Since 1984, Wendy Rathbone has had more than 500 of her poems published throughout the mainstream and small press, as well as dozens of short stories, of which many have been featured in anthologies, such as the new Dreams of Decadence Presents: Wendy Rathbone and Tippi N. Blevins. For those yet unfamiliar with Wendy's fiction and verse, it can perhaps best be described as being dark and dreamy, laden with strange and mythic images more potent to the stirrings of one's imagination than a bottle of spiced mead before bedtime. Her unique ability to spot ghosts in her yard, gravemaids in the long grass, and other magical beings often unseen by the common eye, has made her popular with the readers of Flesh & Blood, Dreams of Decadence, Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, and other magazines devoted to horror and dark fantasy. Her two poems published in Strange Horizons are "Gravemaid" and "Grief." She has also had several chapbooks published, including Scrying the River Styx. This is her first time being interviewed.
William Mordore: You've got quite a lengthy record of published material behind you. How long have you been at this, and what initially sparked your interest in writing?
Wendy Rathbone: I've been writing poetry and stories since the age of twelve when a poem of mine won first place in a citywide school essay contest. I won a $25 savings bond. It was at that point, I recall, that I really fell in love with the process of creating with words. It was work, but I loved the feeling of fulfillment after finishing a piece that was all my own, something I wrote for myself just to do it and not merely a homework assignment. I felt a sense of empowerment. I felt I was tapping into something that was pure me, unique, all my own. It was euphoric. I would have felt that way even if my poem had not won the prize. That kind of self-expression, especially during adolescence, was addictive. Also, I was an avid reader since first grade. I read almost a book a day just for fun. Books are responsible for feeding my imagination, my inspiration. Before that, my mother read to my brother and me. There are poems I learned at three and four years old that stick with me to this day and seem to have molded in me a fondness for my subject matter, which leans towards dark fantasy quite a bit. Some of those poems were "Little Orphan Annie" by James Whitcomb Riley, "If I Were A One-Legged Pirate" and "Moon Song" by Mildred Plew Meigs, "Wynken, Blynken, And Nod" by Eugene Field, and "The Tale of Custard, the Dragon" by Ogden Nash. These are poems about kids dreaming of magical lands, or nightmares of goblins that get you if you're bad. For whatever reason, they were so powerful to me that their images still haunt me to this day. I love writing about worlds just out of reach or glimpsed, then gone.
WM: Speaking of going beyond the fields we know -- your writing style at times reminds me of Lord Dunsany's in its ability to convey dream-like wonder to the reader without using an overabundance of descriptive vocabulary. In terms of style, were there any authors who were particularly influential?
WR: I would say that the Kenneth Rexroth translations of Chinese and Japanese poetry was a huge influence on me in college. Also, Rumi comes to mind as a favorite. There is a sparseness to the styles of the eastern poets that is at once stunning and yet so simple that appeals to me. It's not as easy as it looks to distill complex images and thoughts, whether genre or mainstream, into a non-clichéd evocative poetic line.
I remember reading books of those Eastern poems, some written centuries ago, and suddenly a door opened in my mind creating a clearer path for me through all the garbage floating about in my head. Almost immediately it became easier for me to decide which images and thoughts to hold onto and explore, and what to discard, and my poetry writing became more prolific and clearer in intent.
WM: What was the first thing you ever had published?
WR: I had some poetry published in junior high and high school magazines, and in college journals, but the first poem I was ever paid for sold to Star*Line, the newsletter of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. The editor was Robert Frazier. It was called "The Visitor." Right after that I sold a poem to Aboriginal SF entitled "Flashing the Black Long Streets." I was around 23 at the time.
WM: Does writing run in the Rathbone family? I understand that your brother, Andy Rathbone, also writes and has had several books of his published.
WR: I would not really say that writing runs in the Rathbone family, but creativity does. My mother, Alice, is an artist. She has worked in oils, acrylic, collage and, more recently, watercolor. My great-grandmother was also a very good painter. My brother, Andy, is indeed a very successful writer in the non-fiction world of computer books. He has written the monumental bestsellers Windows for Dummies and PCs for Dummies just to name two, and updates them at least yearly. Andy also plays guitar and paints watercolors. He's one year younger than I am.
