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The Wood Wife > The Wood Wife - Q&A with Terri Windling (March 27th-April 3rd)

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Odette | 316 comments Mod
Dear Endicott Group Members:
Our Wood Wife Q&A with Terri Windling will begin this Saturday, March 28th and continue all week until Sat., April 3rd.

How it works:
Beginning on this Saturday, you can post questions for Ms. Windling about The Wood Wife. She'll check Good Reads periodically and post responses when she gets a chance. The Q&A will continue all week.

Thanks in advance for participating!

message 2: by Ramona (new)

Ramona Gault | 84 comments Hi Odette. Do we post our questions on this page? There don't seem to be any previous posts here. Thanks.

message 3: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 27, 2010 02:18AM) (new)

Hello, everyone. Thanks for your kind words about The Wood Wife. I'll do my best to answer any questions you have about it.

I'm writing from England, looking out the window at a very different landscape than the desert setting of the book: green and rust-colored hills under misty grey sky. In the distance are sheep and Dartmoor ponies rather than javelina, bobcats, and coyotes. I love the West Country of England, but in these cold damp, days of March, I dearly miss the desert....


message 4: by Ramona (new)

Ramona Gault | 84 comments Hello Terri, thank you for joining our discussion. It's lovely to spend part of the year in each environment. I'm in the green green Pacific Northwest but used to live in the Southwest desert. Reading and re-reading The Wood Wife has been a delicious self-indulgence for me. I enjoyed it on several levels: romance, mystery, and nature spirituality. In the characters of Tomas and Crow, were you drawing from any particular Native American beliefs? How about the Spine Witch and the rabbit-girl? Were they inspired by North American nature spirits or pagan European ones? Or perhaps all these came from your own experiences in the desert? I look forward to your response.

message 5: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 10, 2010 01:43AM) (new)

Romana: Thank you for your kind comments, and your questions. I'm sorry to take so long to respond. As you can see from the lengthy reply below, I've been thinking hard about the answer.

All of the magical creatures in The Wood Wife were inspired by a blend of mythic influences: bits and pieces of Native American, Mexican American, and European American myth and folklore woven together. In this I was attempting to reflect the “melting pot” culture of Arizona itself, in which the storytelling traditions of over twenty Indian nations (Pima, Yuma, Tohono O'dham, Yaqui, Navajo, Apache, etc.) share the mythic landscape with the stories and lore transplanted to the desert by immigrants from Europe and other parts of the world, along with the vivid Mexican folk culture that thrives in border states like Arizona.

As for the character of Tomás Yazzie: I decided to give him a mixed-race background so that his spiritual belief system wouldn't be tied to that of any single Native American tribe. (He is Tohono O'dham on his mother's side, Navajo/Anglo on his father's, with a bit of Yaqui (Yoeme) thrown in via a maternal great-grandmother.) Around the time I was writing The Wood Wife, my Tucson neighbor Barbara Kingsolver was being sharply attacked by the young Spokane/Coeur d'Alene writer Sherman Alexie for daring to write novels that included Native American characters and for presuming to understand their world view. I felt that Alexie's view was too extreme – all writers create characters of different cultures, genders, etc., etc., including Alexie himself. But his argument gave me pause nonetheless, and I chose to side-step it by creating a character who is (like me) of mixed racial heritage.

Your questions made me think about the influences behind some of the other characters too. Anna Naverra, for instance, was partially inspired by the life and art of the surrealist painter Remedios Varo. I always imagined Anna's paintings as looking something like Varo's exquisite work. Varo was Spanish, not Mexican, but she fled to Mexico during the war (like many European artists) and was part of the Mexican Surrealist movement. Davis Cooper wasn't inspired by any one poet in particular, but I imagined him as part of the Anais Nin/Henry Miller cafe crowd in Paris before the war, hanging out with Neruda and with the French and Spanish surrealist writers and artists. That's a time period that fascinates me. The Nazis actually did go after the Surrealists, whom they considered dangerously decadent and subversive. The Emergency Rescue Committee -- the American group that got Cooper out of a Nazi detention camp and safely out of the country -- actually existed; I didn't make it up. Run by Varian Fry, the ERC saved the lives of many artists during the war.

And yes, there were moments in the book in which I was drawing upon my own experience of the desert, and of its indigenous customs and ceremonies. I didn't reproduce those ceremonies exactly, as they are sacred rites and not meant for that kind of use. But I did synthesize some of my own experiences in creating rituals and beliefs personal to Tomás Yazzie and Johnny Foxxe.

I've just read this group's last Q & A session with Christopher Barzak (fascinating!), which have got me thinking about the origins of The Wood Wife. Chris wrote that he started his fine novel One for Sorrow with “a voice and an image and a feeling.” For me, the central characters come first, along with a strong sense of place. I always know who the characters are and where they live long before I have any idea of what their story is going to be. The story reveals itself slowly as I write, usually rising out of the bones of the setting.

