By Sylvia Linsteadt and Rima Staines
A post-apocalyptic novel rooted deep in the folkloric traditions of Old Europe, and set in a wildly re-imagined Northern California
Thursday, 24 March 2016
A Bouquet of Books & Days
Spring in California, dear readers, is a tangle of blossoms and births. Creamcups, irises, California poppies (above), strawberry flowers, red elderflowers, buttercups, Indian paintbrush, pink currants, milkmaids, baby blue eyes— they are all up. Imagine it-- how all year they wait underground for this brief green season of glory. Meanwhile, little baby animals are being born—river otter pups, the first elk calves, habor seal babies, porpoise calves, gray foxes, coyotes. The birds are nesting-- red tailed hawks and osprey, acorn woodpeckers and egrets. The whole month of March seems to have gone by in a whirl of opening, Tatterdemalion born at the beginning like a good omen, a great speckled egg.
Then, last night, under the light of the full moon (and numerous candelabras), I held a small local event in my home in Oakland in celebration of the book's birth. We shared observations from the land where each of us currently live-- from San Francisco to the wild hills above Occidental, on the Sonoma Coast-- about what plants we were noticing blooming, what birds nesting. It felt very grounding and enriching to create a circle of spring observations in this way-- suddenly the season was palpable, held in our arms for a moment, before whirling onward again.
I served honey cake, a favorite treat of mine (this recipe), and great big pots of nettle and bishop pine tip tea, gathered in Point Reyes. Thus fueled, and gently lit by candles, I shared two wonderful Russian folktales— The Frog Princess and The Bear Tsar. Pieces of The Frog Princess found their way into Tatterdemalion several years ago (Koschei the Deathless whose death is in a needle inside an egg— see this article, written for Folklore Thursday, in which I discuss this connection a bit more), so it felt right to share the story in its honor. The Bear Tsar-- well, that is a strange and fabulous story, with children buried underground, an ambiguous bear king who can hit his head on the ground and create fire, a "shitty bullock" famed for his ability to spray dung in the eyes of his enemies, and of course old Baba Yaga.
We were all a bit baffled by it, but I love this about the story—that in it you can sense millennia, and scraps of very ancient myth and ritual (bull sacrifice, bear worship, the chthonic lairs of dragons), and little threads of astonishing wisdom amidst both strangeness and hilarity.
Meanwhile, after a brief respite, work on Tatterdemalion is picking up again. My wonderful editor Liz Garner is going to begin a thorough read-through next week. Nothing too major, just a bit of healthy weeding. Always a good thing, especially in such expert hands. I really look forward to the satisfying process of trimming and pruning-- not too much, but just enough to allow each sentence to shine. Rima and I are discussing book cover ideas, which involve a very long and gnarly-edged piece of wood and a quiet green roadside in which to paint it... More, I cannot yet say, but know that we, and the Unbound team, are completely devoted to making this the most beautiful book you can imagine, a thing of great wonder and strange magic to hold in your hands.
For now, I want to leave you with a book recommendation. I have been reading a lot this spring (especially anything by Ursula Le Guin, my new obsession), but one especially potent book recently made its way into my hands— If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie. Sharon is the editor (with her husband David Knowles) of Earthlines Magazine, where I have had the honor of publishing a column for the past year and a half. She is also a writer and psychologist, and this book of hers, it is a clarion call to the wild souls of women; it is an act of re-enchantment and re-rooting in the indigenous Celtic storyways of her ancestors.
"Rising high up on the heather-covered moorlands of Cornwall, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man and Brittany, seeping through our bogs, flowing down our streams and into our rivers and out onto the sandy strands of the rock-strewn Atlantic seaboard, are the old Celtic myths and sotries. Our own stories, no one else's. Stories steeped in sea-brine, black and crusty with peat; stories that lie buried beneath our feet, which spring directly out of our own distinctive native landscapes, and which informed the lives of our own ancestors, waiting to be reclaimed and re-visioned for the modern world." Yes, oh yes.
I have a fair amount of Irish blood in me (among many other strands, including Jewish ancestry spanning Russia, Austria, Poland, and Germany), so Sharon's words resonate in a strong way. Her book is a declaration of love for the lands we live on-- and I am very honored to be featured at the end, among a handful of other Celtic-diaspora women she interviewed about our relationship to place, to story, to ancestry. This is a truly potent book; a book of inspiration, instigation, ignition, initation... and I have a feeling it is going to weave much rooted change in a mycelial sort of way.... so do get yourself a copy!
On that note, I think I've shared enough Story & Myth to keep us all sated for a little while! I will be back soon, with some special audio-recordings of passages from Tatterdemalion (which may or may not feature a beautiful pennywhistle track, played by my own beloved...) Stay tuned!