips have to be sealed here), and poets I greatly admire like Marge Piercy, Jane Hirshfield, Al Young, D. Nurkse, and Maxine Hong Kingston are saying good things about it.

If you read the poems in Jaguars and like them and honestly feel you can do so, please go to and give the book as many stars as you feel it deserves. This will help other people know about Jaguars and encourage them to read and enjoy the poems.

Praise for Mary Mackey’s The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams

“Mary Mackey’s poems are powerful, beautiful, and have extraordinary range. This is the poetry of a woman who has lived richly and felt deeply. May her concern for the planet help save it.”   —Maxine Hong Kingston

“Always Mackey’s eye is drawn to the marginalized, the poor, the outcast, the trivialized, the ones who stand at the center of the human adventure. [In] The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams, Mary Mackey has created a oeuvre, wilder, more open to change with each passing year.” —D. Nurkse

“Mackey’s poems crackle with powerful, lush energy.”   –Marge Piercy

“Mackey’s crisp-edged perceptions are set down with a sensuous, compassionate, and utterly unflinching eye.” –Jane Hirshfield

“Her fine work deserves ever widening exposure.”  –Al Young, California Poet Laureate Emeritus

“It is difficult to resist the temptation to compare Mary Mackey to Elizabeth Bishop. Both poets are stunningly imagistic, musical, and awake to topography, sociology, and the world beyond.”  –The Huffington Post








Writing Fiction and Nonfiction: Interview With Author Janice Eidus

Janice Eidus   (Photo credit: Steve Schulman)

Mary Mackey:  Janice Eidus is a novelist, essayist, short story writer, and writing coach who, after a celebrated career writing fiction, has turned to writing nonfiction as well as fiction. Today we are going to talk to her about the experience of doing both.

Welcome to my People Who Make Books Happen interview series, Janice. As I noted, before you also started writing nonfiction, you had a very successful career writing fiction. Let’s talk about that first. Could you please start by telling us when you started writing fiction?

Janice Eidus: I began writing and illustrating stories and plays that were percolating in my head when I was a little girl. Usually they were about girls my age having grand adventures, sometimes in the Bronx, where I lived, and sometimes in the wider world as I imagined it. I also wrote short poems, celebrations of New York City and the occasional “ode” to favorite teachers.

Mary: What inspired you to write?

Janice: I wrote for reasons I couldn’t articulate back then. I wrote to invent whole worlds of people and places that were unlike my unhappy family and the housing project in which we lived; to be heard by someone, somewhere, since I never felt truly listened to or understood at home; to transform words into art; to bear witness.

I believed that when I grew up I’d write a novel on Monday, a poem on Tuesday, and a play on Wednesday. Fresh out of college, I did publish some poems in literary magazines but I quickly came to see that at that time my passion was fiction. I loved “spinning yarns” the old-fashioned way while simultaneously “re-inventing” the world. Even in my most fantastical or magical realist stories (as opposed to my more realistic work) I never eschewed traditional storytelling elements of plot, character, conflict, and theme.

Mary: Tell us about some of your novels and short stories. Do they fall into any specific genre?

Janice: My short stories are all over the map, stylistically. However, as with my novels, they’re connected through theme, character, place, emotions, and worldview. Take, for example, two of my novels, The War Of The Rosens and The Last Jewish Virgin. One is firmly rooted in the realm of reality; the other is situated (at least partially) in the realm of literary myth.

The War Of The Rosens, the realistic novel, is also my most autobiographical novel. While much of it is totally invented, it’s deeply informed by my family and my childhood. The novel portrays a family that is passionate about leftwing politics as well as their Jewish identity while they confront illness, grief, and violence.

As for The Last Jewish Virgin, I call it my literary, Jewish, feminist, fashionista vampire novel. It pays homage to the myth of the vampire — a timeless, romantic myth I’ve adored since I was a little girl — while also subverting it with humor, through a contemporary lens. The main character is Lilith Zeremba, a young fashion design student who’s in the midst of a mighty rebellion against her intellectual, feminist Jewish mother.

The Last Jewish Virgin initially appears very different from The War Of The Rosens. For starters, you’ve got a vampire running around New York – which means realism is tossed out the window, right? Well, not really, because it takes place largely in two very real Manhattan neighborhoods: the West Village and the Upper West Side. In addition, the novel explores female sexuality and mother/daughter tension in authentic ways. And, much of it takes place in an art school modeled on The Parsons School of Design, where I used to teach.