Although (like many writers) I often draw upon aspects of myself when creating characters, The Wood Wife is not an autobiographical novel. There are small bits and pieces of me in Maggie (as there are in all of the Wood Wife characters), but they're mixed up with bits of other people, and bits that come purely from the imagination. She was partially inspired by an conversation I had with a publishing colleague who claimed that it was nigh on impossible to write a convincing romantic narrative in which the female protagonist was of “higher status” (his words) than the male character: older, wealthier, more successful, etc.. I was so annoyed by this assumption that I took it as a personal challenge to write just such a tale, and out of that conversation Maggie Black and Johnny Foxxe were born. Crow, on the other hand, grew out of my interest in world-wide shapeshifter myths; he was a purely imaginary creature. (And yet, oddly enough, I met and dated a Yaqui man a few years later who was so like Crow it was positively uncanny. Right down to the tattoos.)

I set the novel in a range of mountains that I dearly love on the eastern outskirts of Tucson, which loomed above the little winter house I was sharing then with the writer Ellen Steiber and a trio of cats. I also had an old thatched house in Devon, England (in the village where I still live today), and in that half of my life I'd been doing a lot of work with the “fairy painter” Brian Froud—writing about the various kinds of fairies and nature spirits found in folk traditions all around the world. Although I love Brian's fairies, born out of the granite and oak and ivy and moss of the English countryside, the folk tradition tells us that virtually every culture around the globe has some sort of native fairy or nature spirit – which made me wonder what kind of nature spirits one would find arising from the distinctive flora and fauna of the Sonoran desert. I'd been filling up sketchbooks with “desert fairy” images, and painting “desert spirits” of various kinds...but I'm a writer first, and a painter only second. I wanted to tell their story. I also wanted to use the language of myth to reproduce the emotional experience of being seduced and claimed by a powerful landscape like the desert—which had been my own experience when I first came to Arizona.

The first time I came to Tucson (for a Fantasy Convention, as it happens), I actually hated it. I thought: Who on earth would want to live here? I'd already lost my heart to the fairy tale landscape of England's West Country; the desert, by contrast, seemed harsh and prickly and utterly alien. A few years later, however, I ended up in Tucson again, staying with friends while recuperating from an operation. At first, the desert still seemed as alien and uninviting as the moon, but over the weeks of slow recovery my vision of the land began to change. The hills that had seemed so barren and harsh now revealed themselves as rich and vividly colored, beautiful, teeming with life. It was as if I'd acquired a second sight (like the “fairy sight” of Celtic lore, or the Spine Witch's kisses on Maggie Black's eyes), allowing me to finally see the land in its true form. (It's probably no accident that this shift occurred during the enforced idleness of recuperation, for there are interesting parallels between the journey one makes through a serious illness and the archetypal shamanic journey of descent and rebirth.) By the end of my trip I was house-hunting, and I then divided my time between Devon and the desert for the better part of the next two decades.

When I first sat down to write The Wood Wife, I wanted to take that feeling of “seduction by landscape” and use it as a kind of armature wire to hang the rest of the novel on. This, in turn, allowed me to explore a theme that is very dear to my heart: how landscape shapes our myths, our psyches, our stories ... and how we, in turn, as storytellers, give shape to the world around us.

[Edited to add links.:]

message 6: by Ramona (new)

Ramona Gault | 84 comments Yes, dammas. I thought it was Spanish and tried to look it up but didn't find anything.

message 7: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 10, 2010 01:31AM) (new)

Amelia: The concept of movement as a sacred force can be found in the spiritual beliefs of many Native American tribes, as well as in shamanic cultures (such as the Evenki/Tungus, Ainu, and Sami) world-wide. And in non-shamanic cultures too, such as the Chinese concept of chi.

I was particularly influenced in this by the Lakota Sioux's Taku Skan Skan, and by Navajo ideas about the holy winds that make up all life.

"Dammas" is a made-up word, because I didn't want Crow and the other spirit beings to be too tied to any specific human culture

message 8: by Ramona (new)

Ramona Gault | 84 comments Thank you for your detailed response, Terri. I think part of why Maggie's experiences and growth on the mountain were convincing to me was because she retained her skeptical inner core. As a reader I wasn't sure at the end that she would stay with Johnny or the desert. I thank you for creating desert spirits that are dangerous and tricky. This was certainly my experience in New Mexico. Would you write a novel set in a contemporary English countryside that is populated with similarly dangerous and powerful spirit beings? That would be an intriguing challenge.

message 9: by Ramona (new)

Ramona Gault | 84 comments Terri, and thank you so much for the link above to your Desert Spirits series. I had not seen all of these. It would be lovely for them to be printed in a little book. Or a big book!

message 10: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 05, 2010 12:41AM) (new)


In my view, the spirit beings of any landscape are bound to include dangerous, tricksy characters. Nature itself is often pitiless and brutal, and "fairies" (or "spirits," or "elementals," or whatever other name you want to use) are creatures born of nature. Our image of fairies as gentle, fluttery sprites with butterfly wings is a relatively modern construction, popularized by Victorian children's tales and Disney films; whereas myths and sacred texts from all around the world are full of powerful nature spirits of whom it is wise to be quite wary. I completely agree with you that the deserts of the American southwest are particularly prone to such tricksy creatures!*

Have you read David Abram's work? He lives in New Mexico, and writes about the connections between language, landscape and the perception of magic (among other things). His book The Spell of the Sensuous was a formative text for me, and a big influence on The Wood Wife. (Also, Lewis Hyde's The Gift and Gary Snyder's The Practice of the Wild .)

