BBB: What’s your favorite dish to cook? SA: Fennel and Pears with Lemon Zest. It’s fast and easy, but because the ingredients are in an unusual combination and the results are so pretty and tasty, it comes off as impressive. Slice two fennel bulbs and sautee them in butter for about four minutes. Meanwhile, slice up four pears (you can leave the peels on, especially if they’re red Bartlett pears), and add them to the fennel. Sautee for another four minutes or so. Remove from heat. Zest a lemon. Toss the fennel and pears with the lemon zest, a pinch of salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste. It’s a pretty fault-tolerant recipe, it doubles well, and it’s a nice balance for the heavier foods at a Thanksgiving potluck. Enjoy!
BBB: If you had to be a flower, which one would you be and why?
SA: Elderflower. It’s one of the classic herbal medicines. The world could use a good broad-spectrum antiviral right now.
BBB: You were bitten by a vampire (Or werewolf), now what?
SA: Step One: Work with my husband to lock myself up before my kids come to harm. Step Two: Research! Step Three: Um, depends on the body of folklore defining the creature. For the nastier sorts of vampire, I wouldn’t rule out staking myself for the public good. For the more manageable kinds of lycanthropy, I’d probably start by relocating my family to the Adirondacks. I wouldn’t mind being a werewolf, as long as I still got to write books and go kayaking with my kids.
BBB: If you could be a Star Trek® or Star Wars® character, which one would it be and why?
SA: Master Yoda. I love a good teacher. Remus Lupin’s my favorite Harry Potter character for the same reason. It makes me happy to see a character I would want to talk shop with about teaching methods.
BBB: Please tell us more about Tales From Rugosa Coven and the storyline that drives it.
SA: Tales From Rugosa Coven is a trio of linked novellas about a coven of very realistic Neo-Pagan witches who live in a very weird version of New Jersey. (Naturally, we are all now imagining comments about how weird the real New Jersey is, and that’s true, but seriously, the New Jersey in my book is way weirder.) The book is about family — the one you’re born into, and the one you make. Each coven member has plenty going on, and their individual struggles feed into an ensemble cast dynamic that’s a lot of fun to play with. The first novella, Closing Arguments, is about Bob’s struggle with the ghosts of his old-school occultist parents, who were never close to him in life but won’t stop pestering him now that they’re dead. He calls the coven in to help him clean up the supernatural and mundane mess his folks have left behind. The second novella, And Ria’s from Virgo, follows the professional fortuneteller’s secret struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Ria wants to come clean about it to her covenmates, but in the meantime she’s telling fortunes for a mob informer and preparing to rescue her problematic boyfriend from misadventures with the Jersey Devil in the wilds of the Pine Barrens. In the third novella, Atlantis Cranks Need Not Apply, skeptical Jane does not want to believe that the guy with gills that the coven finds washed up on the beach is really from Atlantis. Now she and covenmate Sophie have an unexpected houseguest with a language barrier, an infectious smile, and did I mention the gills?
And I can’t resist adding that, even with Atlanteans, on-stage appearances of the Jersey Devil, and house-hauntings on a cosmic scale, my book is still a more realistic representation of life on the Jersey Shore than you’ll find on that reality tv show.
BBB: How many more books will there be in the Rugosa Coven series?
SA: There will be at least three more novellas, because each of these six characters wants a turn in the spotlight. I suspect there will be more. Their world keeps opening up for me as I write them, and they’ve got a lot to say.
BBB: What sets the Rugosa Coven series apart from other books in the same genre?
SA: The term Urban Fantasy seems to describe two distinct kinds of book: paranormal romances on the one hand, which often have detective plots and a noir aesthetic, and folklore-inspired fantasy on the other hand, which tends to be more dreamlike and otherworldly and weird. I’ve heard the two camps described as descendants of Buffy the Vampire Slayer versus the cohort of Charles de Lint.