The War Of The Rosens and The Last Jewish Virgin are linked not only to each other but also to my other novels and short fiction. All delve into issues dear to my heart: love and heartbreak; female passion; socioeconomic injustice; secularism versus faith; illness and grief; and, the creative process.

Mary: You’ve won major prizes for your fiction. What were these and for which stories did you receive them?

Janice: Among the prizes that mean the most to me are my two O.Henry Prizes because, as a kid, I adored O.Henry’s playfulness and wit, and, oh, those surprise endings! My first O.Henry was for my short story “Vito Loves Geraldine,” a contemporary fairy tale romance about two rock n’rollers from the Bronx – Vito the tough boy who becomes famous, and Geraldine, who sets her hair nightly with beer cans while waiting for Vito to return to her and the Bronx.

The second O. Henry Prize was for “Pandora’s Box,” a story about a survivor of incest who supports herself as a phone sex worker, all the time fearing her own Pandora’s Box of painful memories and truths.

The Pushcart Prize I received also meant a lot to me. It was for a funny and “naughty” story I wrote called “Not The Plaster Casters.” It’s literally about the genitalia of rock stars. An extra perk of winning that prize was that the talented, edgy actress Sean Young performed it at Word Theatre in L.A. It was thrilling beyond words to hear my words coming out of her fabulous mouth.

Mary: Given that you are successful as a fiction writer, what inspired you to start writing nonfiction?

Janice: I’ve always loved reading memoirs and personal essays. And, whenever I was asked to contribute a personal essay to anthologies on subjects ranging from Barbie Dolls to female desire to the meaning of “dirt” in my life and more, I happily did so. Nevertheless, for many years fiction was my main priority and passion. And then, one day . . . I had two “main” priorities.

I’m still writing fiction, but a new switch just seemed to get turned on in my brain, and ever since then, ideas for personal essays keep coming. I’m certain that this is connected to the fact that many things in my life were (and are) changing. By choice, I’d become a first-time mother in middle age. I adopted my daughter from Guatemala, which suddenly made me a member of a transracial family. Thus, issues of race, always important to me, now took on urgent new meaning. Every single day, my daughter and I were forced to confront the fact of our difference. This continues to be the case, even now that she is a teenager. In addition, becoming a parent made me realize how much my identity as a cultural Jew meant to me, and how strongly I wanted to raise my daughter as one.

Also years of therapy helped me to become calmer and more grounded, as well as more confident about my opinions and beliefs. Plus, I’d been diagnosed with celiac, an auto-immune illness one is born with, but which I didn’t know I had, despite being ill on and off for my entire life. For those of us with celiac, gluten is toxic. Living gluten-free has affected every aspect of my life, and once I was diagnosed, I felt physically better than I ever had.

In addition, I’d accomplished many of my goals as a fiction writer and a person. Many things came together for me, and this contributed to who I am as a human being, a woman, and a writer – and therefore to my new desire to write personal essays.

Mary: Do you find writing nonfiction difficult?

Janice: No. It’s actually exciting and thrilling: thinking in a brand new way, working with new editors, and speaking to new audiences, especially in the evolving landscape of digital magazines. I’ve even made new friends, people who are writing the same kind of deeply personal essays that I am. Friendship is, in fact, a very important subject for me–the ones that end, the ones that stay, the ones that transform. For example, recently I wrote an essay for NextTribe entitled “The Zen of Female Friendships: Why Some Last and Some Don’t.”

Mary: Tell us about some of your favorite nonfiction pieces

Janice: I love all of Vivian Gornick’s writing, but especially her two courageous memoirs, Fierce Attachments, about growing up as a Jewish girl in the Bronx with her widowed Communist mother, and The Odd Woman And The City, which explores her love affair with New York City alongside her intense friendship as a heterosexual woman with a gay man. I greatly admire and am moved by Gornick because of her unflinching honesty and specificity, as well as her intelligence and meticulous prose.

Mary: Are as happy writing nonfiction as you are writing fiction? If so, why?

Janice: I’m happier in my life now than I’ve ever been, and that happens to coincide with my writing so much nonfiction. I treasure the changes wrought by years of good therapy, parenting my amazing daughter, and being in a long marriage – and the things I’ve learned from all three.