And yes, I'd very much like to write more adult fiction about Dartmoor, which is so spirited and rich in folklore. I've published children's books set in Devon, but I haven't written fiction for adults in a good long while and I'd like to get back to it. Dartmoor is an incredibly magical place, full of daily inspiration.

Some years ago I wrote a story set partially in Devon called "The Color of Angels." It was about Maggie Black's best friend, Tat Ludvik, so it has a slight Wood Wife connection. The story was first published in an anthology called The Horns of Elfland, and, more recently, in a small press volume called Ravens in the Library. (It can also be read online on the Endicott Studio site, here.)

[* Edited to add: The Journal of Mythic Arts did a whole issue on fairies and nature spirits a while back, which is archived online here.]

Lesley-caron Veater | 1 comments Just discovered this site so a verrry quick message before the opportunity disappears with a snap....Terri The Woodwife absolutely captivated me when i first read it years ago and i find my hand reaches for it from my book shelves most Winters when i curl up by the open fire late at night and revisit "old friends" and magics.
Having left England myself to live in what first seemed such a harsh, prickly, hot and foreign smelling place (Aust) I relate closely to many elements; deserts are such evocative places and I have learnt much here.
I love how the desert landscape and inhabitants seep in to Maggie's consciousness as her eyes are "opened" to seeing.
Thanks for refs above (Spell of the Sensuous is an absolute long favorite!) Will have a look for the Hyde and Snyder books, thanks. Loads of questions, but this will snuff out tomorrow ,
be well :)

message 12: by Ramona (new)

Ramona Gault | 84 comments Oh yes, thanks for the link to the JOMA issue on fairies and nature spirits; I had not seen that, having discovered JOMA about the time it was retired. When I was a child, the magazine Jack and Jill actually carried high-quality fiction and fairy stories, not dumbed-down or sugared-up. My psyche was deeply impressed by a series of Baba Yaga tales. I had nothing in my own cultural background to resonate with this dangerous character; nonetheless she became part of my worldview forever. To my delight, Baba Yaga has been given a new life in "Except the Queen," the new novel by Midori Snyder and Jane Yolen.

Emilie | 69 comments hi terri w.,
i love the wood wife for many reasons. it has so many themes and layers to it that i am drawn to and it has so much heart.

one of the things i love about is that one layer of the story feels to me the story of a woman’s healing transformation.

i see maggie as recovering from an abusive relationship with nigel. at the least i guess one could call this a disempowering relationship with nigel. though maggie is successful, she feels to me like she has lost her connection to an essential part of herself (at the beginning of the book) and has been made to feel insecure about her own worth and abilities.

i see maggie’s journey as (among many other things) one of empowerment and finding her identity and the freedom to recover her own strengths. i see maggie as transforming in a way that reveals to herself what is most true and essential about her own self.

at the beginning of the book maggie’s identity seems shaky and externally defined to me. she doesn’t trust herself to know who she really is.

i felt that one of the things that was happening in her interactions with the spirits of the land was that she was becoming empowered and learning to feel her own essence and to trust herself. i felt that this spoke to the ways that different kinds of illness and trauma involve a loss of self and a need to find our way back to ourselves.

i was wondering if you would talk some about your thoughts on the relationship between healing and the mythic arts?
thank you so much.

Lisarose | 7 comments Perhaps too personal a question... The Wood Wife is one of my favorite books. I've read it several times- and like it more with each reading. Come away feeling healed with more energy for my creative life. Why no more adult fiction? Your editing/collaborations are such a gift and I selfishly want more. I heard rumors that at one time there was a "Moon Wife" planned. I miss the straight shot into a world you created.

message 15: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 10, 2010 01:46AM) (new)

Emilie and Lisarose:

Thanks for your questions. I'm having some health problems at the moment and I'm afraid I won't be able to answer today (Saturday), but I'll try to do so tomorrow.

(I know the Q&A was suppposed to end today, so I hope the Mythic Fiction group doesn't mind letting it run on a little bit longer?)

'Til tomorrow --


message 16: by Ramona (new)

Ramona Gault | 84 comments Dear Terri,
I hope you feel better soon, and I'm sure we're all fine with continuing this discussion as long as you want to hang in there with us.
All the best,

Emilie | 69 comments terri,
i agree with ramona. take your time. we are in no hurry here. take care of yourself. and thanks for letting us know.

message 18: by Pamela (last edited Apr 04, 2010 02:58AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Pamela Lloyd (PamelaDLloyd) | 45 comments Hi Terri,

Along with the others here, I also hope you are feeling better very quickly. I love The Wood Wife, and as I grew up in the Southwest and currently live in Tucson, it's very vivid for me.

Thank you for the link to "The Color of Angels." Although I own a copy of The Horns of Elfland, it has been quite some time since I reread your story. I'm struck by the way in which Tat experiences sounds as colors. I know that there are neurological conditions which cause a similar experience and am wondering if you were thinking of that when you wrote about Tat, especially given the neurological nature of her condition, or if it's more a metaphor of the artist's view of the world.

