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April 2011

On Your Desk


Today, another workspace from a good friend here in my village: artist Shany Niv. Shany lived in Italy and Slovenia before she and her husband found their way to England and to Chagford -- where she's now as firmly rooted in the Dartmoor soil as I am myself. (While I'm envious of those who grew up in this lovely place, there's something about crossing an ocean to find the home of your heart that makes it truly magical.)

An artist and craftswoman in many mediums (including stained glass and glass jewelry design), Shany is currently focused on the renovation of the house she and her husband bought last year -- a charming, tumbledown building that needed an artist's touch to bring it back to life. Stepping inside its door is like stepping inside a painter's canvas-in-progress, and it's been a delight and inspiration to me to watch Shany's aesthetic vision of the house unfold.

Along with the usual building and painting work that goes along with house renovation, Shany also restores beautiful old furniture scavenged from our local recycling center, and collects fabrics in scrumptious colors and patterns to piece together into quilts and other textile projects. The studio pictured above and below is where she does her design and textile work. (And yes, if you recognize the big drawing on the wall below, it is indeed one of mine. In the photo above, the painting glimpsed at the end of the hallway is by another friend & neighbor, David Wyatt.)


"My workspace is in a wide hallway," says Shany. "The house will be spacious when we eventually complete it, but right now space is limited, so I confiscated two unused walls to create an improvised studio for my quilt making."


"I'm a huge Pre-Raphaelite fan so there's no surprise the quilt I'm currently working on is dedicated to William Morris. Apart from using only Morris fabrics, it also incorporates sketches of Morris by Burne-Jones and Morris quotes."


Below, more glimpses of the studio, and of Shany's dog Ozzie (a great friend of Tilly's since puppyhood):


Below, another gorgeous completed quilt, with a close-up of the handstitch work:


More desks to come....

Bordertown ARC Contest!

Bordertown art by Steve Stone Advance Reading Copies of the new Bordertown book, Welcome to Bordertown, are as rare as hens' teeth if you aren't on the Random House review list -- but they've made a few copies available for contests, and I'm running one of them this week. Here's how it works:

Leave a comment (long or short, though we love the long ones!) on the Guest Book page of the new Bordertown Series website any time this week, ending midnight Sunday April 24. (If you haven't yet read any Bordertown books, have a look around the website while you're there as it provides a good introduction -- and there are three free stories reprinted on the site as well.)  

Make sure the email address you use for making your comment is one I can contact you on if you win. (Your email address will not be made public, don't worry.) I'll put the names of all the Commenters in a hat on Monday morning and pick one. Then I'll write to the winner to obtain a mailing address, and Random House will mail the ARC out from their New York offices next week. If you're the winner, you could have an ARC of the book (in the olden days we called them "bound galleys") a full month before it hits the bookstore shelves. The ARC can be mailed to anywhere in the world, so international readers are welcome to enter the contest too.

Please only one entry to this particular contest per person -- but if you want to double your chances of winning an ARC, Charles de Lint is also running a contest this week.

Good luck!

Tunes for a Monday Morning

This morning: a spell, an incantation, a witch's cauldron of music and language stirred by Faun, the pagan folk/metal/darkwave/medieval music band from Germany.  They perform in a number of languages (including German, Latin, Old Icelandic,  Finnish, Hungarian, and Ladino), and play instruments ranging from Celtic harp, bouzouki, nyckelharpa, fiddle, hurdy gurdy, and bagpipes to synthesizers and sound samplers. I confess that I don't love all of Faun's work, as their pagan theatrical side can go a bit over the top for me, particularly in the folk-metal end of their range -- but when they focus on straight-forward presentations of their acoustic repertoire (as they do in the performance of "Egil Saga," above, and the CD Licht, from which it comes), their music is wonderfully hypnotic, enchanting, and they have me absolutely. Visit the Faun website to hear more.

Speaking of making hypnotic music, has anyone ever equaled Lisa Gerrard in that regard, both in her work with Dead Can Dance (which was basically the soundtrack of my life back in the early '90s) and solo? I've chosen the clip below, of Gerrard and Pieter Bourke performing "The Unfolding" in a tv studio, because of its decidedly unromantic setting -- for I love how Gerrard, with her powerful voice alone, can turn any place into sacred space.