I’ve also moved around a lot geographically and I wasn’t always happy where I landed, which was especially difficult for me because place is very important to me in both my life and my writing. I’m happy to say that I feel completely at home in the Manhattan neighborhood where I now live, the charming and untrendy Murray Hill, close to the river and the U.N. Of course the larger world is in great turmoil, and these are not happy times for those of us who care about social justice and the future of our planet. I’m heartbroken about so much that is going on, but I’m also galvanized and determined to effect as much change as I can. Writing essays is actually very good for my soul during such turbulent and tumultuous times.

Mary: What advice can you give writers who want to move between writing fiction and nonfiction?

Janice: Read, read, read – and not just the writing of people with whom you’re familiar. Read across the globe, and across genre, age, gender, sexuality, color, class, etc. Listen to your voice. Listen to the voices of others. Balance your intuitive self with your analytical self. Be specific yet universal. Understand that the creative journey is as important – if not more so – than the finished product. Revise like mad.

Mary: What is it like going back and forth between writing fiction and nonfiction?

Janice: I still read as much fiction as I do memoir and personal essays. I continue to work as a private Writing Coach to writers engaging in both. As time goes on, I’m sure I’ll continue to move fluidly back and forth between the two genres. Both live inside me.

Mary: What are you up to next?

Janice: I have a Word doc that’s a list of ideas for essays I want to write about things that are deeply personal and meaningful for me. It’s a very, very long list and it keeps growing. And I’m writing fiction inspired by visual art.

Mary: That sounds fascinating. I’m eager to read the essays that you will write based on that list. Readers are always invited to leave comments here. How can people connect with you in other ways, read your work, and find out what you’re doing?

Janice: If you want to know what I’m up to, you can sign up here for the newsletter I send out a few times a year with info including publications, interviews, and writing courses I’ll be teaching.
Here’s a link to some of my favorites among my essays in magazines: . And a link to some of my favorites among my essays in anthologies:

Mary: Could you give us your website url and point us to some magazines that have published your nonfiction?

Janice: My website is at  As for online magazines, I’ve written over 50 essays just for Purple Clover. I also write for a very cool magazine for women called Next Tribe. I’ve also written for She Knows, The New York Times, The Forward, Lilith, and so many more. I love hearing from other readers and writers, so feel free to be in touch!

Mary: Thank you, Janice. You’ve given us all a lot to think about.

Janice: And thank you, Mary, for your terrific questions and your ongoing support of the literary community.

Mary: If you would like to find out more about Janice Eidus you can follow her on Twitter @JaniceEidus and connect with her on Linkedin.

Subscribe to my quarterly Newsletter and check out the other People Who Make Books Happen Interviews on my website to discover what other great writers like Marge Piercy, Jane Hirshfield, D. Nurkse, and Ellen Sussman have to say about their work and literary passions

Reminder: Mary Mackey & Lara Gularte at East Bay Booksellers Tomorrow

Tomorrow Sunday, April 8, 2018! Mary Mackey and poet Lara Gularte read their poetry to celebrate the launch of Lara’s new collection Kissing The Bee. TIME: 3:00 PM. PLACE: East Bay Booksellers, 5433 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618. This event is sponsored by Poetry Flash and is free and open to the public.

Good News From Mary Mackey, March 2018

Dear Friends,
     It’s time for some good news, so please sit back, relax, and join me as we enjoy all the good things that have happened since last fall.
    My big news is that this coming fall, Marsh Hawk Press will be publishing The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams: New and Selected Poems of Mary Mackey, 1974 to 2018. Among other things, this collection will feature a series of narrative poems entitled “The Culling” that form a miniature poetic novella about life in Western Kentucky from 1742 to 1975.
         Meanwhile the new Audible version of The Village of Bones is doing well, as are the Audible, paper, and e-book editions of the other three novels in the Earthsong Series. So I’d like to thank all of you who spent time in Prehistoric Europe with me this winter.
     On March 17th, I’ll be teaching a one day course with novelist Dorothy Hearst on “Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy” at Left Margin LIT Literary Arts Center in Berkeley. Space is limited, so if you want to enroll, now is the best time. I’ll also be doing a series of readings with other contributors to Katherine Hasting’s amazing anthology of women’s poetry Know Me Here; plus an April 6th benefit for the CIIS Women’s Spirituality Program during which I’ll talk about “Making the Goddess-worshiping Cultures of Prehistoric Europe Come Alive.” (Click here to see times and places.)