Best wishes,

message 19: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 05, 2010 12:52AM) (new)

Thanks, everyone.


You are exactly right about Maggie's healing journey. For me, the power of (and the point of) mythic fiction is that it uses magical imagery and symbolism not simply to give the reader a magical adventure, but to explore issues of real life on a deep, archetypal level. In this book, one of the things I wanted to examine was the all-too-common scenario of female artists (in all creative fields) who get sidetracked from their own creative work by falling into the traditional role of supporting a man in his. Nigel is one of those dazzling guys that it's all too easy to fall for when you're young, the glitter of their extraordinary talent obscuring the shape of the man beneath. You plunge into such a relationship imagining that it will be an equal, mutually-supportive union of artists...only to find that, as the relationship unfolds, there's room for only one artist in it; and that your role is to serve their art. I'm not automatically blaming the man in this equation. It often takes huge self-focus, self-confidence, and even a dollop of selfishness to be successful in the arts, and to insist on having the time and resources you need to develop your work. As a society, we tend to raise men to be more comfortable in claiming this for themselves, whereas we've traditionally raised women to be of service, to look out for others' needs, and to only allow themselves space and time when everyone else is taken care of. (I'm speaking in broad generalities here, of course; I know there are individual situations where the usual gender roles are reversed. I also see this pattern beginning to change in generations younger than mine.)

Maggie started out her life as a promising young poet ...but when she got involved with Nigel, she focused increasingly on him and on his needs. Poetry got squeezed out of her life not only because she became the major breadwinner, which required her to stick to journalism (his work being deemed, by mutual unspoken agreement, as more urgent and important than hers), but also because poetry came from the core of her -- and the more she lost herself in Nigel and Nigel's world, the less she could hear her own voice. I don't blame Nigel for this entirely (though honestly, the only thing you can do with narcissists like Nigel is learn to give them wide berth). The fault is also Maggie's: for allowing herself be dominated by Nigel, and for putting up with a marriage dynamic which privileged his work and needs over her own as a matter of course. Not that she ever consciously chose such a marriage; this is the sort of thing that can creep upon you stealthily, inch by inch and sacrifice by sacrifice.

I saw way too many women of my generation do this, especially in our younger years (and I admit I've not been immune to it myself) -- for when we're tentative about ourselves and who we are, it's all too easy to throw ourselves into love affairs instead into our work. It's the classic script for women's lives, familiar, traditional, society-approved. Believing in oneself, striking out on one's own, being "selfish" rather than selfless in demanding time and space for one's own work even when it conflicts with the needs of others...those things take a kind of strength that Maggie, with all her other strengths, didn't possess when she was young.

Anais Nin (whose diaries and essays I discovered in my late 20s/early 30s, not long before writing The Wood Wife) once said: "For too many centuries women have been busy being muses to artists. I wanted to be the muse...but I was really trying to avoid the final issue -- that I had to do the job myself." Wise words.

This is something that Maggie began to finally grasp when she left her marriage; although at the start of the book she has still not entirely disentangled herself from Nigel, she's in a kind of limbo state: not married any longer, but not able to move on either -- into a new life, into her own work, into a home that's all her own, into a new and better relationship. Crow, being able to look inside her head, knows all this about her. Like all Tricksters, he has two sides to his nature: he's dangerous and harsh, but not gratuitous in his brutality -- he's hard on her with a purpose. He is forcing her to strip away the false shapes she's created, the false roles she's been living, and to re-find the poet inside her, the person at her core.

I had a worry that by allowing her to fall in love with Fox at the end of the book I was implying that her creative/emotional salvation came as the result of a new relationship -- when actually it's the reverse. She had to become whole again, to find herself again, to find her true work and purpose in life again, before it was even possible for her to be open to a relationship that was truly equal and beneficial...this time with a man who genuinely listens to her (which Nigel is completely incapable of doing), respects her, and sees her for the person she is.

Dora, too, is another example of what Virginia Woolf called "the angel in the house": the woman whose energies are so overly expended in nurturing and care-taking that her creative life is stunted.* Even before the Floodmage entered the scene (fraying Juan's sanity and turning him into an abusive spouse), even back when Dora's marriage was still a warm and caring one, it was Dora who was working long hours at two jobs to keep them going while Juan took on paying jobs only sporadically, Dora whose art (her book-making) was confined to a little desk in the kitchen while Juan's was allocated an entire barn. My hope is that in the long, hard process of repairing their marriage (after the night of the stag hunt) Juan will not only take on his fair share of domestic responsibilities, but that Dora will start taking her own art seriously and insist on Juan doing so as well. And that Juan will give priority to completing the loft section of the barn that was meant to be Clara's work space. My guess is that he will. For all that he grew up with the machismo of Mexican-American culture, he's not a bad guy and he's capable of change.