Recommended reading:

IMG_4094Devon Hillside in the Spring

* First and foremost: the Spring 2011 issue of Goblin Fruit, marking the 5th Anniversary of this fabulous journal of mythic poetry.  Full of wonders, art, audio, mischief, and an anniversary prize giveaway.

* Scottish poet Liz Lochhead discusses why she became a writer and not a painter in a video interview from the Off the Page program, and reflects on the similarities and differences between the two disciplines. (If you're unfamiliar with her work, try her collection Dreaming Frankenstein, which contains a number of fine fairy-tale-inspired poems and one of the best takes on "Tam Lin" I've yet read.)

* Gwenda Bond discusses YA dystopian fiction in an article for "Dystopia Week" at  (Ellen Datlow and I are in the final stage of editing a YA anthology of dystopian short stories for Disney's Hyperion, so I have a keen interest in this subject right now.)

* Theodora Goss discuses vampires in folklore and literature on the Realms of Fantasy site. (Since my last anthology with Ellen focused on vampires, I admit to a personal interest in this subject too!)

* For those who like to keep up on publishing news: an overview of the recent Bologna Book Fair at the Publishers Weekly site.

* Fans of the "On Your Desk" photo series might like to see the writing offices profiled at The Write Place, The Write Time. Kat Howard (whose story I recommended last week) is one of the featured authors. (via Gwenda Bond)

* There's now a podcast of Delia Sherman's magical tale for young readers, "The Wizard's Apprentice," at Podcastle. Delia's story, a contemporary fantasy about an unlikely wizard in the wilds of Maine, was originally published in Troll's Eye View. The tale is read by Peter Wood.  

* We finally meet the magician John Barleycorn in the comics pages posted at the JB blog. I love seeing rough sketches like this, which give a real sense of comic artists' creative process.

* Stephanie Levy discuses blogging, fear, managing time, and more with illustrator Hollie Chastain at Artists Who Blog. There are lots of other good interviews here too, if you don't already know this lovely site.

* Nomi, an artist and aerialist in Oxfordshire, discusses museums, magic, and mutual friends over at her charming blog, Air and Parchment.

* Danielle Barlow has an exhibition up right now at the Courtyard Cafe here in Chagford, called "Trickster and Totems." If you can't come to see this wonderful show in person, follow the link to see photographs on her Notes from the Rookery blog.

* I'm charmed and intrigued by these odd little people featured on the Anthropomorphica blog. (via Ruthie at A Faerietale of Inspiration)

* The Westcountry Folklore blog continues to be an excellent resource for the folk tales, customs, celebrations, games, rhymes, blessings, curses, medicines, and animal/bird/plant lore indiginous to the West Country: the region of England we live in here, comprised of Somerset, Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall. The WCF blog is run by artist & folklorist Thomas Hine, who lives just a few doors down from us.

* As much as I'm a country-girl these days, I came of age (artistically speaking) in New York City, I still work daily for the New York publishing industry, and I still feel like a New Yorker at heart -- a happily transplanted New Yorker, but a New Yorker nonetheless.  So even though I've no real desire to leave our enchanted hillside here in Devon during this loveliest of seasons, I have to admit this timelapse video by Mindrelic (on Vimeo) left the city-girl inside me feeling just a wee bit homesick. I love the lights of the city captured on the video especially.

And speaking of light....

* My final recommendation today comes, once again, from the Ted Talks series: the Dutch "lighting architect" Rogier van der Heide looking at buildings from around the world and discussing why light needs the darkness. It's interesting how much of this applies, in the metaphorical sense, to the storytelling process too.

Have a good weekend.

Light"Young Dog, Old Tree, Devon Light"

On Your Desk


I haven't quite finished the "Chagford desk tour" yet, as there are more desk/workspace photos from friends here in my village that will be coming in over the days and weeks ahead. But I'm also happy to post desk photos from other places in the world, so if you haven't sent yours in yet, Gentle Reader, there's still time to do so.

Today's photos, for example, come from Theo Black: painter, illustrator, gnome whipper and web designer extraordinaire in western Massachusetts. "My space is in an old felt factory that has been converted into office space," Theo says. "It's large enough to accommodate six 79 Buick Skylarks. At one time I had a staff of four and did websites for many popular YA authors. Now the space in going through some changes and there are only three of us. We still do websites, but only a few, and I'm painting again."