In tone, my book is more like the paranormal romance. A lot of what I know about writing dialogue I learned from studying Joss Whedon. The otherworld is very much subsumed into the human problems of this world — how am I going to keep my job and my key relationships going while I deal with this sudden eruption of magic much more literal than I ever thought I’d see? Yet the book doesn’t fit the mold of the romance genre.
Readers who love paranormal romance tell me Tales From Rugosa Coven scratches the same itch, really well, though its plot structure is totally different. The characters have love lives, and those love lives can get complicated and dramatic, but the love story plotlines are distinctly secondary to the characters’ supernatural and internal conflicts. And rather than being focused on a couple, the book follows the shifting group dynamic of the coven.
I love the weird, literary, poetic Urban Fantasy of the folkloric camp, but these stories are too sassy and comical, with characters mostly too practical, to fit easily there. Tales From Rugosa Coven has plenty of otherworldly moments, including some adventures in literal otherworlds, but the book itself is has a very grounded feel.
There are a lot of contemporary fantasy books with witches for characters, but very few of them are informed by the real lives and experiences of the Wiccan community. Anybody can read and enjoy these stories — I’ve heard from readers with all kinds of backgrounds, including devout Christians who were moved by my depiction of Bob’s very Methodist wife — but for Neo-Pagan readers, it’s incredibly rare to find a book that mirrors back to them a reflection they recognize. I’ve been involved in Paganism for over twenty years. I’m sort of the equivalent of a deacon in my tradition, and I once gave a presentation on Neo-Pagan liturgy at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. (They scheduled me opposite the Dalai Lama. To my great astonishment, a bunch of people came to hear my talk anyway. Seriously, would you rather listen to the Dalai Lama, or some grad student from New Jersey?)
My witchy characters don’t have flashy powers. They’re not superheroes by another name. The cataclysms they face are on a very human scale. The supernatural elements that they have to come to terms with are more real than they imagined, but also stranger and funnier. It’s a bit like magical realism in that sense.
BBB: What types of characters / creatures can readers expect in your world?
SA: My witches all have day jobs, families present or absent, and different perspectives from one another about what it means to be a witch. They’re part of a large network of different Pagan communities, including Druids, worshipers of the Norse gods, and Egyptian reconstructionists. I’m especially fond of the Anubis devotee who works at a funeral home.
As to creatures, well, there are Atlanteans, accountants, cryptozoological oddities two centuries old, FBI agents, Egyptian deities, mafiosi, little old ladies who write crossword puzzles professionally, ghosts who have lost their fashion sense, protective household spirits, and personal injury attorneys. The novella I’m working on right now has fire elementals and a very evil segway.
BBB: What holiday would you invent to get a day off work?
SA: Kafka Day. I have to give credit to my aunt, who once joked that we should all dress up in insect costumes for Kafka’s birthday. The main reason I’d invent it to get a day off work would be to try to get people to join in for real. Get in touch with your own inner monstrous insect! (As one of my teenage students once put it in a paper about “The Metamorphosis,” If only Gregor’s family could of accepted him as he was, he could of been a happy insect. I blogged about it over here: http://dr-pretentious.livejournal.com/82644.html That’s still one of my favorite blog posts.)
BBB: Pen or pencil?
SA: Pen. Actually, I write best and fastest when I write my first drafts longhand and then fiddle with them while typing them up. My brain is freer and wilder in pen, and more disciplined on the screen. Alternating between modes seems to work better than sticking too long with either. I only use pencils for stick figure diagrams when I’m puzzling out fight choreography.
BBB: What’s the funniest movie you’ve ever seen?
SA: For a good-funny movie, classic Mel Brooks is the way to go. Young Frankenstein is my favorite. For a bad-funny movie, The Forbidden Zone has to be seen to be believed. No bad movie was ever more ambitious in its badness. Herve Villechaise plays the villainous King of the 8th Dimension. It’s a musical, with Danny Elfman’s first film score, and interludes of German Expressionist performance art. I am not making this up.