Jon Alder and Johnny Foxxe, by contrast, are two men from two different generations and backgrounds who each have an innate respect for women, and the ability to give as much as they take in any relationship. As for Tomás Yazzie: he has many strengths, but in this regard there's probably a reason he's so solitary. I suspect his heart is in the right place, and in the spiritual/mythic sense he has a deep respect for women, but in practice he's man of his generation, puzzled by the outcome of his past relationships and a little baffled by the rapid change in gender roles he's experienced during his lifetime – a change that has hit some Native American communities harder than others.

Emilie, I also think you're right that Maggie's “healing journey” can be compared to other kinds of healing journeys – such as those involved in the healing from trauma or physical illness. If you have a particular interest in this subject, I've written quite a lot about the value of fairy tales, myths, and mythic fiction as part of the healing journey from childhood trauma (in the Armless Maiden anthology, in articles such as Transformations, and in stories such as Red Rock). I also recommend Midori Snyder's article on the Armless Maiden folktale; Helen Pilinovsky's article on Donkeyskin, and Ellen Steiber's on Brother and Sister. We devoted an issue of The Journal of Mythic Arts to issues of illness and healing, with articles on the subject from Heinz Insu Fenkl, Kim Antieau, me and others; you can find it here. Also, the story I mentioned above, The Color of Angels, is specifically about illness, as Maggie's friend Tat Ludvik is struggling to keep her life and art together while dealing with multiple sclerosis.

*I'm an incorrigible recommender of books, so here too I'd recommend some texts on the subject of women and art that made a strong impact on me: Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, Carolyn Heilbrun's Writing a Woman's Life, and Anais Nin's In Favor of the Sensitive Man, and Other Essays.

message 20: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 04, 2010 05:02AM) (new)


Regarding Tat's perception of color in "The Color of Angels," I was thinking of both those things. Tat definitely has a version of synesthesia, and it's always been a part of her art. But there's also something slightly magical about the way she sees the world, which is a metaphor for ways the art opens us to the everyday magic in our lives.

message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

Lisarose: I'm not ignoring your question, I just need to pace myself with this illness and will get to it tonight or tomorrow.

'Till then --


Emilie | 69 comments terri,
thank you for your thoughtful response to my question.
i love the quote by anais nin.

i understand why you might have a worry that by allowing maggie to fall in love with fox at the end of the book you were implying that her creative/emotional salvation came as the result of a new relationship. i mean, because this is all too often offered as the solution for a woman.

i didn't feel that this was the way you portrayed the relationship between maggie and fox at all. and that is another thing that i loved about the wood wife.

it felt very clear to me that maggie needed to save herself first, before she could be in a healthy relationship based on equality and respect. and i felt that you showed that fox respected maggie as a woman, a creator and a subject herself. (i fell for fox myself.)

i do have a particular interest in this subject.

the armless maiden is another of my favorite books (thank you So much for creating an anthology with this as the subject matter and of such quality). i'd love to see this book back in print. and i'd love to see another anthology of mythic fiction as part of the healing journey from childhood trauma one day.
the armless maiden is a book i find very inspiring and it is the book that led to my own rediscovery of mythic arts and the endicott studio too.

i LOVE that you are recommending books in your responses. i will look them up.

thank you so much for all of this.

message 23: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 05, 2010 03:34AM) (new)


Yes, I agree, "salvation as the result of a new relationship" is too often prescribed as a solution in women's lives and narratives. Our emotional lives are important, don't get me wrong, but I think we're encouraged by our culture to over-emphasize that aspect of our lives to the detriment of other things: creative work, intellectual work, political action, etc. etc.. It can be very hard in this culture to focus on something other than romance, for that's the primary script offered to women in all forms of media; and it's one of the primary things we're judged by: our ability to attract and keep a partner. Women who chose to focus on their work must ignore a loud chorus of voice (internal as well as external) saying: you're hard, you're selfish, you're unloveable, you'll end up as a crazy lady living with too many cats. The Carolyn Heilbrun book that I recommended above is a particularly good one for looking at this issue in the lives of women writers. I also very much want to see the film Who Does She Think She Is.

I'm glad you thought the relationship between Maggie and Fox worked -- because while I didn't want to imply that Maggie's salvation was due to that relationship, I also didn't want to imply that Maggie's re-discovery of her work and her core self required her to live a solitary life. I believe that an equal, mutually-supportive relationship between two artists is possible -- not always easy, but possible. (It wasn't until many years after writing The Wood Wife, however, that I met a man anything like Fox myself...but then, to quote Bronte's Jane Eyre, "Reader, I married him.")

Thank you for your comments on The Armless Maiden. I'd really like to publish an updated version of the book one of these days. It's on a long list of projects I hope to get to as time and health permit.

Have you read Kate Bernheimer's two fairy tale essay collections? They're absolutely wonderful. The first was Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Women Writers Explore Their Favorite Fairy Tales (if you get the 2nd, expanded edition, Midori Snyder, Ursula Le Guin, and I have essays in it); the second is Brothers and Beasts: An Anthology of Men on Fairy Tales (Chris Barzak has a terrific essay in it, along with many other fine writers).

message 24: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 16, 2010 04:51AM) (new)


The honest answer to your question is that I had a severe health crisis not long after The Wood Wife came out, and it's taken me all this time to climb back from it. I published five children's books during those years, loads of nonfiction on myth and folklore, co-edited many anthologies with Ellen Datlow and The Journal of Mythic Arts with Midori Snyder, so I wasn't idle even at my sickest...but writing adult fiction required a specific kind of energy and clarity of mind that I just didn't have for a long, long time. I'm better now and I'm writing fiction again, but I still have health issues and set-backs that slow me down. I can only hope that what I'm writing now is worth the wait....