And that's good news indeed.


Visit Theo's website, The Black Arts, to see more of his work -- and check out the cool new website he designed for the Bordertown Series.

Gryphon by Theo Black

Theo Black

If you'd like to contribute a picture to the "On Your Desk" series, you are very welcome to do so. You'll find more information (and the address where you should send your photo) in the first post of the series. Click here for the full series so far, and here for our last photo series: "The View from Your Window".

Reaching for the Light

Heading for the light

To make art and to recover from a long illness are two things that are never an easy mix...and yet, I remind myself, the philosophers and spiritual traditions that I trust the most do not prioritize "ease" in the living of an artist's life. It is often precisely from what is hard that our best work grows, our ideas deepen, and our spirits mature.

The Irish Catholic poet/philosopher John O'Donohue (1956-2008) is a writer I've found myself re-reading often during these difficult months -- usually while sitting in the woods behind the studio, morning coffee in hand and Tilly close by. My little black familiar sits patiently, ears cocked and nose twitching in the rustling, breathing forest, as I turn the crackling pages and lose myself in O'Donohue's words . . . .

"When you become vulnerable," he says, "any ideal or perfect image of yourself falls away."

That's certainly true during periods of convalescence. Who am I during these long, quiet days when I can't write, or draw, or even think properly? What is left at the core; what is still me when the parts I value most are stripped away?

"Many people are addicted to perfection," he continues, " and in their pursuit of the ideal, they have no patience with vulnerability."

There's nothing wrong with ideals themselves, he hastens to add: "Every poet would like to write the ideal poem. Though they never achieve this, sometimes it glimmers through their best work. Ironically, the very beyondness of the idea is often the touch of presence that renders the work luminous. The beauty of the ideal awakens a passion and urgency that brings out the best in the person and calls forth the dream of excellence.

"The beauty of the true ideal is its hospitality towards woundedness, weakness, failure and fall-back. Yet so many people are infected with the virus of perfection. They cannot rest; they allow themselves no ease until they come close to the cleansed domain of perfection. This false notion of perfection does damage and puts their lives under great strain. It is a wonderful day in a life when one is finally able to stand before the long, deep mirror of one's own reflection and view oneself with appreciation, acceptance, and forgiveness. On that day one breaks through the falsity of images and expectations which have blinded one's spirit. One can only learn to see who one is when one learns to view oneself with the most intimate and forgiving compassion."

Who am I, then, when I glimpse into that mirror? A writer and artist still, on the days I can work and on the days when I can't. And also just a woman reading in the woods, a dog beside her. Healing. Healing.

Small black familiar

The text quoted comes from Beauty: The Invisible Embrace by John O'Donohue (HarperCollins, 2004).

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Above, the Devon folk band Mad Dog McCrea (who played at our village hall recently), performing a foot-stompin' version of the Anglo-Scots folk song "Raggle Taggle Gypsy."

English Gypsies by Augustus JohnBelow, two poignant (and more realistic) songs about Gypsy life here in Britain: Chris Wood, Karine Polwart, and the MacColl brothers perform Ewan MacColl's "Moving On Song: Go, Move, Shift" (at a Ewan MacColl tribute concert); and the great June Tabor performs "All Our Trades are Gone."

For more about Romany Gypsy life and lore, visit the Travellers' Times website,  Romany Road (The Gypsy Lore Society's site), and The European Roma Rights Centre. "The Road That Has No End," my 1997 article on Gypsy folklore (in the JoMA archives), is a little dated, but contains some good book recommendations.  I particularly recommend We Borrow the Earth, Patrick Jasper Lee's book on the Gypsy shamanic tradition.

The painting here is by the Welsh artist Augustus John (Gwen John's more famous brother, 1878-1961 ), who was obsessed with Gypsy life. He spent a lot of time with Romany friends in England and on the Continent, spoke the Romany language, and liked to live and travel in gypsy-style himself, often trailing his extended family behind him. His son Pyramus was born in a Gypsy caravan here on Dartmoor, not far from where I live. (John himself wasn't actually there at the time, and his imperturable mistress Dorelia MacNeil gave birth to the child alone.)

For some great Gypsy music (rather than Gadjo tunes about Gypsies), I particularly love Balkan Beat Box and Gogol Bordello. Also, check out The London Gypsy Orchestra, which (as Rima Staines notes in the Comments below) is dedicated to Gypsy music, though it's not an all-Gypsy group.

