Preface: it feels strange posting this, in the midst of everything that’s going on. It feels like self-promotion, which feels wrong. At the same time, it’s a post about something good, very good. It’s about a dream coming true. It’s about a dream I’d started to worry would never come true coming true — and so I’m posting this, because the world could use some positivity in it at the moment.
I was honored and humbled when the magnificent and talented Ivy Alvarez tagged me in this self-interview blog thing, where we talk about our latest books (you should check out Ivy’s post about her second book, Disturbance, and then you should also order and read her first book, Mortal, which is hella good, too). I was especially excited because this seemed like the perfect way to make an announcement I haven’t yet made on this blog, which is this:
I’m beyond excited, thrilled, honored, humbled, nervous, nauseous, and excited again to announce that my first full-length collection of poetry, Maleficae, is forthcoming from GenPop Books. And it’s so forthcoming that if you follow that link to GenPop Books’ website, you’ll actually find a place where you can actually PRE-ORDER THE BOOK. THAT I WROTE.
I KNOW, RIGHT?
It still seems surreal and unbelievable, but I’m so very proud to be publishing this book, and working with this press — especially now, when we need more than ever to take a look at ourselves and our society and think long and hard about what’s going on, because it’s beginning to look an awful lot like things looked before and during the witch trials in early modern Europe. Which is what this book is about.
And now, the questions:
What is the title of your book?
Maleficae. That’s Latin, which is another language. It essentially translates as “evil-doers,” and was the Church’s term for witches.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Maleficae follows one woman as she’s made the village’s hero then demonized, tried, and executed as a witch when things went wrong — a story typical in the European witch trials.
What genre does your book fall under?
It’s a book-length sequence of poems that work together to tell the story of the woman who, like so many others, was condemned and killed for witch-craft — and the story of the forces which worked to condemn her.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Here’s the story I tell to sound impressive:
The idea for this book came from my investigation of religious documents and historical records of the witch trials, and how many similarities I noticed between the forces acting to demonize the “different,” condemn them as “other,” and limit women’s rights in early modern Europe and the forces acting in our country today.
Here’s the real story:
In May of 2006, I had extensive reconstructive surgery on my jaw. It sucked. A lot. The recovery time also sucked a lot, particularly because it was very, very long. I started running out of reading material pretty quickly, so when my mom came home from Wal-Mart with a copy of The Da Vinci Code, I greedily grabbed it and started reading. I was fascinated by the idea that the Church had essentially obscured the position of women in the Church, and I was especially terrified by the brief description of the witch trials and the text which served as the Church’s handbook for trying and executing witches: the Malleus Maleficarum. I ordered a copy of it and started to read, and soon began writing these very strange poems that didn’t even seem to come from me. I didn’t exactly know what was going on, so I kept researching and reading and note-taking and writing these very strange poems, until I realized I was writing a book. Then I kept following the path until it finally became clear. Or, at least, clearer.
Please forget the second story now.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Oh, man. Well, as mentioned above, I started in May of 2006. At the time, I was working at Auburn University, which was very lucky — they have an amazing library with even more amazing librarians who helped me find the books that could help me. I read everything about the trials I could and took compulsive notes, even though I wasn’t sure what would end up in the poems or even if there were going to be more poems. I researched everything, from the physics of burning at the stake to the kinds of plants that were in Bavaria at that point in time. And I wrote — mostly messy prose blocks in my notebooks. I didn’t figure out how the poems needed to lay on the page until May of 2007, when it suddenly came to me in a rush while I was in Austria for a very dear friend’s wedding. I finished a very skeletal draft in the summer of 2008 and sent it to one of my best readers, who wrote back with the best advice ever: to tell the story and to really get to the heart of things, I had to write in the voice of the persecutor. For about three weeks, I wrote and wrote and wrote, and finally had a draft by the end of that summer.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I think there are really no words to express the terror of the witch trials and the mixture of rage and fear and twisted logic that caused them — but I think we have to try to find words for this kind of experience to keep it from happening again. As I was writing and reading, I kept coming across news of frighteningly similar forces in my own country: women being denied birth control, even as a treatment for endometriosis. It seemed in a way that I was compelled to write these poems to make the story come out of the history books and to light. Most of all, I felt for the women, those millions of women, whose voices were silenced. I wanted to find a way to allow them to speak. I knew that I may not succeed, but I also knew that I had to try.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Malificae will be published by GenPop Books in 2013.
What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?
Oh, goodness. Well, I’m not sure I can really ever come close to comparing to any of these works, but I do know what books inspired me and what I read in the process of writing these poems (besides infinity books about history and scans of documents from the trials): D.A. Powell’s Cocktails, Louise Gluck’s Averno, Laura Jensen’s Bad Boats, Raymond McDaniel’s Murder (a violet), Matthea Harvey’s Sad Little Breathing Machine, and Maurice Manning’s Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
This question? Totally boss. I’d cast Jennifer Lawrence as the witch and Alan Rickman as the priest. I would also cast Josh Groban as somebody because he is Josh Groban and I would like to meet him. Also my mom says I should marry him, and that would totally happen if I cast him in a movie based on a book-length series of historically inspired semi-experimental poems. Right?
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It’s a book that examines not just the facts of history but the ideas behind the facts, and how we relate to those ideas. It’s a book that explores what we’ve learned and what we’ve failed to learn, how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. And it’s a book about differences, about how we need to learn to listen to them and to treat each other with the kindness and dignity every human being deserves.
At this point, I’m supposed to tag five other writers. I’m trying, y’all, but have run into snags, so I’ll probably edit this later to include them.