I've got two books in the pipeline: The Moon Wife, an adult novel set in England largely among the Pre-Raphaelites, which will come out from Tor Books, and Little Owl, a YA novel set in the Tucson mountains (and very, very loosely connected to The Wood Wife), from Viking -- but I'm afraid you'll have to wait a bit longer for them. There's also a new Borderland anthology in the works, edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner this time, which I'll have a story in.

message 25: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 05, 2010 04:00AM) (new)


Thank you for your comments. It's nice to hear from someone else who has strong connections to both England the desert. Dartmoor, where I live in the west of England, and the Sonoran desert are such opposite landscapes -- and yet there's also a similarity of spirit. Both are overwhelming landscapes, powerful and dramatic, always looming over your shoulder and demanding your attention. Both are landscapes in which ancient history is still visible (standing stones and Bronze Age hut circles on one hand, petroglyphs and ancient Indian ruins on the other); and both are lands where the oral storytelling tradition survives to this day.

There's a quote from the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset that I love and always have over my desk:

"Tell me the landscape in which you live and I will tell you who you are."

message 26: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 07, 2010 08:40AM) (new)


I recently read Except the Queen too, and absolutely loved it. Have you read Midori's other "contemporary faery" book, Hannah's Garden? It doesn't seem to be as widely known as some of her other novels, but it's one of my all-time favorites.

message 27: by Ramona (new)

Ramona Gault | 84 comments Terri,
Even though some writers, like Charles de Lint, are recreating the faery tales genre in urban settings, I think the old places in nature still have much to teach us, both as writers and as human beings on Earth. I discovered living in New Mexico that the desert and the urban areas are both inhabited powerfully by the spirits of that land. Perhaps that's true in some places in the UK as well. Hope I'm not wandering too far off our reason for this discussion, but I wanted to follow the thread of books about fairy tales a bit farther. "Mirror, Mirror.." is terrifc, as is "Spinning Straw into Gold: What Fairy Tales Reveal About the Transformations in a Woman's Life," by Joan Gould. And for my money the classic is "Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales," by Marie-Louise von Franz. For those who don't know this excellent, highly readable book, don't be put off by the title. It could just as well have been titled "Finding Wholeness in Fairy Tales." Ms. von Franz's passion for her subject is inspiring and I find more to get me thinking every time I read it.
I am excited to read that you have more fiction "in the pipeline." And thanks for mentioning "Hannah's Garden." It's on my bookshelf, waiting for the right moment. I wish you abundant health and many blessings.

message 28: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 05, 2010 09:39AM) (new)


I adore every book you've named and often find myself recommending them. And I agree with your statement that "the old places still have much to teach us, both as writers and as human beings on Earth."

Another writer I love in this regard is Brenda Peterson -- both her own work, and the fabulous anthologies she edits. (There's a list of her many books here, and a terrific interview with her here.) She often works with Linda Hogan, whose novels, poetry, and essays are also on my Favorites shelf.

Briana | 9 comments Hi Terri,

In your response to Emilie you wrote

"Dora, too, is another example of what Virginia Woolf called "the angel in the house": the woman whose energies are so overly expended in nurturing and care-taking that her creative life is stunted.* Even before the Floodmage entered the scene (fraying Juan's sanity and turning him into an abusive spouse), even back when Dora's marriage was still a warm and caring one, it was Dora who was working long hours at two jobs to keep them going while Juan took on paying jobs only sporadically, Dora whose art (her book-making) was confined to a little desk in the kitchen while Juan's was allocated an entire barn. My hope is that in the long, hard process of repairing their marriage (after the night of the stag hunt) Juan will not only take on his fair share of domestic responsibilities, but that Dora will start taking her own art seriously and insist on Juan doing so as well. And that Juan will give priority to completing the loft section of the barn that was meant to be Clara's work space. My guess is that he will. For all that he grew up with the machismo of Mexican-American culture, he's not a bad guy and he's capable of change. "

I loved Dora and Juan's story in the novel--I finished it hoping for the best for both of them. The scene where he threw her handmade book with the cactus thorns into the fire was so heartbreaking but I also hoped that it served as a wake-up call for Dora, presenting her with the challenge to take her own work as seriously if not more seriously than she took Juan's. I like how you addressed the issue of artistic relationships, selfishness, and the all too common pattern of women giving ground to men artistically and professionally without being preachy, condescending, or unfair to the complex dynamic. Thank you for such beautiful writing!

message 30: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 06, 2010 12:22AM) (new)

Thanks so much, Bri. I've worked with writers who start a novel knowing exactly what's going to happen in the story; they outline it precisely and then follow the outline as they write. (For these kind of authors, the creative process happens before they write.) At the other end of the spectrum are writers like me who have only the vaguest notion of what kind of tale we intend to tell when we set out, and who discover the story as it emerges on the page. When you're the latter kind of writer, scenes can take you by surprise. Juan's destruction of all of Dora's painstakingly hand-made copies of The Spine Witch was one of those scenes: I was as horrified as Dora as I wrote it ... and yet that's the direction the tale insisted on going. (The other scene that startled me just as much was Thumper's death.)

