Greer Gilman’s novel, Moonwise, is decidedly thorny. It won the Crawford Award and was shortlisted for the Tiptree and Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards. “A Crowd of Bone” is one of three linked stories, variations on a winter myth. The first, “Jack Daw’s Pack,” was a Nebula finalist for 2001, and the subject of a Foundation interview by Michael Swanwick. A sometime forensic librarian, Gilman lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and travels in stone circles.
Cloud & Ashes
“A work that reads like language stripped bare, myth tracked to its origins. Seasons, weather, lust, pain, sacrifice … the stuff of old ballads becomes intensely real, with the natural contradictions of a cold wind that both chafes and dances…. And the payoff is immense. I finished Cloud & Ashes almost tempted to write a thesis that compares it favorably to what James Joyce did in Ulysses and tried in Finnegan’s Wake, yet feeling like I’d lived through it all.”
“Moving, engaging, mysterious, glorious…In her flying pastiche of words and images Gilman does in the fantasy vernacular what Joyce aimed for.”
A Crowd of Bone
“Gilman’s ‘A Crowd of Bone’ . . . is dense, jammed with archaic words and neologisms . . . but the story—complex, tangled in narrative as well as syntax, and very dark—rewards the most careful of readings.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“Greer Gilman’s diamond of a novella . . . might reward a lifetime of re-reading. A question like ‘What is it about?’ is as useful applied to Gilman’s novella as asked of a snow leopard. Both simply are.”
“Greer Gilman is a writer like no one else. Many try to employ the matter of myth and folktale, but their tongues are inadaquate—Gilman can employ words as the bards of Ireland did, to make realities . . . Moonwise doesn’t resemble a work of the past age—it is the past age come back new, in its clothes and its language and its dark riddling heart. Moonwise simply has no peers.”
KL: Were there any particular writers or stories that influenced the writing of the story that will be appearing in Trampoline? If so, how exactly did they influence the writing of your story?
GG: Folk songs and ballads, mostly, ravelled out and rebraided. Lots of Anon. Some formal poetry: Hopkins and the Gawain poet, for the hedge-entangled language; Andrew Marvell, for the mowers. And for the soliloquies, a slew of playwrights. It’s a winter’s tale, a late romance. I wrote it for the ear, as much as for the imagination. There are two sorts of voices here, in counterpoint: Cloudish vernacular and a high Jacobean iambic, endlessly enjambed.
I owe the vision of the Scarecrow/Hanged Man/Child Sacrifice to the late miraculous Lal Waterson. Her song, “The Scarecrow,” haunts me, and it has for years.
Oh, and Thea’s magic is inspired by the art of Andy Goldsworthy.
KL: Is your Trampoline story generally representative of the sort of story you usually write? To elaborate: is this story a departure in style or subject matter (or any other sort of departure, for that matter) for you? If so, what was different or new for you in the writing of this story? Do you think it is a new direction for your writing, or simply an experiment?
GG: I keep moving inward. It gets bigger.
KL: What’s your favorite cocktail?
KL: Which of the seven deadly sins is your favorite these days?
GG: Don’t know whose friends they are, but Sloth and Gluttony keep hanging around my kitchen playing cards.
KL: What’s your favorite rule of thumb?
GG: When you come back for it, it won’t be there.
KL: Do you have any pets? How many? And if so, how do they affect your writing (if at all)?
GG:No. None. Not at all.
KL: What is the writer’s role in inhabiting the commercial spaces of publishing?
GG:Waiting anxiously in hallways.
KL: Best trampoline story you know (or, in lieu of story, rules for best trampoline game you’ve played).
GG: The one with the castellated blancmange and the roller skates has seldom been attempted.
KL: Where do you hope to haunt when you’re gone (or, I guess, when you come back)?
GG: A kitchen table with old friends. A library. Woods in autumn. An English wood in spring. A winter hillside on a starry night. My desk when I’m writing well. The seacoast of Bohemia.
KL: What are your favorite kids’ books? What was your favorite when you were a kid (say, 10)?
GG: Say five, six, seven.
I always loved Mary Poppins and Irene’s Great-Great-Grandmother (in The Princess and the Goblin). They were my first intimations of godhead. Mary Poppins is Artemis. (“Is this a Nursery or a Bear Garden?”) Prickly, aloof, but a great protectress if she’s yours. And the sun, moon, and stars dance for her: she’s a strange attractor for the numinous.
But Irene’s Grandmother — ah, she indwells. I’ve been writing about the moon ever since. And threads and labyrinths and rings, and children lost in houses which are dreams.
Alice got into my warp as well. Everyone she meets is so rude. And that row of asterisks as she’s shrinking — chin to foot — gave me a sense of the magic in typography, of spell.