WM: Some of your poems are featured at your website, QuantumShaman.com, which deals in topics of a metaphysical nature. Do you have an active interest in spirituality?
WR: I have a very active interest in spirituality which manifested for me around ten years or so ago. Though I was raised Unitarian, there is no label to put onto me about how I think or feel or live spiritually speaking, but certain systems of knowledge have helped guide me on my own path, such as the books of Castaneda, certain ideas in Gnosticism, quantum physics, some ufology, philosophies of Krishnamurti, Terence McKenna, Phillip K. Dick, and more. I could talk about it for years, probably.
WM: What are some of your other interests?
WR: In my teens and twenties I used to be a huge Star Trek fan. I love to read but my tastes have changed over the years. I used to read a lot of sci-fi. Now I never read it. I read non-fiction, mainstream, and some dark fantasy and horror.
Right now I just finished reading the Harry Potter books which surprised me in how good they actually are and the heaviness of the subjects they get into. My favorite mainstream writer is Alice Hoffman. I also love Anne Rice, but only her vampire series or mainstream stuff.
I love animals. I live with thirteen cats and two dogs. I love to sleep. I try to practice lucid dreaming, which is when you are in a dream and suddenly realize you are dreaming and then you can do anything. I taught myself how to do it when I was quite small and suffered from terrible nightmares I couldn't get out of. I used to love running until my ankles and knees said "no more." I have another hobby of designing and making elaborately beaded amulet pouches. These are little purses made entirely of beads and worn as a necklace.
WM: Are you able to write full-time these days?
WR: No, I do not write full-time. I tried that route years ago and nearly starved. I run a retail Internet business and also sell retail at my booth at fairs, mostly Renaissance and Celtic festivals. I sell everything from clothing to sterling silver to incense to Celtic tapestries. My stuff leans towards a more fantasy theme. We (my partner Della and I) sell fairy statues and dolls, costumes, cool jewelry and other accessories, crystals, fans and more. We do not sell any books, which often vexes me, but the crowd does not read and I'm in business for the money, so I buy what sells to that crowd. I am occasionally asked why I do not sell my poetry books in my booth. My answer: they take up room for stuff that actually makes me money. When I'm doing my business, I'm rather ruthless. If it doesn't sell, it's out of there. But it does make me sad sometimes.
WM: When you do write, do you follow a schedule?
WR: I have no writing schedule. I usually write at night. My poetry is almost always written by hand in my journal while I am in bed. The only schedule I stick to is a pact I made with myself years ago to write a poem a day in the month of October. Why? Because it is my favorite month. Autumn is my favorite season and inspires me more than anything. If I don't write in October I feel I have wasted my autumn/October imagery and inspiration.
WM: You have had about forty of your stories published in various places, in the nineties you had a Star Trek encyclopedia put out by HarperCollins, and most recently a collection of vampire fiction by DNA Publications. What comes easiest to you, writing stories or poetry? And which do you prefer?
WR: Poetry comes the easiest to me. Stories take more effort and actually utilize a different part of my brain. Stories are not as much a part of "me" as poetry is. Poetry is like a meditation for me, a gnosis into the unknown, a journey that is fully mine. The area of my mind that is tapped is the magic aura of me, the core essence, the authentic part of my soul even if I use made-up fantastical imagery. Stories are more from the part of my brain that is trying to put thing together to make sense in a consensual reality. They are entertaining but don't seem to come from a place of no expectations. Stories are written, whether I intend it or not, for an audience. My inner censor is in place when writing stories. Poetry, for me, is written just for me with no expectations. If it is published, that is nice, but it is not necessary, thus I don't feel controlled or contrived or censored in any way when I write it. That's why I don't write much formal verse, too. I feel too limited when I do. I sell mostly poetry, whether I mean to or not, because that is what I mostly write. It's my first love.
WM: What do you consider to be your best work so far?
WR: I think my favorite work so far is the group of my "Vampyre Mischief" poems. Those are close to my heart because they are not just "vampire poems" but more about the philosophical aspects of immortality, of evolving into something other than human, of being old and hopefully wise as a result, and what it might mean or feel like to be an immortal. My major complaint with most vampire stories, novels and movies is that centuries-old vampires are still just a stupid as many of the stupidest humans in the story -- they have not evolved mentally at all.