Anna Naverra is another example of a woman struggling to take her art seriously. Here, the hindrance is not her husband, but her family, culture, and class background -- all of which she was forced to give up in order to be a painter. That's not a choice women often have to make any more, thank heavens, but it was very real in her day. Cooper, to his credit, is a champion of Anna's work, which he takes just as seriously as his own. And yet, being a man of his generation, he still expects her to do all the house-keeping too. He complains about eating beans on toast night after night when she's preoccupied by painting, for example -- and although he's supportive enough to accept this as necessary for Anna's art, it never occurs to him to go into the kitchen and make supper for the two of them himself! Nor does it occur to Anna. They are, for all their bohemianism, still people of their age.

The other big issue for Anna, of course, is that she doesn't want children. She wants to be a painter, not a mother, and she can imagine no way to be both. Again, this was a huge issue to past generations of women artists, before birth control became widely available and when abortion (whether you agree with it or no) was still a back-alley affair. I've just been re-reading Marge Piercy's fine book Braided Lives , a semi-autobiographical novel set in Michigan in the 1950s, and also Piercy's biography Sleeping With Cats -- both of which deals with many of these same concerns in a non-fantastical way. As imperfect as the world is for women and women artists today, these books remind me of just how far we've come after all.

message 31: by Katherine (new)

Katherine | 1 comments Terri, I have 'Mirror Mirror on the Wall', but now I want the updated edition! Thanks for this very intereisting discussion.

message 32: by [deleted user] (new)

You've very welcome, Katherine.

We've run past the end of our discussion time now...but if anyone has any final questions, I'll check back in one more time tomorrow (Wednesday morning). Thank you all for such interesting questions.

Briana | 9 comments Hi again Terri,
Thanks so much for your response.
That is quite true about Anna and Cooper and how many artists have put off their work in order to do the laundry? Its an excellent point.
One more quick question if you have time.

You said that the story went where it needed to go and the other time that its direction surprised you was with Thumper's death--me too! I cried and I rarely cry at books. So I was upset and I had to put the book down and then I thought about Thumper's character and her death and what was going on with that scene and that part of the story. It seemed that it was showing the reader at least two situations--the first is that death is a part of life, even in the world of myth and magic. I know that in an earlier post you said that you had suffered illness for a long period of time;I have too, and I think when you have had that experience of being sick over a long period of time it can re-orient you with respect to death and suffering. There is a wish that we have as children that in the world of magic everything can be "ok" but I thought that Thumper's story indicated that though the magical realm is in some ways different than the topside world we call reality, it is not immune to feelings like pain and experiences like death.

The second thing her story made me think about was the intersection between myth or magic and reality or the mundane, specifically the carrying of something be it a creature, story or idea from that world of myth, image, and magic into our world where the cold steel of a gun is all too much of a real threat to anyone and everything.
Or maybe I just needed to find some meaning in the death of her character because while death is something I am more or less accepting of, waste is not. Whatever it may be, I would love to hear what your feelings about her character and her story are, she was so endearing and precious.
Thank you again!

message 34: by Ramona (new)

Ramona Gault | 84 comments Hi Terri and everyone,
I'm glad you asked about Thumper's death, Bri. I did not cry because at that point I felt strongly that someone would die, or be sacrificed, in order for the story to work out in a satisfying way. The tension in the plot during that wild night on the mountain was, for me, about who would die. Maggie, Dora, Juan, the poacher, and others all seemed possible. (I admit I wouldn't have been disappointed to see the poacher die.) But Thumper was an innocent, which makes her death sadder. Having written fiction myself, I've felt tempted to kill various characters at times and changed my mind several times--such power! How did you decide, Terri?

message 35: by Emilie (last edited Apr 06, 2010 05:33PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Emilie | 69 comments hi terri,
the carolyn heilbrun book looks really interesting to me. i’m going to order it tonight.
i am happy that you found your fox. (smiles)

i understand that you are doing a lot of projects and i know how illness slows everything down. i will be really happy when/if you publish an updated version of _the armless maiden_.

i really liked kate bernheimer’s book _mirror mirror on the wall :women writers explore their favorite fairy tales_. i read the expanded edition and loved your essay in it. i love that you are willing to be so honest and personal when you talk about mythic arts. i relate to that a lot more. i haven’t read the second fairy tale essay collection yet, i will look for that one now. i just read a short story by chris barzak in the anthology _so fey_ and i loved it.

and i just want to add in reference to _the moon wife_, _little owl_, and a new borderland story coming out in 2011-
woo hoo! (grins) that’s really exciting!

and i love the bordertown series too.

thanks for doing this discussion with us, terri. it’s been really interesting and fun. take care.

message 36: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 07, 2010 08:45AM) (new)

Bri: You hit the nail right on the head; that's exactly what I was trying to convey in the scene of Thumper's death. The magical realm here is tied to the landscape of the desert: a beautiful but also harsh and dangerous land. There is nothing soft, safe, or easy about the desert; and thus there should be nothing soft, safe, or easy about a fantasy realm derived from it.