What else? I loved The Golden Almanac, which gave me my fascination with the turning year. October had “The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies, O!” in a whirl and tatter of leaves — so ballads keep for me that vivid restless melancholy.
Oh, and fairy tales. “The Snow Queen” for the shards of mirror and the puzzles of ice; for the winter hag who is fell and beautiful, the crones in their reeky hovels, and the robber girl. And “The Twelve Swans” and “The Dancing Princesses.” I loved the nettleshirts that bound winged creatures to the earth, the wood of silver underground.
The Oz books, alas, have faded for me, though I read them all with passion. I still have my Scarecrow and my Witch, but she’s indelibly Margaret Hamilton.
There are other children’s fantasies I love — The Wind In the Willows, Earthsea,and Green Knowe, stories by Joan Aiken and Diana Wynne Jones — but I found them long afterward.
And a little later on–at eight, nine, ten — I read and loved The Secret Gardenand A Little Princess; Hitty: Her First Hundred Years; all the Alcott books; Elizabeth Enright…All the girl books, and whatever I could lay my hands on. But the fantasies came first.
KL: Tell me a little about when you left home to live on your own.
GG: Oh, I just snailed away, carrying myself with me.
KL: If you could have a writer of your choice come live with you, who would it be and what writerly stuff would you want to talk to them about?
GG: Dear me. I wouldn’t dream of imposing my company on strangers. They have their own friends, or ghosts of friends; their own rooms on earth or elsewhere. Unless by chance we meet in that publisher’s hallway…? And then drift away for tea. I’d love to talk with Sylvia Townsend Warner. And Angela Carter. Hope Mirrlees? I’d be shy of Shakespeare, though I’d love to watch him in rehearsal. And I’ve always wanted to take Jo March to the movies.
KL: When’s the last time you changed your mind about something? I think I mean a radical shift of personal values — regarding art (“Suddenly, I’m not crazy about Billie Holiday, in fact, I’m not even sure I’m spelling her name right”), regarding anything (“Actually, you can go home again”).
GG: I do change my mind, but glacially. Hard to remember what I thought in the Mesozoic.
KL: What book or books do you press upon friends?
GG: Whatever book is Three-Bearically right for that friend. I get a huge kick out of perfect matches. I don’t press.
KL: What can we, as a group, do to increase the popularity of multi-stage bicycle racing as a spectator sport in America?
KL: I once had a creative writing teacher tell me that he didn’t understand why authors used science fiction or magical realism to tell a story or impart a theme. Why do you think we do, when good old realism might do the trick?
GG: For the tang of it, the taste of Otherwise; for all the flavors of quark: not just Truth and Beauty, but up, down, charm, and strangeness.
KL: My story has a semi-wild chimpanzee in it; does yours?
GG: Alas, no.
KL: Have you found that during the Reagan-Bush-Bush-Quayle-Bush-Cheney era the quality of your writing has gotten a little dodgier?
GG: No. My life, maybe. Not my writing.
KL: What, in your opinion, is the relationship, if any, between the so-called real world and your particular imaginary one?
GG: Aslant. Their landscape is like the north of England; but their laws are otherwise. It’s as if the White Goddess and the Golden Bough were true, as if metaphor and myth were physics. Metaphysics. Cloud has the same stars as this world — our sky is their Wood Above — but their constellations are strange. Somehow this world is bound to theirs: the back side of their brighter tapestry.
Can I quote myself?
“Not that there aren’t quilt knots here and there, stitching heaven and earth. Houses, in the astrological sense; or sacred places, which are realer than the world, and have a way of disappearing like the egg in Alice. Woods, stone circles, sheepfolds. And the one long seam, the Milky Way.”
KL: If you could live in a book, which one would it be?
GG: Oh, I’d like to travel in many books. Sadly, I can’t envision stories while I’m reading them, so I’d dearly love to see a score of other worlds. And talk with their denizens. But here’s where I live.
KL: Can you say something, particularly in light of these grave times, about the writer’s role or responsibility in the creation of work that is purely literary, that is the work of the imagination, as opposed to work that serves more overtly and directly as a voice of conscience?
GG: With all respect for the voices of conscience, it would be a sad grey world without works of pure imagination. Wodehouse. Austen. A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.”
KL: Gertrude Stein said: “I have destroyed sentences and rhythms and literary overtones and all the rest of that nonsense, to get to the very core of this problem of communication of intuition.” The relationship of form to content. Form as it facilitates communication, particularly communication of the remote, of the mysterious. Form as it permits the dramatization of states of mind. As it serves to make comprehensible the incomprehensible. What are your views on this subject?
GG: Fugue, rhyme, rainbow — I love all sorts of patterns and forms. Conjugations and crystals. Self-assembly. Mathematics. I think people are made to make patterns, to see them with delight. Defy entropy!