BBB: What is the best thing you have dressed up as for Halloween? Are you going to dress up this year and if so what are you going as?
SA: When I was a junior in college, I dressed as a senior thesis. I made a sort of black sandwich board that looked like the standard black thesis binder, and stuck lots of crumpled pages scrawled with red ink so they were poking out of the open side. The word THESIS was across the chest in glow-in-the-dark creepy lettering. I followed my friends who were seniors around the Halloween parties, wailing “Revise me! Revise me!” Later that night, I worked my campus job, on student patrol, in costume. It was a Campus Patrol tradition to work Halloween night in costume. I stood at a little bridge over a creek between the senior apartments and the main campus, and when my thesis-addled friends approached, I defended the bridge with a hearty, “Halt! None shall pass!”
But I got my karmic comeuppance in graduate school, where it took me five years to finish my doctoral dissertation. Probably served me right.
This year, I’m planning to wear a very simple purple outfit and go as one of my husband’s endearments for me, the Eggplant of Paradise.
Halloween is my children’s holiday now. My holiday this time of year is Samhain, a day of remembrance for the beloved dead. In my tradition of Wicca, we get together and support each other while we say the things we wish we could say to the departed. Sometimes it’s hard, but it’s a healthy catharsis. In the years when you’ve just lost someone, it can be especially helpful to have a day set aside for grief work, and to have a community that expects deep things to be going on for you. In your lucky years, you get the chance to offer comfort back to the people who have carried you.
BBB: What’s coming up for you for the rest of 2014 and into 2015??
SA: I’m going to the World Fantasy Convention for the first time. I gather it’s more like a high-powered writing conference than like the fandom-driven science fiction and fantasy conventions I’ve been going to for years. I’ve got some epic fantasy projects I’ve been hoping to find homes for, and maybe I’ll make a little progress there. I’ll be at Lunacon (the main New York science fiction convention) in March, and Balticon (the main Maryland science fiction convention) in May, on program at least for the Broad Universe group reading and probably for panels, too.
Meanwhile, I’m working on the next Rugosa Coven book. I’ve got the first novella mapped out, with some scenes in first draft, and the more that story takes shape, the more glimpses I get of the other two novellas that will come next. While I worked on the last Rugosa book, I laughed every day that I wrote, and that’s holding true for this one, too.
I’m going to have to totally revamp my writing process, now that my younger kid’s in preschool. Before I had kids, I knew when my most and least productive hours of the day were, and I had to throw that schedule out and invent a new one as soon as I became a mom. Now that my older one’s in kindergarten and I have two hours a day of normal daylight hours with no kids in the house at all, I hardly know what to do with myself.
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Books in the Rugosa Coven series in the order they should be read: Tales From Rugosa Coven
About Sarah Avery
Sarah Avery is a writer, teacher, and escaped academic. Her collection of novellas, Tales from Rugosa Coven, was published by Dark Quest Books, and Fantastic Books has just released Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic, an anthology she coedited with David Sklar. Her short fiction has appeared in Black Gate and Jim Baen’s Universe.
11 Quick Things About Sarah
Favorite Food? Chocolate
Favorite Color? Green
Favorite Movie or TV Show of all Time? TV: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Movie: Casablanca
Favorite Drink? Anything from Starbucks that involves mocha
Favorite Current Book? Traitor’s Blade, by Sebastien de Castell is, hands down, my favorite book of 2014.
Favorite Season? Spring
Favorite Online Hangout? Of the big ones, FB I actually spend more of my time at Black Gate, an online magazine about fantasy literature, mostly epic and sword & sorcery. And I still harbor a fondness for Livejournal.
Favorite Animal? For daily company, cat. For admiration from afar, dolphins.
Favorite Band or Musician? Afro Celt Sound System
Mode of Travel? (Trains, Planes or Automobiles) Hiking
Favorite Vacation Destination? Adirondack Mountains, Upstate New York. It’s sort of my ancestral home, though I’ve never overwintered there.
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