Less Stress More Joy

When the going gets tough, the tough do something fun to remain sane. My favorite escape this winter has been this video of a group of Newfoundlanders organizing a spontaneous singalong and dance party at the Toronto airport when their plane was delayed. Put on your dancing shoes and give it a click.

Send me your favorite ways to relax and have fun,and I will post one of them in my next newsletter.

Ever wonder where ideas come from and how to avoid writers’ block? Read Charlotte Seabury’s interview with me and discover how one of my novels (The Year the Horses Came), unexpectedly turned into the entire Earthsong Series.

Good News From Friends
Congratulations to: Andrena Zawinski for her new collection of poetry Landings; Trina Drotar for receiving 2nd place in the 10th annual Jack Kerouac Poetry Contest; Phyllis Meshulam for her new collection of poetry Land of My Father’s War; Joan Gelfand for her video The Ferlinghetti School of Poetics, a Meraki Film Festival Semi-Finalist; Angus Wright for his essay “Environment degradation as a cause of migration: cautionary tales from Brazil” recently published in Environmental History of Modern Migrations; Jen Cross for Writing Ourselves Whole: Using the Power of Your Own Creativity to Recover from Sexual Trauma; Christopher Sindt for his new collection of poetry System and Population; All 40+ contributors to Re-visioning Medusa: From Monster to Divine Wisdom, edited by Glenys Livingstone, Trista Hendren, and Pat DalyStephen Paul Miller for the publication of his poem “Poem” in POSITGary Kaplan, JFYNet Director, for 30 years of working to provide increased opportunities for disadvantaged urban youth and adults; Kirston Koths for his poetry collection One Good Turn; Renee de Palma and Katy Maina for winning 2 First Place and 2 Second Place honors in the Rookie/Vet American Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, and Viennese Waltz competitions; Robert McLaughlin from the National Cancer Institute for sending us the good news that cancer mortality rates are continuing to decline among men, women, and children; Lauren Coodley for her new collection of poetry The Same River Twice; JoAnn Smith Ainsworth for her novel Expect Trouble which was a runner-up in the Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Competition and semi-finalist in the East Texas Writer’s Guild First Chapter Award; Charles Entrekin for editing the Sustainability Issue of Sisypus Magazine and for founding Sisypus;  and Judy Grahn for the founding of My Good Judy, a new residency for LGBTQ artists in New Orleans which honors Judy’s pioneering works as a poet, activist, and foremother. 

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.

If you are tired of bad news and would like to get my Good News Newsletter four times a year CLICK HERE to add your name to the mailing list.

Upcoming Events

Saturday, March 17, 2018, Berkeley, CA: Mary Mackey and novelist Dorothy Hearst teach a one day course on Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy at Left Margin Lit Creative Writing Center. TIME: 10:00 pm to 3:00 pm  (with one hour lunch break). PLACE: Left Margin Lit Creative Writing Center, 1600 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley CA 94709. Fee: $150.

Learn the secrets to writing fantasy and science fiction in a way that sweeps readers into an imagined landscape and makes them want to go on reading! By the end of this one-day class, we will learn how to create new worlds that readers want to live in (or maybe escape from). Other craft elements we’ll discuss include developing intriguing characters and shaping a page-turning plot that will make your readers long for a sequel. We will provide plenty of helpful writing prompts and exercises, and there will be time throughout the day to answer your questions about writing and publishing in this expanding genre of fiction

Sunday, March 24, 2018, Novato, CA: Mary reads with contributors to Know Me Here – An Anthology of Poetry by Women, edited by Katherine Hastings. Time:  7:00 pm. PLACE: Copperfield’s Books, 999 Grant Ave, Novato, CA. Free and open to the public.

April 4, 2018, Oakland CA: Mary reads poems from her forthcoming collection The Jaguars That Prowl Our Dreams:New and Selected Poems (coming from Marsh Hawk Press, Fall 2018) as part of the Pandemonium Press series, which has recently relocated from the Spice Monkey to the 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.

April 6, 2018, San Francisco, CA:  “Raising up the Bones of the Past and Bidding Them Dance:  Novelist Mary Mackey Brings the Goddess-Worshiping Cultures of Prehistoric Europe to Life.”  Mary in conversation with Dr. Mara Keller, founder of the California Institute for Integral Studies Women’s Spirituality Program. TIME: 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. PLACE: Namaste Hall, California Institute of Integral Studies, 1453 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA. (between 10th and 11th Streets). This event is a benefit for the CIIS Women’s Spirituality Program.

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

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.


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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…]