Ursula Le Guin (one of my writing heroes) once said: "Fantasy is not antirational, but pararational; not realistic but surrealistic, a heightening of reality. In Freud's terminology, it employs primary not secondary process thinking. It employs archetypes which, as Jung warned us, are dangerous things. Fantasy is nearer to poetry, to mysticism, and to insanity that naturalistic fiction is. It is a wilderness, and those who go there should not feel too safe."

Deep magic is stirred up on the night of the stag hunt. A monumental shift occurs in the magical portion of the Rincons as the Nightmage is released from his long captivity -- and (as Ramona has pointed out) something or someone is bound to pay the price for this magic and this change. It could easily have been Juan, paying with either his life or the last shreds of his sanity; or it could have been Tomas, or Fox, or Maggie, sacrificing themselves for the sake of the others. I half expected it to be Dora; it seemed likely that Juan, in his single-minded pursuit of the artistic "greatness" promised by the Floodmage, might end up paying for artistic fame with something that was actually far more precious: his wife. (Fortunately he came to his senses in time, and Dora was safe.) If life played fair (as it rarely does), then it would have been the poacher who died that night -- but so often it's the innocent, not the guilty, who pay for the mistakes, blindness, and arrogance of others. Sadly, in this case, it was little Thumper, the most innocent one of them all.

The means of Thumper's death isn't magical and grand, however; it's a hideously casual, careless act of cruelty: the poacher is simply sniping at bunnies for target practice before going after his "real" target. He gives no more thought to the act of killing her then he'd give to shooting a tin can. In my experience, the frightening thing about evil is that it is often this banal and casual. The scene is also rooted in my deep antipathy toward hunters for whom killing is entertainment and sport -- as opposed to those, like Tomas, who hunt only for what they need, and with respect. (I grew up in a family of hunting men, and knew both types.)

Bri, you're also right that dealing with a life-threatening illness over a long period of time does strongly affect one's view of issues related to death and suffering...which, in turn, resonates in the fiction and art that one produces. It was very perceptive of you to make that connection as it relates to The Wood Wife, even though it's not overtly about physical illness in the way a story like "Color of Angels" is. I guess that all of us who have spent time in the "underworld" of illness recognize its effect when we see it. (I hope that whatever you've been dealing with yourself, you're doing better now.)

message 37: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 07, 2010 08:26AM) (new)

Ramona: I never made a conscious choice about who would live and die in this tale...I just let the story unfold page by page, and go where it wanted to go. When I got to the end, I suddenly realized, with a sinking feeling, that Thumper was going to die -- and as much as I didn't want it to happen, writing anything else at that point would have been...false. The Nightmage was free; Tomas had now taken up the Guardianship of the East and the land was now safe and balanced again...but in myths and folktales and fairy tales, happy endings never come without a price. Poor Thumper was that price.

She was perhaps one of the most minor characters in the book, but no less important for that, and her death no less important.

Do you know Mary Oliver's poem "When Death Comes"?

In it she says:

When death comes....
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what it's going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body as a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

Thumper was young and little and insignificant in the grand magical scheme of things, but she was precious to the earth. Precious to the mountain. The poacher never understood that.

Ramona, good luck with your own tales!

message 38: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 07, 2010 07:22AM) (new)

Emilie: Thanks for your last comments. (And I loved Chris's story in So Fey too.)

And many thanks to everyone here for being interested in The Wood Wife, and for inviting me over for this Q&A.

message 39: by Ramona (new)

Ramona Gault | 84 comments Terri,
Having this conversation has been a delight and a revelation for me, and I thank you for giving our reading group your time and energy and sharing a part of your creative process with us. I'm grateful to you for opening this door between worlds and allowing our hearts to mingle for a little while. One quick question: are the prints displayed on http://windling.typepad.com/photos/pr... still being sold to support the Endicott Studio Web site? If so, some of us might be interested in purchasing one or more to help keep this valuable fantasy archive available. Wishing you all the best in your creative endeavors!

message 40: by [deleted user] (new)

Yes, they are. Just click through the links on the print pages. Thanks for mentioning it!

Briana | 9 comments Thanks so much Terri for sharing your thoughts on little Thumper and that fabulous quote from Ursula Le Guin--just awesome. How right you are to bring up the desert component in the story, remarking on the harshness of that landscape. I lived in Santa Fe for 7 years off and on and the New Mexican high desert is both drop-your-jaw gorgeous and harsh and hostile at the same time! And I hear you on the hunting as well, I have both types of hunters in my family and I really appreciated that whole angle in the story. Its been a pleasure chatting with you--thanks for your well wishes and back at you! I hope that you feel better yourself as the season gets brighter and warmer. And keep us posted on new works both visual and literary, I absolutely love your work! Thanks so much for keeping the magic alive :-)

Odette | 316 comments Mod
Thank you, Terri!

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