Recommended Reading:

Spring buddhaSpring flowers in our front yard.

*  Carlos Hernandez discusses machismo, interstitiality, and Junot Diaz's fiction over on the IAF site.  This is a terrific essay.

* Catherynne Valente discusses Russian folklore , and her book Deathless, at The Tor/Forge Blog.

* Karen Mahoney discusses Armless Maiden folklore , and her book The Iron Witch, at John Scalzi's Whatever.

* Katherine Langrish discusses Robin Hood, the wildwood, and fairies at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles.

* Valerianna discusses "forest medicine" at RavenWood Forest. A particularly beautiful post.

* The "Moveable Feast" discussion on magic--which began on John Barleycorn (April 1 and March 25) and on Astrotabletalk--has now moved on to Erzebet YellowBoy Carr's blog, I Saw the Angel. If this tasty Feast moves further, please let me know in the Comments.

* Harper Teen has posted a "sneak peek" of Teeth, the new anthology of vampire fiction for teens I co-edited with Ellen Datlow. (It was officially published on April 1 and is in the bookstores now. Hurrah!) If you follow the link, you can read my Introductory essay (a survey of vampires in myth, folklore, and literature), as well as two terrific stories: Genevieve Valentine's "Ten Things to Know About Being Dead" and Steve Berman's "All Smiles."

Ellen and I worked hard to create a book that would bring something fresh, mythic, and worthwhile to Young Adult vampire literature, a path that's been rather, er, well trodden of late -- and with sterling efforts from all the authors who worked on the volume with us, we think we just might have succeeded. Charles Tan has posted a very nice review of the book at Bibliophile Stalker -- in which he tackles the much-debated question: What makes a story suitable for teens?

If, by the way, you can't live without knowing whether the authors in Teeth would want to be vampires themselves, there are a couple of goofy little promotional videos on the subject (from the book's publisher) posted here and here. I admit I hesitated in posting these links out of sheer vanity, because I had flu when I was filmed for my little part (in the graveyard of the Chagford church) and look like hell. So I hasten to assure you that although I look half dead, vampires had nothing to do with it. Honest!

* Colleen Mondor reviews Welcome to Bordertown and several other good new books (such as The Iron Thorn) in her Bookslut column this week. Bordertown, she says, "is still the best mash-up of music, faery and coming-of-age drama". . . and we're glad she thinks so.

* Fantasy Magazine has published a fine story by Kat Howard based on the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" series. There's also an interesting side article on the series by Molly Tanzer, and Ellen Kushner fesses up about her C.Y.O.A. past.

* Have you seen the delightful art that Midori Snyder's son-in-law, Emiliano Lake Herrera, has been making lately, inspired by Mexican folk art? Midori has posted a nice introduction to it at In the Labyrinth.

* And have you seen the Brooklyn Love Exchange blog, where artist Iviva Olenick collects romantic stories and turns them into embroideries?  (via Andrew Thornton)

* And did you know that the University of Manchester sponsors a very nifty website dedicated to the Victorian illustrator Walter Crane?

* Last but not least, another good Ted Talk: Eric Whitacre and a virtual choir 2000 voices strong. What a strange and amazing new world we live in.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Wild Daffodils

Tilly among the daffodils

Daffodils are blooming among the trees in the magical woodland behind our house. In the Language of Flowers, they represent rebirth, new beginnings, fresh undertakings, and I want to be ready for all these break out of the habits and mindset of a winter of illness and hibernation.

Wild daffodils

The trees of the wood are beginning to green up, and the bluebells (representing constancy) have started to poke their tender new shoots through the leaf mulch carpeting the forest floor. The woodland is rich in animal smells and Tilly (who is on heat at the moment, bless her) paces beside us with her nose twitching, grinning broadly with olfactory delight....


Agility training

Howard & Tilly 2

Howard and I, we're delighted too. We've survived another Dartmoor winter, and the spring is truly here at last. In this time of daffodils and new beginnings, ideas start to percolate once more, sketches take form on the drawing board, words are scratched across notebook pages and pecked onto computer screens, and Art pokes upward through the leaf mulch of our dreams, of our souls, reaching for the light.


New beginnings