Anyway, picking favorites of my work is a very hard question because my favorites will change over time, and I am always hoping my future poems, or the ones I'm working on currently, will be the best I've done. Sometimes I can't tell right away. I let my poems sit for a while before I decide if I like them. Often when I'm writing them I think they're not going to work, and then I go back days later and am surprised at what's there and that it works.
WM: Now let's talk about your newest collection of poetry, Autumn Phantoms. According to Flesh & Blood Press this is a collection of previously unpublished poems. Have these poems been around for a while, gathering dust in a dark corner of your closet, perhaps, or is this a collection of your most recent work to date?
WR: Autumn Phantoms is a collection of poems that are very recent. When Jack Fisher decided to edit the chapbook, he asked me for all new stuff with an autumn mood. I write so much poetry with that autumnal atmosphere anyway that that was not a problem. I just followed my inspiration and as I wrote new stuff sent him batches. He picked and chose what he liked best. The title came after it was all written.
But Autumn Phantoms is not my newest collection. This year, Yellow Bat Press came out with my chapbook, Dancing in the Haunted Woodlands. Dancing in the Haunted Woodlands is mostly new stuff which I put together myself and submitted, as one manuscript, to Yellow Bat Press.
WM: Autumn Phantoms contains some real gems, some of my favorites being "At the Red Gate, "The Snow King," "Winter in the Underworld," and in particular, "A Winter Dream." What a beautifully dark, vivid picture that one paints!
WR: Thank you!
WM: A lot of these poems seem to share themes of solitude, a love of the fall and winter seasons, and of being an Outsider. For example, in "Departure of the Day" you write, "Some people see angels/ but I know they are only cobwebs/ wandering down the road," and in "Wintersong" you proclaim that you are "one of Pluto's tribe." Do you feel disillusioned with and somewhat removed from human society?
WR: Oh yes. I could rant for a long time about human society and how it always sinks to the lowest common denominator. There are days I am so completely appalled at what I call the consensual reality attitudes that I cannot even believe I am in that reality and one of those humans. It is so much about arbitrary values and morals made up by people somewhere, some time, somehow -- people we don't even know, but we buy into it hook, line and sinker. I think movies like The Matrix and Pleasantville and The Truman Show are not far from the truth in the points they make. We need to wake up. We are all so asleep most of the time, acting out mindless programs and beliefs, that we don't even realize what awesome individuals we can be, and how powerful we really are as co-creators of reality. Our abilities are endless. Our human ability to evolve into something greater than what we are, something more than the sum of our parts, is real, but we get so easily wrapped up in petty stuff that we become disconnected with that real part of ourselves, the part that really matters, and we become depressed and dispirited, thus weakened and defensive. When this happens, we fight each other and put each other down and it seems it will never end. It's sad and confusing. So, yes, I am disillusioned with human society, but not with myself. In the end, self is all we will have that is ours. I'll never give up on the self.
WM: In your poem "Why She Closes the Window" you write, "There are two kinds of people in the world: wandering settlers and settled wanderers." Which one are you?
WR: Alas, I believe I am a settled wanderer. I travel for my business, so I get burnt out on traveling and I love to come home and I love to stay home when I can. I did a road trip to Florida last year and it was great, but I am very much a homebody. I love to explore, but my favorite journeys are more psychonaut journeys. And that is fine, too, because the self is endless.
WM: Are you currently working on any new projects we can look forward to?
WR: I have recently completed a very long poem (30 pages) about a strange journey called "Vampyria," but there is no market for something of that sort and that length. Right now I continue to just write shorter poems. I just had two poems in the new Bare Bone 4 and Flesh & Blood 11 and 12. The Best of Dreams of Decadence, a paperback just out from Roc, has a poem of mine in it. October Rush has a poem of mine. Also, in October, Ravenelectrick.com will publish a poem of mine.
WM: Thanks Wendy!
WR: My pleasure, William. Thank you.
Copyright © 2003 William Mordore
The work of William Mordore has been previously featured in Cthulhu Sex. When he's not getting drunk on cheap wine, William enjoys warm baths, long walks to the cemetery, and getting intimate with his imaginary friend. He is currently working on compiling his first collection of poetry.
You must log in to post a comment.